October 04, 2023
For my first-ever elk hunt this fall, I needed a daypack-plus. Not something to carry everything but the kitchen sink, but a comfortable, heavy-duty hauler capable of handling everything required for a full day afield. Plus, hopefully, we’ll be hauling out an elk from the Canadian bush at some point before hunt’s end.
Fortunately, the Hellbender fit the bill. Engineered by master backcountry pack builders Kifaru International, this 2,250-cubic-inch pack is designed for hunters who need to carry a variety of gear in and around the field, plus pack out an animal once the hunt is done. Based off the company’s popular Stryker XL pack, the Hellbender is made from durable, heavy-duty 500D Codura, with ample room (350 more cubic inches than the Stryker XL) for toting everything from extra layers of clothes, snacks and water to field-dressing essentials and spotting and camera equipment.
The pack, which must be paired with one of Kifaru’s pack frames, features a deep main interior pocket for holding larger items, as well as what I'd call a large wallet pouch anchored at the top of the pack, perfect for storing essentials so you don’t have to rummage through the pack to find them. There’s also a chamber pocket and sleeve for a water bladder, with two hose ports at the top of the pack for easily accessing a quick drink. Other pack highlights include a load sling for hauling odd-sized loads such as meat, antlers or bow; several compression straps for securing your load; large exterior stash pocket for storage; easy access zippered pouch on the top of the pack; and exterior pouches on both sides that are designed to hold large water bottles but could also work equally well for securing a tripod or other items.
Of course, in addition to ample storage, the other important factor in selecting a carrying system is finding a pack with the proper fit and comfort. Well, the Wyoming-based Kifaru, which uses the rugged Rocky Mountain West as its testing grounds, knows how draining long days trudging up and down mountains can be. That’s why it takes exceptional care to ensure its pack-and-frame systems offer an ergonomic fit, helping to evenly balance your load while striving to reduce back and shoulder fatigue and discomfort. The contoured, solid frames are engineered to help you carry much of the weight on your hip area rather than squarely on your shoulders and back, with contoured shoulder straps to help stabilize your load. There’s even a lumbar pad designed to rest in the small of your back to help balance the load and prevent the pack from digging into your back.
For this hunt, I opted for the Duplex Lite Frame, designed for hunters looking to keep the overall weight of their setup down; the company also offers the Duplex Tactical Frame, which provides extra stability and support for heavier loads.
One of the first things I noticed with the Duplex Lite is how every aspect of the frame, from the shoulder straps to the generous and comfortable waistbelt, are adjustable, helping to ensure the proper fit. Adjusting the shoulder straps and waistbelt can be done quickly and easily, simply by lifting the locking clips and moving the straps freely with only light pressure. Highlighting how much Kifaru focuses on custom fit, this particular pack frame comes in 24- and 26-inch lengths, with long and short shoulder strap options and waistbelt sizes ranging from XS-XL, all in an effort to obtain the optimum fit and feel no matter your height or build.
While Kifaru’s pack systems are designed primarily for rugged western hunts, the Hellbender will work equally well for mobile, deep-woods whitetail hunters. With the various lashing points and straps, it’s simple to secure your bow or stand and sticks for the long hike in and out.
The Hellbender measures 10.5 inches wide by 24 inches high and 8 inches deep. The pack weighs right around 3 pounds, and adding in the frame the overall weight comes to just under 7.5 pounds. It’s also worth noting the load sling is made from XPAC, a laminated material that makes it easy to clean off dirt, blood, fur or other animal bits after you've been packing out.
After going over this pack and frame thoroughly, I'm super-stoked to use them in the field this fall. That said, I’ll be even more pumped if I can put the setup to the ultimate test by packing out a bull I hopefully arrow in the forests of Northern Alberta. — Associate Editor Mark Demko