October 28, 2010
Packing smart with today's top bowhunting backpacks
Those who know me will attest I'm a self-admitted pack hound. Simply put, I love backpacks!
So, I've chosen to highlight a dozen of 2010's top daypacks. Some are intended solely for day use, while others provide ample storage for overnight bivy forays into the field.
To determine how durable and well constructed these packs are, I spent considerable time packing them with gear, testing for fit and evaluating the organization and special features. Then, I put each pack through some unique tests here in Brainerd, Minn., where temperatures routinely dip far below freezing. Though not highly scientific, I simulated a heavy rainstorm and exposed each pack to four minutes of extreme water abuse under a shower. I call it the H20 Test Factor! Next, to see how each one performed in bitter cold after exposure to wet conditions, I placed each pack outside in temperatures that ranged from -2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Some packs included rain covers, a big benefit, while others relied on durable seams, storm flaps and heavy-duty construction to battle the extremes. Some packs definitely fared better than others, as you'll see in the accompanying star ratings.
Whether you're looking for a high-tech daypack, one designed for camera or treestand gear, or even hauling meat out, these packs are designed to hunt!
Alps Outdoorz Gunnison Prowler
Maybe it's because I'm a camera nut, but Alps' Gunnison Prowler is one of my favorites and ideal for day hunts and scouting trips. The unique pack includes three pockets and storage compartments to hold gear and apparel, two side mesh pockets (one made to hold the optional Detachable Padded Spotting Scope Sleeve) and a unique padded compartment specifically designed to store optics and camera gear. To ensure gear is safe and protected from extreme conditions, they've added a Blaze Orange Rain Cover that stores nicely in the bottom.
For a daypack, it has a simple but efficient center aluminum frame stay system and makes packing heavier loads easier as it provides additional support to the back section. Additional features that need mentioning are a removable padded waist belt, included lens cloth and an incorporated Buddy-Lok system.
A small and medium Buddy-Lok Pocket is included with the pack. My only complaint with this pack was due to the camera gear compartment; the largest zippered pocket seemed a little too small and tight to store bigger items. A little more material to beef up the depth of the pack could have helped.
H20 Test Factor: Large compartments and optics section extremely dry. Back panel soaked and, as a result, bottom corner of big pouch was slightly damp. Overall, one of the top packs.
Badlands Packs 2200
Capable of storing a 96-ounce water bladder, Badlands' new-and-improved 2200 features increased storage capacity hitting 2,650 cubic inches. Designed to handle heavy loads with numerous organization options, the 2200 features a molded foam suspension back frame and waist belt that helps provide comfort and proper heat management. The contoured padding and ventilated back actually mold to your body for the perfect fit. Honestly, it's probably the most comfortable pack in its size class.
A number of adjustable straps on the top of the pack above the shoulder harnesses and on the shoulder straps themselves are strategically placed to help better manage heavy loads, assuring weight is properly placed for long treks, while increased length and durable stays provide better vertical weight distribution. To aid in game retrieval is a built-in Blaze Orange meat shelf located and stored in a bottom zippered pocket. To help haul your bow, they've added a strap to the top and a bow cam or gunstock holder located at the bottom in a zippered pocket.
The 2200 features a batwing design and a total of nine zippered pockets (one designated for a spotting scope) and one mesh pocket on the interior of one side wing. The 2200 is one of the taller packs of the group and the overall design provides fit-tuning features. Weight and load adjusted perfectly on my hips and pressure was easily minimized on my shoulders. The pack can also be accessed while worn -- simply rotate the pack around to your front and the zippered back panel provides instant access.
H20 Test Factor: Sheds water extremely well. However, the right side spotting-scope pocket was wet and damp. The large compartment was also slightly damp at the bottom near the seams. The ventilation holes on the back panel were probably to blame. Overall it fared well, but (like all packs without one) could benefit from a rainfly.
Cabela's Hybrid Hunter
Cabela's two-in-one Hybrid Hunter can be configured as a fanny pack, daypack or together and utilized in a number of configurations. The top Detachable Pack can be used as a compression pack to help tighten down loose items such as apparel or can be rolled down on top of the fanny pack with an elastic strap. The Fanny Pack features a front pocket with organizer panel, padded GPS or rangefinder pocket, contoured padded shoulder harness with adjustable sternum straps, and a water bottle pocket (20-ounce water bottle included).
The detachable pack provides two small outer Velcro pockets (would have preferred magnets or zippered), large main compartment, zippered exterior pocket and hydration bladder storage pouch and tube holder for hydration systems (two-liter reservoir included). The Hybrid also features heavy-duty YKK zippers with easy to grab pulls, and the Buddy-Lok system, which allows attachments of pocket and storage add-ons.
H20 Test Factor: Heavy exposure to wa
ter proved the pack isn't 100-percent waterproof. Pockets were damp and soaked. Top pockets fared worst. Material really soaked up water and was heavy after testing.
Fieldline Dwight Schuh Tree Stand Pack
Treestand hunters will appreciate the easily accessible and highly functional treestand workstation. This outer cubby features 14 specialized pockets, elastic loops and storage compartments to hold everything needed for a treestand hunt and game retrieval. To further assist you on your hunt, the pack comes with a two-liter water bladder, Acolyte red-lens light that automatically turns on when you unzip the pack in the large compartment or press the button, plus a bungee strap compression system, daisy chains and lashing straps to pack on additional gear such as a jacket, ladder section steps or set of rattling antlers.
One large compartment, two side-zip pockets and four side mesh pockets, plus the incorporated Buddy-Lok Modular Locking System, round out the pack. If I could change one thing on this pack, it would be the backframe. Even though it is contoured and well sized, it could use a little more contouring for a better fit.
H20 Test Factor: Large storage compartment and sides damp, but outer workstation dry. Good weather-sealed zippers. After exposure to cold, zippers were stiff but working and material wasn't soaked. The material is good at shedding water.
GamePlan Gear Camera Bag
This is the first of two wild-card packs on the list. Although not the ideal daypack for hunting, all you cameramen who are out filming and snapping pics in the field should look no further for the ultimate camera bag. GamePlan Gear's Camera Bag is designed to carry camera gear/accessories and sized perfectly to fit in an airline overhead. The heavy-duty Camera Bag features interior foam dividers that can be customized to the user's desires. Addressing durability, GamePlan Gear used silent brushed tricot with weatherproof PVC backing for the ultimate in protection.
Add the included rainfly and you're ready for whatever Mother Nature has in mind. Since I'm always packing a 35mm single-reflex camera, lenses and video camera, I can appreciate a good camera pack. This pack is big enough to store just about everything needed to get the job done. There are pockets designed to store a tripod and camera arm with base, and exterior and interior mesh organizers for small item storage such as batteries, tapes and memory cards. To help manage the load, they've included an adjustable hip belt and sternum and shoulder straps.
H20 Test Factor: This camera bag is designed for extreme conditions. The rainfly kept practically all water out. There was just one corner seam near the back frame and side pocket seams that were a little damp. However, there was no leakage. After freezing, the back seemed still in perfect condition.
Gorilla Gear Gobbler Pack
Gorilla's Gobbler Pack was the second of two wild-card models I reviewed. Designed mostly for turkey hunting, this pack can also be used on day hunts for deer, elk or other big-game animals when lugging in items such as pruning shears, climbing sticks and more. Unique to the design is a large, adjustable game compartment, which is perfect for storing decoys and/or harvested birds and small game.
Plus, it has an attached outdoor molded seat that can fold out of the way when not needed. With a total of 15 storage compartments and pockets designed specifically for calls such as a slate call, strikers, diaphragms and a box call, the Gobbler Pack keeps everything packed securely but easily accessible. Other notable features include a bow and gun holder, Blaze Orange safety pullout, two outer zippered compartments, carrying handle and daisy chains for strapping on more must-have items.
H20 Test Factor: Pockets damp inside. After exposure to cold temperatures, material seemed heavy. Zippers were also stiff and a little small. Hard to open. Designed more for early seasons and when conditions are dry.
Kifaru Late Season G2
With its new thicker torso pad and anatomical dual-density foam lumbar pad with PackLock, the reincarnated Late Season G2 is a great choice for serious day hunters and short overnight trips. Key features include an outer big slot pocket with Velcro closure for map or license storage, black bungee to attach apparel or miscellaneous items, seam-to-seam zippered access on top and bottom, taller frame stays for better lift function and weight distribution, and fully adjustable shoulder straps.
Optional and sold separately items include the CargoChair for handling heavy loads and providing a more comfortable sit, DoubleQuiet Fleece Panels, GunBearer System, Possibles Pouch and more. New notables on the Late Season include loops for attaching military Dock & Lock pockets and Pods, and the Power Pull feature on the waist belt, which provides increased weight distribution options for a better fit.
H20 Test Factor: Thanks to heavy-duty construction and zippers, the Late Season was the best pack tested that didn't include a rainfly. The pack offered excellent repellency properties -- water beaded up and flowed off. All pockets were dry inside. Only the back frame was damp after testing. After an hour in brutal cold temps, the material was semi-dry and the big, easy-to-use zippers opened effortlessly.
Mystery Ranch Nice Frame & Nice Crewcab
Hunters looking for a heavy-duty pack that also doubles as a meat-packing hauler should check out the Nice Frame and Nice Crewcab combo. Mystery Ranch has built an entire system around their Nice Frame, which allows the use of a variety of packs including the Crewcab and also the Nice Load Sling (sold separately), which is designed solely for heavier load hauling. Most notable on the Nice Crewcab is the ability to expand from 1,900-5,000 cubic inches thanks to the expandable platform area that can hold their Load Cells (available in small and large sizes) and which also can be utilized to carry out multiple elk quarters, capes, antlers and even a blind if needed.
In addition, Mystery Ranch offers multiple components to further help organization and increase storage capacity, including their Daypack Lid (adds 900 cubic inches for a total of 5,900 cubic inch storage capacity and can also be utilized as a daypack thanks to shoulder harness straps) and waistbelt upgrade, which includes two zippered pockets. Four zippered pockets (two side and two front) provide ample space to store spotting scopes, camera equipment and miscellaneous hunting gear.
The Crewcab features a hydration bladder system where the hose is fed through the top back portion and held in a strap located on the shoulder straps. The unique pack can be adjusted in a number of configurations so heavy and even awkward loads sit and ride where they should, helping eliminate shoulder and back fatigue. In my opinion, this versatile pack is designed for diehard bowhunters who hunt not only whitetails but also out West where heavier loads are common. Those looking for just a daypack could be turned off by all the features.
H20 Test Factor: Material super heavy duty and repelled water efficiently. Large front zipper storm flaps provided additional protection against moisture. Side pockets were a little damp and leaked near the zippers. After the freezing test, zippers weren't stiff and easily opened. One of the best made packs in the group.
Rancho Safari VII.5
I've been hunting with Rancho Safari packs for about six years now, and their quiver backpack systems are ideal for hunters who prefer to keep their arrows off their bow. The VII.5 is the ideal bowhunting daypack yet large enough for two- or three-night expeditions. With a number of compression straps, D-Rings and perfectly placed pockets, the VII.5 offers exceptional organization features.
The included adjustable Cat Quiver will hold eight arrows. One of the quietest packs in the group, thanks to soft fleece material. In the back section, they've added Cool Max netting and vented side panels for proper heat management. However, with the ability to pack so much gear, I think the back support panel could be beefed up a tad more. Other notables include a bow hook, top hydration compartment (hose doesn't feed through the pocket), three zippered pockets on the foam waist strap, water bottle pocket and a number of small and large pockets to store all gear needed.
H20 Test Factor: After exposure to a good amount of water, the pack was a tad on the heavy side. The exterior pocket and side pockets leaked least, while the large compartment took on the most water. The back was extremely damp. After freezing, zippers worked great even though the material was super stiff.
Redhead Spot and Stalk Seat Pack
Bass Pro's Spot and Stalk Seat Pack is ideal for hunters looking to stay organized in the field with its unique front workstation compartment. It's also large enough for hunters looking to camp out a night or two, thanks to 3,500 cubic inches of storage. Plus, it's plenty comfortable for long sits thanks to the padded waist belt and incorporated retractable high-density molded foam seat that can be deployed while wearing the pack. Additional top features include a bow/rifle harness system, boot-changing mat that doubles as a Blaze Orange safety flag, scope/tripod pockets and padded shoulder straps with lens cloth and retractable Night Sight LED light, which are stored in two conveniently placed pockets on the shoulder harness.
While packing the Spot and Stalk with a day's worth of gear, I found the pocket design exceptionally well thought out. The front workstation is perfect for storing easy-to-reach gear such as calls, rope, knife, bow hangers, wind check devices, etc. Also, side padded spotting scope/tripod pockets include zippers to keep prized optics safe and in top condition, while additional buckle straps help further secure gear. In testing the retractable seat, which also serves as an integral part of the pack frame system, I was quickly able to deploy it and stow it back up in the back panel section.
H20 Test Factor: The included Blaze Orange Safety Flag helped keep much of the pack dry, especially the front pockets and workstation. It did leak through the H20 Port and bottom back panel. After exposure to extreme temps, zippers worked flawlessly. Overall, one of the top four tested.
Sitka Gear Flash 20
Sitka's Flash 20 is one of the smallest packs in the lineup and loaded with hunt friendly features. To help pack in your bow, they've added a top buckle strap and a rubber-lined metal wire cam holder on the bottom. This system helps keep your bow tight to your pack and not swinging around catching limbs and brush while walking or beating a trail to camp. The Flash 20's suspended back helps maximize air circulation, while high-tech frame stays and lashing straps keep odd loads secure.
In addition, the pack includes tightening s
traps on the shoulder straps and top of the pack to help adjust the load and for a comfortable fit and better load ride. An interior padded spotting-scope pocket assures valuable optics remain safe during transport while the quick-stash mesh pockets and pocketed waist belt offer quick and easy storage for smaller items.
H20 Test Factor: With its included rainfly, the Flash 20 was one of the best performers. All pockets were dry. Thanks to its suspension back frame, the back area was dry also. Only the side mesh pocket on the waist belt leaked. One of the top packs tested, and I gave it the Best Overall award.
Sportsman's Outdoor Products G2 Day Pack
The smallest pack in my lineup represents simplicity at its finest. This compact daypack is suited perfectly for treestand hunters thanks to a tree attachment strap that attaches to D-loops located on the top of the shoulder straps and keeps your pack hung within easy reach. This allows users to easily strap their pack in the perfect position while taking an elevated perch.
The G2 also includes a drop-down shelf that allows quick and easy access to gear. While trekking in the field, they've made it possible to access six of the 17 available pockets located on the waist belt without having to take the pack off. To help haul in your bow, tree steps or other gear, SOP has added gear grippers with a durable buckle system. Daisy-chain outfitted, the G2 has a number of attachments points to carry additional gear on the outside and a number of security straps to tighten your load to your back or pack in more gear.
H20 Factor Test: Even though the interior pocket stayed relatively dry, with only minor dampness on the bottom seams, the big compartment was a little damp and the top big pocket was fairly wet. There was a considerable amount of leakage through the back panel, and side pockets were also damp inside. After freezing, the material wasn't too heavy. However, the zippers were extremely stiff and hard to open.
H20 TEST FACTOR PARAMETERS
1. For the first part of the H20 Test Factor test, I took each pack and exposed it to four minutes of water torture in the shower. The packs that had rain flies fared best.
2. After getting drenched in the shower, each pack was placed outside, where temperatures ranged between -2 and 7 degrees Fahrenheit. The biggest thing noted in this test was the performance of the zippers. A few of the zippers proved fairly difficult to operate in these extreme conditions. However, there were a few shining stars with heavy-duty zippers that performed flawlessly.
3. For testing, I propped a chair in the shower and stuffed a Sitka Gear Stormlite rain jacket with clothes. Each pack was buckled and strapped to the jacket and positioned so it wasn't resting on the seat where water could seep through the bottom. Water flow was concentrated on the back and directed so it drenched the entire surface of the backpacks and rain covers, including the top of the shoulder harnesses.
4. To check where packs were leaking, I took toilet paper and lined the packs in specific areas around the zipper. This provided good insight on the quality of zippers, seam construction and zipper performance and quality. I also stuffed each pocket on every pack with toilet paper and cotton clothes to monitor wetness and to see where the packs leaked.