October 28, 2010
By Kathy Etling
Before you head out into the field on your next trip, make sure your gear safely stowed in a top of the line day pack.
By Kathy Etling
During the past 30 years, bowhunting has become refined to a science, an imperfect science to be sure, but one with a short list of necessary gear. The pack has definitely made its way to the top of that list, right there with bow, arrow and broadhead.
New and improved packs and bags have made hunting just a little easier. Archers need quiet, comfortable, easily accessible, element-proof places in which to carry and store gear both while traveling to bowhunting sites and once they have arrived. Scent proofing helps too, and some packs offer this useful feature. Since bowhunting trips vary from a few hours in length to weeks-at-a-time excursions, the variety of packs available is astronomical. For necessity purposes, we will highlight only the most notable products here but provide bare-bones basic information for others.
Leading the charge is Kifaru International (www.kifaru.net, 800-222-6139) with a huge array of high-end hunting packs. Many well-known bowhunters have taken the Kifaru plunge, so it's safe to say these packs have been field-tested. Kifaru's lineup includes the LongHunter. This model converts into a freight hauler and can be ordered in the following configurations: Standard (5,200 cu. in.; $155), Guide Pack (7,200 cu. in.; $185), Rendezvous (8,500 cu. in. basic package $450; complete package $595), and Hauler, with its game-packing capabilities and internal pack frame comfort (1,250 cu. in. top pocket; $275). LongHunters may be ordered in fleece. Options include pouch, hand-warmer pouch, water bladder, and cargo chair.
The following items you can add to your Kifaru system over time, particularly if you're against blowing a wad of cash all at once: The ice axe loop, caddy straps, gear bungies, and removable pocket that converts to a lumbar (fanny) pack are all superb ideas. Pack weights of 80 to 100 lbs. are not unreasonable for the LongHunter system. Don't forget to check out Kifaru's SpikeCamp (Basic $215; Complete $365) and Daystalker (Basic $140; Duo $165; Complete $300), too. Kifaru custom-tailors each pack ordered so that it fits you like a glove.
Badlands (www.badlandspacks.com, 800-269-1875) continues to astound with its seemingly never-ending supply of great hunting packs. Its old reliable Badlands 2200 ($169) has recently been overhauled and improved, resulting in a revolutionary "batwing" layout. These batwings increase load control by adding more means of compression. Zippered openings near the top mean better storage and access for tripods or spotting scopes. Exterior gear pockets flank the batwing, so access is better for an array of tools.
An integrated hydration system and an improved thermo-molded memory-foam waist belt provide the finest possible ergonomic fit. "Toothless" zippers not only protect access integrity, they also reduce unwelcome noise. A frame of aircraft-quality aluminum and a low center of gravity mean a bowhunter can scamper anywhere his legs can carry him with little fear of gear shifting or loss of balance. An unconditional lifetime warranty means Badlands puts its reputation on the line, too. All Badlands packs come with this warranty, so be sure to check out the Badlands 2800 ($209), Super Day ($149), Monster ($119), Beast ($108), Convertible ($59), and Stealth ($119) as well.
Cabela's ( www.cabelas.com, 800-237-4444) has slowly gained an incredible amount of respect among bowhunters who appreciate the finer packs in life. Its presence in this market has slowly increased to the point where an archer simply must consider these items before making any serious pack-purchasing decision. Cabela's Bow/Rifle Pack ($89.99 for 2,150 cu. in.; $119.99 for 3,000 cu. in.) totes either bow or rifle while keeping your hands free to tackle thick cover. The pack fabric is waterproof, quiet, and essentially burr-proof. One side pocket features a pass-through design to hold a hiking staff or shooting sticks. This pack is hydration compatible if you want to add a water system. The padded compression pod not only securely holds either bow or rifle, it may be removed for solo daypack use.
Cabela's Deluxe Whitetail Day Pack
Cabela's Custom Hunter Pack ($99.99) calls to mind a well-organized workshop or tackle box. The trifold organizer pouch has been designed with loads of mesh pockets and elastic keeper straps so that everything you carry has its place. Carry binoculars, rangefinder, knife, saw, flashlight, and any other bit of essential gear in its own special spot. Find it when you need it, too, whether it's dark outside or light. The entire pouch is detachable for stowing in a tree or hanging on a branch. This roomy 1,200-cu.-in. pack is waterproof, and the unique, padded suspender/shoulder-strap system is made to comfortably transport heavy loads. Strap slippage isn't an option with this great design. Other features include a holster-compatible hip belt, Buddy Lock attachment system, lashing straps, padded side pouch, water bottle and pocket.
Other Cabela's packs to keep in mind include the Predator Series, an ergonomically designed grouping built around ultralight, polyethylene framing and contour-molded shoulder straps. Features include the easy-access, padded spotting scope pocket, pouch and tube hydration system, outer compression panel, and lower lashing loops. The Panel-Load Predator--2,100 to 2,400 cu. in. depending on compression--goes for $119.99 on sale, while the ample Top Load--3,100 to 3,400 cu. in.--is just $139.99.
Cabela's Assault Pack (850 to 1,050 cu. in.; $89.99) is built around a narrow profile for easy movement. Features include the Nylex-lined molded foam back for breathability, compression pod, pouch and tube holder for hydration system, and knife and light pouches. The budget-minded bowhunter can't go wrong with Cabela's Deluxe Whitetail Packs with their innovative Buddy Lock interlocking accessory system compatibility, comfy molded foam backs, and internal organization panels. The Fanny Pack (650 cu. in.; $44.99) features map pocket, cinch-top water bottle pocket and bottle, lashing straps and padded hip belt. The Day Pack (2,250 cu. in.; $69.99) comes complete with load-stabilizing straps, no-rattle zipper pulls, lined leather bottom, and sternum strap.
Crooked Horn Master Guild
Another superlative purveyor of packs and bags is Crooked Horn Outfitters (www.crookedhorn.com, 1-877-PACK-USA). I've been solidly in Crooked Horn's corner for many years now, and I still keep one of its packs loaded up for short bowhunts because these folks know what they are doing. Their Trailblazer 2000 Combo Pack, for example, is yet another one of those "convertibles" that come in so handy. Simply adjust a couple of quick-release buckles and the combo pack converts from fanny pack to midsize daypack. The pack's cargo flap will work for almost all hydration systems, but the Trailblazer 2000 comes with dual water-bottle pockets to make certain you won't run short of fluids. Separate knife and flashlight sheaths keep these two critical items close at hand for emergency use.
The heavy-duty two-inch-wide shoulder straps are made for comfort, and the sternum strap keeps them where they belong on your shoulders. Like most of the packs featured here, Crooked Horn's heavy-duty padded waist belt is not only made for comfort. You can also easily secure accessories to it. The pack features seven roomy pockets in all. The rain flap safely secures tags, wallet, keys, and other small necessities, and the main compartment is constructed with an easy drawstring closure. The daypack can hold 850 cu. in. of gear in all. What's more, this pack is made of Saddle-Cloth Packweight fabric, a seven micro-layer barrier system featuring waterproof Stormcote to protect your gear from nature's worst. As part of this system the pack has been treated with Teflon to further protect both fabric and your gear. Crooked Horn guarantees its products against defects in materials and workmanship for the life of the product, subject to the company's review.
Bowhunters looking for an upgrade in daypacks should look no further than Fieldline, one of the giants of the business. Fieldline fields such a wide array of great products for every hunting situation that zeroing in on just one is in itself a tall order. Look for Fieldline's products in major outdoor catalogs, such as Cabela's and Bass Pro Shop's.
Vista Pack Rat
Bowhunters really go for bowhunter-specific gear, such as the two packs developed by Western Recreation Industries/Vista (www.wri-vista.com, 800-525-1181). WRI's #5571 Hog Back Hunter is made of quiet fleece and comes with two large, waterproof interior pockets, a padded back support belt and padded shoulder straps. In addition, it features one of the best back quivers available anywhere. A sternum strap helps keep shoulder straps in place, while the sturdy padded belt is capable of carrying quiver, knife, water bottles, and more. This pack can be purchased without the quiver as the #5570 Hog Back. Actual gear storage capacity for both packs, excluding quiver, is the same at 475 cu. in.
WRI's #5551 Pack Rat Hunter (1,175 cu. in.) is a beefier daypack version of the Hog Back. The Pack Rat Hunter is constructed of fleece with a large interior waterproof pocket and a nice, long side pocket on the pack's right side, as well as two small pockets on its left side. Padded shoulder straps, waist belt, sternum strap, and a great back quiver complete the package. Again, should you not want the arrow quiver, simply order WRI's Pack Rat (#5550).
Each year Stearns/Mad Dog Gear (www.stearnsinc.com, 800-333-1179) becomes more committed to bowhunting, and this year is no different. Stearns' great Mad Dog Gear brand of packs and bags relies on Silent Technical Xterior fabric and a micro-warp that's soft and quiet no matter what the temperature yet almost as tough as Kevlar. Although Mad Dog packs repel water, they are not totally waterproof since seams remain untapped. Mad Dog's H405 Deluxe Rucksack (1,631 cu. in.; $55.99) loads from the top, comes with a padded back, and has two roomy outside pockets ideal for water bottle storage.
Mad Dog's H436 Hauler Pack (1,180 cu. in.; $49.99) features adjustable main belt, side panels, sturdy yet comfortable suspension system, adjustable padded non-slip shoulder harness, and carry handle. The H431 7-Pocket Fanny Pack provides yet another great option with its open top mesh exterior pockets, where gear you need fast can be stored.
Battle Lake Hunter's Sling Pack
Battle Lake Outdoors (www.battlelakeoutdoors.com, 800-243-0465) makes some great packs at lower price points. Consider, for instance, the Saddle-Cloth Hunter's Sling Pack (1,200 cu. in.; $69). This pack was designed for the bowhunter with freedom on his mind. Although it's a multi-pocket daypack, the sling pack is made with a single shoulder pack for those who want to be able to shed their gear quickly and quietly. Archers will appreciate the padded, breathable back and fully adjustable suspension system, bottle pocket, and compression straps.
Battle Lake's Soft Six-Pocket Fanny Pack (576 cu. in.; $36) is a modular, multi-pocket affair made of waterproof fleece. Two removable side pockets may be used as a belt pocket, and the fanny pack proper can also be used alone. It's hard to beat this handy pack's price, but visit Battle Lake's website before making your selection because the company has many more great, economical bowhunting packs.
Plano Molding (www.planomolding.com, 800-226-9868) has realized how important gear organization can be for the archer and has developed some nifty soft-storage systems specifically for bowhunters. HunterLogic's Model 1621-00 Accessory Tote (8.5 x 7 in.; $9.99) is simply a large, zippered, binder-like wallet holding five clear plastic, laminated zip-seal bags you can flip through to find calls, scents, band-aids, permits, matches, and other small stored items. HunterLogic's Accessory Tote Model 1622-00 (8.5 x 10 in.; $12.99) also has five zip-seal bags on binder rings, but with an added attached, zippered pouch for larger items. This pouch is ideal for the archer who wants to transport more gear into his stand or to the range yet keep items out of the way and easily accessible. HunterLogic's Accessory Totes will bring a degree of organization to your bowhunting life.
Bow manufacturers are getting into the pack act, too. PSE/King (www.pse-archery.com, 800-477-7789) has long been known for the quality of its products, and its great new assortment of packs is no exception. PSE's King Flex Foam Excursion Backpack (#41129; 2,632 cu. in.; $129.99) features a zippered permit/map pocket, external zippered pockets, a deep utility pocket with elastic closure, and a buckle strap to hold a tripod, a folding seat, or a bow.
PSE's King Flex Foam Explorer Fanny Pack (#41130; $109.99) is everything you wanted in a fanny pack and more. A large rear utility pouch with mesh liner is ideal for securing small items, and a mesh permit pocket in the pack's top keeps valuables close at hand. Extras include knife/flashlight holder, water bottle holder, and the same contoured Flex Foam back- and shoulder-strap suspension system and chest belt featured on every PSE hunting pack. PSE's King Flex Foam Day Trek Pack (#41005; $74.99) is constructed of quiet Saddle-Cloth and plenty of pockets. A large, see-through mesh internal pocket helps you locate smaller items that would otherwise stay lost most of the time, while two external see-through mesh pockets keep items easily accessible. An elastic tie-down helps secure extra gear. Three specially constructed internal pockets are ideal for storing knives, flashlights, and other critical gear items.
PSE's King Flex Foam Accessories sold as options for PSE's packs include a bottle holder, a binocular/rangefinder case, and a great new accessory belt that comes with a bow holder, a bottle holder, and a utility pocket.
Double Triple Packs (www.doubletriple.com, 800-949-8546) offers four backpacks and three fanny packs designed for hunters and bowhunters. Its #752 2-Pack is really two packs in one and carries everything you'll need for a weekend's worth of hunting. Made of whisper-quiet chamois, this pack comes with five roomy compartments, a water bottle holder, curved shoulder straps, and a padded hip belt.
Each and every one of these great products really packs the punch you'll need to make next season's bowhunts your most successful and properly equipped ever!