Hunters carry a lot of gear into the field. That's just an inevitable fact of participating in the tradition. Whether you're a hunter who ventures 15 miles deep into the backcountry of Montana on a multi-day quest for a trophy bull or ram, or just someone who walks out behind their house in the Midwest every evening to a treestand to bow hunt whitetails, you will need some way to haul it all even if all you bring is a few items like extra ammo, a pair of binoculars, a rangefinder, and a knife for field dressing. Fortunately, hunting backpacks have gotten increasingly sophisticated in functionality, storage space, and overall weight. Many modern hunting bags offer capabilities and comfort our grandfathers could only have dreamed of having.
It's easier than ever to carry all your essential hunting gear into the field and make the journey as pleasant as possible, no matter your hunting style. Some hunters may not be entirely sure what they need from a good hunting pack, but no worries, we're here to help. Today we'll discuss choosing a pack that best suits your hunting style. We'll also make our top recommendations for packs that fit those styles and just about any budget.
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How To Choose a Hunting Backpack
There isn't a "one size fits all" approach to hunting packs since every hunter will have drastically different needs. For instance, a waterfowler will probably get more mileage from a duffel-style bag for hauling decoys. That style isn't going to lend itself well to someone camping in the backcountry on an Alaskan mountain goat hunt. You can divide most packs into two categories, day packs, and overnight packs. Most people will probably do fine with a hunting day pack with between 15 and 40-liter storage capacity. For overnight hunting trips where you're also toting camping gear, you will likely need something in the 50 to 80-liter range. Take stock of all your hunting gear ahead of time and weigh it. This knowledge will help you make a more informed decision about your needs. It can also help you make tough decisions about unnecessary items to prune out of your gear.
When it comes to materials, most are made from nylon fabrics today. Pay attention to the thread weights, usually expressed as Denier or simply "D" with a number. The higher the weight, the more durable it will be. It pays not to skimp on cheap packs when there are a lot of thorns or rocks that can rip your pack. Ripstop nylons are a little more expensive but are better woven to resist rips and tears. There's also Cordura, an extremely tough, synthetic fiber that can take more abuse than probably any other pack out there. It usually comes with a price tag to match the high quality.
Many hunters overlook waist belts, buckles, zippers, and shoulder straps. You want shoulder straps and a belt that is adequately padded, so the weight isn't cutting into your shoulders—the same as the waist belt. The pack should feel snug to your back so you can freely move without the contents shifting around and throwing off your balance. That's important if you're hiking up a mountain over rocks and other precarious areas. As for the buckles and zippers, look at the size of these components. The smaller they are, the harder they will be to manipulate while your hands are cold. Smaller buckles can dig into the skin in areas that make contact with your body.
If you are buying a pack for spot and stalking, or a multi-day hunting trip, I highly recommend getting a hydration bladder-compatible pack. Many modern packs have pockets for water bottles. But it is easier to sip from a hose run along one of the shoulder straps, especially if you are in the middle of a grueling hike up a mountain or through a canyon. With that, let's look at some of the top options on the market today.
1. For Day Spot and Stalkers and Treestand Hunters
Our first pack on the list is a lightweight option that we like as a daypack for spot and stalking or simply for an all-day treestand hunter who doesn't need a lot of excess gear. The Badlands Eastern Day offers 1,040 cubic inches (approximately 17 liters) of storage space. The pack is simple and sleek, without many extra straps and pockets that'll get hung up on brush and branches. This pack will also fit a three-liter hydration bladder for those warmer, early-season hunts. Badlands made this pack using their KXO-32 fabric, which has a C6 durable water repellent (DWR) coating. The pack is waterproof, helping to protect your more expensive gear during snows or sudden downpours. They also reinforced the major stress points of the pack with a heavy Aramid fiber to extend the bag's life. For $129, this one should last many years, and hunts to come.
2. For The Serious Backcountry Hunter
Don't let the enormous price tag intimidate you too much. Most of that cost comes from the fact you get the bag, a suspension system, a carbon fiber frame, and hip belt pouches all in the same package. That external frame is only 11 ounces but handles up to 150 pounds, making this pack a powerhouse. The bag is made from a 500-denier Cordura ripstop fabric, so it's capable of taking an extreme beating in the world's wildest places. KUIU offers four different bag sizes between 2,300 and 7,800, so there's one for day trips and one for multi-day trips lasting weeks. The bag's "Load Sling Mode" allows the user to open extra space in the bag. Helpful if you need to haul meat out of the field. The suspension system offers unbelievable comfort and breathability, vital on long, hot hikes. KUIU offers this pack in their Valo, Vias, and Verde camo patterns and a solid "ash phantom" color so you can match it to your clothing.
3. A Versatile, Budget Option For Both Deer and Waterfowl
This bag is marketed first as a waterfowler bag, but it has enough versatility that you could use it for deer and probably turkeys, too, if you have a lot of gear to haul. There are three large compartments here, offering 3,400 cubic inches of storage. As if that were not enough, the inside of the main compartment and the front pockets have many organization options built into the design—like choke tube holders, an organizing sleeve, and internal mesh pockets. One of the front pockets is lined with Tricot to protect glasses or cell phone screens from getting scratched. There are also shell loops and a water bottle pocket on the bag's exterior. They also included some removable game straps for transporting your harvest. Another feature we like on this one is the ability to tuck the backpack's straps away, effectively transforming it into a duffle bag. There's a ton of value with this bag for only $119. If you catch a sale at the right time, it can go for under $100.
4. A Comfortable Option For Camping and Backcountry Hunting
This is a versatile pack I've been using for a few years now. I use it nearly every day with rucking weights for exercise. It never ceases to amaze me how comfortable this pack is. This 60-liter pack hugs my back perfectly, and the padded shoulder straps and weight belt do an incredible job of distributing heavy loads evenly. This pack's main body is built from 500-denier nylon, and 5.11 reinforced the bottom with extra-heavy 1050-denier nylon.
Another thing I love about this pack is how wide the main compartment opens. It has a 270-degree zippered opening, making digging something from the bottom quick and easy. The company also gave this pack an external MOLLE system to help customize the storage outside the back. You can even detach the side pouches as a shoulder bag for shorter expeditions. There's a ton of versatility here. This bag has been tough as nails on all my outdoor adventures.
5. A Simple Pack For Hunters on a Budget
If you're looking for something simple that won't break the bank, the RedHead is an excellent choice. This 25-liter day pack is a great option for anyone who doesn't have a ton of gear nor needs to make an extensive hike to their spot each day. It is built rugged with a 600-denier polyester and has two mesh side pockets for all your extra odds and ends. There are also some daisy-chain loops for storing additional equipment. The padded straps are easy on the shoulders. We should mention that this pack doesn't have a waist belt, but it's easy enough to buy a cheap strap and make your own for extra support. For $40, a ton of excellent features are packed into this pack for casual hunting expeditions.
6. An Affordable Mid-Size Option For Archery Hunters
This 44-liter pack offers a little more capacity than your standard day pack but is lighter than a larger, multi-night pack. One nice feature of this pack is the drop-down pocket that can securely hold a firearm or bow, freeing your hands up for other gear or hiking poles in more challenging terrain. There's also a quiver holder on both sides of the pack. ALPS OutdoorZ built extra padding on the waist belt and shoulder straps for a more comfortable fit. The mesh side pockets hold additional small items you can quickly access without digging through the rest of the bag. A rainfly also folds up to help shed water and protect your expensive hunting equipment. The rain cover is blaze orange, so you can also have an added safety layer during the firearms season. For $90, there are a lot of excellent features with this one we wouldn't expect on a bag of this price. As a bonus, it's available in many Realtree and Mossy Oak camo patterns to help match your hunting clothing.
7. A Serious Bag For Run and Gun Deer Hunters
Suppose you're a deer hunter who loves to find hidden pockets on public land. It's great for anyone who likes to hunt with a run-and-gun style where you're setting your strap-on stand and hunting it immediately. This is an excellent option for all the tree saddle enthusiasts out there. We also like the Sitka for anyone serious about filming their hunt, and it has a ton of camera gear they need to tote to the stand. There are dedicated pockets specifically for climbing sticks or camera arms. The Sitka has endless storage with 23 compartments and 2,200 cubic inches of storage space. As if that wasn't enough, there are plenty of storage straps to secure a firearm or bow to the pack while you haul all this gear into that perfect spot. This pack features the popular Optifade camo pattern. Sitka gear isn't cheap, but it is made to be practical and to last, and that's what you're getting with the Cargo Box.
8. An Affordable Center Scabbard Option
This day pack is an excellent option for hunter who wants to keep their hands free and their rifle secure. This pack features a nice centerline scabbard that will keep your expensive firearm safe as you concentrate on the terrain and game signs. Thanks to the full-length spotting scope pocket, it's a superb spot-and-stalk option. Another nice feature for bowhunters is that it will carry your bow hands-free. When you need it, the Ripcord bow tether allows you to pull the bow out without removing the pack. This pack offers 1,725 cubic inches of storage. It is slightly on the heavy side at 5.60 pounds, but for the price, this is a hard pack to beat for anyone who wants a little extra security when toting their firearm deep into the backcountry.
9. The Perfect Pack for the Off-Season Shed Hunter
As the name "Horn Hunter" implies, this pack is an excellent option for anyone who loves spending days hiking for shed antlers in the off-season. However, it's a capable pack during the different big game hunting seasons. It's also an excellent option for anyone who wants to get more capability out of the hip belt because some rather large pockets are included here. This pack is also built to accept one of Horn Hunter's signature quivers. But it will also haul a rifle easily thanks to the external cargo straps and rifle/bow pouch. It is also capable of a hydration bladder, and a rain cover is available for when the weather takes a turn for the worst. We like this one for anyone who wants a budget pack that can transition effortlessly from hunting to hiking when the seasons end. At $139, it's hard to beat all the features they've included here.
10. A Workhorse Option for a Week Or More
If you plan to be in the backcountry chasing elk for more than a week, the Mystery Ranch Metcalf is the one to consider. A big selling point of this one is the Guide Light MT frame. It's built to be a heavy-duty hauler and features an overload system where you can fit an additional sling between the pack and the mainframe. It's great for packing an animal once you quarter it up. The waist belt offers five points of articulation for more comfort and MOLLE webbing for hanging accessories like your bear defense gun or spray. The pack is built from a 500-denier LP Cordura and a 500-denier Subalpine Cordura for maximum durability. The volume of this pack is a staggering 4,335 cubic inches of storage. You should consider this when heading deep into the wilderness for a week or more. It's not cheap at $525, but it will have the storage space you need for an extended hunting experience.
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