With the variety of packs on the market today, it can become difficult to make a final decision on which pack will best meet your needs. These days are a far cry from my youth and the hunts that I remember with my father. ATVs and horses weren’t an option and dad didn’t care for overnighters so everything became a day hike/death march. We were out of the truck before sun up with nothing but ammo, apples and sardines in our pockets and a canteen over the shoulder. Time and distance were of no consideration, dad shot the first buck with antlers so I never new if I would end up hiking 2 miles or 12. What amazes me to this day is dad would always drag the entire carcass all the way back to the truck. With the luxury of a GPS, I have gone back into some of those spots and found that dad actually pulled some of those deer over 7 miles off the hill and didn’t waste a scrap! Problem was, by the time we arrived at the truck I felt like I could eat an entire dear. Starvation and dehydration don’t seem to fully describe the way I felt at the end of those days.
That was over 20 years ago, apples and sardines have been replaced with dried fruit and power bars and with all the additional items like tripods and spotting scopes, you’d better have good pack for hauling gear in and animals out. With the variety of items people haul into the woods, it’s no wonder that most folks when evaluating packs start by looking at the pockets. Pockets are great but I believe the three things you need to look for when buying a backpack are Performance, Comfort and Quality.
As you look over packs for different tasks you may want to ask yourself some of the following questions. Is the pack designed to work with my body’s natural center of gravity thereby allowing me to effectively haul anything I need regardless how technical the terrain I encounter?
Will the pack be comfortable whether I am packing 15 lbs or 60lbs, whether I am hiking for 1 hour or 14 hours? Part of the equation here is fit, the better a pack fits the better your circulation. The better your circulation the more energy you have. More energy means you can stay in the field longer and more time in the field ups the odds of taking that big buck.
Will the pack hold up to years of hauling gear in and meat out? The quality of the design and the material can be distinguished by comparing a couple of packs. Take the time to really scrutinize seems, straps, thread, etc.. You don’t want the pack coming apart on the 1st load nor the 100th load.
How efficiently does the pack distribute weight to the parts of your body that will be most effective in carrying that weight? When carrying a lot of weight the hip bones are designed to take the weight, is the pack designed to put it there? You need a pack that will transfer a load, not to your spine, but around your waist and the most effective way to accomplish this is with an internal frame system, which acts as a secondary spine, thus taking pressure off your spine. Many packs ranging in size from 1900 – 5000+ cubic inches have a frame system meant to take pressure off the spine. Most frame systems are somewhat task specific. No need for overkill, 900 to 1900 cubic inches should suffice for a quick day hunt or hunting off horses or ATVs. Also keep in mind, just because you have the room doesn’t mean you have to fill the pack full.
Once you decide what size backpack you need just remember that a backpack is like anything else you wear on your body. The better it fits, the more comfortable it will be and the more you’ll want to use it. Set aside some time to try on different packs and have the salesperson load them with some weight. For over night or multiday packs, 20lbs – 30lbs will be good. Loosen all the straps then put the pack on. Once the pack is on, first tighten up the shoulder straps (usually hanging near your elbows. Next snug the hipbelt. Next, after that, buckle the sternum strap and position it a couple inches below your collarbones. And finally, cinch up the load lifters (located on top of your shoulders). By testing several packs together, you’ll quickly recognize the right fit for you.