By Shane Chuning
Every year pack manufactures roll out a few new packs. The team at Sportsman’s News took some of the best that the manufactures had to offer this year and put them to the test throughout some of the shed hunting season as well as getting feed and camera’s into the high country.
Blacks Creek Western
The Blacks Creek Western upon first impression is a well thought out and organized pack. It is 2000 cubic inches and weight coming in at 4 lbs 15 oz. Compared to other packs of the same cubic inches, it seems much larger. Overall, a very comfortable pack with an adjustable torso which is a plus. This is great for the consumers that are looking to purchase a pack with lots of organization in mind. Most of us will go in and buy a pack not realizing what to look for in proper fit. Having an adjustable torso is a big plus when purchasing a pack since most stores won’t stock multiple sizes on the non-adjustable packs. The main compartment has plenty of room, but you will want to think about the size of your water bladder and your spotting scope gear. These have their own separate compartments, but they do take up room in the main compartment as well. If you have a small to mid size spotting scope, you will still have enough room for a small light weight sleeping bag and in my case, my light weight tent fits with enough room left over for an extra pair of clothes. Even at 2000 cubic inches, it is doable for an overnight scouting trip. It does come with its own rain fly which is also a plus. You never know when you will be hit with a thunderstorm during those archery hunts. It will carry a rifle or bow and ride fairly comfortable. I do like the straps at the bottom of the pack. It makes for a great place to carry your sleeping pad. I find a lot of packs that do not add this feature and personally I don’t know why. There are a couple of things I would like to see different in the future. The side pouch for one can be used for a spotting scope leg, but I find it fairly snug and too small for a Nalgene® bottle, but will fit a standard water bottle just fine. I also would like to see pockets incorporated on their waist belt. These are always handy for small items you need to access on a regular basis. Overall, it will make for a good day pack and you could even squeeze an overnighter out of it as well.
The Eberlestock G2 is a 2300 cubic inch pack that weighs 4.5 lbs. My first thoughts on this pack where there is no way that it is 2300 cubic inches. It is very streamline, yet it opens up to the 2300 cubic inches nicely. Once the wings are opened up, you have very well organized pockets for your spotting scope and tripod legs with easy access. The two pockets on the wings are for hydration bladders, so you could carry one on each side if you desire. The G2 also has the netted side pouches that could be used for water bottles if you decide to go that route for a day outing. They are big enough for the Nalgene® bottle which for me is a big plus, since I always use them. For some reason it’s just a little more refreshing taking a drink through a Nalgene® bottle than always having to use the hose on your hydration bladder. The main compartment was big enough to haul in a 20 lb. bag of feed on my camera hanging trips. You can fit a small lightweight sleeping bag along with a small one man tent and extra clothes, if needed. The top flap has enough room for snacks and other things you might want to access regularly. The bottom flap attaches to the top flap to help secure loads and really streamlines the pack together. I also found the bottom flap handy for a seat pad when glassing on those early mornings when the ground might be a little damp. I found it very compact while hiking, even through thick, nasty scrub oak. I was really impressed with the way the pack comes together after everything is loaded in it. Another great feature was the frame system and the way the pack sets off your back, leaving your back room to breathe in-between the pack. I sweat like there’s no tomorrow and I really like the packs that are coming out with these designs. I like the idea of pockets on your waist belt which this pack has, but when you are fully loaded, these pockets are very snug. I would like to see some extra material in this area making it easier to get stuff in and out of them. Overall, a very well thought out pack that shines in its streamline appearance when fully loaded. Probably would rate this one my favorites in its class at 2300 cubic inches.
Sitka Bivy 45 Pack
The Sitka Bivy 45 Pack is 4500 cubic inches and weighs 6.76 lbs. in the regular size they do offer this pack in a tall size for you longer torso guys. This pack is geared for an overnight or extended stays in the outdoors. You can comfortably have enough room for a five day hunt. One of the great futures of this pack is the tension frame design. This sets the pack away from your back when carrying loads and helps with air flow between you and the pack, keeping you dry during those hot days during archery season. Out of the packs tested, I definitely sweat with less with this tension frame design. Just giving that extra airflow makes a huge difference in keeping you dry. I do like there gun and bow holder system. It secures your bow or gun firmly against the pack with the aid of the compression straps. It is on the side of the pack, so you will want to adjust your weight in the pack accordingly. Probably one of my favorite features is the gear shelf that pulls out from the bottom of the pack in the same compartment as the rain fly. This is extremely handy for when you need to pack out your meat after a successful hunt. You can take out all your light gear and strap it to the outside of your pack with this gear shelf and with the compression straps, it will secure your load to the pack. This gives you the ability to then put your meat in your main compartment while keeping your light belongings with you. Putting the meat against your back will make for a much nicer ride. For those of you that like to keep your spotting scope completely enclosed, the main compartment offers a side zipper that makes for easy access to it without having to take everything out in the process. They also have a bottom pouch, just above the gear shelf and rain fly that fits my ultra light sleeping bag perfectly. This pack has plenty of outer pockets to keep those small, easy accessible items in reach, along with a detachable top pouch if you decide you don’t need the extra 600 cubic inch section. The straps at the bottom of the pack secure your floor mats.
This is a simple feature, but yet sometimes overlooked. I do like the location of the hydration system on the Sitka packs. They keep it right at your back were the bulk of your weight should be. The side pouches are great for water bottles or attaching your tripod. The material is the quietest out of any pack I have ever owned. The only negative I could come up with is the material at the stress point at the top corner of the frame shows slight signs of wear. In the future, I would like to see this area reinforced. Overall, I found this to be a great pack with a lot of good features packed into it. When looking for multi-day packs that can pack out the meat as well, this would definitely be one to look at and you would not be disappointed. It is one of my favorites in its class at 4500 cubic inches and will probably be my extended day pack this year.
Sitka Bivy 30
The Sitka Bivy 30 is a scaled down version of the Bivy 45. It comes in at 3200 cubic inches and weighs 5.43 lbs. It is are a one size fits all pack. This pack also has their tension frame system keeping your back out away from your back, giving you plenty of room to dry out on those hot days. There are a couple differences, one being the storage for the rain fly is in one of the top pouches, while the other is used for a small storage area. Another feature that you don’t see in the Bivy 45 is a sleeping pad that’s included in the Bivy 30. It tucks into the pouch inside the main compartment right up against your back. When you’re not using it as a sleeping pad it makes for a great pad for glassing. The storage on the outer part of the pack can be used for your items that need to be easily accessible and even can be used for a small spotting scope. When the pack is fully loaded, it would be nice in the future if the one for a spotting scope was a touch bigger. Another feature that would be a simple add on in the future is a side zipper for the main compartment for ease of access to the bottom of your load. I would say overall a very useful pack for your one to three day excursions in the backcountry.
Badlands Super Day Pack
The Badlands Super Day Pack is a 1950 cubic inch pack that weighs 3 lbs. 15 oz. First off, I generally don’t use many packs under 2200 cubic inches. However, this pack would be one I would choose if looking for a roomy day pack. I like the gun scabbard pocket that you sometimes don’t see on your sub 2000 cubic inch packs. The waist belt pockets are large and roomy, but I would like to see them a little more forward designed, so you don’t have to reach as far back to access them. I do like the Badlands feature of their pistol holder incorporated into the waist belt system. I am surprised we haven’t seen others doing something similar. The pack is H2O compatible and has plenty of room in the main compartment to hold a day’s worth of necessities. This overall is a very solid day pack that will fit the bill for most of your daily needs.
We also tested the Badlands Ox and the Eberlestock Just One which are all oversized packs and used on extended trips or for meat hauling. To view the complete review of these packs, visit our website at www.sportsmansnews.com. We will be giving away some of our test packs to our visitors on the web and you will have the ability to win them by giving us your feedback on these great packs through our forum.
Extended Stay and Meat Hauling Packs
Every Fall I look forward to one or two do it yourself hunts deep in the backcountry. There is nothing quite like getting away from the crowds and chasing huge velvet racked muleys or the bugling bull elk with a bow during those crisp September mornings. Many people are afraid to tackle these kinds of trips for the simple reason that it is just you and nature. This is the exact reason that I do these types of trips each and every year.
When you do a trip like this, everything that you take with you has got to go on your back, so having the right pack is essential to having a great trip. I don’t think that you can have just one pack and expect it to be perfect for all your activities. The best thing you can do is match the best pack for each situation. Extended trips require a heavy duty pack that can carry some weight. You will have to determine whether you want an internal frame or an external frame. Both have pros and cons. We have put a few of these types of packs to the test and here is what we have to say about them.
This is an external frame pack with an well set up bag attached to it. The bag has 4,400 cubic inches of space. The frame is made of a lightweight, but extremely tough aluminum. The fit on this pack is spectacular regardless of the load applied to it. I’m absolutely sure that this pack will handle much more weight than I ever want to consider carrying. Most larger packs have huge compartments and every time I need something, it is always at the bottom or the back and is usually the very last thing I pull out. The OX doesn’t have that problem. The main compartment almost totally unzips allowing you to lay the pack flat on the ground and have easy access to the load in your main compartment.
The two matching side compartments are extremely large. This is a big benefit if you opt to carry a full size spotting scope and an oversized tripod which I always do. I would rather sit behind my glass and judge animals as opposed to carrying substandard glass and burning all my valuable energy trying to see if my target is a shooter. These pockets will accommodate the largest scopes out there. Having my tripod in a pocket keeps the legs from grabbing onto that thick oak brush as well. This pack is also H2O compatible, but it will require you to buy the Badlands specific square model hydration pouch instead of the standard size that most already have. The top pocket as well as the outside back pocket is an ideal place to store items that you will need frequently. The top pocket is where I usually keep my snacks and the back pocket is a great place for GPS, satellite phones, camera, matches, and any item that you might want quick access to. It is also equipped with a rifle holder pocket, which allows your gun to attach to the very center back of the pack. I am not a big fan of this setup because I like to have my gun a little more protected and once the pack is fully loaded, it puts some extra weight farther away from your body. Once your trophy is on the ground, this pack truly shines. It is built so that you can loosen up a few straps, move the pack back and drop an elk quarter or meat bag onto the meat shelf and suck the pack back tight to the frame again. This process can be done in just a few seconds. If you are setting up a backcountry base camp and just need to get your trophy back to the base, this pack has the ability to totally remove the bag from the frame and just take the frame setup out. This will knock 4 pounds off of your total weight, which is a plus. This setup is designed for meat or heavy hauling. It has all the cinch straps and supports in the right place to make sure even a moose quarter will ride close to the frame and be as comfortable to pack as 200 pounds can be. Taking the pack bag off of the frame does take a little more time and after doing it a time or two, anyone can do it in about 5 minutes. When reinstalling the bag, we would recommend that you clean the threads and lube the screws with a little candle wax to make sure you have easy removal in the future. This pack tips the scale at 10.2 pounds raw, which is about a half pound heavier than the advertised weight, but the durability of the OX is worth the couple of added pounds when you are deep into the backcountry. The foam padded belt and back support made for a very comfortable pack, but also got extremely hot. This pack comes in several different sizes which many people don’t take into consideration when buying a pack, but if you get the right size to fit your torso, you will be extremely happy with this pack on your next backcountry hunt.
This is a pack that I have years of experience with and it never changes very much, but just keeps getting better and better with small improvements every year. If a guy were to only have one pack in his arsenal and they wanted it to be as close to perfect for every situation, the J34 is the pack to own. This could be why it is called the “Just One”. At first glance, you would never imagine what this pack can do. It is an internal frame style pack, which starts out as a daypack with 1,700 cubic inches of space. The pack is right at 7.1 pounds, which is a few ounces over the advertised weight of 6.9 pounds and makes it a tad heavy for a daypack. However, this is a daypack on steroids and has everything you need for that extreme backcountry hunt. Two full-length pockets run the whole length of the pack, which will easily hold a full size spotting scope and the other pocket will carry your tripod. The compressed main compartment is fairly small when in the daypack stage, but will easily carry everything you need on a one to two day jaunt. This pack has a built in rifle scabbard which runs along your back. I like this feature because it keeps the gun very close to my body and well protected plus I can easily access it for a quick shot if the opportunity arises. If I’m not carrying a rifle, I stick my tripod in here and it works perfectly.
You can adjust this pack to fit absolutely any torso size. It is H2O compatible as well and has great outside netting style pockets which will hold 2 full sized Nalgene bottles easily within reach while hiking. Once we open this pack up to reveal its’ true size, you will be amazed. It expands out to a full 4,600 cubic inches. This will allow for a full week’s worth of camping gear and food as well as the ability to stick a whole elk quarter into the pack. The benefit of this is that the cloth of the pack in the expanded mode is made out of mesh allowing your game to still cool while packing it out. There are several separate accessories that can be purchased for your Just One to make it complete and a couple that I would recommend is a waterproof cover as well as the separate duffle. The duffle fills out the main compartment and makes it extremely easy to pack all of your gear and then drop it into the main compartment. Once you get a load in this pack the heavy-duty cinch straps will secure the load and make sure that it doesn’t move. The pack doesn’t come equipped with straps to secure items like a sleeping bag, pad, or tent to the bottom, but it is loaded with M.O.L.L.E type connections which will allow you to secure just about anything with a separate set of straps. The connections are found on both sides of the pack and allow you to customize the other items you might need to attach to the pack. I’m not sure that you can get full sized moose quarter in this pack, but it is ideal for just about everything else here in North America. Having the ability to load up everything that you need for a full week’s worth of hunting and then once you are in camp, you can compress the pack down and have a great daypack that has the ability to expand when you get your animal on the ground makes this pack the best out there for a person who can only afford to buy just one pack.