When it comes to choosing a hunting pack for your next adventure, the choices can quickly become overwhelming. What material should your bag be constructed of? What size bag is best for your hunt? Which manufacturer offers the best bag? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shopping around for a pack. Here, we will focus not on which brands reign supreme, but instead on the key features you need to keep in mind to ensure an enjoyable hunt afield.
If you are hiking up a mountainside and all that is running through your mind is how much pain you are in because of a strap digging into your shoulder, you are guaranteed to have a miserable hunt. Padded shoulder straps with enough width to help distribute weight are key to ensuring less ibuprofen and more wild game. Adjustable waist and chest straps are important when it comes to weight distribution. Having the ability to carry more of your weight in one area versus another, alongside being able to change that distribution helps aid against muscle fatigue in one concentrated area. Check to see if the particular bag you are looking at has kidney pads, especially if you plan to do quite a bit of hiking— these will not only provide comfort, but aid in proper weight distribution, steering more of it toward your legs instead of your back. If you choose a pack that employs an external rack, be sure to pay close attention to its size. For example, choosing one that is too large will limit how far you can lean your head back. Size also plays into weight distribution, which greatly impacts comfort levels.
You will undoubtedly see a variety of materials used in a pack's construction. When choosing a pack specifically for hunting, you will also be choosing from a variety of patterns. There is no right or wrong pattern, simply choose one that matches up best with the terrain you plan to hunt. Options for "quiet" fabric will also be among the choices, as well as those that are water-resistant and "scent locking." If you have ever been hunting before, you know that it is not always 75 degrees and sunny, so while the fabric itself may not be 100% waterproof, keep your eye out for packs that include a rain cover… these are invaluable should you find yourself in a downpour, as it will keep both your pack and its contents dry.
Size and Weight
The size of your pack will be determined greatly by how long you anticipate being in the woods. Available in sizes to equip a hunter anywhere from a day to multi-day hunts, be sure to choose a bag that is large enough to hold your gear, yet not oversized to the point that you are carrying around excess weight. If you choose a pack that straps to an external frame, be sure to choose a frame size that best suits you and the length of your torso. Going with a frame that is too small or large will result in your load becoming unbalanced and painful. Ounces are pounds, and pounds equal pain. If you are hunting large game and anticipate having to carry out meat in the case of a successful hunt, you will need to plan for this as well, and also consider packs that incorporate game racks. If you find that you have narrowed down your choices to two or three options, let weight be the deciding factor.
Pouches and Racks
When you are in your blind or stand and need to access a piece of gear quickly, you want to be able to do so with ease. An assortment of pockets and pouches can keep you organized, just be sure that your pack does not have an excessive amount, or you may run the risk of not being able to find what you need when you need it most. Think about when you wash the pants you wear to the gun range… you know, the type with pockets within pockets… only to find yourself with a crisp and clean $20 bill and a few rounds of 9mm at the end of the cycle. The pieces of equipment you may find yourself frequently reaching for—such as a headlamp, knife, or even your cellphone—should be accessible without having to completely take off your pack while on the move. Pay attention to closure methods on your pockets, meaning do they close via a zipper, Velcro, or snap? Velcro tends to cause a lot more noise than a snap or zipper. I prefer zippered pockets for ease of mind as I don't have to worry about items falling out and becoming lost. Having a pocket or clip for a water bottle is another bonus, or you could go with a pack that has the ability to incorporate a water bladder for easy hydration. A valuable feature on my personal hunting pack that I deploy when hiking to my deer blind each season is the gun pouch, which unfolds from a hidden pocket, allowing me to securely strap my rifle to my back when navigating difficult terrain, freeing up my hands. Lastly, as mentioned, consider a game rack; should you land that perfect shot and find yourself needing to carry out fresh game, being able to strap it easily to your pack is priceless at the end of a long hunt.
When it comes to various features to consider on a hunting pack, the list is endless. As long as you consider the above short-list of important options, you will be well on your way to enjoying your hunts to come. In addition, don’t be afraid to look into getting more than one bag. While one bag may be used for most large-game hunts such as whitetail, elk, and bear, you will most likely not require the same type of bag for predator hunting, waterfowl, and small game. In the end, choosing gear is a learning process, and that process is half the fun.