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How to Choose the Right Hunting Pack

How to Choose the Right Hunting Pack

When it comes to choosing the right hunting backpack, the options are almost endless. There are so many different style frames, bag sizes, organizational features, and types of fit that there really isn’t a “perfect” hunting pack. In this article, we will go over some of the different options out there and what you should look for when choosing the right one for you. 

The first and most distinguishing factor in finding the right hunting backpack is the type of hunt you’re going on. The size and carrying capacity of a pack will be completely different from a day hunt on private land to a multi-day excursion backpack hunt deep into the national forest. Luckily for us, pack manufacturers have realized that diehard hunters don’t want to have to own a different pack for all their hunts and introduced modular pack designs. 

So, go into your search for a new backpack having thought through exactly what you want the main function to be. 

Internal vs External Frames

The type of frame on your hunting backpack plays the main role in its carrying capacity. The two different types of frames available are internal and external frames, and they are very different. This will determine the construction of your pack and how the frame carries weight.

Understanding the difference between these two is vital when you choose a hunting pack. 

Internal - Internal Frames are built into the pack itself and in most cases aren’t removable. These frames are normally an aluminum frame or some form of composite that is sewn into the back of the pack between you and the bag. These are not wildly popular amongst hunters due to the lack of stiffness making them uncomfortable when loaded heavy, and a high potential for failure when hauling meat.

Internal Frames are normally used on short-distance day hunts, scouting trips, or any other instance where the possibility of you needing to haul meat is pretty low.

External - This is what you will find when looking at packs made by companies in the hunting industry. They are normally made of carbon fiber, lightweight high-grade metal, or some form of composite. These frames are completely removable from the bags and in most cases are removable from the suspension system as well. 

External frames will have a lot more carrying capacity and since they can be separated from the frame, most have what is called a meat hauler that allows you to carry an elk quarter between the bag and the frame.

External frames are the most common and recommended frames for hunting. If you’re going to be hauling meat, you will want one of these. Plus with a removable frame comes the modularity of only need one frame for multiple-size bags.

Suspension Systems

The suspension system for a hunting pack is made of shoulder straps and a waist belt. This is where you will find the most complaints about a pack. If the suspension doesn’t fit you properly then the load won’t ride comfortably and you won’t be having much fun after a while. 

Shoulder Straps - You want your shoulder straps to be wide enough to disperse the weight, and cushiony enough to carry the weight. The shoulder straps are where you will find your load lifters which is a critical function when carrying a heavy load. When tightened the load lifter will pull against the rigid frame and lift the shoulder straps up off your shoulders distributing the weight more onto your hips. 

Most offer it, but a chest strap that connects the two across your chest is a nice feature to have as well. You should also make sure to get a frame and suspension that has some adjustment to fit your torso length.

Waist Belt - You don’t want the waist belt of your hunting pack to be too rigid or too flimsy. You want it to contour to your waist so it doesn’t slide down when loaded heavy. If you can, find a company that offers a hip belt that is tightened by pulling the strap forward towards the buckle. 

This way allows you to really cinch your hip belt down to prevent it from sliding. The most important part is the lumbar pad. This is where a lot of the weight will sit and if not comfortable it can cause serious issues. 

Size of Bag

Most of the pack manufacturers these days measure the size of their bags in cubic inches, but you may also see them in liters. The size bag you will need is all dependent on the duration of your hunting trip and the weather you will encounter. 

A commonly overlooked aspect of picking bag size is only thinking about how much hunting gear and food you will be packing, but don’t forget the intended outcome of hauling meat. It never hurts to have a little more cubic inches than you think. 

1000 - 2000 - Most commonly used day hunt pack size. Perfect for water, food, limited extra clothes, and other daily essentials. If on an external frame, meat can be carried in load-hauling mode with an extra 1500-2000 cubic inches.

3000-4000 - A great size for overnight hunting trips and cold weather day hunts. The upper end of this range can be stretched into a couple of nights’ stay if the weather is nice and doesn’t require any extra clothes and a refined hunting kit. The colder the weather gets the more insulating and robust your hunting gear will get.

5000 - 8000 - These are your expedition-size bags. The longer your hunting trip the more food, the colder and more inclement the weather the more hunting gear, and packing in these distances it is nice to have some extra bag to fit as much meat as you can. 

Pack Organization

Organizing your hunting pack may seem like a simple task, but there are countless situations when this can come in handy. When you shoot a buck at last light and you’re in for a long night it’s nice to know exactly where everything is. 

Another important thing to keep in mind when organizing your hunting pack is weight distribution. An uneven hunting pack can cause some serious aches and pains after carrying it around for 5 days. Make sure to pay attention to where you organize your larger, heavier hunting gear like tent, sleeping bag, spotting scope, water, and food.

 A bag with lots of compression straps will help secure all your hunting equipment and keep it from moving around, and if you can get extra compression straps do it. They come in handy often.

How Should it Fit

A well-fitting hunting backpack is the most important factor. If it doesn’t fit right then it’s not going to be comfortable. It is very important to find a pack that has adjustments to fit your specific torso length so your suspension sits in the right spot. Knowing how to fit a hunting pack is incredibly important.

Your waist belt should sit with the center just above your hip bones, this should place the lumbar pad in the lower section of your back riding above your tailbone. Your shoulder straps should come forward enough to place the load lifter strap between your trap and collar bone and come off at a 45° angle. 

Everyone’s bodies are different and even a nice expensive pack can just plain old, not fit. Always make sure to cleanly load your pack, as to not get it dirty, and take it for a few test spins around the neighborhood. Just like boots, it’s hard to tell exactly how a pack is going to feel in the mountains till you get them in the mountains, but at least packs tend to hold a decent resale value. 

Best Packs 2021

There are a lot of good packs on the market these days to choose from, but just like anything, you get what you pay for. At the top of their class are Kifaru, Stone Glacier, and Exo Mtn Gear who are spectacular packs but come at a steep cost. These are some of the best hunting backpacks you can come by. There are also some hidden gems that offer the same modularity as the top-tier packs like the Outdoorsmans and Mystery Ranch packs.

Like I have mentioned before, even the top-tier packs can be uncomfortable for some. So when shopping around for the best hunting packs, do your best to get your hands on it, think about organization, try it on with some weight, and make sure it’s right for you. Nobody wants to be in pain in the maintains.

Pack Accessories

If you can think of a pack accessory you would want, I bet you it’s already made. These days you can attach all different kinds of pockets, organize all your stuff in dry bags, attach your bow, and some you can even get a lid that turns into a fanny pack. Some are more important than others.

Roll Top Dry Bags - The last thing you want to do is get caught in a rainstorm and get all your clothes soaking wet. Plus these are typically lightweight and make for good organizational accessories to keep like items.

Rain Cover -  Surprisingly rain covers don’t come standard with most packs. Make sure to grab one at checkout. Most bags these days have some form of water resistance, but it’s not good enough for sustained precipitation.

Water Bladder Holder - Most come with a single center clip, but this pack accessory will hang your water blatter where the frame and bag meet to put less strain on the clip, and help distribute the roughly 6.6lbs that 3 liters of water weighs.

Hip Belt Pouches - Again, usually do not come standard with a pack. These attach right on your waist belt and are perfect storage for easy to access items like your phone, gloves, calls, or other small items.

Bow or Rifle Holder - If you don’t have to carry your weapon the whole time, why would you. Obviously, when the chances of walking up on an animal are high you hope it’s in your hand or in an easily removable rifle holder, but when packing into an area it’s nice to strap it on and use two trekking poles.

How to train with your pack

Training with your pack isn’t just about getting physically ready for a hunt, but it also helps out mentally as well. Carrying a heavy load for long periods of time is no easy feat, and can quickly start to break down your mental toughness. Let alone a big pack out with 100+ pounds of hunting gear and meat, you will be wishing you had trained.

Training with something like the Outdoorsmans Atlas Trainer Frame System makes it super easy to work yourself into comfort with a weighted pack. If you train with heavy loads frequently you may not want to always use your hunting backpack’s meat shelf to limit the wear and tear on such an investment, because these things aren’t cheap.

How to clean your pack

So you purchased a new pack, took it out, and luck will have it you got your hunting pack covered in blood, fat, and dirt. Awesome!! But now you want to clean it up and get it ready to sit through the off-season. So how do you clean it?

There are a lot of personal tricks out there to do this, but the easiest is to fill one of those storage tubs you get from Costco with warm/hot water if you can and scent-free laundry detergent. Let it soak for a while till the water is nice and dark. 

It might take a few soaks to get it looking like new, but sometimes the stains just don’t come out. Worst case scenario just take it down to the local laundromat and ruin one of their washers.


So if you're in the market for a new hunting backpack this year, I hope this information helped shed some light on the different options available. With all the advancements in hunting packs over the last decade, you really can't go wrong with any of them. Plus with the modular pack systems available you can mix and match bags onto a comfortable fitting frame to make sure you have the right bag for your hunt.

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