Let’s face it. The days of carrying everything you need for a day afield in your coat pockets are gone. In earlier times hunters carried extra ammo in one pocket, knife on your belt and anything else in another pocket. Nowadays sportsmen need way too much. We carry cell phones, range finders, binoculars, headlamps, safety harnesses, haul lines and the list goes on.
The truth is a hunting pack has become a fundamental piece of outdoor gear. Even the most novice hunter has a bevy of equipment and supplies needed in the field. I remember years back when my own list of equipment continued to grow it was time to purchase a day pack. It had one big compartment where I would cram everything. I was more concerned with price than functionality. It was a hassle digging through the entire contents to find one thing that had worked its way to the bottom of the camouflage bag. After that first year I threw it away, not wanting to pass it on and inflict the same misery on someone else.
Selecting the pack right for you should be a three step process. First, consider the five basic types of hunting packs and decide what works best for the style of hunting you’ll pursue. Next, factor in your needs as they relate to overall capacity and select the right size. Finally consider special features that increase comfort and functionality.
A traditional backpack is what most picture when thinking of a hunting pack. It’s worn on the back and is supported with shoulder straps, which should be fully adjustable to modify the fit, based on the wearer’s unique physique and particular load being carried. The better models have an adjustable waist belt and at least one chest strap for increased comfort and load balancing.
Traditional backpack style hunting packs range in size from 1,000 (which some may call day packs) to over 6,000 cubic inches of capacity. The best packs are built over a rigid frame of aluminum or carbon fiber. Packs lacking a frame or other type of stiffening components are less expensive but also less comfortable to wear as the frame helps support and distribute the load being carried.
These types of packs are the king of carrying capacity but also the most restrictive for upper body movement. They are usually favored by big game hunters and wilderness campers.
A waist pack is a great grab-and-go option for a day in the stand or blind and for those who want to travel light. But for God’s sake don’t call them a “fanny pack.” The waist pack’s belt system is of critical importance since it’s the only means of support. Look for models with a wide, padded belt with a durable buckle that won’t loosen under tension.
Lumbar packs can be described as a hybrid-cross between traditional backpack and waist pack designs and is a superior option for bowhunters or anyone who appreciates full upper body mobility.
A lumbar style pack carries its load low like a waist pack but is also supported by shoulder straps. Capacities are also significantly larger than traditional waist packs.
For outdoor photographers or those who spend time pursuing upland game birds or wild turkeys a vest is the norm, which can be considered more garment than pack. Nonetheless, it is designed to carry just about everything you need, including harvested game, and is a mainstay in most hunters wardrobes.
Chair-style packs are relatively new and range from simple well-engineered folding chairs with built in shoulder straps to more advanced hunting packs with fold-out legs and drop down padded seats. These are great options for turkey, predator and hog hunters or anyone who hunts solely from the ground.
Regardless of design category, today’s modern hunting packs range in price from as little as $30 to upward of $800. As you can imagine, price is a direct reflection of features, size, comfort and quality of construction.
There are two truths when researching and shopping for modern hunting packs. First, the range of styles, features and choices has never been better. More options are available across various price points than ever before. Second, no single pack is designed for every hunting situation. So save your pennies, buy the best pack you can afford and take care of it. In the long run it will take care of you and you’ll be money ahead.