Elk hunting ranges from extreme with the DIY, public-land crowd, to downright comfortable if you book via an outfitter with lodge accommodations complete with Giza cotton sheets and chef entrees nightly. The gear you need to facilitate either hunt varies from survival essentials to survive a nasty fall on a solo, DIY hunt to which soft drink you order for your guide to top off the cooler in the truck.
A crucial element to your hunting gear is your backpack, particularly for DIY pursuit. Choose the wrong one and your hunt will suffer. Take these topics into consideration as you mull the right backpack for your next hunt. The investment in a new pack could make the difference between a hunt in heaven or a hunt headed to … well you know where.
EMBRACE YOUR HUNTING STYLE
DIY immediately projects a visualization of a hunter stalking through drizzle with a backpack heaping to provide the essentials for continued existence. On the other hand, an elk ranch hunt aided by a 4×4 truck or enclosed cab UTV, likely only requires a daypack, fanny or lumbar pack for a bottle of water, and field wipes in case nature calls.
Since most of us do not yield an expendable income to routinely book the pleasantness of ranch hunts, I will skip straight to the DIY crowd. A pack for that hunt must do it and then some. As you plan for your hunt, determine how you will be hunting. That seems like a strange question, but matters to the investment you plan for a backpack.
I break elk hunting down into three categories, base camp hunting, spike or bivy hunting, and an outright backpack adventure. All three require a worthy pack as each requires you to carry a specific set of gear. Currently, I transition between launching my hunts from an enclosed trailer base camp to bivy hunts of a couple of nights out before restocking back at base camp. I have been on backpack hunts for extended stays in the wilderness, but the units I have been hunting of late produce impressive results launching day hunts from a trailer base. If the elk move or weather forces me to a lower elevation, packing up the trailer is quick and simple to follow the herds.
And if I need to prospect for elk or go a mile, or three more than easily backtracked back to base camp, I keep a bivy camp ready for deployment. These two options are easily serviced by an intermediate pack above the daypack level, but below what you would need for an extended backpack hunt. Backpacking requires precise planning for shelter, calorie consumption, water replenishment, outright survival and a way to begin the task of removing an entire elk from a remote location. Your pack should reflect the venture ahead.
You likely have a solid idea of how your hunt will unfold, but explore all possibilities. Query others who have drawn the same unit. Study your hunting app to determine if remoteness demands backcountry actions. Finally, decide what you physically can endure. You never want to get in over your head. Now consider the size of the pack.
Yes, size matters when it comes to an elk hunting backpack. You may not need actual cubic inches of stowage while riding from pasture to pasture on a truck elk hunt, but you will need considerable space for day hunts, bivy hunts and outright backpack excursions. Begin with the extreme, a backpack hunt.
If you plan on packing into a location and establishing a backcountry camp, your pack must be capable of carrying everything you need to combat the elements along with sustenance. Depending on the weather and your length of stay, a pack for this job should include at least 4,000 cubic inches of stowable pack and an expandable meat hauling frame complete with lashing capabilities for meat transportation when called upon.
The pack should be able to accommodate a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, food, water filter, water bottles, first aid, personal items, raingear, clothing layers, headlamp and batteries, or solar charging pad. In addition to these life support items, remember to save space for meat bags, latex gloves, knife sharpener and paracord. Add in other items as you deem required. Now lay it all out and you begin to see the size of backpack you need and considerations to paring down equipment essentials.
Some prefer a pack that includes up to 6,000 cubic inches for the backcountry, but if you fill that pack to the brim, keep in mind you need to be able to manage the load. Bigger is better in many instances, but only if you can manage the load. An option I believe works well for a week in the backcountry, short bivy assaults or long day hunts, is a pack with approximately 4,000 cubic inches of pack, plus an expandable lashing frame to slide meat into. This expansion system allows meat to ride against your back and the frame while the pack portion extends out. A bow or rifle carrying aids in carrying your weapon while leaving hands free for use of hiking staffs. Everything else stows compactly in the pack.
COMFORT AND FIT
As you shop for a pack, look beyond the cubic inches and behind the scenes to determine if the pack includes all the comforts for hours of companionship. You will be married at the hip to this pack, so it needs to provide comfort at every available contact point with your body. The pack should include a sturdy, lightweight frame. Anything more than six pounds and your pack begins to weigh you down before even adding the needed gear for your elk hunt. For instance, on the new ALPS OutdoorZ Elite Frame and Pack, they incorporate a high-performance thermoplastic composite to reduce overall pack weight by 30 percent and increase pack strength by 30 percent.
The pack and frame lashing system should be constructed from some of the most rugged material on earth, such as 500D Nylon Cordura. A water-resistant coating aided by an easily deployable rain cover is necessary to keep essential gear dry, particularly fire-starting tools. Finally, each and every outer component needs to flow quietly with your body as you slip through the elk woods.
Moving on to the carrying system, research a pack with a padded, mesh waist belt that is wide enough to distribute loads comfortably. Adjustable load lifters and anti-sway belt straps complete the waist belt, and load placement. Add-ons like those may not seem needed with your basic gear in a pack, but if you find yourself toting a full elk quarter, the stability of the load means everything while crossing a vertical scree slope.
Although you want most of the weight riding on your hips, broad, padded shoulder straps with torso adjustment assist in a sturdy ride. Look for a lumbar pad that will not slip and the entire back should be crafted of breathable 3D mesh.
Overall, the pack needs to keep your body from aches and pains as you move throughout hunting areas. Try it on extensively at a store or better yet, seek out a hunting associate already owning a pack you like. Ask them to test it for a weekend to see if the fit is right for you.
WEAR IT PROUDLY
Once you purchase the pack, do not wait until hunting season to put it to use. Use it during summer scouting, physical fitness training and even while shooting your bow, or rifle. Time while carrying your pack leads to a partnership that will not trip you up when an elk appears a few mere yards away. I have shot most of my archery elk in the past decade wearing my pack. As for firearm hunting, most of those were shot using my pack as a rest over a boulder or log. They become a true hunting partner. Now get to shopping.
Two solid all-around options include the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander X + Pack with an internal meat hauling frame built into the system. It offers 4,000 cubic inches of pack in addition to the expansion portion for meat hauling. The second option, and the one I am currently using, is the ALPS OutdoorZ Elite Frame Pack. I actually use that pack for all hunting, coyotes to elk.
The 3,800-bag model and frame top out at 5 pounds, 13 ounces. I have packed out two bulls and the pack’s contoured lumbar design, torso adjustment, air mesh backing, along with construction from 500D Cordura, guarantee comfort and a sturdy ride for you. Pack bags are hydration compatible and include a rain fly, plus a bow/rifle carrying system.
You can utilize the frame alone for packing meat or add packs to the frame to fit your needs in cubic inch sizes of 1,800 and 3,800, each with roomy compartments. Packs are interchangeable via a speedy aluminum hook system.
I keep the 3,800 cubic inch pack on the frame year-round since I tend to carry the kitchen sink along with a toaster on most hunts. Over the summer it has accompanied me on numerous scouting trips, so I know it stands at the ready for elk season ahead. See it and more at ALPS OutdoorZ.