Why It’s Important to Choose the Right Hunting Backpack
Most hunters I know put serious thought into their hunting equipment.
They’ll spend days looking at gear and talking with other hunters before deciding what to buy. This is a good thing because you don’t want to miss your chance at a deer because of bad equipment.
Oddly enough, most of my hunting friends seem to gloss over backpacks. They’ll toss their hunting gear into a normal hiking backpack, or even their old school bag, and then venture into the woods and have an uncomfortable time. They might even spook the buck they were hoping to shoot.
A little forethought and a little more money would have saved their back and allowed them to take that deer.
That’s because hunting backpacks aren’t just camo-colored hiking backpacks. They’re made for a different purpose, one that requires stealth and weaponry skills.
Hiking backpacks are good for comfort and storage but don’t mesh well with rifles and sneakiness. Military packs come close but still don’t quite hit the mark.
I used to hunt with an old ALICE pack. It worked, but it wasn’t until I tried a friend’s Badlands backpack until I realized I needed to upgrade. Once you’ve slipped off a hunting backpack to take aim without alerting a deer, you’ll know you made a good choice by getting a hunting-specific pack.
How to Choose a Quality Hunting Backpack
While I believe any hunter should have a hunting backpack, not all hunters should wear the same packs.
Bringing a backcountry backpack is overkill for a short day hunt, while a daypack won’t allow you to haul out an elk quarter. So, it’s smart to choose the pack that will work best for your hunt.
Purpose and Carrying Capacity
The most important factor to consider is how much stuff you want to carry. In other words, what is the backpack’s purpose?
If you need to carry not only hunting gear but also camping supplies, such as a tent and bedroll, then you want a larger backpack such as the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander. You may need upwards of 5,000 cubic inches to carry all your equipment.
However, if you’re hunting out of a cabin or your truck, then you can get by with a much smaller daypack, and 2,000 cubic inches or less may be more than enough. A huge pack will slow you down and make your trek more awkward than it needs to be.
Also, how will you carry the meat once you’ve shot your target?
Small game, such as goat and deer, can often be dressed and carried out of the woods without needing a huge, externally framed backpack.
This holds especially true if you’re hunting with a partner and can split up the meat-hauling duties.
However, if you’re hunting larger game such as elk, you’ll need a meat-hauling pack. Though some smaller bags do have meat shelves, for those big animals you will need a larger bag.
Backpacks come in three styles:
- External frame
- Internal frame
- No frame
External frames are the big boys and are best for carrying as much gear as possible. They are generally the most adaptable because you can take off the sack and lash the game bag directly to the frame.
This makes external frames great for longer hunts.
Internal frames hold the weight closer to your body than external frames and are almost always lighter. However, they are typically less suited for meat-hauling because you can’t take the pack off the frame.
Backpacks without frames are the lightest duty but are also the cheapest. They’re best for day hunts and rarely have the capability for carrying lots of meat.
Fit and Weight
The physical features of the bag can be more important than the backpack’s carrying capacity. What good is a backpack that doesn’t fit you?
Most backpacks are adjustable enough to fit most people, though some, such as the Badlands 2200, won’t fit smaller hunters.
I’ve found that hunting backpack manufacturers err toward fitting larger people.
The bag’s weight is also important to consider because you’ll be walking a long way with your backpack. Thankfully, properly fitted backpacks feel much lighter than they actually are. Still, unless you need the features of a heavier backpack, it’s often a good idea to shave off weight.
Hunters are often caught in the rain. You can’t just pop indoors to avoid a rain shower if you’re on a tree stand three miles from the nearest road!
Unless you like having waterlogged gear, it’s a good idea to get a backpack with some measure of water resistance. Zippers are weak points, so even waterproof fabric doesn’t mean the bag itself will be waterproof.
Some backpacks come with a built-in rainfly to best protect from the rain. If they don’t, well, a garbage bag is a cheap and simple way to protect your backpack from the rain.
Hiking through rugged terrain can be extra difficult and even dangerous when you’re holding a rifle. Many people, myself included, recommend keeping your bow or rifle stowed until you’re at your hunting spot.
Many hunting backpacks come with holsters, scabbards, or other types of rifle holders. Some also have ways to carry bows. A few even have places to attach handgun holsters.
These will allow you to carry a weapon hands-free.
Why not use a sling instead?
Well, you can’t sling your rifle on your back when also wearing a backpack. It’ll have to bounce around in front of you, which gets old quickly.
Attaching your weapon to your backpack keeps it from sliding around.
Top Backpack Brands
Established in 2007, ALPS OutdoorZ focuses on producing hunting gear. Their aim is to combine affordability with performance, so hunters can enjoy their hunt without spending all of their money. ALPS OutdoorZ’s employees don’t just develop and sell their gear. They use it, too.
They produce more than just hunting backpacks. ALPS OutdoorZ sells gun cases, sleeping bags, hunting blinds, and even camouflaged camp furniture.
Their passion for hunting doesn’t end at outfitting hunters, though. ALPS OutdoorZ has teamed up with multiple charities and conservation groups to ensure safe habitats for wildlife.
ALPS OutdoorZ works with Delta Wildfowl, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Whitetails Unlimited.
This also sponsors a mentorship program to aid experienced hunters in teaching others about our sport and to spread a safe and healthy hunting culture.
ALPS OutdoorZ company’s products may not be the flashiest in the world, but they are reliable without draining your credit card. Their backpacks may not be the best, but you’ll pay three times the price for only a little more quality.
One of the premium hunting backpack manufacturers, Badlands is well known for producing high-quality, albeit expensive, hunting gear.
They are most known for their backpacks, which are some of the best you can buy. That’s why three of them appeared in this list. However, Badlands hasn’t limited themselves to hunting bags.
They also have gloves, scope covers, binocular holders, sleeping bags, and more. Their hunting clothing is also excellent.
Badlands has their own camouflage, which they call Approach. Approach camo has a neutral color palette that’s designed to adapt to most natural surroundings and lighting conditions. It also has more visual layers than, say, military camo, which helps to break up your outline.
Approach camo has been tested in the field across the world. It’s not some committee-designed camo that doesn’t actually perform in the real world. Take that, UCP.
Badlands also has an unconditional lifetime warranty. If you own a Badlands backpack that fails for any reason, no matter how you bought it, Badlands will repair it.
Their warranty page asks you to abuse their backpacks so they can make the next generation even better. However, the backpack does have to be repairable. I wouldn’t recommend testing the backpack’s resistance to Tannerite.
All of this quality does come at a price. Badlands is one of the more expensive hunting backpack manufacturers. However, they are worth every penny, and you can use them year after year.
And if you accidentally catch the backpack on fire, well, they’ll take care of you.
Can’t I just use a regular backpack?
If you’re hunting close to a cabin or vehicle, then sure, a normal backpack will be able to carry all the gear you need.
However, your average city backpack isn’t designed for long-term wild use. And hiking backpacks lack certain features specific to hunting packs, such as a meat shelf or rifle holder.
Or stealth. Most backpacks have noisy fabric. Hunting backpacks are designed to be quiet.
Wearing a hunting backpack will make your trip much easier if you plan on traveling more than a short distance into the wild and can help you avoid spooking your game.
What should I pack in my hunting backpack?
Packing a hunting backpack is a lot like packing a hiking backpack, except you need to add hunting-specific items.
Here’s a list of example items:
- Weapon and gear, such as ammo or arrows
- Binoculars and perhaps a rangefinder
- Blaze orange gear
- Game calls and scents
- First aid kit
- Field dressing gear, such as skinning knife, rubber gloves, game meat bag, etc.
- Rain gear
- Warm/cold weather clothes
- Extra socks
If you’re outfitting yourself for more than just a day hunt, then you need to add standard camping equipment as well. This will include items such as toiletries, cooking equipment, a sleeping bag, a trash bag, and other overnight gear.
How do I clean and wash my hunting backpack?
Backpacks can get quite messy when exposed to the wilderness. They can get covered in mud and contaminated with animal blood, so it’s good to know how to clean your backpack.
Though you can machine wash backpacks, I’d recommend against it. Washers and dryers are hard on this type of heavy gear and can cause them to wear much faster than handwashing.
Here’s how to handwash your hunting backpack:
- Empty the backpack of all gear.
- Remove the bag from the frame, if possible.
- Separate all detachable bags, if any.
- Wipe off surface dirt with a brush.
- Wipe down the whole bag with a damp cloth.
- Use non-bleach stain remover on any stains.
- Put some gentle, dye-free, fragrance-free detergent into a large tub of room temperature water, preferably a hunting detergent, such as Scent Killer Clothing Wash.
- Put the backpack into the water and scrub with a soft brush or rag until it’s clean.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Hang to dry, preferably upside down.
Read your backpack’s care label before following these directions. While they work for most backpacks, they won’t work for all.
You can machine wash some backpacks if you want, but make sure to set the washer to its gentlest cycle. And never machine dry a backpack unless you like throwing money away!
How do I adjust my hunting backpack?
You’re going to wear your backpack for hours, even days, so it’s important that your pack fits comfortably.
It’s unlikely for you to be able to adjust the backpack once and be comfortable for the rest of your life. Different load weights and the settling of contents can change how the backpack rides, so you may need to adjust in the field.
That’s okay. But, you can use the following tips to get started:
- Wear the hip belt in line with the tops of your hip bones, not down around your hips.
- Tighten your shoulder straps until they’re firm but not too tight; you should be able to put a finger between the straps and your shoulder.
- Pull stabilizer straps and load-lifter straps to bring the pack’s weight closer to your body, increasing your leverage.
- Fasten the chest strap and tighten it. You should feel the weight pull off your shoulders a bit. If you can vertically position this strap, it should be an inch or less below your collarbones.
- Go over every strap again to make sure it’s comfortable. You can do this in the field, too.
Two-thirds of the weight should rest on your hips and the remaining third on your shoulders. This will let you carry the weight of all your gear plus a bunch of meat without any extra fatigue!