We have been getting some questions about the gear that we use. In particular, what we use, why we use it and the quality of the products vs. the price? A good pack is a necessity when hunting in the western states so we chose to review 3 packs that we regularly use, all are available at different price points and vary in size and options. The packs are being reviewed simply on how they have worked for us. We have put these packs to the test with serious hunting, we put on anywhere from 10-20 miles per day while we hunt and typically pack out meat with our hunting packs. These reviews are honest opinions based on our use and experiences, there has been zero input from the manufacturers themselves.
Sitka Bivy 45 $429 – 4500 cubic inches
The Sitka Bivy 45 has a built in aluminum frame for support and stability, also for keeping the pack off your back and causing unnecessary sweating. The frame is rigid, which helps with weight transfer but it does not flex a lot because it is made with aluminum vs. carbon fiber or polypropylene. It has one large compartment that allows the user to access it from the top, bottom or the side. This is an important feature for when you want to pack away layers as you hunt and the temperatures warm up. It also makes it a lot easier to locate things without emptying out the entire compartment. The main compartment also has a place to hang your water bladder, this is obviously necessary for most any hunt and most packs have this feature.
Not everyone carries a spotting scope while hunting, but many guys do. This pack has a dedicated spotting scope pocket; the pocket has extra padding to protect your valuable glassing equipment. If you’re not into carrying a spotting scope you can always use that pocket for something else, it connects to another pocket by way of a zipper and can be doubled in size.
On the top portion of the pack is a removable day pack lid. This lid has two separate pockets and is great for storing your food for the day or other things that you need ease of access to throughout the day. The waist straps have zippered pockets as well, one on each side, great for carrying your windicator, a small snack or your calls. They are also easy to access while actually wearing the pack.
The two biggest downfalls are the fact that there aren’t very many pockets to this pack and the dry weight of the pack, nearly 7 pounds, is fairly heavy for being a medium sized pack. Not enough smaller pockets can make it difficult to keep things separated and organized. The pack is a bit heavier than similar sized packs, but it’s still tolerable, due to its comfort. On the plus side, it has a fair amount of buckle straps for tightening the pack and gear down or carrying items on the outside of the pack. This includes a side pocket and buckle straps that are used for carrying a rifle.
Packing of meat can be difficult if you don’t use it as designed. There is a pocket on the bottom of the pack that unzips and releases a meat shelf. The meat shelf secures the meat to the outside of the pack; allowing the hunter to keep their other items inside of the main compartment and not having that gear get bloody. Sometimes it works to place meat bags inside of the pack and strap your extra gear to the outside as well, dependent upon how much meat you are packing. No matter what pack you decide to use, it is always a difficult task to pack out a bull elk with three guys in one trip!
Overall this pack is a great multi-purpose pack, as a user can wear it as a day pack or it could even be used for a multi-day hunt. The material is quiet and it is comfortable enough to be worn while shooting your bow or rifle and it can also be used to pack out your meat. The pack comes with a rain fly too, so you can always keep your gear dry.
This pack is being discontinued by Sitka this year, 2018. But, it can still be found if you search for it on the internet, primarily Amazon or Black Ovis. Overall this is a good pack for the price, especially if you can find it at the close out price of $300.
Mystery Ranch Crewcab $620.00 – 5000 cubic inches
The Mystery Ranch Crewcab is an outstanding pack that has the ability to vary greatly in size, from 1900 cubic inches to 5000 cubic inches. It has a ton of pockets and lots of different straps for tightening the pack down or adding accessories. The flexibility of this pack with all of the size adjustments and extra options makes the pack great for day hunting or for multi-day excursions. It also has the ability to add a Daypack Lid and Load Cells to the main pack, to make its carrying capacity even larger than the 5000 cubic inches. But it’s also higher priced, at $620.00. This price does not include the extra features like the Load Cells ($50) or the Daypack Lid ($95).
The Mystery Ranch packs use what they call the NICE frame. It is a hybrid frame that is made of carbon fiber, rather than aluminum or plastic, reducing the weight and giving it more flexibility. The frame is rigid enough to help with weight distribution, but still able to flex with your movements, unlike some of the hard plastic or aluminum frames.
One of the greatest attributes to the NICE frame is its ability to adjust to different sized torsos. The torso section is easily adjustable and so is the waist belt. The waist belt has some added features like a lumbar support to help keep the weight off your hips. The waist belt has a built in accessory strap, similar to the Outdoorsman pack. Mystery Ranch has a great video on their website that will assist you with any the necessary adjustments related to the waist and torso.
Once you have the NICE frame purchased you have the ability to change the attached pack to many different configurations. You could make the frame become a simple meat hauler or you could have it become a 7500 cubic inch long haul pack, plus the additional Load Cells and Daypack Lid options to make it even bigger. The Load Cells are stowed in the middle of the pack, the pack opens up like an accordion with a built in shelf on the bottom. This is also where you would load your meat when packing. This really helps with keeping the pack balanced on your back.
This pack weighs in at over 7 pounds when empty, not including the Daypack Lid or Load Cells. With that being said, it is a large pack that has a lot of extra features because of the NICE frame, making it a great pack for multi-day hunts or a simple day pack. It is a very durable pack as well, as it was designed for the military. It is made with the best materials and craftsmanship and manufactured in the USA.
I would not hesitate to spend the money on this pack, if you can afford to spend $600-800. It is an outstanding pack that you would have for dozens of years, it is virtually bomb proof. I personally have witnessed one of these packs fully loaded, elk meat and all, roll off the side of a mountain. Not one thing in or on the pack was damaged, including the Swarovski binoculars that were packed away inside.
Outdoorsman Optics Hunter $399.99 – 6000 cubic inches
The Outdoorsman pack attaches to a separate frame called the Outdoorsman Frame System. It is made of polypropylene, rather than carbon fiber, and has a curvature to fit most people very well. The frame has the ability to flex with each movement, but not quite as much as the NICE frame does. The Outdoorsman Frame also has a V notch in the top of the frame as well, this is to assist rifle hunters as a rest for the long shot.
The Optics Hunter pack is quite large at 6000 cubic inches, and weighs only a hair over 7 pounds. It is quite a bit larger than the Sitka pack or the Mystery Ranch, with a similar weight. Plus, there is the ability to add an Accessory Pod, which is an additional 2000 cubic inches! It also has a fair amount of buckle straps to tighten the pack down when you don’t need the 6000 cubic inches of carrying capacity.
The functionality of the pack is great. It basically has two large pockets, one accessible from the top and the other is accessible from the bottom side. Inside the main compartment is a separate pocket for the hydration bladder. It also has long vertical side pockets that work great for stowing trekking poles, bugles tubes, spotting scope, etc. There are smaller pockets towards the bottom of the pack and on the sides. These pockets could be used for storing a variety of non-essential items.
On top of the pack is a day pack lid that works great for stowing away items that need to be readily accessible; lunch, snacks, calls, etc. The ability to be able to carry your bow or rifle on the pack is a huge asset as well. You might have to walk for several miles before you get to your hunting area and being able to have your hands free is great. It also allows you to stow these items in a way so that you don’t have to worry about damaging your scope or bow sight.
There are no pockets or pouches on the waist strap, but the waist strap is extremely adjustable and has an accessory strap. Maybe to some, the accessory strap is better than pockets. The shoulder straps also have a lot of adjustment, as well as a lot of padding for comfort. The pack stays off your back, making it very breathable. It is a comfortable pack to wear, even when it is weighted down.
I’m not a huge fan of the material that it is made with, as it is a tad on the noisy side. The cordura material is particularly noisy when things brush against it. Because it is made with cordura, it is extremely durable and water resistant. This pack is also made in the USA and it is priced reasonably at about $400. It serves the purpose of being a day pack that is ready to pack out meat, or a multi-day excursion pack.
You get a lot of bang for your buck with this pack. For $400 bucks you get a pack that gives quite a few options. That’s about half the price of the Mystery Ranch Pack, once you add all the options. The ability to suck this pack down with the buckles straps, open it up to carry out your elk, or strip it down to the frame and pack out meat are huge assets. This allows someone to hunt with one pack and not worry about going back to camp to get a pack frame.
All three of these packs are made with quality materials, wear comfortably and serve their purpose of being a hunting pack or a meat packer. They vary in size and price, but not necessarily quality. I found that each of these packs is built with great quality and will all take a beating. However, I do think you will get more quality years of use out of the Mystery Ranch or Outdoorsman packs, than you will out of the Sitka pack. The Outdoorsman pack is a great value for the price, but the Mystery Ranch has a ton of options at a much higher price.