For the Hunter: A Holiday Gift Guide

Best Backpacks For Big Game Hunting

Filed under: Hunt / Fish  Outdoor 

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If you hunt big game, you need a backpack. We carried many over mountains and across fields to find the best hunting backpack on the market.

Following my hunting buddy on an elk archery hunt; photo by Sean McCoy

Backpacks for hunting are a personal choice. They must carry very specific items, and in the case of big game packs, handle massive loads of meat after a kill. But they must remain light and nimble for use while hunting.

We’ve spoken with hunters and field tested several packs to suss out the top hunting backpacks on the market. This article focuses on larger packs meant to haul meat and gear in the backcountry. Those who just need a day pack should look elsewhere.

Needless to say, there are a lot of options, and the attributes found in a good pack are found in many brands. I’ve noted a few things to look for at the bottom of this review.

Review: Best Hunting Backpacks

Best Elk Hunting Backpack: Kuiu Ultra 3000

Best Elk Hunting Backpack: Kuiu Ultra 3000

The Kuiu Ultra line is a wonder of backpack engineering. It’s become my go-to for big game and even turkey hunting. The foundation of this modular design is a carbon fiber frame that fits a wide range of pack bags from the brand, so it works as a big day pack, all the way up to an expedition-level system.

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With game on the ground, the pack fabric moves back to create a shelf for carrying meat. Kuiu designs the two-pound frame system to carry more than 150 pounds. Let’s not forget, the entire pack weighs under four pounds!

Best Elk Hunting Backpack: Kuiu Ultra 3000
The author hauling out a 25-30 pound turkey with the Kuiu Ultra 3000

Testing this pack, I’ve carried everything from gear to venison to a whole wild turkey. The 3000 model I use fits my style of hunting perfectly, although changing it back and forth between meat-hauler and simple backpack can be a little confusing at first.

One other negative is the zippers. It’s the biggest fault I can find on this pack. They are loud to open and close, and loud in big game hunting is bad. So this is worth noting.

Overall, Kuiu’s Ultra (or Icon Pro) lines are among the best hunting backpacks on the market. And you’ll pay for them. The full kit costs $400. But for those who take big game hunting seriously and carry meat out miles on their backs, this is the best pack on the planet.

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Top Hunting Backpack: Mystery Ranch Metcalf

This is a really sweet pack too, but loses a few points for sheer weight (6.1 pounds complete) and complexity. I’ve carried it some in testing, but mostly my buddy has carried it for elk and deer hunting in the Rocky Mountains. He likes it, but would like to see the design simplified to remove some webbing straps.

Top Hunting Backpack: Mystery Ranch Metcalf

The Metcalf is a really versatile pack and ideally suited to multi-day remote hunts. It sells as an all-in-one package with both a large main packsack and a detachable, smaller day lid for quick stalks.

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The pack easily slides away from the frame to create a big shelf space for carrying big game quarters (or other awkward, large items). And it carries big weight well. We’ve tested this one over about 20 days, including thousands of feet of vertical gain and hundreds of miles. The tough Cordura fabric shows barely any wear (beyond a few blood stains).

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Favorite Titanium Frame: EXO Mountain Gear K2 Titanium Packs

Favorite Hunting Backpack: EXO Mountain Gear K2 Titanium Packs

EXO takes a unique approach to its frame packs, using a standardized frame system from super light and strong titanium. And the brand nails it with this system. This is the absolute favorite pack of contributor Will Jenkins, a serious hunter with significant gear experience.

“This pack strikes a perfect balance, rigidly carrying a heavy load but still allowing you to move around comfortably,” Jenkins said. “It keeps the load close to your body and situated comfortably on your hips.”

exo 3500 hunting backpack bows
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The EXO pack starts with the foundation of the K² Titanium Frame. The frame, straps, and belt weigh just 2 lbs., 12 oz. and it carries heavy loads thanks to rigid vertical support. However, the frame moves with you laterally for comfort on the trail.

Use this frame alone, or couple it with 2000, 3500, or 5500 fabric sack attachments for a complete gear and game-hauling system.

This is a high-end pack. It costs $330 – $340 for the frame alone. A complete system ranges from $500 to $575 depending on the size of the frame and pack selected.

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Best Deer Pack On A Budget: Badlands 2200

Best Deer Pack On A Budget: Badlands 2200

At $280, the Badlands 2200 Hunting Pack gets high marks for durability and hunting-specific design at a reasonable price. With hundreds of user reviews, most are five stars.

It starts with T-5 aircraft-grade aluminum frame and tough fabric. Hunt-specific features include the ability to carry a rifle, bow, or pistol. It also has a spotting scope pocket to protect the glass when traveling over rough terrain.

After the kill, the built-in meat shelf supports big loads to haul out elk quarters. It’s also blaze orange, a small bit of added safety but the kind of detail real-world hunters appreciate.

And if something goes amiss? Well, this warranty spells it out well: “We don’t care what happened, or whose fault it was, we will fix it for free forever. We could care less if you bought it at a garage sale or a gear swap, as long as it says Badlands, it’s covered. All we ask is that you use and abuse your pack as much as possible so we can learn how to make our products even better.”

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Mid-Price Modular Hunting Frame Pack: Eberlestock Mainframe

Eberlestock Mainframe

The Eberlestock Mainframe is a modular frame pack meant to carry big loads. As with other modular packs on this list, it sells as a simple frame, or with additional sacks that can carry gear, and it has a meat shelf.

Users love the quality of this frame at a reasonable price of $190. While not exactly light (the frame and belts weigh 4 lbs. 5 oz.), it manages big loads with aplomb. The aluminum frame alone comes with several straps to hold quarters or other large items.

Add any of several available pack bodies to the frame for a complete system for $300 to $400 total.

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ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

Frame Backpack On A Budget: ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag is a great pack at a great price. This combination has made it a favorite among hunters who don’t mind trading carbon fiber for aluminum to save significant money.

The pack is designed with firearm hunting in mind, and has a dedicated rifle holder along one side. After the kill, the brand designed a lashing system specifically to carry meat.

With a volume of  5,250 cu. in., it has plenty of space for overnight backcountry hunts. And at $115 on Amazon, it leaves enough money in the bank for game processing fees when you get home successful.

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Hunting Backpacks: What To Look For

Obviously, these aren’t all the packs on the market. But these are among the best we’ve found.

What should you look for in a backpack for hunting? Let’s break it down.

1. Haul heavy loads. A hunting backpack should be capable of carrying a very heavy load. For big game hunters who trek into the wilds, that means up to around 100 pounds. Why? Because that’s what a big elk quarter plus some gear will weigh. Most of the time, this means an external frame.

2. It should fit like a glove. Many packs come in various sizes, or have adjustable torso lengths. Make sure yours fits properly.

3. Carry gear too. For many, it should carry gear while hunting. This means things like snacks, water, extra clothing, game bags, knives, and possibly your weapon for long walks. Multiple pockets are nice for organizing gear.

4. Ample space. For those who pack deep into the woods, it should be able to carry enough gear to sleep out overnight, or longer. This means a sleeping bag, tent, and cook gear, plus items noted above. For this reason, modular systems that allow larger or smaller packs on a single frame perform admirably.

5. It should be quiet. This is unique to a backpack for hunting, but really important. The material should not make much noise when snagged on bushes. The zippers and buckles should operate quietly.

6. Don’t forget day packs. For many hunters, these packs are more than needed. A small day pack works for those who hunt deer or smaller animals where they can be dragged out. Those with access to ATV’s or horses also can likely get by with a simple day pack too, as those handle the heavy hauling.

Hiking Pack For Hunting: The Backpack You Already Own

Don’t want to buy a new pack just for hunting? No problem. If you backpack, you already own a pack that is entirely capable of serving you as a hunting pack. It just won’t be ideal.

Backstraps, tenderloins, and meat scraps will fit into the main compartment of most large, internal-frame backpacks designed for hiking. If far from the trailhead, de-boning front and rear quarters will allow even their massive volume to fit in larger packs. Just be sure to bring game bags and a garbage bag to line your hiking pack to minimize blood stains.

Most internal-frame packs can even carry the heavy load of a bone-in elk quarter. It probably won’t be comfortable, but in a pinch it’ll do. Just bring some paracord, lay the quarter on the pack, and get strapping. The job won’t be pretty or fun, but it will get the meat out of the field.

Know of a great hunting backpack that we missed here? Mention it in the comments and we’ll give it a try for future updates to this article.

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Editor-in-Chief Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.