Fly rods, bows, tripods, and of course, meat. What’s the best backpack for carrying hunters’ gear? For me, the EXO Mountain Gear 3500 gets high marks.
Hunters hike, and hikers hunt. EXO Mountain Gear designed the 3500 frame pack with hunters covering big miles in mind. It hauls heavy loads and reconfigures easily to carry a few days’ supplies—or an elk quarter.
It stands apart thanks to a light and vertically rigid titanium frame that flexes with the user. The modular system allows customers to use the frame with various bags, from 3,500 to 7,000 cubic inches (57L to 115L).
Thus, its single frame works for everything from a day of hunting to a week of backcountry hiking. I put it to the test over the last year.
The Gear: EXO Mountain Gear 3500 Pack & Frame ($550)
I tested the EXO pack over a year of backpacking and training with a weighted pack. Training included hiking with 40-80 lbs. at a time for at least four miles. Weight was provided by water jugs and salt bags. Backpacking trips were three to five days.
Titanium Wire Frame
EXO claims it’s the first titanium wire frame with both rigidity and flexibility thanks to its unique design. While many companies push for weight savings, my experience has been that it comes at the cost of function and durability.
The EXO comes in at a lower weight (5.1 lbs.), while not sacrificing quality fabrics or function. Plus it’s made in the USA!
Review: EXO Mountain Gear 3500 Hunting Pack
The overall purpose of a frame pack is to carry heavy loads comfortably. After using various other packs, the EXO stands out. It strikes a perfect balance in rigidity and mobility. The load stays close to your body and sits comfortably on your hips.
Additionally, the shoulder straps and load lifters do an amazing job pulling the load close without putting the weight on your shoulders.
Everything You Need, Nothing You Don’t
While backpacking, it’s important to organize and easily access your gear. But at the same time, a ton of small pockets can make access difficult and add weight. For me, the EXO offers the best of both worlds.
It has a massive top-entry main compartment covered by a detachable lid that has a pocket within. There is no division in the main compartment, making it extremely versatile. And there’s a side zipper, so it’s easy to get anything from the main compartment and not unload everything.
On each side are small and full-length pockets with two cinch straps to compress the back and hold it close to the frame. The side pockets are perfect for tripods, spotting scopes, and fly rods, with a pull closure at the top.
Additionally, there is an exterior pocket that runs the length of the main compartment in the middle. It’s made of a soft elastic shell that easily secures anything stuffed inside.
Horizontal straps across the back easily lash a bow. A rifle fits either in the side pockets or on the back of the pack.
Modular Backpack Means Versatility
As with most hunting frame packs, the EXO allows the bag to separate from the frame to attach and haul out meat. This pack makes that especially easy. With just a few clips and adjustments, you can run just the frame or sandwich the load between the bag and frame.
This also allows you to utilize other bags from EXO such as the 2000 bag, 5500 bag, or something like the brand’s Horn Hauler for packing out massive shed antlers.
Who Should Buy It?
At around $550 it’s in the middle to upper-end of hunting packs. The EXO is for avid hunters that go out and use a pack for multiple purposes throughout the year.
It’s light and comfortable enough to use for short backpacking trips, and it’s durable enough to really haul some weight on a multi-week backcountry hunt for large game.
If your budget runs a little lower, check out the KUIU Ultra series. You can get a 3000 bag and carbon fiber frame and save yourself $150. Conversely, if you’d like to spend a little more you can get teh Kifaru Woodsman bag with the frame for around $600.
EXO Mountain Gear 3500 Frame
- K² 25-in. titanium frame
- Modular interchangeable; all EXO bags fit the frame
- Non-slip lumbar pad
- Adjustable torso (16-21 in.)
- Open suspension promotes breathability
- Meat hauling load shelf (extra 2,500 cu. in.)
- One-in. compression straps and buckles
- Webbing loops for accessory attachment
- Three different sized hipbelts with adjustable lumbar pad foam
EXO Mountain Gear 3500 Bag
- 3,500–7,000 ci (3,500 ci bag and lid, 700 ci exterior pockets, 2,500 ci load shelf area)
- 14 different compression straps
- Floating lid
- Stretch external pockets
- Full-length side pockets (carry rifle, tripod, spotting scope, bladder, tent poles, etc)
- Seven internal organization compartments
- Angled lower side for access while wearing
- 20-in. side zipper access to main bag
- 20-in. side zipper access to front stretch pocket
- Hydration bladder compatible w/tube port
- Internal lid Velcro strips to custom fit up to three mesh pockets
- 500d Cordura and 420d Diamond Ripstop
The EXO Mountain Gear 3500 backpack is a durable and comfortable pack that easily carries a heavy load. I’ve used other packs on the market that were similar in price but failed in various areas.
The EXO seems to shine in all those areas. It’s my go-to pack for most anything heftier than a daypack.