Any hunter who’s tried to pack out two quarters of a bull elk knows a good pack is an absolute necessity. I spent a season hunting and hauling gear and meat to review the Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500.
A good-quality pack is the best tool to keep your game meat properly cared for when leaving the field. Before heading out into the mountains, make sure you have a pack that can accomplish the mission of backcountry hunts. It will need to keep your meat clean, cool, and protected on the journey from the backcountry to the kitchen.
The Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500 ($625-650) earned a place in my gear rack after a full season of packouts. Backcountry hunters build the packs in Boise, Idaho. Exo’s focus is on lightweight packs with simple designs.
In short: The Exo 5500 is a versatile, modular pack that excels when big, heavy loads are the norm. I used it in Idaho and Montana during past hunting seasons. Carrying many elk quarters out of the field put this pack to the test.
Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500: The Pack
Pack size, in the end, comes down to the user’s preference. The good news about the Exo K2 5500 is that the pack fabric comes off of the frame, so you can switch it for any size you want. I chose the 5500, which has a 5,800-cubic-inch bag and lid capacity, plus 1,000 cubic inches in exterior pockets and a 2,500-cubic-inch load shelf area.
It weighs just 5 pounds 6 ounces, so why not go for some extra room?
The 5500 suits my needs perfectly: It can carry all of the necessary gear for two weeks in the backcountry. It also condenses down small enough to be a comfortable day pack.
The pack has a total of 14 compression straps. These straps make it convenient to secure your pack however you see fit.
The pack comes standard with a front access zipper and a roll-down top to keep items secure yet easily accessible. The pack also comes standard with a lid to hold extra-important items. It’s the perfect place to stash grab-and-go essentials.
The two full-length pockets on the side of the pack are a personal favorite. The pockets perfectly cradle my spotting scope and tripod. This keeps them secure and out of the way when trying to access other gear within the main compartment.
Exo packs come with a variety of different options for storing your gear. Modularity is a key feature.
The pack comes fairly barebones with not many different compartments inside the main sleeve of the pack. But this isn’t an issue if you want every object in its own place. Exo Mountain Gear designed stash pockets ($10) and hip belt pouches ($22) for those of us who like to be a little more organized.
If you are someone who really appreciates the security of having your weapon strapped to the outside of your pack, Exo has that too. The weapon carrier ($30) straps to the outside of the pack and holds your rifle or bow with a little more security than just compression straps.
Along with these pockets, the pack allows for someone to put in the FTE Roll Top Dry Bags ($60-80) that encase the gear within the pack, making them completely waterproof. The downside to this add-on is that it renders the front zipper to the main compartment unusable.
Now the ultimate in modularity: If you don’t want to carry the full pack around all day, simply remove it from the frame. All Exo packs share the same frame and can be switched out at the user’s convenience. The pack separates from the frame in a flash, making it very simple to swap out bags.
K2 Titanium Frame
The K2 titanium frame carries loads like an Olympic weightlifter. This frame holds weight tight to your back — and comfortably.
The frame holds rigid in the vertical position while allowing enough lateral flex to not throw you off balance while hiking with weight. When the pack is loaded down, the burden seems to disappear once it’s fastened to your back.
Exo load-tested the K2 frame with over 250 pounds. With this knowledge, it was only appropriate to load up as much weight as possible to see how it carried it.
I packed two elk hind quarters along with gear from the day’s hunt. With 6 miles back to the truck, the pack proved that it truly “carries the weight for you.”
While my legs were aching and ready to be out from under the weight, there was never an uncomfortable moment for my back. The frame molded perfectly with my body, so it was easy to move freely.
Proper meat care is very important, especially when you’re miles into the backcountry on a long packout. The Exo Mountain Gear packs have a perfect system to haul your meat back to the truck with no issues at all.
This pack allows for a safe way to keep your meat from spoiling within the central compartment of the pack. You can remove it from the frame, allowing you to place the meat directly against the frame in the open air. And your belongings ride separately inside the pack.
The Exo 5500 is simple to remove from the frame. Once that’s done, the crib load panel ($45-50) is there to hold your meat securely. Exo claims you can load the meat between the pack and the frame without the load panel. But in my experience, it seems more secure to have the panel helping to hold the meat.
I utilized this pack to carry out an entire mule deer in one trip with no issues. The four quarters and extra meat were securely tucked onto the pack. The Exo held the weight close to my back for added comfort on the hike out.
New for 2018
The most recent model of the K2 pack was made in 2017, with minor changes made in 2018. The pack has all of the same features except for one: The hip belt has changed for this year. The integrated suspension technology makes the new belt more ergonomic and easier to care for.
The new belt has a little bit different shape that seems to fit on the hips better. Exo claims the new belt will work better than before.
The fastening system has also changed slightly. Tension now comes from the sides rather than the middle. This seems to make the belt fit more securely and comfortably. The new belt is finished with a solid synthetic stretch material — an upgrade from the mesh that previously lined the hip belts.
New item for 2018, for you First Lite lovers, the Exo Mountain Gear packs will be available in the First Lite Fusion pattern.
Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500 Review
This past hunting season, the K2 frame was able to carry two mule deer and one elk. Each haulout impressed me just as much as the last. Not to mention the pack carried my gear wonderfully on day trips and multiday campouts alike.
This pack’s options enable anyone to make the pack of their dreams, adjusting to fit anyone comfortably. The Exo 5500 also carries meat like a dream, managing the weight for you and keeping the meat in the open air so it doesn’t spoil.
Exo Mountain Gear designed the K2 5500 to fit the needs of a backcountry hunter. It’s met its mark.