No piece of hunting equipment gets as much wear and tear as our packs. They haul our rifle, accessories, and often hefty quarters of meat for long distances and over rough terrain.
While you might just think of is as a receptacle for all the other gear, having the right backpack can be the difference between a smooth hunt and one that’s incredibly frustrating. Each piece of gear needs to be easily accessed without fumbling, swearing, and dumping all of the bag’s contents on the muddy ground. Beyond that, the best hunting packs for you are the ones that fit your specific needs, so consider them carefully before choosing a bag.
Choosing the Best Backpack for Hunting
Most hunters are looking for a daypack – something to carry extra ammo, a knife, a spotting scope, some snacks, and maybe a change of camo clothes. For them, smaller backpacks are ideal, usually less than 2,000 cubic inches (33 liters).
Hunters taking overnight trips will need something bigger to carry a tent, a sleeping bag, cooking supplies, and just about everything else you’d need for an overnight backpacking trip, plus hunting gear. These bags can quickly get into 5,500-cubic-inch (90-liter) territory.
In addition to camping gear, an overnight hunt will likely need space to carry meat back to your vehicle. Quartering and carrying an animal can drastically increase pack weight, so you better be sure your backpack has a frame and straps designed to handle it.
Ultimately, you’ll probably have to make some compromises. No single bag will be good for every hunt, and you probably don’t want to buy a different bag for every kind of hunt you might do. So consider what your most frequent needs will be and purchase a bag that closely matches them, just like buying your hunting boots These are some of the best hunting packs out there right now.
The Best Hunting Backpacks
You see a flash of movement on the next ridge, whip your pack around, unzip it, and fumble for the binoculars. Unfortunately, somewhere between your final gear check back at the truck and this moment, they have magically migrated to the bottom of the bag – beneath multiple layers of clothing, including that sweat-drenched coat you peeled off an hour ago when the hiking got rough. Oh, how you wish your pack were more organized…
Nothing will ruin your pursuit of an animal faster than a disorganized bag, and you’ll waste valuable time and make quite the racket rummaging through it. The Badlands Superday prioritized solving this problem by dividing the 1,950-cubic-inch (32-liter) pack into three main compartments and seven pockets (including one for a hydration bladder). With so many separate spaces for all your gear, there’s no excuse for a messy pack.
Another important feature of a hunting pack is durable construction, which Badlands delivers in spades. The KXO 32 camo fabric will blend in with any forest, won’t get snagged on branches, and is quiet as can be. They’ve also added Hypalon reinforcements (the material used for whitewater rafts) to areas of the pack that are likely to take more abuse. Badlands is so proud of their packs they’ve even warrantied them forever. If it ever breaks, whether in the first year or the tenth year, they’ll fix it for free.
The biggest downside to this bag is its frame, or rather lack there of. The shoulder straps and a foam frame are the only things holding the pack up, so that’s where all the weight is going to be. If you’re going to be carrying it fully loaded, hopefully some of that volume will be taken up by lightweight items, like a down coat – otherwise you’ll be hurting at the end of the day. For a medium-sized pack at this price, a beefier frame would have been nice.
This tactical backpack might look more at home in the mountains of Afghanistan than it does in the forests outside your hometown, but hear me out, this 2,150-cubic-inch (35-liter) combat-ready bag might be just what you’re looking for on your next hunt. The most obvious difference between the Eberlestock Halfrack and most hunting packs is that it is panel-loading rather than top-loading. Instead of unzipping the top of the bag and reaching blindly into a cavernous compartment, you unzip the whole backpanel, making all your gear visible and easily reachable.
The inside and outside of the backpanel are also covered in MOLLE loops, one-inch fabric loops that have become the standard method for attaching accessory pouches to military and tactical backpacks. These loops make the bag infinitely customizable to any hunt. Hiking to higher elevation? Add a pouch with gloves and hand warmers. Going turkey hunting? Attach your bag full of calls. Not very coordinated? Add a first aid pouch for when you sprang your ankle. No pack manufacturer can perfectly predict what you’ll need for the hunt, so it’s nice to find a bag that lets you do the customization.
The Halfrack’s exterior is constructed from 1,000-denier nylon, making it nearly indestructible. Beyond some minor scuffing, this pack would last for several years with nearly everyday use. It was designed for the daily abuse of military operations, which means it could last a lifetime for a hunter – a great deal for a pack that costs less than you think.
One downside of this pack is that it doesn’t come in any great camo patterns, just black, tan, olive, and the old US military’s woodland pattern. You could always add some actual sticks and leaves to those MOLLE loops, though.
ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag
The previous two packs are great choices for shorter hunts where you return to your vehicle each evening. The Alps OutdoorZ Commander, on the other hand, is the best pack for hunting on an overnight trip. At 5,250 cubic inches (86 liters), you won’t be short on space for all the extra camping gear needed for an extended trip.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this pack is its external frame, something that’s not too common on modern backpacks. The reason for this old school design, which uses a set of pins to attach the backpack to a tubular metal frame, is twofold: external framed backpacks are great for carrying a lot of weight, and the frame can be repurposed for hauling game meat quarters by detaching the backpack from it. This feature alone makes it the ideal backpack for serious backcountry hunting.
The second great feature of this pack is its organizational capacity. The main compartment is huge and can hold most of your camping equipment. Anything that doesn’t fit inside, like a sleeping bag or pad, can be lashed to the loops on the back of the pack.
Then there’s the rifle holder on the right side of the bag, where the barrel fits snugly beneath two additional accessory pouches. On the other side is a huge zippered pocket, which is large enough for a small tent, and there are two more zippered pockets on the hip belt to store small items. There’s space in this pack for literally anything you would want to take on a hunting trip.
You might assume that a pack that’s this big and has this many features would be expensive, but it’s not at all. Admittedly, the fabric won’t be able to take the abuse that the Eberlstock could, but for the price, you can’t go wrong with this pack for extended hunts.
Tenzing TZ 1140
This last pack caters to the bow hunters, which most packs do not do well. It’s light and comfortable, and the sling design makes it easy to access arrows, so you’ll never miss the opportunity for a shot. This is a great choice for bow hunters, who’ve had to deal with inferior packs for so long that were never designed for their needs.
A sling pack is ideal for bowhunters; you don’t want the pack to interfere with drawing your bow, and a sling pack is best at staying out of the way. The sling design and quiver mount also make it easier to access your arrows, without having to awkwardly reach back as you would with a standard backpack.
Despite its small size, the bag is not short on organization, with 12 compartments and pockets. You’ll know exactly where to find your optics, knife, bow hanger, etc., because each of them will have their own compartment.
This is also a really comfortable bag, with a mesh backpanel to prevent you from getting soaked in sweat, and the well-padded strap still feels good after a whole day of carrying the pack around.
The only real downside to this Tenzing bag is its 1,140-cubic-inch (18.6-liter) size. It was designed to be light and fast, so if you have a lot of gear, it might not all fit in this pack. On the other hand, using a smaller pack will prevent you from bringing gear that you don’t necessarily need, stripping the hunt down to the bare essentials. More mobility is never a bad thing when bow hunting.
Prioritizing Your Needs
What’s most important to you when you’re on the hunt – long-lasting durability, large carrying capacity, options for organization? Only you can answer those questions, and the best bag for you will probably not be the best bag for your hunting buddy.
All of the packs reviewed here are great options, but the best one for you will be the one that most closely matches your priorities. Just putting a little thought into this decision can greatly improve the quality of your hunt – all of your gear is contained in this one piece of equipment and you will be carried it all day, so it better be the right one.