Whether you need to haul an elk out of the backcountry, a rock-solid pack for day hunting, or want to bivouac in the wilderness, we’ve found these budget-friendly packs for the job…and you won’t believe who makes them.
by Phillip Bartolacci
I look at hunting packs the way my wife considers shoes…you can never have too many because you never know what you’ll need and for what occasion. I’ve got packs ranging from low-buck daypacks I use for summer scouting and stand building to high-end multi-day packs for backpacking and wilderness hunts. What I have learned about packs is that they usually follow the same axiom as everything else in the hunting world—you get what you pay for.
Recently, though, I came across some packs that threaten to upset that apple cart. These packs are built specifically for hunters, come high on the kind of features we want, and are priced significantly below what you would expect for packs of this quality. What’s more, they are made by a company who many hunters are already familiar with, but who you may not realize started out as a hunting gear manufacturer over 50 years ago.
Slumberjack began as a sleeping bag manufacturer, producing rugged, high-loft bags with that familiar red and black checkered flannel liner we’ve come to associate with the traditional hunting camp experience. Over the years, the company diversified their outdoor product line, and by the 1990s and 2000s had established itself as a purveyor of fine sleeping bags, tents, packs, and accessories for the mainstream camping market. Three years ago, Slumberjack decided it was time to get back to its roots and focus on delivering quality gear to hunters at a price that leaves guys like us with money to spend on food, gas, and game tags.
I’ve tested and written about many Slumberjack products over the years, and am still using those same bags, packs, and tents almost 15 years later. So when I selected three of the company’s hunter-centric packs to review—the Hone, Carbine 2500 Highlander, and the Rail Hauler 2.0—I wasn’t surprised to see that Slumberjack’s reputation for using quality materials and durable construction processes was still in play with their hunting products. What I did find surprising was the price points for these packs. They are a solid 20-30 percent less than hunting packs with similar performance and features. And, hey…they all come with Kryptek camo, which is pretty cool. When hunting season is over, they make perfect bugout packs.
My favorite of the three packs tested is the Hone. I say “favorite” because the Hone straddles the fence between a full-featured hunting daypack and an all-out wilderness pack. The Hone’s total volume is 2,088 cubic inches, which offers plenty of room for a day hunt, even if you’re packing food, water, a Thermos, and some heavy outerwear. This is a front-loading pack, which is exactly what you want for a day pack so you can get what you need without having to unload any contents. Inside the main compartment is a hydration pouch and a smaller sewn-in accessory pocket. Additionally, there are two side pouches on the outside of the bag, which I found good for stowing my rangefinder and camera, knife, and med kit.
The Hone’s waist strap is a bit more robust than you typically find in a daypack, but it’s not as bulky as a larger, high-load pack. In other words, it can support a solid load on your hips but it won’t impair mobility.
One of the unique features of this pack, as well as the Carbine 2500 Highlander that we’ll discuss shortly, is its front compression panel. This panel includes two zippered pockets (great for stowing binos and trail snacks) and is used to cinch down the main compartment’s contents and keep the pack low-profile for improved weight management and to reduce snagging when navigating thick brush.
Another benefit of the compression panel is that it helps secure your rifle or bow to the pack. This is something else you don’t typically find in most hunting daypacks—the ability to carry your weapon hands-free. A compression loop at the top of the pack stabilizes your weapon while the compression panel holds it tight. For rifle carrying, the pack includes a dropdown buttstock pocket that is length-adjustable so you can achieve the optimal weight balance.
I mentioned that the Hone is a blend of a daypack and wilderness pack. That’s because, as an ultralight hunter who likes to bivouac, I found the Hone to be large enough to hold everything I need for a mild-weather overnight or two. I can’t put my sleeping bag in the pack, but there are four loops on the bottom of the pack that lets me lash my bag to it.
Good to go.[Watch the Hone product video]
Carbine 2500 Highlander
If a one- to two-day wilderness pack hunt is on your agenda, Slumberjack’s Carbine 2500 Highlander is a pack that can get the job done. What stands out to me with this pack is that it offers all the features and quality construction that we look for in a short-duration bivy pack, but isn’t as heavy or bulky to carry as a conventional extreme wilderness pack.
The Carbine 2500 boasts similar features as the Hone, but has a larger capacity (2,450 cubic inches) and is a toploader. It comes with a triple-pouch compression panel, and larger side pouches that are perfect for stowing bigger items such as your spotting scope or Nalgene bottles. Additional side pockets are also found on the waist strap. Another thing I like about the waist strap is that it is “carry friendly.” A wide strap stitched to the outside of the strap can accommodate most paddle holsters.
As with the Hone, the Carbine 2500 is weapon-ready (bow or rifle), leaving your hands free for a trekking pole or uphill scrambling.
Another slick feature of the Highlander (and the Hone) is the built-in rifle rest. That’s something you don’t find purposely built into most packs. Basically, this is a flat groove between the compression panel pockets that runs transverse to the pack. This rest keeps your rifle in place when you’re shooting prone across the pack. If you’ve ever shot off of your pack before and struggled to keep a solid rest, you’ll appreciate this little detail.
The Carbine 2500 includes PALS webbing across the top and sides, allowing you to attach your MOLLE gear. My med kit, for example, is in a small MOLLE pack that I like to secure it to the outside of my pack so it is readily accessible. With the Carbine 2500, I attach my kit to the top flap and it’s within easy reach for me or my hunting partner.
Additionally, the Carbine 2500 is hydration compatible. The one thing that is missing, however, are cargo loops on the bottom of the pack for carrying your sleeping bag. It’s nothing that a length of paracord can’t fix. Of course, if you’re packing a 20- or 30-degree bag in a compression sack, you can easily fit that into bottom of the pack.[Watch the Carbine 2500 Highlander product video]
Rail Hauler 2.0
Veteran backcountry hunters know that hauling gear into the wilderness is only half of the game. If you’re successful, there’s the “haul it out” factor. That’s what Slumberjack designed the Rail Hauler 2.0 to do.
Again, there are a lot of pack frames on the market, but finding that perfect combination of performance, ergonomics, and price can be challenging. The Rail Hauler 2.0 wraps it all up in a quality and cost-efficient bundle.
I tested this model prior to the big game season openers. To see how it would work under hunting conditions, I used it to haul mineral blocks and corn to my hunting area, which is uphill and through the woods. In the past, I used a surplus Marine Corps ILBE main pack for this task. It works great, but loading heavy mineral blocks into the topload compartment is a real challenge. The Rail Hauler 2.0, on the other hand, was a breeze.
The pack is built on a heavy-duty anodized aluminum frame with a tip-out load platform capable of supporting up to 200 pounds (which is way more than I can carry!). This configuration allows you to set the pack on the ground and easily add your load to the platform. Once you have your load in place, a bucket-style compression panel secures it to the frame via an 8-point compression buckle system. The load can then be cinched tight to prevent shifting and to keep the load close to the frame for improved stability. One feature that really helps maintain that “weight-high-and-forward” load positioning is the angle of the platform. It tilts your load up and forward just enough to maintain a good balance. Packs with a horizontal load floor, by contrast, can cause the cargo weight to tip you backwards.
As you would expect from a well thought-out pack design, the Raul Hauler 2.0 is adjustable across the shoulders, hips, and sternum so that you can achieve the proper fit for your body and the weight you are carrying. The waist belt is beefy, reinforced with HDPE panels to ensure rigidity, and there is ample padding for comfort. Extra padding is also included at the small of the back and across the shoulders. Finally, there are adjustable load lifters that connect the shoulder straps to the top of the frame so you can achieve the optimum “high-and-forward” load position.
While designed primarily with the western hunter in mind, I can see hunters like me using this pack frame to haul mineral blocks and corn to remote stands, or to haul whitetails out of National Forests or WMAs that have no trail or road access.[Watch the Rail Hauler 2.0 product video]
Packs have become an essential part of our hunting arsenal. Thankfully, manufacturers such as Slumberjack have developed models designed specifically with the hunter in mind. That the company has taken the lessons learned from more than half a century in the outdoor and hunting marketplace and managed to produce packs like these that are feature-rich yet don’t break our bank account is the proverbial icing on the cake!
article copyright © 2016 HuntDaily.com; promoted by Slumberjack