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If you’re in need of a true wilderness pack that you can comfortably carry, live out of for a week or more, and haul game back to the trailhead, here you go…
by the HuntDaily staff
Those of you who do the tough hunting—packing in everything necessary to survive and hunt elk for days, even weeks, at a stretch—understand the need for versatility and modularity in a hunting pack. You prefer your gear and supplies to be stored categorically and intelligently so it can be retrieved without dissembling the entire load. You want quick access to vital equipment, like your medical kit or spotting scope. You need a secure method of transporting your bow or rifle to leave your hands free for climbing and navigating. And since you hunt miles from the trailhead, you need a means to haul your meat, cape, and skull out of the backcountry.
That’s asking a lot from a pack, but we have been using a new gear system from the folks at ALPS OutdoorZ that fills all the requirements we demand in a wilderness hunting pack…and more. Equally pleasing is that it comes at a price that leaves enough money in the kitty to pay the meat processor once we get out of the bush!
Versatility and Modularity
The Commander X + Pack answers the needs of the serious backcountry hunter. This is not just a feature-loaded backpack (it is that, but there are several of those in the marketplace), it is a backpack designed specifically to satisfy all the requirements of the hike-in hunter who must contend with hauling out meat on foot.
Consider the Commander X + Pack to be two products in one. First, there is the backpack component. This is a full-spectrum, 4,000 cubic inch capacity pack designed to haul everything you need for a multi-day wilderness hunt—from food and shelter to hunting gear. Second, there is the pack frame component, to which you can securely lash your quartered game, cape, and antlers.
Now here’s the ALPS OutdoorZ difference—the Commander X + Pack is not an either/or pack (either a backpack or a pack frame), but a backpack AND a pack frame that can perform both functions at the same time. If you have experienced hunting big game in remote wilderness areas, you already understand what we’re getting at here.
This dual-function personality is made possible thanks to some mighty intelligent engineering. Let’s start by examining the foundation of the Commander X + Pack—the pack frame.
Commander X Frame
The Commander X utilizes an internal frame design (you were expecting an external-style pack frame, weren’t you?) that’s built not only to handle heavy loads, but to do so with comfort. The frame’s core support is comprised of channeled ABS plastic with two aluminum reinforcement stays. This composite frame features a somewhat aggressive “S” profile that follows your back’s contour and settles the weight perfectly and comfortably across your lumbar region. Cushioning comes via a thick lumbar pad and channeled molded foam back panel that promotes airflow. Ditto for the wide and cushioned waist strap. The waist strap is one of the best we’ve seen. It is thick and rigid enough to provide the necessary support, but not so stiff as to inhibit leg movement or shove into your lower rib cage while climbing.
As you would expect from a high-load-capacity frame, the suspension system is fully adjustable and amply padded. Between the waist strap, sternum strap, and shoulder tension straps, the Commander X Frame adjusts to fit most any body type and load distribution requirements, and does so comfortably.
That takes care of the user side of the frame. The cargo side of the frame is equally well thought out.
The pack board (ABS plastic reinforced with aluminum stays) is covered in 1680 denier ballistic nylon on the cargo side and high-wear Robic nylon on the user side. To this are attached two compression panel “wings” and a front panel/load floor. There is also a large pocket sewn onto the pack board, which is perfect for holding a hydration bladder or field dressing gear, such as game bags, cleaning wipes, and 550 cord.
To use the Commander X Frame for hauling meat, unbuckle and unzip the pack from the frame. Drop the front panel/load floor and open the compression panel wings. Place your game quarters or bagged and deboned meat onto the frame, secure with the compression panels, and support with the front panel/load floor. All of these panels use adjustable buckle straps to custom-cinch the cargo for ideal balance and to prevent load shifting.
Another interesting feature are the two adjustable straps and PALS webbing strip across the top of the pack frame. This is the perfect solution for securing your skull to the frame.
OK…so now you have the pack frame loaded with meat. What do you do about the pack? This is where the ALPS OutdoorZ engineering genius shines. With the pack frame loaded, the pack can be reattached to the frame and lashed in place with the multiple compression straps built into the system. Two straps secure the pack to the pack board and two secure the pack at the top of the pack board so you can adjust the load for optimal center of gravity.
This dual function of the Commander X + Pack system was intended mostly for day hunts away from your base or spike camp. In this case, the pack is used to hold your daily gear (water, food, med kit, optics, and any other essentials), while the pack frame stands ready to haul meat. When it’s time to break camp, use the Commander X + Pack system to pack your load back to the trailhead, and then return with the pack frame for meat hauling duties.
The “+ Pack”
Although the dual-purpose nature of the Commander X + Pack is the star of the show, the pack, as used as a conventional backpack to get you deep into the wilderness, is mighty impressive in its own right.
As mentioned, this is a 4,000 cubic-inch capacity pack that loads from the top and is secured with a spindrift collar. A zippered panel separates the primary cargo compartment from the bottom compartment. This bottom compartment is where we stow our sleeping bag and bivy sack. Located in the bottom of the pack is an integrated rain cover that you can quickly deploy in the event of foul weather. Also integrated into the bottom compartment is an adjustable rifle/bow pocket.
There are two external pockets on either side of the pack. They can be used to hold your Nalgene bottles, but there are no straps or drawstrings to keep the bottles secured. If you want to use these pockets for this purpose, you’ll need to secure the bottles to one of the nearby daisy chain loops sewn into the pack’s front panel.
Speaking of water, the Commander X + Pack has an internal hydration bladder pocket and a draw tube port. Our three-liter bladder fits with plenty of room to spare.
Finally, there is a large, fleece-lined zipper pocket built into the side of the pack that is designed to hold a spotting scope. It’s well-proportioned for most scopes, and is easy to get to when you need it.
The Commander X + Pack takes its modularity mission beyond the separate pack and pack frame concept. For example, for a quick scouting trip, you still need something like a fanny pack in which to store a few essentials. That’s exactly what the top pocket of Commander X + Pack converts into. Simply unlash the top pocket, pull out the integrated waist band, and then you have a fanny pack.
Another welcome feature is the detachable auxiliary bag. This bag secures to the front of the pack by way of four buckle straps. It’s great for holding those items you may need while you’re on the long pack in/pack out hikes (snacks, water filter, sunscreen, or bug juice). For us, this is the place we stow our medical kit. That’s the one item we always make sure is readily accessible and portable. We can get to it quickly in an emergency, or toss it to a hunting partner.
Many outdoor products come to market as slight variations on well-worn themes. Few actually deliver solid, holistic solutions to the kind of challenges we face in the wilderness. In our book, the Commander X + Pack is counted among those few. To learn more about the Commander X + Pack, or the many other innovative hunting solutions developed by the ALPS OutdoorZ crew, be sure to visit their website.
Commander X + Pack Specifications
Cargo Capacity: 4000 cu. in. / 66L capacity
Frame Weight: 5 lbs. 3 oz.
Pack Bag Weight: 4 lbs.
Total Weight: 9 lbs. 3 oz.
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