Before heading out west, most seasoned veterans will tell you to spend your money on two quality pieces of gear – boots and a pack.
One of the most challenging purchases for the eastern hunter heading out west is the framed hunting pack. First of all, it is hard to find a quality pack that you can try on or test because of the lack of access to upper-end pack manufacturer’s products. Most quality packs are not found in retail stores, so you are limited to purchasing online. Just like a shoe or boot, a pack fits every person differently and finding a frame that contours to your back are priceless. Not wearing the right pack for you can make or break your hunt because of pain, injury or fatigue.
Different styles and brands
There are a few different styles of framed packs you can choose from and if you plan on doing a DIY western hunt you will need to plan on packing an animal out. Back east most hunters can back the truck up to their kill, but in the backcountry, you will not have this convenience. It is going to take sweat and hard work, neither of which you should take lightly.
For the sake of simplicity let’s break down the styles of the pack you might consider in two categories – an internal frame, or an external frame.
The outer frame option offers cost savings compared to the internal pack. You can also pack in camp, and pack an animal out, with little thought on how to load either efficiently. The downfalls are the comfort and weight. If you are a price conscious hunter you could do a daypack and framed pack combo, much like what is described by the DIY Sportsman who has a really nice setup.
The pack with an internal frame offers a more comfortable option, and most importantly a lightweight setup, but with a higher cost. Most manufacturers make multiple pockets and layout designs, as well as different methods of hauling meat. Some designs offer the option of placing the meat in the bag itself or positioned against the frame and giving you a better weight distribution throughout. All of these different designs should be weighed heavily when making a choice.
Making the decision
Personally, I chose the internal framed design. The top three manufacturers on my radar included: Stone Glacier, Kifaru, and Exo Mountain. From everything I have heard you really cannot go wrong with either option, but all three make very different designs.
After reading about the science behind the load shelf from Stone Glacier, I was sold. I wanted the lightest weight available and as minimalist as possible. My other criteria were making sure I could put different bags on the frame. This limited my choices to Stone Glacier and Kifaru. At the time of purchase Kifaru did not offer exactly what I was looking for, or in my price range, they do have something very similar now though… So after months of research, I ended up going with the Stone Glacier Solo.
Stone Glacier initial thoughts
The first thing I noticed upon opening the highly anticipated box was the sick feeling that I actually paid this much for a pack. Seriously, no joke – I almost threw up.
In all reality, it absolutely killed me to spend this kind of money, but let me try my best to persuade you that a quality pack is worth the price tag.
The first thing you need to think about is – Will you be packing an animal out, if successful, or will you hire a packer to do the job for you? You always have the option having hired help lined up, and having them on standby especially if you are hunting elk or larger game. There is absolutely no shame in this option, and if you are hunting solo you might seriously consider it. Even if you are a two man party with limited time, a packer may be the best choice so you can conserve energy and try to get that second bull or buck down.
Back to the Solo
The first thing I noticed about the Solo was the aesthetics, and how much I liked the gray color. For the most part, I am sick of seeing camouflage on everything, especially the same old patterns. This is the kind of pack you could walk around in JFK airport and feel like a trendy hipster – so says my wife.
Weight and comfort
The next obvious thing about the Solo is the weight (3.74 lbs.). This thing is incredibly light. Before purchasing the Solo I owned a Badlands Superday (3lbs. 15oz), which is not framed, and I was blown away by the fact the Solo was in the same weight class as the Badlands. Some skeptics will now start to question whether a lightweight pack can comfortably carry heavy loads and that is a fair question.
Leading up to my Montana mule deer hunt I trained with a half loaded pack and a sandbag strapped to the load carrier. I can closely estimate this setup was around 80 lbs. on the heaviest days. With a light load this pack does not need to fit just perfect, but once I had a full load it was evident adjustments would need to be made. Stone Glacier has some really great videos on fitting their packs and the amounts of adjustments you can make are endless. Within a few minutes, I had the pack fitting just as they recommend.
Unfortunately for me, I do not have a very large backside. My dad used to say that it looked like someone slapped me with a 2×6 because I am straight up and down! That means there is absolutely no place for that back pad to rest – it just slides. So the first issue I had with the pack was it slipping down my back. I reached out to SG with this and they sent me extra padding, free of charge (outstanding customer service!).
After I added the extra padding carrying heavy loads was much easier, and more comfortable. I can only compare it to loads I carried in the Marines with the Molle and Alice systems. The SG blows both of these away in comfort under heavy loads, especially around the shoulder and upper back areas. I did have some hip and lower back pain in the beginning, but I think I was training too hard starting out and should have gradually led up to long hikes.
The layout of the Solo is as minimalist as you could possibly imagine. You literally have the main bag, a front pouch for pockets, and you can also utilize the load shelf for extra gear. For this trip, I also added two hip pockets that attach to the belt and a weapon sling.
Although this is exactly what I expected when purchasing the pack, the function did not completely fit my style. I did have some homemade pull-out pouches that helped with organization, but at the end of the day, I think I would have enjoyed having more pocket options. I may try some different things this year to increase organization, but I do wish I had purchased a bag with more pockets – that is my one regret.
The hip pockets, in my opinion, are a must-have for this pack, they made life so much easier and I can’t recommend that addition enough. The weapon sling worked flawlessly with no malfunctions, but I was always worried the back hinge would flip open and dump my gun into the dirt. Other than the anxiety it also took me longer to secure the rifle to the pack than I would like, but this is mostly attributed to my lack of practicing this at home. Regardless, I will try a different weapon carrying system the next time I take a rifle, and leave this one at home.
Although I killed a mule deer, I didn’t use the pack to get him out. Basically, my partner and I carried him out the old-school way by lashing the buck to a pole (my back is still hurting, don’t do this). That was disappointing as I did want to try the pack out for packing purposes, but doing the butchering work with the deer hanging up made things really nice.
Overall I am happy with the comfort and weight of the pack, but I would like to see SG make a bag with additional pockets in this same size range. I realize this would add to the overall weight, but honestly, the organization capabilities for me would be worth it. The material and zippers are amazingly strong and durable, the look is great, there is just not much to dislike when it comes to this pack.
If you are a lightweight, minimalist style hunter, then this pack might be exactly what you are looking for.
*This is an unbiased, unpaid review. I would like to thank Stone Glacier for the usage of the pics and the excellent customer support. They had no idea I would be writing a review on this product until I asked permission to use the pictures you see listed here*