Our team of pack pros left no stitch unexamined in our evaluation of this field of packs. After we inspected them inside and out to make note of design features, innovations, and overall workmanship--the real fun began.
We tested each pack with a variety of standardized loads--a 10-pound basic range kit, a 20-pound hunting kit, and a 70-pound load to simulate packing out meat. We tested strap strength by pulling a 220-pound man across a warehouse floor by the pack.
During the abrasion test, we filled each pack with a metal ammo can loaded with .308 brass and dragged and dropped it on a variety of surfaces, including industrial carpet, a gravel parking lot, and the bed liner of a pickup truck. Lastly, we tested the packs' ability to support the weight of a man while the pack was suspended by its handle--our "cliffhanger" test.
Editor's Choice: Mystery Ranch Dragon Slayer
How It Tested: Handy internal pockets and a good zipper layout make it easy to load and unload this 2,300-cubic-inch pack. The innovative X-pattern frame places the weight right on the hips. The Slayer survived abrasion and drag tests without a hitch. It is large enough for multi-day hunts, but the slim profile makes it a good choice for sneaking through timber.
Sweet Spot: For the hunter who likes to get way off-road, this bag is ideal. It adjusts for an excellent custom fit, but its padded waist belt and tangle of straps make it a bit unwieldy for day-to-day use.
The Takeaway:** A nearly perfect day pack for hunters. It carries and organizes gear very well, and when you get an animal down, it will pack out a load of meat. Definitely worth the price.
Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Great Buy: Goruck GR1
How It Tested: The bombproof GR1 (1,587 cu. in.) is extremely comfortable, even with a 70-pound load, and rides high and in the center of the back. Its straps adjust easily and stay put. It sailed through our abrasion test without a scratch. Straps and fasteners are strong enough to tow a truck. Its smart padding provides structure, adds comfort, and helps protect contents. Consider using packing cells to keep gear organized.
Sweet Spot: An everyday bag for travel, work, and the range. A paucity of pockets make it less desirable for hunting.
The Takeaway: This simple, elegant bag blends a minimalist aesthetic with over-the-top construction that will withstand incredible amounts of abuse. Its quality justifies its price.
Overall: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
How It Tested: The ECP offers very fast access to its contents. A clever beavertail pouch allows for many loading options. A removable foam pad, which doubles as a waterproof seat cushion, is a handy design feature. The sewing quality was among the best in the test.
Sweet Spot: Its innovative system of pockets, attachments, and carrying options allow for flexible configurability. It works well as both a go-bag to carry survival essentials or a day pack for minimalist hunters.
The Takeaway: This small, lightweight bag performs beyond its diminutive dimensions (1,060 cu. in.). It's built to take lots of punishment, but despite the excellent construction, we had a hard time justifying the price given its size.
Overall: ★ ★ ★
Alps Outdoorz Falcon
How It Tested: The bag's soft fabric makes for quiet hunting but is lacking in the durability department. It tore during our abrasion test, though the carry handle is cleverly sewn in for superior strength. Its 2,500-cubic-inch capacity metal internal frame handled our 70-pound load, but it wasn't as comfortable or as stable as we would have liked. One of the zipper pulls also broke during the evaluation.
Sweet Spot: This pack is optimized for hunting, with lots of useful pockets and features like straps and a stirrup for securing a bow or rifle, and a hunter orange rain cover that tucks into an internal pocket.
The Takeaway: A good value in a hunting pack, the Falcon offers plenty of utility, though not much in the way of aesthetics.
Overall: ★ ★ ★
How It Tested: We liked the bag's ability to haul a bow or rifle and organize a day's worth of gear. It handled a 20-pound load just fine, but became unstable under 70 pounds of payload. The top handle is too small for an adult hand. The fabric did an excellent job resisting abrasions.
Sweet Spot: The large main compartment is really well designed for hunting. It is simple to load and has a couple of internal pockets to segregate gear. The padded back has zippered access to the main bag, so retrieving items from the depths of the pack is easy.
The Takeaway: A capable hunting pack that offers a lot of carrying capacity (2,000 cu. in.), but its lack of an internal frame made it awkward to wear with a heavy load.
Overall: ★ ★
Tacprogear Spec Ops Assault
How It Tested: Despite being made of tough Cordura, the bottom of the bag ripped during our abrasion test, indicating a need for better interior padding. The straps dug uncomfortably into our shoulders under a heavy load. The release angle on the buckles is too shallow to keep the straps' adjustments from slipping.
Sweet Spot: It's an all-around pack (2,368 cu. in.) that can haul gear through an airport or up a mountain, though it doesn't excel in any one area. We liked the dual water-bottle pockets on the front of the pack and the molle spine that runs between them for securing accessories.
The Takeaway: This is a budget-priced day pack that can serve multiple roles, but it's in need of a more refined design.
Overall: ★ ★