The design intent for the Icon was simple: bring an alpine mountaineering pack to the hunting market. To do this, Kuiu had to accomplish a few things …
First, the total pack weight needed to be as light as possible, but not at the sacrifice of durability. Specific gear for hunting and mountaineering would require specific pockets: for spotting scopes, headlamps, and water purifiers, among other things. The bag would have to compress down for day hunts but be able to expand dramatically to pack out meat. It had to have balance, to keep the meat high, preventing sagging on the long hike back to the truck.
This is the recipe for the perfect backcountry pack, and its what Kuiu strove for in the Icon 6000.
You can tell right away that it was designed by a hunter. It’s a homerun when it comes to functional pockets and compression down to daypack proportions. I was able to find good use for every pocket that the pack had to offer and each piece of gear was easy to get to and stayed organized.
The external pockets proved very handy when the pack was fully loaded. They allowed me to keep all of my “must have” quick access gear readily available. The sheer number of the internal pockets seemed overkill when loaded down with 7 days of gear, but that could just be me. Some hunters love those options.
To test the bag, I started by hiking three miles with 45 pounds. I wanted to get a general feel for the pack and suspension, as well as overall comfort with moderate weight. The pack performed well and the load lifters and suspension were extremely functional. The pivoting hip belt was a blessing when making steep ascents and while climbing. The pack felt like an extension of my body.
My next trip out was with an 80-pound load for two miles. The weight in the pack consisted of standard day hunt gear and 60 pounds of rock salt in a game bag. The pack was still very manageable with this weight, but at this point I would have preferred not to have the pivoting hip belt. It’s not that the belt was uncomfortable or rubbed, but it was a balance issue. The pack shifted with the weight. The pivoting hip belt allows the body to articulate more then a normal pack–this is exactly why it’s so comfortable with moderate loads and exactly why it can feel awkward with heavy loads.
Next up was the torture test. This test is very simple and has nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with TOTAL weight. How much weight can the pack handle before destruction? To do this I hang each shoulder strap from a dip bar and start adding dumbbells. I first start off with 100 pounds with any pack that can be used in the backcountry. I then add 10-pound plates till the back has met my expectation or has started to shred. I was able to get 150 pounds in the Icon 6000 and decided to stop there. I had a backpack trip planned for the Icon the next day and didn’t want to push my luck. Still, the Icon easily withstood 150 pounds without breaking the frame or ripping seams.
Pack intact, I headed out with my wife for a 3-day backpacking trip and soon found myself at 11,500 feet. I had my standard gear set, as well as a Swarovski 80mm spotter and Traveler Tripod. I attached the tripod to the left side of the pack putting the legs inside the water bottle holder. The 80mm went on the other side in the same fashion with the three horizontal compression straps holding them down. This is the best way I’ve found to keep the spotter and tripod safe and secure on any hunt. I didn’t weigh everything for this trip, but I would guess it was all in the 47-pound range. At mile three I took the pack off and adjusted the yoke down to fit my wife’s torso. She took it the next mile and found it very comfortable. She also really liked its general design.
The Kuiu Icon 6000 is a performer, but there are a few things to seriously consider. The total pack weight is 5 pounds 12 ounces, with all attachments and webbing – a few pounds lighter then what I would consider and a true load hauling pack. And what you give up in weight, you lose in durability. This bag was built to be comfortable, not kicked down the mountain or thrown out of a helicopter.
The carbon frame was designed to be comfortable with low to moderate weights (20 to 65 pounds) and to flex with your body, but still have room to pack out an elk quarter or deboned sheep. And for the most part it does that, but there’s a downside of carbon fiber. First, you have to worry about durability with extremely awkward or heavy loads; and second you have to worry about pinpoint pressure.
Dropped on a jagged rock or log when loaded down, (or in my case, if you sit your fat 210-pound ass on it) you risk snapping the strong, but fragile carbon fiber.
There is no ideal backcountry pack. At least not yet. What is saved in weight is paid for in durability. What is saved in durability is paid for in weight. The Icon 6000 feels nearly perfect under moderate loads, flexing with your body, but that flex can throw you off under heavy weight. Yet the hunter that isn’t going to throw 100 pounds on their back, or throw it off a cliff to save the walk down, Kuiu is on to something.
I know there’s been a lot of talk about this pack, so as always, if you have any comments or questions just post them below and I’ll answer as soon as I can.