The Best Mule Deer Hunting Pack? Maybe You Need Two

What's your favorite pack for deer hunting? Is it a small daypack that you can hang from a tree hook above your stand? Is it an internal-frame behemoth that you stuff with a week's worth of gear simply because you can?

Or is it a run-and-gun fanny pack that holds only the essentials?

Read the video here for my take on the perfect pack. I don't feel too awkward giving away the punch line here: it's actually two packs.

The main pack is one of my favorite pieces of gear - the unimaginatively named "Magnetic-Closure Fanny Pack" by Badlands. I chronically overload it, but it holds exactly what I need for a hard day of hunting: knives, headlamp, GPS, calls, firestarter, first aid kit, lunch and a snack, a length of rope and two tent stakes for holding a critter's leg up while I field dress it, two polyester game bags, wind dope, a point-and-shoot camera, and a map. It will even hold a quantity of water--never enough, but I use the collapsible Platypus water bottles, and I can fit a liter of water neatly in the top of the Badlands. It has double straps on its bottom where I can lash a jacket, or (read below) a second pack.

The best thing about the MagPack (there, I'll give it a better name, even if Badlands won't) is that it's hugely comfortable. I can wear it all day, and if it ever gets heavy on my hips, it comes with a neck yoke that lets me redistribute some of its weight to my shoulders.

Still, when you hike as far from the pickup as I often do, you don't want to make an empty trip back to the truck for a frame pack if you're lucky enough to kill a deer. So my second pack is a take-down frame pack.

As you'll see in the video, the pack goes together in about a minute and converts from pieces about the dimensions of a loaf of bread into a rigid pack that can carry an entire boned-out deer. I've done that on multiple occasions. It's not comfortable, but it's done, without having to waste time and energy dead-heading from the kill site to the pickup and back.

The pack, in its taken-down form, fits neatly in the jacket lashes of my fanny pack. And it has the added virtue of giving me a good back rest when I sit down to glass prospective hunting areas.

It's called the Rhino, distributed by High Country Hunting. Its frame is made of T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, it has a dozen lash points where you can anchor nylon webbing, and it features heat-dispersing mesh to keep sweat (and blood) off your back. I wish the straps were a little beefier, but it weighs just 2.5 pounds and collapses to a compact 4x14.5 inches, small enough to fit in saddlebags, or under my fanny pack. It's the perfect answer for those of us who want to hunt far from the trailhead but who don't want to hunt with a heavy freighter pack on their backs.