A hunting backpack is crucial hunting equipment and is as critical to your success as are the right bow, gun, and boots. That’s because a hunting backpack is more than just a hunting bag. It’s a piece of technical gear made to support its load and fit the gear you need without wasting space. It’s also practically a piece of hunting clothing as well because it has to fit the wearer. A pack that doesn’t fit is no better than boots that don’t fit. It can ruin a trip.
Hunting backpacks differ from backpacking packs because hunters have specific needs—carrying and accessing certain types of gear including bow, crossbow, or long gun; quietness of material; the ability to transform from a backpack to a meat hauler. Fortunately, there’s a pack customized for every hunting situation and every hunter. This guide will help you zero in on the best hunting backpack for you.
Your back will thank you when the hunt is over.
- Best Overall: Kifaru Shapecharge
- Best Blind Bag: Alps OutdoorZ Backpack Blind Bag
- Best Treestand Pack: Tenzing Hangtime Pack
- Best Budget: TideWe Hunting Pack
- Sitka Apex Pack
- Eberlestock Mainframe Pack
How to Fit a Hunting Backpack
The first step in choosing the best hunting pack is to think about how much hunting stuff you need to carry. For a backcountry elk hunter, that can mean a tent, food, sleeping bag, a bow or rifle, and a frame that can haul 100 pounds of meat. For a whitetail hunter, the best hunting pack might be a daypack that carries lunch, scents and a few extra layers for the long sit. Many packs feature specialized holders for a rifle or a bow.
After you choose a pack that will hold your gear, be sure it fits. First, measure your torso length. Put your hands on your hips with the top of your hands touching the top of your iliac crest — your hip bones — with your thumbs pointing toward one another across your back. Measure from that imaginary line between your thumbs to the prominent bump in your spine at the base of your neck. That distance is your torso height. Some packs come in sizes, others can be adjusted to your torso size.
Once the pack fits, adjust the straps. Put some weight into the pack so it sits on your back as it will when you use it. Loosen all the straps. Fasten the belt first. The padded portion of the belt should hug your iliac crest when you snug the belt around your waist. Adjust the shoulder straps so there is no gapping between the strap and your shoulder.
Best Overall: Kifaru Shape Charge
Why It Made the Cut
My Shape Charge has been up mountains, through deserts, in treestands, offshore, and in overhead compartments for the last three years. After going through hell, it still looks and functions like new.
- Weight: 3.95 pounds
- Volume: 1,960 cubic inches
- 500d DWR coated fabric
- Made in the USA
- Large main compartment with mesh internal pockets.
- Two water bottle pockets
- Lid with two quick access pockets
- Molle panel for adding accessories and pouches
- The perfect amount of pockets
Most of my hunting requires a daypack for carrying layers, water, food, and gear. Within the daypack category you’ll find everything from tiny hip packs to backs around 2,500 cubic inches. I find myself reaching for packs around the 2,000 cubic inch range most often because they allow me to carry a day’s worth of gear. In my embarrassingly large collection of daypacks the Shape Charge is the clear winner and I use it almost excessively for nearly everything. Here are the roles it fills for me:
- Treestand pack
- Camera bag
- Fishing backpack
- Range bag
The pack is easy to organize with just the right amount of pockets for quick access items and mesh internal pockets that make it easy for you to find what you need in the large main chamber. I’ve added exterior pouches to the molle for more storage when necessary as well as Kifaru’s Grab-IT for strapping down treestands and saddle platforms. The Grab-IT also works well as a meat shelf. As you can see, it’s easy to configure the Shape Charge from streamlined to a fully-kitted gear hauler.
The ultralight crowd will say 500d is overkill for a daypack, but I say this is daypack that will last a lifetime of hard use. Ultimately, it’s up to you decide if a 4-pound daypack is too heavy or if the heavy-duty construction is what you’re looking for. The main con is the price. It’s not a cheap pack, but if you are investing in it as a tool you’ll have for many seasons, rather than buying a cheaper bag every other year, the price becomes a little more reasonable. It’s also made in the USA from US-made materials, which adds to the price and the value. -S.E.
Best foe Duck Hunting: Alps OutdoorZ Backpack Blind Bag
Waterfowlers who walk-in carry lots of gear. Shells, snacks, coffee, spinning wing decoys, and more all make a duck hunt better. A backpack for all that gear leaves your hands free to carry decoys and a seat so you can walk into where the birds are, even if it’s a long way from the road. A duck hunting backpack should have a rigid, waterproof bottom that lets you stand it up, and a loop for hanging from a tree or a hook in the blind.
Two main compartments plus separate storage in the rigid bottom, an outside water bottle pocket, and a hard pocket for sunglasses let you store and organize all sorts of gear. Padded shoulder straps include pull-out game totes for the walk-out, and a waist belt keeps the load steady. A drop-down gun boot lets you carry your shotgun hands-free. A loop on top lets you hang it from a tree.
Best Treestand Backpack: Tenzing Hangtime Pack
A backpack functions well for carrying gear, but not so much for accessing gear. Digging through your backpack for something while you’re taking a break from walking or hiking simply means stopping, taking off your pack, and digging through the main or side compartments to find what you need. But when you’re in a treestand, where there’s little room to put a pack, digging around creates movement and noise, which is not conducive to good hunting. A pack that offers multiple access points to gear is your friend when in a treestand.
The Hangtime Pack offers 1600 cubic inches of well thought-out storage for all your gear. The rear pocket drops down to keep calls and rattle-bags handy, and you can get into the main compartment from the top or the back. It also includes loops so you can carry a bow on one side or a bow, rifle, or crossbow on the back.
Best Budget: TideWe Hunting Pack
it can still see you through many hunts. Besides looking for a deal, you can look for a versatile pack. A pack in the 3000-3500 cubic inch range is big enough for a long weekend hunt, but not too big to use as a daypack.
Several pockets, including two on the padded straps for small accessories, let you fill this pack with gear and get to it in a hurry. It has a flap for a bladder tube and water bottle holder, quiet material, and it comes with a pull-over waterproof rain cover in case you get caught out in the weather.
Contoured to fit close to your body, the 1800 cubic inch Apex bow hunting backpack is designed specifically for bowhunters. Dividers in the waist pockets keep small items from rattling. It has an external pocket for an elk bugle, and a unique pull-out cam loop that lets you rest your bow while you wait for a bull to close the distance.
Mountain archery hunts start early and can last all day if you get into elk. A hunt can combine sitting and glassing, stalking, and waiting silently for a bull to get into range. You need a bowhunting pack of around 1500-2000 cubic inches that can hold a day’s essentials, including a first aid kit and whatever essentials you’ll need in case you have to spend the night on the mountain. You’ll hunt while wearing the pack, so it should be light, quiet, and streamlined so it doesn’t snag on brush.
When you’re spending days away from civilization, you need a pack big enough to carry all your gear and food for the duration of the trip. As a very general rule of thumb, figure about 1,000 cubic inches of capacity for each day of the trip. That means for a long or extended weekend hunt, a pack somewhere in 3000-5000 cubic inch range works best. If you’re new to backpack hunting, err on the larger side, as it may take you a few trips to figure out what you need and what you can leave behind. Longer hunts demand a bigger pack in the 6,000-8,000 cubic inch range.
The Eberlestock Mainframe Pack is the starting point for you to build a customized pack. You can choose various types and sizes of duffels, dry bags, and scabbards to the frame, and piggy-back another pack.
Q: What should I look for in a hunting backpack?
First, your pack has to carry all the gear you need. Figure 1800 to 2000 cubic inches is enough for a daypack, 3000-5000 for a weekend or three day hunt, and up to 7500 for a longer trip. Be sure the pockets are arranged for the way you use a pack. Serious backcountry hunters obsess over every ounce of weight in their gear, so compare weights. Also look at the materials Internal frame packs won’t snag on brush, although external frames are handier for packing out meat. Finally, a pack has to fit. Measure your torso and be sure the pack adjusts or comes in the right size or you will be miserable carrying any load at all.
Q: What is the best backpack for elk hunting?
No matter how you hunt elk or where, all elk hunts have one common denominator: the possibility of packing out 300 pounds of bone-in meat. Many packs have extension straps that let you carry meat between the pack and the frame. It’s also doubly important that the pack fits well, because you will be loading up with as much as 100 pounds at a time.
Q: Are Eberlestock packs good?
Yes, Eberlestock packs are solid, well-designed, durable and made in Boise, Idaho. Glen Eberle, a hunter and Olympic biathlete, designed a gun backpack that could hold a rifle on the back during his competition days. At the time there was no other pack like it. Now similar rifle holders are commonplace on packs. The U.S. military special forces also use Eberlestock packs. They are a good value in a pack, too. While not as technically advanced as packs like EXO Mountain Gear or Kuiu, they cost much less.
A Last Tip on Hunting Backpacks
Don’t get hung up on a pack’s looks. A backpack that doesn’t fit you, or is too small or too large, can ruin your hunt. A pack is also a tool. It has to carry your hunting gear in a way that keeps it organized and lets you access it when you need it. Size is the next main consideration. Be sure to get a pack that holds all your gear. Weight is important, too, if you’re packing in a long way, and opt for useful features like gun or bow holders. That will make the pack you choose the best hunting pack for you.