SHARE

Fashion articles tout the importance of women owning “day-to-night” looks. Apparently, it’s essential for a woman’s wardrobe to be appropriate for the workday and then transition seamlessly into evening activities. As a work-from-home writer living in small-town Montana, I’ve nailed it. My leggings and hoodie are comfortable to wear while writing at my desk and playing board games after school with my toddler. For hunting, the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf Pack is my “day-to-night” hunting pack. 

It transitions seamlessly from a day hunt to multiple nights in the backcountry. It compresses small enough to be nimble while on a stalk, yet its carrying capacity fits everything needed to camp in the backcountry. I covered a lot of miles with the Women’s Metcalf this hunting season and packed out a couple mule deer with it. Here’s how it performed. 

Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf Pack Specs and Features

  • Weighs 5.7 pounds 
  • 71-liter carrying capacity
  • Guide Light MT Frame, ergonomically fit for a woman’s body
  • Overload meat carrying capacity 
  • Removable lid with zippered pockets
  • Bottom, front, and side compression straps
  • Hydration reservoir compatible
  • Side pockets
  • Side zipper for easy access to the main pack
  • Autolock buckles prevent slippage

Women’s Sizing 

Mystery Ranch’s women pack lineup features women-specific sizing options. This is one of the most important features. For many women, even the smallest men’s pack is too big in the waist and torso. When a pack is too big, it might feel fine when carrying minimal weight, but once it’s loaded down, that’s when the discomfort begins. Uncomfortable packs can make you leave the field early. 

The Women’s Metcalf is available in women’s sizes XS, S, M, and L. Each category includes a range of measurements for the torso and waist. Based on my measurements, I could fit either a small or medium. I chose a medium because my torso measurement was on the higher end of the small range. Mystery Ranch recommends sizing down for the waist. However, because my waist measurement was on the higher end of the small range and I wear a lot of layers while hunting in cold weather, I chose a medium. After months of use, I can report this was the right choice for my body. 

Mystery Ranch says they will work with you if you fall outside the standard sizing. The company has a custom sizing program available at an additional cost. 

Guide Light MT Frame 

The best hunting backpacks have a good frame. It distributes the weight, allowing you to carry a load comfortably. An ill-fitting frame can cause hot spots and injuries. Mystery Ranch designed the Guide Light MT Frame to carry the heaviest loads. The frame’s lightweight design doesn’t add much weight, yet it’s tough enough to carry a full camp along with meat. The frame uses 500D Cordura fabric which is light, tough, and tear-resistant. 

The Mystery Ranch Metcalf comes with a women-specific frame. Mystery Ranch says the design utilizes “ergonomically curved harnessing.” This means a narrower shoulder pad, which creates a more comfortable carry by alleviating friction. Narrow shoulder pads also open up more room for a woman’s chest. Most women need extra space in the chest area, and thick strips are very comfortable. The company also says the patented Futura Yoke “easily micro adjusts to the torso length allowing the proper amount of stand-off between the back and frame.” 

Waist Belt 

The frame’s waist belt is cushioned and molded for comfort and lumbar support. Instead of being one piece, the five-piece belt holds its shape even when it’s not buckled. This design improves the fit, therefore increasing comfort. The belt can also be adjusted up or down. 

The belt’s MOLLE webbing allows you to add hunting accessories like holsters and pockets. The webbing came in extremely handy while bowhunting in grizzly country. I was able to attach a holster to carry a handgun and canister of bear spray. 

Overload Feature

The frame’s overload feature keeps the bag’s contents away from the meat on the pack out. It also makes sure there’s enough room to carry an entire camp along with a quarter or two. The bag disengages from the frame by undoing the top, side and bottom compression buckles. The final step is to use the side release buckle to release the frame capture from the top of the frame. 

Once all of these buckles are undone, the pack folds down and remains only attached at the bottom by the overload shelf. The overload shelf adjusts to the length necessary to fit the meat. Fold the pack on top of the meat and reattach using the compression buckles. Finally, tighten all the buckles to secure the load. 

Metcalf Bag 

Mystery Ranch advertises its Women’s Metcalf as the “queen of bivi hunting backpacks.” The company designed it to be an “all-around workhorse” with enough volume for a week in the backcountry, yet compressible enough for an afternoon stalk. This is a fair assessment of its capabilities.  

The Metcalf weighs about 5.7 pounds. Its carrying capacity is 71 liters. In the women’s version, the Metcalf is available in foliage, a greyish-green solid tone, and Optifade Subalpine, a camouflage pattern. 

The Metcalf has a detachable lid that can be turned into a small pack. Its interior pocket is designed to hold a hydration bladder, and the hose can come out either side. It has lashing points on the inside to attach a swing-out pocket (sold separately). It has two exterior side pockets. There’s also a compression shroud at the top for additional storage, and the full-length zipper creates easy side access. The compression straps can be used to carry a bow or rifle. 

Testing the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf Pack in the Field

The Mystery Ranch Women's Metcalf
While the size of the bag may take some getting used to, carrying weight becomes easier and more comfortable. Jackie Holbrook

The Women’s Metcalf joined me on archery antelope hunts, traversed miles of mountains in the elk woods, and assisted in two mule deer buck pack-outs. Nearly all of my hunting trips take me miles away from roads, so the easiest and most efficient way to get an animal out is by quartering it and packing it out in a frame pack. That’s why, even on day hunts, I almost always choose to carry a frame pack. This pack proved to be a true workhouse. It did everything I needed it to do while being comfortable to carry. 

For the majority of Montana’s archery season, I hunted elk in an area with downed trees, thick cover, and sharp peaks. An ill-fitting pack will cut a hunt like this short. Most days, I carried a day’s worth of gear that included water, snacks, inReach, handgun, kill kit, game bags, bear spray, medical kit, battery charger, emergency supplies, hunting license and tag, and extra layers like a hat, gloves, jacket, sweatshirt and rain gear. Even a day hunt is a heavy pack. The Metcalf also easily fits everything needed for camping like several days of food, tent, Jetboil, and sleeping bag and pad. 

Other packs have given me hot spots on my shoulders. This was partially due to the weight of wearing a bino harness on my chest and carrying my bow in my hand. When my shoulders feel uncomfortable and sore, it messes with me mentally. I get nervous about my ability to draw and hold steady. Luckily, I didn’t experience any hot spots while wearing the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf. 

It took a couple of trips to get used to the size of the Metcalf. I was previously using an overnight frame pack with a much smaller bag. However, once I began using the straps to compress the bag down, it didn’t feel bulky. This was also when I began utilizing the side zipper. This made for effortless access and didn’t require me to loosen any of the straps. I was able to get in and out of my gear quickly.  

The Women’s Metcalf’s real test came when there was success in the field. After my husband shot a mule deer buck, we decided to get everything out in a single trip. My husband emptied his pack of all of his gear, and he then loaded all four quarters and the head in his frame pack. I loaded my pack with both of our day-hunting gear, including food, water, clothing, kill kits, spotting scope and tripod, and emergency and medical supplies. I also used the overload feature to carry the backstraps, tenderloins, and scrap meat. My pack weighed well over 50-pounds. I never experienced any discomfort, chafing, or hot spots on the hike out. 

Later in the season, my friend Mallory shot her first-ever mule deer buck on our “girls only” trip. This pack-out was tougher. We did about six miles in two trips. On the first trip, Mallory carried all of our gear while I packed out the two hindquarters. This was the toughest and heaviest trip for me. Not only was it about two miles to the truck, but the route also took us up and over several steep hills. The hindquarters felt secure the entire time and I was able to make it to the truck with very minimal breaks. 

On the second trip, we each took a front quarter and I carried all of the backstraps, tenderloins, and scrap meat. We actually misplaced a game bag for this purpose. So, I chose to use my detachable lid. It fit all of the meat and I then placed it in the bottom of the main compartment for better weight distribution. 

While I noticed the weight on my back during these trips, there was very little pressure on my hips, shoulders and upper back. I didn’t make many adjustments as I was hiking out. The straps didn’t chafe, and the backpack felt stable. We finished the hunt exhausted and sore, but thanks to the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf, it was hard but painless.  

What the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf Pack Does Best

The Mystery Ranch Women's Metcalf on ground
The Women’s Metcalf is adjustable, making it easy to fit to your body and prevent hotspots. Jackie Holbrook

The best part of the Mystery Ranch’s Women’s Metcalf Pack is its versatility. It can be used in any hunting situation. I’ve made the mistake in the past of using an overnight frame back. While I didn’t need a lot of carrying capacity at the time, when it came time to load it up with meat and gear it wasn’t big enough. The Women’s Metcalf will fit anything and everything.  

I also appreciate the ease of the overload feature. When you’re exhausted from a hunt and quartering an animal, if the meat haul portion of a pack isn’t user-friendly, it creates some serious frustration. However, the Mystery Ranch overload feature is simple to use. It’s quick to load up the meat and put it back together when you’re done. It’s what separates it as one of the best backcountry hunting packs. 

Finally, the side zipper is very convenient. I stashed my snacks and other small items in the lid for easy access. But I often found myself quickly accessing the main compartment through the side zipper to add or subtract layers or grab the spotting scope.  

What the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf Pack Does Worst

The Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf features a detachable lid with two large pockets. The lid can turn into a stand-alone pack using two clip-on straps. The straps are just like buckle straps. I found these to be too uncomfortable to use as a stand-alone pack. I might prefer that the lid didn’t detach because a couple of times I accidentally unbuckled it and had to reattach it. I also found that with its design, items could easily fall out of the lid when the main compartment wasn’t packed with very many items. It’s not the best day pack, but it could be used as a final approach pack to carry just essentials on a stalk. 

Final Thoughts on the Mystery Ranch Women’s Metcalf Pack

The Mystery Ranch Metcalf pack is designed for a woman’s body. With its variety of sizing options, women-specific frame, and micro-adjustments available, any woman should be able to tailor the pack to fit their frame. There are a lot of buckles and adjustments. So, before going into the field, load up the pack and make all the necessary changes to find the most comfortable fit for you.  

The pack retails for $499, which is within the average price range for a multi-day frame pack. If you’ve been running a smaller pack, it will take some time to get used to its bulky size. Be sure to compress it down to its smallest size for both convenience and comfort. But when you find yourself in a situation where you need to haul a lot, you’ll be thankful for the large bag that just keeps taking gear. Just be sure to place any items you use frequently by the side zipper. 

If you’re looking to add the perfect day to (multi-) night pack to your arsenal, you can’t go wrong with Mystery Ranch’s Women’s Metcalf. 

MORE TO READ