Updated Sep 16, 2022 2:21 PM
Hunters need reliable hunting backpacks—whether it’s a Midwest hunt for whitetails or a walk through the Rockies searching for elk. Like most outdoor gear, modern-day packs are comfortable, purposeful, and designed explicitly for various big-game pursuits.
I’ve tested and toted hundreds of different packs during my outdoor tenure. Some are still in my hunting arsenal, and others, usually due to a significant flaw in comfort or durability, have been given away at family yard sales. The best hunting backpacks, regardless of the pursuit, have several features in common. Those include comfort, durability, functionality, and technologies that serve a purpose. Once you find the best hunting backpacks that hug your shoulders, back, and waist, and travel like a dream—never let them go.
Why It Made the Cut: This 6,400-cubic-inch bag, when paired with the Medium Xcruve frame, is remarkable in every way. The system has a frame+bag 5.8-pound weight rating, a 150-plus pound load rating, and strong Cordura 5000 and Xpac fabric.
- 6,400 cubic inches
- 5.8 pounds with bag and frame
- 30-inch side-zip access panel
- Internal spotting scope pocket
- Fits the body like a glove
- 2,500-cubic-inch expandable load shelf
- Heavy-duty YKK #10 zippers
- Convertible to 4,000-cubic-inch bivy mode
- Pack removal is a bit of a hassle
- So many straps and lashes take some getting used to
This is the pack and frame I used on my once-in-a-lifetime Colorado Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep hunt, and it exceeded all my expectations. The internal spotting scope compartment is a win, and access to the main compartment via side-zipper access will be cheered by those that use this pack. The Sky Archer has a pair of side pockets, and the left side pocket accepts a tripod or arrow tube. Inside the panel side zip are 3/4-inch tri-slide buckles to attach Swing Out or Camp Pockets for added organization. The center compression straps have extra length and dual adjust male and female buckles for increased versatility. With 6,400 cubic inches of volume and 2,500 cubic inches of load shelf expansion, this pack and frame combo is worth every penny.
Why It Made The Cut: Though the pack has no internal frame, it feels as if it does, thanks to the shoulder strap adjustments that allow weight to be distributed to a contoured waist belt that wraps tightly around the hips. The Superday is exceptionally comfortable, and its 1,440 cubic-inch size and 3.15-pound weight rating are ideal for a day trip making it the best day pack.
- 1,440 cubic inches
- 3.15-pound weight rating
- Easy-access hip-belt pouches
- Molded foam suspension
- Rifle and bow compatible carry system
- Adjustable waist belt with reverse tightening
- Sturdy build
- No rainfly
- Hip-belt holster adds extra weight
Badlands’ Superday pack is a well-built pack that provides plenty of interior room for the day hunter. The molded foam hugs and conforms to the back to ensure a comfortable ride, and the waist belt grabs the hips. Pack adjustments are quick and easy, and I appreciate the bedroll straps and detachable rifle/bow boot holder. Another hat-tipper is the C6 DWR coating. This water-repellent coating causes moisture to roll off the pack, keeping inner contents dry. Pockets on the pack are purposeful and having used the pack for multiple years in an array of environments, I can testify to its toughness.
Best Multi-Day Pack
Why It Made The Cut: I applaud how easily the pack detaches from the frame and the frame’s numerous lashing straps and meat-hauler design. Hunters that go with this multi-day pack can also purchase a 1,800 cubic-inch pack that attaches to the frame for day-hunt trips.
- 3,800 cubic inches
- 6 pounds 1-ounce total weight
- Adjustable torso range
- Anti-lumbar slip pad on frame
- Rain cover included
- Easy adjustments & pack detachment from the frame
- Six position torso adjustment
- Two side ports for hydration hoses
- Need third attachment Adventure-style bag
I used the Elite Frame and 3800 Pack for the entire season on multi-day hunts, and the pack is remarkable in every way. The Load Lifters, torso adjustment, anti-sway waist belt, and shoulder straps allow the user to create a perfect fit and feel. The rifle and bow drop-down pocket is easily accessible, and you’ll appreciate the trio of compression pockets. The main compartment is spacious, and the re-engineered frame cut weight by 30 percent and boosted strength by 30 percent. Small hook tabs make pack-from-frame removal super simple, and the 500D Nylon Cordura is PU coated and extremely water-resistant.
Why It Made The Cut: With a price tag under $150, this 2,500 cubic-inch pack has a lot going for it, and it doubles as a day and overnight backpack.
- 2,500 cubic inches
- 4 pounds 10 ounces
- Polyester and 600-denier polyester-oxford build
- Padding on back boosts comfort
- Integrated rain cover and blaze orange flag
- Holds bow or rifle
- Foam structure in pack creates solid shooting platform
- Not the best hip-riding pack
This pack has been a favorite of many over the years, and it’s not hard to see why. I love a backpack that holds my rifle or bow securely and lets me walk through hard-to-navigate terrain with my hands-free to carry trekking poles. I also applaud the back-panel design, allowing instant access to the main compartment while boosting overall comfort. The comfortable waist belt allows for sidearm holster attachment, and a foam structure in the pack makes a great rest when shooting a rifle from the prone position. The integrated rain cover smothers the pack and keeps moisture from getting inside, and the backpack comes with a built-in hydration reservoir.
Best for Whitetail Hunting
Why It Made The Cut: The ridged stay-open design of the pack allows instant access to the main compartment, and the lid folds out and away from the pack and puts a zippered compartment close to the hunter to minimize movement.
- 1,890 cubic inches
- 4.6 pounds
- Internal Frame is rigid but flexible
- Stay open design
- Purposeful gear pockets
- Face panel opens 45 degrees without losing content
- Stand carry compression straps
- Inside zipper design doesn’t scream durability
This hug-the-tree tote is fitted with a top haul loop, and the waist belt can be wrapped around the trunk to ensure no-swing positioning. The two-zipper access allows the face panel to open to 45-degrees without letting gear fall out. This design keeps essential gear like calls close to the hunter to limit movement. Multiple sleeves and pockets line the inside of the pack to help the hunter be more organized, and the waist belt features a pair of side pockets that are perfect for a headlamp, knives, and camo face paint. Outside compression straps make attaching a stand or bow easy, and the front stretch-woven pocket holds additional gear like a rain suit or an extra jacket.
Why It Made The Cut: A do-all pack that works as well in the stand as it does on a spot-and-stalk muley hunt. Sitka’s Apex spots a low-profile frameless design that reduces noise and abrasion while providing a full 1,800 cubic inches of space.
- 1,800 cubic inches
- 36 ounces
- Body-hugging waist belt
- Deployable & retractable cam cables
- Quiet fabric
- Hunts bigger than it is
- Not good for hauling meat
Built to be a streamlined move-with-you pack, the Apex hunts bigger than its 1,800-cubic-inch rating, and the body-hugging waist belt is fitted with multiple pockets. Three outside compression straps snug extra clothing down, and at just 36 ounces, this pack is a feather. The deployable/retractable cam cables quickly deploy and retract to rest your bow and arm to keep you steady when the moment of truth arrives. Although, hunters packing large hauls of meat may have to make a few more trips than desired.
Things to Consider Before Buying Hunting Backpacks
Before deciding what the best hunting backpack is for you, you must first determine the pack’s purpose. For instance, you can’t slug an awesome treestand pack as a failure because it didn’t work for you on an elk hunt. On the flip side of the coin, a treestand hunter isn’t going to love the space a 4,000+plus cubic-inch pack takes up in the tree. Different hunts require different amounts of space. Here’s a breakdown of the storage space you will need based on hunt type and style.
- Daypack size—1,000-2,000 cubic Inches: Packs with this volume are ideal for day hunts. They will easily tote and store extra clothing, calls, water, first-aid kits, headlamps, and more. They are not ideal for hauling out a load of meat.
- Multi-Day size—2,500-3,800 cubic Inches: Packs with this space can tote enough food, water, and other necessary gear to keep you on the mountain in search of game for two to four nights.
- Adventure size—3,800-6,000 cubic Inches: Many public-land western hunts for mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and the like require hunters to live in the backcountry for a week or more. Adventure-hunt packs are built like a German tank and can tote everything and the kitchen sink.
Hunting backpack manufacturers take lots of things into consideration when building a pack. The best whitetail backpacks are cloaked in noise-killing fabric and sport a zipperless central compartment opening. They have an internal design that allows the pack to remain open and not crumble. Backcountry packs have additional pockets, pouches, and features that enable the hunter to haul more gear. Just know that more accessories often mean more weight. Here are some key features to look for in a hunting backpack.
- Pockets: Pockets are a good thing, but before purchasing a pack because it has piles of pockets, make sure each of those pockets serves a purpose. A quality pack should have internal and external pockets, and those pockets, unless magnets or stretchable nylon is used, should be fitted with heavy-duty zippers. More pockets mean more weight and can negatively affect organization. With too many pockets, it’s easy to forget where critical gear is.
- Side and/or Bottom Access: Side access to the pack’s main compartment is a win. Many multi-day and adventure-style hunting backpacks are fitted with a lid covering the pack’s main-compartment opening. Side zippers allow easy access, and you can get to things at the bottom of the pack without having to pull everything out of it.
- Hooks and Attachments: Multi-day and adventure-style packs often have lashing points, extra synch straps, and Molle straps to attach additional gear. When you can tote a sleeping bag, bedroll, and extra clothing on the pack’s outside, you have more interior room available. Many Midwest whitetail packs have hooks and loops that allow the hunter to hang the pack from a sturdy tree limb or pack screw-in hanger.
- Hydration Pouch Sleeve: Almost every hunting pack is H2O compatible. With a waterproof sleeve designed to hold a one- or two-liter water bladder, hunters don’t have to worry about carrying noisy plastic water bottles. Hydration compatible packs will also have a built-in design for running the hydration bladder’s hose through.
- Internal/External Frame: Internal and external frames boost the pack’s load-bearing rating. The great thing about internal frame packs is the frame comes with the pack. External frames must be purchased separately from the pack, but these frame and pack models are often some of the most high-quality systems available to hunters.
- Other: I like an included rainfly that isn’t attached to the pack. Other top-end features like a beefy spotting scope pocket, waist belt pockets, and a removable lid are excellent.
When it comes to the best hunting backpacks, you get what you pay for. However, don’t think for a second that a $65 Cabela’s pack won’t work for the back 40 whitetail hunt. It will. On the other hand, a backcountry elk hunt will chew that $65 pack up and spit it out. Price is dependent on your needs. My favorite elk pack is branded with a $425 price tag. That’s expensive, but it is second to none for comfort, durability, and performance. For some hunts, the price of a pack that sheds pounds, ups comfort, and has no-fail features, is worth every penny.
Q: What is the best deer hunting backpack?
There are lots and lots of excellent deer hunting packs. However, most deer hunters tend to hunt from an elevated position, and the best packs for this type of pursuit are those with rigid designs that allow the pack to remain open without collapsing on itself. A pack that remains open allows immediate access to necessary gear.
Q: How many cubic inches should a hunting pack be
Remember, backpack space should be dictated by the purpose you expect that pack to serve. The longer you plan to stay in the woods living out of your pack, the more cubic inches that pack needs to have. I don’t recommend buying a pack without going through it in person first. Some packs look big but hunt small, while others are just the opposite.
Q: How big of a pack do I need for elk hunting?
Every elk hunting pack should have an internal or external frame system. If not, you will kill your shoulders and back when hauling out meat. When it comes to size, it depends on whether you’re returning to a base camp every night or living out of your pack. Those that return to a basecamp can get away with a daypack, as long as it has a frame system. Those looking to venture off the beaten path and live in the elk woods for days at a time need to consider a pack between 3,800 and 6,500 cubic inches.
Q: Does a hunting backpack have to be camo?
Not at all. More pack manufacturers are creating packs in solid color options. I do recommend staying with flat earth tone colors, but if you find a great pack and it isn’t offered in camo, that fact shouldn’t dictate whether you buy the pack or not.
Q: How do I clean my hunting pack?
Hunting packs get dirty—inside and out. I clean my packs at the end of each hunt, or the very least, the end of each season. I’m always amazed at how many pine needles, pieces of dirt, trash, and other junk I find while cleaning out a pack. Packs also get bloody, and a good inside and out washing will get rid of that blood. After removing all the pack’s inner contents, follow the manufacturer’s washing instructions on the label
Q: What should I keep in my hunting backpack?
What goes in your hunting pack depends on the animal you’re chasing. For instance, it will do you no good to have an elk bugle in a pack you’ll be using for whitetail hunting. Be smart when adding content to your backpack. Unnecessary gear only adds weight. Some items that are in every pack I own include:
• first-aid kit
• emergency blanket
• fire-starting equipment
• extra batteries
• two knives
• rubber gloves
• rain gear
• field wipes
• Garmin inReach
Remember, there isn’t a one-and-done option for proper backpack selection. The best hunting backpacks have multiple things in common (durability, comfort, functionality), but each pack is designed to serve a particular purpose. The only way to find the right pack is to make sure the pack will meet the needs of your style of hunting.
Having hunted almost every creature in the lower 48 with a bow and rifle, I’ve put hundreds of packs to the test, which made narrowing down the finalists relatively easy. Each award-winning backpack above has proven reliable, comfortable, and purposeful in the hunting woods. Features that I took into serious consideration when making these picks included the following criteria:
- Weight and volume: Volume should reflect the pack’s purpose. Some packs may have more volume, but that volume may be unnecessary for the backpack’s purpose. More volume means more weight, and if that volume isn’t needed, the pack is heavier than necessary.
- Comfort: When you’re toting a pack, especially one that pushes the scale over the 30-pound mark for days on end, comfort is essential. Lumbar support, as well as padded shoulder straps, make a big difference. I also appreciate adventure-style packs that come with a torso adjustment feature.
- Durability: A pack that can’t take the abuse isn’t worth having. Packs are constantly being loaded and unloaded, packed and unpacked, and often tossed on the ground. If a pack doesn’t hold up to abuse, you don’t want it, and it didn’t make my final cut.
- Purpose Served: If a pack is designed for whitetail hunting, it was tested and used for whitetail hunting. The same holds true with each award category.