The Best Backpacks for Big-Game Hunting [2023]

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If you hunt big game, you need a backpack. We carried many over mountains and across fields to find the best hunting backpacks on the market.

Hunting backpacks are a personal choice. They must carry very specific items and, in the case of big-game packs, handle massive loads of meat after a kill. But they must remain light and nimble for use while hunting.

We’ve spoken with hunters and field-tested several packs to suss out the top hunting backpacks on the market. This article focuses on larger packs meant to haul meat and gear in the backcountry. Those who just need a daypack should look elsewhere.

Needless to say, there are a lot of options, and the attributes of a good pack can be found in many brands.

Feel free to browse through all of our recommendations, or if you’re looking for anything specific, use this list to jump to it.

Best Lightweight Elk Hunting Backpack: KUIU PRO Pack System

Kuiu PRO3600 Backpack Set

The KUIU PRO line ($539-639) is a wonder of backpack engineering. While we spent years testing the ULTRA line of KUIU packs, the PRO line has now become the brand’s lightweight go-to. We’ve used the previous iteration for big game and even turkey hunting. But the PRO line is even lighter.

The foundation of this modular design is a carbon fiber frame that fits a wide range of packs from the brand, so it works as a big daypack all the way up to an expedition-level system. All components are sized for the end-users.

With the game on the ground, the pack fabric moves back to create a shelf for carrying meat. KUIU designed the 10-ounce frame system to carry more than 150 pounds.

And let’s not forget: The entire pack weighs under 4 pounds! Testing the previous iteration of the pack, I carried everything from gear to elk quarters to a whole wild turkey.

The discontinued 3000 model fits my style of hunting perfectly, although changing it back and forth between meat-hauler and simple backpack can be a little confusing at first.

Personally, I’ve found this pack comfortable carrying loads up to the 80-pound range. I’ve also had no problems with durability in four seasons of use. Given the fact that I use this mostly as a from-the-road hunting pack, I’ve never had more weight than an elk quarter and some backstraps in it.

Some testers have reported discomfort from the hip belt beyond about 80 pounds. One other negative is the zippers. It’s the biggest fault I can find on this pack. They are loud to open and close, and loud in big-game hunting is bad. So this is worth noting.

New for 2022 is the Women’s PRO Suspension, allowing this pack to be a better fit for smaller-built humans.

The full kit clocks in at just under $500, which is comparable to many of the packs to follow.

  • Weight: 4 lbs., 4.7 oz. – 6 lbs., 0.8 oz.
  • Volume: 2,300 CI – 7,800 CI
  • Material: 500D CORDURA Ripstop


Best Frame Backpack on a Budget: ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag

ALPS Outdoorz Commander Pack

The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag ($169) is a great pack at a great price. This combination has made it a favorite among hunters who don’t mind trading carbon fiber for aluminum to save significant money.

The pack is designed with firearm hunting in mind and has a dedicated rifle-holder along one side. The brand designed a lashing system specifically to carry meat after the kill.

With a volume of 5,250 cubic inches, it has plenty of space for overnight backcountry hunts. And at $160 on Amazon, it leaves enough money in the bank for game processing fees when you get home successfully.

  • Weight: 7 lbs., 5 oz.
  • Volume: 5,250 CI
  • Material: Nylon ripstop fabric


Best Generalist Hunting Backpack: Mystery Ranch Metcalf

Mystery Ranch Metcalf

The Mystery Ranch Metcalf ($525) is a really sweet pack but it loses a few points for its sheer weight (6.1 pounds complete) and complexity. I’ve carried it some in testing, but mostly my buddy has carried it for elk and deer hunting in the Rocky Mountains. He likes it but would like to see the design simplified to remove some webbing straps.

The Metcalf is a versatile pack and ideally suited to multiday remote hunts. It sells as an all-in-one package, with both a large main packsack and a detachable, smaller day lid for quick stalks.

The pack easily slides away from the frame to create big shelf space for carrying big-game quarters (or other large, awkward items). And it carries big weight well.

We’ve tested this one over about 20 days, including thousands of feet of vertical gain and dozens of miles. The tough CORDURA fabric shows barely any wear (beyond a few bloodstains).

And for 2020, Mystery Ranch has updated most of its hunting packs. From the multiday Beartooth 80 to the streamlined Sawtooth 45, the line is worth checking out. And for now, we’re still huge fans of the Metcalf and its big, comfortable capabilities.

  • Weight: 5.7 lbs.
  • Volume: 4,335 CI
  • Material: 500D CORDURA


Best Backcountry Pack: Stone Glacier EVO 3300

Stone Glacier EVO 3300 hunting backpack

Just down the road from Mystery Ranch in Bozeman, Montana, sits a small shop with a big following. Stone Glacier has cemented its reputation in the past 5 years as a cult favorite of backcountry hunters in the West and beyond.

The brand’s ultralight, minimal philosophy filters into a collection of packs and gear with clean lines, stripped-down efficiency, and substantial aptitude for carrying heavy loads.

The EVO 3300 ($614) is a perfect example of this. This isn’t your 10-days-in-the-backcountry pack. What it does do is fit an elk quarter perfectly while maintaining enough space for a day hunt or an ultralight backcountry hunt.

This bag sits on the lauded Krux EVO frame, which can be stripped down to basics and still do the job. With carbon composite stays, high-end military-grade buckles, CORDURA 500-denier fabric, and a 150-pound rating, it’s high-tech carry at its best.

And the whole system — bag and frame — clocks in at 3 pounds 13 ounces. The frame itself weighs 2 pounds, 7 ounces.

For all this tech, you’re definitely throwing some money down. The frame itself retails for $335, and the combo together costs $574.

  • Weight: 2 lbs., 7.1 oz.
  • Volume: 3,300 CI
  • Material: CORDURA 500, Xpac


Best Multiday Big Game Hunting Pack: Stone Glacier Sky 5900

stone glacier sky 5900 review

The author elk hunting back at the trailhead with a fully laden pack; (photo/Sean McCoy)

While we love Stone Glacier’s smaller line, Stone Glacier Sky 5900 ($659) is a formidable tool when the minimalist approach isn’t an option. During elk season I find it excellent for multiday hunts, including hauling huge loads for miles.

I hauled out two cow elk quarters in one trip, pressing my body to the limits with more than 100 pounds in the load. While I struggled with the weight, the pack was totally fine.

I found the Sky 5900 to be a perfect pack for 5 days of backcountry hunting. I hauled in my gear for the Colorado first rifle season, loaded out two elk, and packed up camp.

During my hunting days, I carried minimal gear and food while climbing up and down ridges and mountains. The large lid and organizational pockets keep things in place. And when hauling meat, the very robust shelf system kept the heavy quarters in place.

  • Weight: 5 lb, 8 oz.
  • Volume: 5,900 CI
  • Material: CORDURA 500, Xpac


Best Ultralight Frame: Exo Mountain Gear K3 Spyder Frame

Exo Mountain Gear K3 Spyder Frame

Exo takes a unique approach to its frame packs using a standardized frame system from strong, superlight titanium. And the brand nails it with this system. Its K2 series was the absolute favorite pack of GearJunkie contributor Will Jenkins, a serious hunter with significant gear experience.

“This pack strikes a perfect balance, rigidly carrying a heavy load but still allowing you to move around comfortably,” Jenkins said. “It keeps the load close to your body and situated comfortably on your hips.”

Last year, the K2 was upgraded and phased out. The new K3 series starts with the foundation of the K3 Spyder frame ($375). The K794-alloy frame, the straps, and the belt weigh just 2 pounds, 14 ounces total, and it carries very heavy loads thanks to the rigid vertical support.

This new frame is rated at a whopping 250-pound carry weight. And the frame moves with you laterally for comfort on the trail.

Use this frame alone, or couple it with 20003500, or 5500 fabric sack attachments for a complete gear- and game-hauling system.

This is a high-end pack. The frame alone costs $375, and a complete system ranges from $500 to $575 depending on the size of the frame and packs selected.

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