The backpack you choose could make or break your hunt—and back.
Much like boots and broadheads, every hunter seems to have their own thoughts on the best hunting backpack, and it’s largely a personal choice based on conditions, country, and quarry. But after carrying gear and game in countless configurations, we’ve crowned these the top picks that’ll have you covered for any big game hunt.
Jump to: The Hunting Backpacks We Use
The specs, styles, and options can get overwhelming when comparing hunting backpacks, but experience has shown us the best designs have a few things in common.
We’re looking for a spacious, organized setup that’s built for the hunt ahead without sacrificing all-day comfort.
Jump to: What Makes a Good Hunting Backpack
From weeks in the wilderness to morning rut hunts and everything in between, the MeatEater crew has put dozens of packs through the paces. These hunting backpacks have stood out as the best.
Exo Mtn Gear K3 3200 Pack System
Exo Mtn Gear K3 4800 Pack System
First Lite Transfer Pack
Stone Glacier Xcurve Frame
|Highlight||Most Versatile||Best Organization||Best for Whitetail||Most Comfortable Frame|
|Material||500d Cordura||500d Cordura||2-layer Catalyst softshell material||500d Cordura and X-Pac|
|Capacity||3,690 cu. in.||5,205 cu. in.||2,900 cu. in.||N/A|
|Weight||5 lbs. 4 oz.||5 lbs. 10 oz.||5.6 lbs.||3 lbs. 1 oz.|
|Field Notes||Field Notes||Field Notes||Field Notes|
While the best option will be largely dependent upon your individual pursuit, every good hunting backpack should meet these criteria.
Solid storage is more than just cubic inches—although plenty of overall space is important. A good hunting backpack will also sport a variety of pockets and compartments for optics, calls, and other gear that keep the essentials easily accessible. But it won’t have so many pouches and partitions that you can’t find what you need. It will strike the right balance of function and simplicity.
After boots that fit like a glove, a well-built backpack is one of the most important pieces in your kit to keep you comfortable in the backcountry. The best hunting backpack will be available in a variety of sizes and allow for micro-adjustments for a tailored fit. It will provide ventilation, minimize stress on your body, and won’t weigh you down.
Your hunting backpack is bound to take a beating, so the best choice is one that’s engineered with durable, high-quality fabrics and hardware that can stand up to the elements and the rigors of the field. Weatherproof construction and excellent craftsmanship backed by a generous warranty are crucial.
Whether you plan to pack out an elk or simply stow all your treestand necessities, your pack should be designed to handle everything you throw at it. A good hunting backpack should have a sufficient load rating backed by extensive testing as well as the straps, shelves, or attachments the job demands.
External frame, internal frame, or just a regular ol’ backpack? It all depends on how you hunt.
Heading out for an evening sit in the back 40? You can probably get away with stuffing calls and scent in a basic backpack. But if you plan to log some serious miles getting away from hunting pressure, spend days and nights in the backcountry, or pack out a bull elk, you’ll probably want to invest in a frame.
While some hunting backpacks are built with internal frame systems that still provide structure and stability, an external frame is hard to beat for packing out hundreds of pounds of big game.
Equipped with a pack, an external frame can function just like an internal frame backpack when you need it to then transform into a meat hauler for transporting quarry. Strip it down to just the load shelf and straps, and you’re ready to carry out your quarters.
It’s usually easy to swap out packs for a custom setup on your external frame for hunting different game or you can stick with a frame only—like the Stone Glacier Xcurve Frame—for load-hauling only.
Steve chases just about every critter out there, so a hunting backpack that can transition from the tundra to the high country is a critical part of his toolset.
"For the majority of my outings, I’m running the Exo Mtn Gear 3200," he said. "Whether I’m chasing spring gobblers on a quick morning hunt before work or I’m on a 10-day Alaskan Yukon moose hunt, this pack’s minimalist yet expandable option allows for a wide variety of uses."
This versatile backpack is built for ultralight hunting, but the ultra-strong titanium K3 frame can still accommodate loads exceeding 250 pounds when the mission is a success.
"The lightweight and sturdy titanium frame, pinpoint adjustability, and perfected pocket configuration makes this pack my go-to," Steve said. "It’ll be a while before I find a pack better than this one."
When you’re toting a variety of optics, calls, and other gear, it’s important to keep the essentials secure yet close at hand. That’s why Janis opts for the Exo Mtn Gear K3 4800 Pack System.
"I'm enamored with the Exo Mtn Gear 4800," he said. "I run it without the lid unless I'm backpacking deep, and it still has enough pockets to keep my gear organized and accessible."
A wet storage compartment, roll-top design, horseshoe-shaped zip access, and a variety of convenient pockets perfectly balance security and accessibility.
"I particularly like the long sleeve pockets on the sides for holding my tripod and spotting scope," he said. "The same goes for the water bottle pockets. Their stretch makes them easy to get stuff in and out of, and their height keeps it secure. I use them for my bugle tube."
But even with all the compartments and storage capacity, this pack can fold down to a streamlined footprint.
"It also compresses super small when I just have my day-hunting gear in it, making it feel much smaller than it actually is," Janis said. "It also hauls meat like a champ."
If you hunt whitetails from a tree, this is the backpack for you. The First Lite Transfer Pack can haul everything a deer hunter needs, whether you’re run-and-gun hunting during the rut or packing extra layers during late season.
“This is a whitetailer’s workhorse,” Mark said. “If you’re a mobile hunter, you’ll love the specially designed treestand packing system and the multitude of outer straps for attaching your climbing sticks or saddle platform.”
There’s also tons of well-thought storage in the Transfer Pack. Its bucket-style design and multiple hanging configurations allow hunters to have quiet access to stowed gear. And with 2900 cubic inches of space, that leaves a lot of room for whatever you’re hauling—whether it be grunt tubes, base layers, optics, or even snacks.
“Once you’re in the tree, the Transfer has one of the best organizational systems I’ve seen to date,” Mark said. “There are easily accessible pockets throughout the pack, as well as a bow attachment system on the outside that works like a charm.”
Packing out any animal can be tough on your body, but a workhorse that conforms to your curvature can keep you comfortable and stable under the heaviest of loads.
The lightweight Stone Glacier Xcurve Frame matches the contours of the lumbar and upper back to improve weight distribution, eliminate lateral shifts, and prevent slipping.
"I’ve been running the Stone Glacier Xcurve Frame for at least four seasons now," Cal said. "Lots of pack-outs which means lots of stress on the frame and stress on materials. It’s still holding up great, and it’s definitely the most comfortable for carrying weight that I’ve ever owned."
The waterproof Xcurve Frame, built with military-grade materials, is compatible with all Stone Glacier bags or can simply be used as a pack frame for load-hauling.