Hunting Packs Shrink with Smarter Designs to Carry the Catch.
By Eugene Buchanan
Like the turning leaves, the hunting category isn’t immune to changes trending in other outdoor categories. This year’s sportsmans trends focus on revamped packs, including everything from specialized women’s features, bells and whistles for accessories, new color schemes, a less-is-more renaissance and refinements catering to the “locovore” crowd. All these tweaks are helping drive sales to the hunting pack category.
And there’s good reason for these design enhancements. According to Realtree.com, 47.7 percent of hunters said improved patterns affect their purchasing choice; 34.4 percent maintain that new technology affects their purchasing choice; and 20.5 percent said better size and fit affects their buying decisions. Hunters who have a military background are also an emerging customer base, representing 17 percent of overall participation in the sport. All this joins together to create the first uptick in participation numbers in decades.
Smaller Packs, Heavier Loads
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. While The Hollies might not have been hunters, the premise of their hit song has resonated with today’s big game sportsmen, with the ability to carry heavy loads in a small package being paramount.
“The trend we’re seeing is people wanting smaller packs that can haul a lot of weight,” said Nathan Coates, director of inventory management, media and IT at Kifaru. “People want a pack they can use as a day pack, but one that can also haul out game meat.”
Kifaru is designing two new packs specifically for that purpose for the 2016/17 season, including putting its existing 14er pack on a frame to give it added support. It’s working on a still-to-be-named daypack for the category, and have added new improvements to its popular 52-liter, Cordura Tarryall hunting backpack. The 500-denier, water repellent pack comes with internal compartments of less dense nylon and transparent netting as well as two inputs for main compartment loading, while a hybrid Omni/Wraptech suspension system with lightweight frame arcs comes with supporting pads and removable lumbar pads.
“Smaller and more load capacity, that’s what we’re moving toward,” said Coates. “We’re shrinking some of our hunting packs down to daypack size.”
“Today’s hunter wants a pack that is durable, lightweight and comfortable. Technically advanced materials and ergonomic designs are essential for a pack that will allow them to cover ground quickly in the harshest backcountry environments. Having easy access to their gear at the right time is critical for success and safety,” said David Brinker at Sitka.
Women Are Smarter
More women are getting in the hunting category, prompting new pack designs for females. As with other outdoor gear categories, women need gender-specific fit, sizing, colors and more. “We were seeing a lot of interest for a better-fitting women’s hunting pack,” said Slumberjack Marketing Director Marily Melis, touting the company’s female ambassador crew field-testing its new women’s Wild-Her prototype packs. “The feedback we received from [women] was tremendous, and we updated the pack with many of the new features they requested.” These include everything from better women-size styles to strap configurations suited for the female hunter.
Bucking a decades-long drop in participation numbers, between 2006 to 2011 hunting participation increased by 9 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent five-year survey. Many attribute this rise to the growing do-it-yourself “locovore” movement and those wanting locally sourced food.
Slumberjack has tapped into this market with two new packs geared toward greenhorns that encourage easy harvest hauling and quick accessory access.
“You can’t find a more free-range, organic option than something you harvest yourself,” said Slumberjack’s Scott Kaier. “These packs are designed to make the process easier.” Designed for heavy loads, the 5.9 pound Rail Hauler 2.0 is sold as a frame, with a bucket-style compression system and forward-pull waist belt buckle to improve stability, and a folding bottom shelf to support weight from below, allowing you to carry up to 200 pounds. For daypacks, the new 3.3-pound Hone combines an expandable game bag shelf pocket with 2,088 cubic inches of storage with self-canting shoulder straps that contour to enhance comfort. It also comes with an external compression panel that doubles as a trophy carry system, and a weapon carry system for bow or rifle.
Features For The Field
Designing packs with specific features for the field is also gaining momentum, from gun-carrying and hydration systems to enhanced attachment point positioning.
“Hunters are savvy backcountry travelers,” said Sitka Marketing Manager David Brinker. “They are utilizing advanced materials, lightweight gear and pushing their bodies to the limit. A pack has to be tough, lightweight, comfortable and easy to use. The ability to carry a bow and/or rifle and a hydration bladder is important, but they don’t want to spend all day looking through a thousand pockets to find what they need.”
The Bivy 45 is the largest pack in the Sitka line. Three access points to the pack’s main compartment give the user quick access to their gear. An adjustable blaze orange gear shelf can be deployed from the bottom partition and used to attach additional cargo to the pack’s exterior. And a quick-release gun/ bow cable system, removable pack lid, quick detach rain fly and designated spotting scope pocket are also features.
Mystery Ranch’s new 6.2-pound Metcalf hunting pack features a large main packsack with 4,325 cubic-inches of volume for more than a week in the field, as well as a detachable, smaller day lid for quick stalks. Built with its new Guide Light Frame, it has ample heavyweight capacity with its Overload Shelf for keeping bag contents clean when packing out a carcass. Other features include a single stretch-woven side pocket for tripod feet or bottle, hydro sleeve with toggle hang-loop for any bladder type, and face compression for bow/rifle or shed antler carry.
Specialization has also come to bird-hunting packs, as evidenced by Under Armour’s ArmourVent Turkey Vest, a 2,180-cubic-inch game bag vest pack made of polyester mesh for breathability, with four large pockets, five shot shell loops for ammo, a pouch that transforms into a shelf, drop down cushion with magnetic attachment for sitting, and an expandable pocket for holding bird decoys or extra clothing.
Slumberjack emphasizes the accessory niche as well. “Our packs all have hunting specific features like the multi-weapon carry system for a bow or rifle, as well as built-in rifle rest shooting platform,” said Slumberjack’s Melis. “Little details like these catch the eye of our consumers.”
Save the Weight for the Meat
If backcountry skiers and backpackers are increasingly weight conscious in the field, hunters are even more so. To that end comes Mystery Ranch’s new Guide Light Frame, included on its entire external frame hunting packs.
“Competitors have offered lighter packs that don’t carry as well, but consumers are only considering weight,” said Marketing Manager Ryan Holm. “They’ve leaned toward lighter packs while sacrificing performance. This solves that.”
The new Guide Light, the first frame developed specifically for hunters, is lighter and taller than its predecessors, sporting a load-bearing solution that increases in stiffness as more weight is applied. Its Redirect Waistbelt secures twice as tight with the same pressure, keeping meat loads from shifting, and a fully tunable torso adjustment with mountain yoke and yoke frame sheet aids in load placement and balance.
“When shouldering the weight or extraction on a backcountry hunt, sportsmen need an intelligently engineered, load-lifting frame and harness technology to provide the edge over gravity,” concluded Holm. “Over the long haul, gravity gone unchecked will break you down.”