A Season with an Icon – KUIU’s 1850 pack system
Kurt Toney packing a boned front quarter in his carbon framed Icon 1850 and a massive 8 x 7 rack
After trying about seven different daypacks in as many years, I found myself once again doing pack research going into the 2013 season. I didn’t find many that I either hadn't already tried or that suited my needs until I got a chance to check out a friend’s KUIU Icon 1850.
My first impression was that it might be a touch smaller than most of my recent packs, but it was only a fraction of the weight. His Icon was equipped with the standard Easton aluminum internal frame stays and hip belt. When I found out that it could also be mounted on the carbon frame and used in load sling mode I was sold! The additional load carrying capacity and overall versatility offered in such a small, hunting-friendly package is hard to match. I jumped in with both feet and ordered the 1850 AND the carbon frame, I also decided to pick up the KUIU Icon 5200 bag to have a “set” that would cover most of my backpacking and hunting needs.
I’ll detail my impressions after using the Icon 1850 “system” for a full season of hunting bear, antelope, elk, mule deer, mountain lion, and wolf in three states with a combined 68 days of use up to this writing.
Why the Icon 1850?:
I selected this pack to be my standard, wear it every day in the field, daypack. A couple aspects really stand out that make it an ideal candidate for this duty. First and foremost, this pack is lightweight! It’s also compact with just enough room for anything that a day out west can throw at you, yet expandable enough to haul loads like the entire hind quarter of a mature bull elk.
Enough gear for any day in the back country: 1) Foam glassing seat 2) Spotting scope & tripod 3) Hand warmers, fire start kit, pack cover, spare release, bow fix kit, extra smoke in a bottle, chapstick 4) TAG game-bags, Havalon knife & blades, 550 cord, tag & license 5) DSLR camera gear (Nikon D7100 & 18-200mm lens + accessories) 6) 70 oz water bladder 7) GPS, wet-wipes, food, headlamp, ultra-bright LED flashlight 8) Water resistant guide beanie & waterproof Yukon Gloves 9) Chugach rain jacket & pant 10) Superdown hooded puffy.
It all fits with room to spare in spite of my oversized DSLR hogging up a lot of the 1850's internal volume!
A good look at the Icon 1850 comfortably loaded with the gear shown above - note how the author prefers to pack the spotting scope and tripod in the "Stuff-it" pouches. Rifles packed similarly ride safe and secure. The foam seat cushion was left off to better demonstrate the loaded pack.
Exterior: The pack has two exterior pockets, the longitudinally zipped center pocket in the back panel and a smaller horizontal pocket near the top of the pack. The top pocket also has another internal zippered mesh compartment to further segregate your gear. Two very useful “stuff-it” water bottle type pouches adorn both sides of the pack and optional hip belt pockets are available for about $10 each.
Interior: Inside the main compartment there are two mesh zippered pockets stacked vertically in the back panel and a mesh water bladder sleeve is located opposite on the frame-sheet side which is topped off with a customary water bladder hose port.
A perfect array of pockets provide enough storage for regularly used items on the exterior and secure internal storage to keep critical necessities safely stored away until you need them. No more treasure hunt for your flashlight and deer tag!
To me, staying organized in the back country is absolutely imperative. Having a designated spot for critical items is the only way I can be efficient day after day and stay sane knowing that I have everything I absolutely need. The perfect assortment of storage pockets in the 1850 allowed me to find a permanent spot for all of my essentials before the pack’s first trip out. I keep critical items like fire starter, tag & license, Havalon knife and blades, spare batteries, a backup release, and a bow repair kit zipped away in one of the internal pockets where they won’t get inadvertently scattered and lost amongst more frequently needed items like food, headlamp, GPS, and wet-wipes that I store in the easily accessible center-back pocket and outer top pocket. The large center pocket is reportedly large enough for 80+ mm spotting scopes, but I find it’s far more convenient to stow my 80 mm Swarovski spotting scope and tripod in the two external “stuff-it” pouches and secure them to the pack with the horizontal load stabilizer straps. I also pack my rifle in the exact same way with the butt of the gun going into the pouch.
I can strap my bow or rifle securely to the pack with the load stabilizing compression straps in about a minute or less. I have ridden horses, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, snow machines, four wheelers and hiked through hell & back without anything escaping the grasp of my 1850.
I like to make a full wrap with the compression straps around the riser to prevent the bow from shifting horizontally
Wet weather and Fabric Performance:
The Icon bags are highly water resistant by my estimation. I have endured both torrential downpours and days of wet snow and the contents of my pack, including expensive electronics have stayed completely dry. I don’t know if the bag would keep contents dry if exposed to heavy rain for days on end, but for typical western hunting, the PU coated CORDURA certainly offers substantial protection from the elements. An optional waterproof pack cover is available to add another layer of protection from the elements. If you’re heading to known wet zones or the forecast is ominous, the rain cover would be a good investment for $29.99 and 3.3 ounces.
The Icon's exterior fabric is not inherently quiet in the brush, but compared to packs that others have worn with me in the field, I’ve been able to negotiate brush quieter because the narrow profile of the 1850 allows me to slip through brush with less contact. The Ripstop PU coated CORDURA handled some of the thickest and thorniest crap I’ve ever hunted in central Arizona this past January and came out unscathed – no snags or rips in the exterior shell. I can’t say the same for my skin!
The zippers are a smallish, fine toothed, weather resistant design from YKK – the industry standard for quality zips. In spite of their dainty appearance, the YKK Aquaguard zippers have been durable and they seem to run smoothly and resist snags better than large toothed zips. The zipper pulls are made of a rubbery plastic that stretches a bit when you pull harder on them. They’re surprisingly tough, but in haste to get a cow decoy stuffed in my pack so I could run down a bull, I did break one of the pulls. They can also come loose from the slot in the zipper when unzipping. I have since replaced most of the exterior zipper pulls with hi-viz Nylon release rope to ensure that I don’t get stuck with my zipper down.
The factory zipper pulls were a low-point for the KUIU Icon packs, but they attach to high quality YKK Aquaguard zippers.
Tip: Use a bright color on your zipper pulls so you can find them easier in low light
Icon 1850 with Base Suspension $189.99 (3 lb. – 6 oz.):
I did not test the bag without the Easton aluminum internal frame stays or without the hip belt because I always carry a fair amount of cargo that necessitates a hardier suspension. In my opinion, a backpack without a padded hip belt or vertical frame stays is about as useful as a purse for western hunting.
The Icon 1850’s base suspension (Hip belt + internal stays) is well suited to handle maximum daypack loads. In this configuration, the pack weighs a scant 3 pounds 6 ounces. My old daypack feels like it has a full water bladder in it when you compare the weight side by side to the svelte KUIU 1850. The shoulder straps, and hip belt have performed really well with loads up to 60+ pounds. The way the hip belt adjusts is different than most packs. It doubles back to itself so you pull to tighten from the hip to the buckle (opposite direction of most hip belts). The “doubled-back” arrangement effectively yields a 2:1 leverage advantage over most belts allowing you to cinch the belt tighter and easier than traditional designs. The dual attachment points of the belt webbing, high and low on the hip belt, causes the padding to cradle the hip bones which adds to the comfort and weight bearing stability of the pack.
Big bulls seldom die close to the road. The author sporting a hard earned KUIU "Pack-Stamp"
The suspension adjusts well for various torso lengths with the shoulder straps riding on hook & loop. I’m somewhat barrel chested (46”) and could have used another inch or two of adjustment on the chest strap. The strap length was adequate, but just barely. When opened up to max it was difficult to grasp the tail to cinch the chest strap tighter. With heavy clothing and a stout load, the strap was still usable but required a lot more effort to clip.
This is how I use the pack most often. If it was the only Icon I had, I would definitely keep the carbon frame on it 100% of the time and in fact my hunting partner does just that. However, since I also have a 5200 ci Icon, I choose to keep the frame on it and keep my 1850 lighter. I can comfortably pack out a boned hind quarter from an average bull elk in the 1850's bag. On the second load, I use the 5200 and retrieve the rest of the meat and any gear left behind.
Side by side comparison: Carbon framed KUIU 1850 (left) and standard 1850 with aluminum stays & hip belt
Icon 1850 + Carbon Frame, a.k.a. – Full Kit (4 lb. 5 oz.): Converting a day-pack to pack mule
In a matter of minutes, the 1850 can be mounted to the carbon frame – it’s actually a lot easier than I had first imagined. KUIU provides a good set of instructions with the pack and they have also posted videos online to help you make the switch between various bags and frames. That said, the swap is not something you’re going to want to attempt for the first time with a dead elk, a pile of miscellaneous webbing and wrinkled up instructions lying at your feet. Definitely – Try this at home first!
Attaching the 1850 to the carbon Icon frame makes the pack handle even better with heavier loads, easily up to the capacity of the bag and well beyond that when used as a load sling for hauling out quarters or boned out meat sandwiched between the 1850 bag and the carbon frame. The load sling configuration is a great way to haul large, awkward and messy loads while keeping the interior of your bag and its contents clean. Doing so can add up to 2500 cubic inches of load hauling volume to the pack.
You should definitely get a grasp on how to set up the pack and use it as a load sling before heading to the field. Again, this is a pretty simple process, but not one you’re going to want to perform for the first time in the dark without instructions.
The load sling configuration adds substantial load carrying capacity to the Icon 1850
On a related note, if you do pack meat in the bag (this is a good option, space permitting) and get it bloody, I found that the interior fabric for the Icon packs cleans up exceptionally well compared to standard CORDURA and other pack materials I’ve used. I left my blood soaked 5200 in the rain and it literally wiped out the next morning with paper towels (no soap, no scrubbing). It was clean and odor free. Dried blood may take more effort, but regardless, I was impressed how little blood the fabric absorbed.
The author arrowed this bull while wearing the KUIU Icon 1850 - Shooting comfort was never an issue wearing this pack during practice or in the field.
- Very lightweight & compact design – hunts well
- Base suspension is well suited to handle loads up to 60+ pounds
- Excellent hip belt system
- Comfortable for all day use – non-restrictive for archers
- Pockets are well designed and thought out
- Bag material is very water resistant & an optional rain cover is available
- High quality zippers are water resistant and resist snags
- Bag can be attached to the Carbon Icon frame for better stability and higher load capacity
- Carbon frame + Icon 1850 can be used as a load sling to add 2500 cubic inches
- Metal tension locks on critical shoulder strap attachment points enhance durability
- Great camo patterns for western hunting and also offered in nice looking “street” color (brown & grey)
- Zipper pulls are susceptible to breakage
- 1850 Bag could be a little larger
- Chest strap should be about two inches longer