I’ve tried several pack systems over the years, and it never seem to fail: the shoulder harness slides into my arms where my collarbone and shoulder meet and wreaks havoc. After watching my husband fit his pack, I realized that his shoulder harness sits flat on his chest, while mine cannot sit flat due to my body size and bust. When I learned that the Exo Mountain Gear K4 EXS frame system is specifically designed to accommodate a woman’s body, I had to give it a try.
Overview of the K4 EXS Pack System
EXO states the EXS (“extra short”) pack system was developed for women and youth utilizing the K4 pack system but with a smaller 22” frame. In addition to the frame height, the EXS has a thinner, contoured shoulder harness. It’s designed to fit a female’s upper body and chest better. I reached out to EXO to better understand the harness differences. As shown below, not only is the shoulder harness thinner and contoured, but it is also significantly shorter. More info here.
Based on the instructions from the EXO webpage and my measurements of height: 5’1, weight: 150, and crest of the hip bones: 35, I ordered the K4 EXS 5000 pack system with a medium hip belt. See it here.
The pack system came with the EXS frame, 5,010 ci bag, and 650 ci lid. I also utilized the following EXO accessories and gear: a hip belt pouch, Nalgene holder, extra stash packet, quick-release riffle carrier, locking buckles, and a 2200 bag.
When I received the pack in the summer, I started training for hunting season by wearing it to archery league and hiking with a 40lb bag of rock salt. I adjusted the shoulder harness height for my first use and wore it to the outdoor archery league. Unfortunately, I experienced a significant amount of pressure and pain in my arms, as I had with previous packs, and by the end of the night, I could hardly lift my arm to shoot. I immediately went back to watch the EXO videos, adjusted the shoulder harness Velcro height, and created a slight angle outward.
As shown in the image above and the EXS video, the Velcro is easy to adjust. The difference was remarkable. After the change, the rock salt and the pack were barely noticeable. For the first time, I wasn’t dreading a hunting season pack out.
Speaking of Hauling Loads
I was fortunate to help pack out three successful Colorado public land hunts. In addition to my gear, here is a list of the meat I packed.
- Archery Elk – For my husband’s archery elk hunt, I packed two bone-in front quarters on the first trip and loose meat and the head on the second trip.
- Pronghorn – I packed all the meat except one front quarter and the head for my father-in-law’s doe pronghorn.
- Mule Deer – I packed the two front bone-in quarters, backstrap, and head for my mule deer.
During each pack out, I utilized two of the frame straps to secure part of the load to the frame and then, when necessary, put smaller pieces in the bag. And used the remaining two frame straps to secure the bag. The images below show that the meat was well secured to the frame. I didn’t experience swaying, sagging, or pulling. Additionally, unlike my experience with other packs, I didn’t need to stop and adjust the weight between my shoulders and waist.
I used the frame lid to secure the antlers for the pack out.
After loading the meat, I found the wide hip belt and single buckle easily adjustable. I initially thought the lumbar pad would be unnecessary and considered removing it. I’m glad I didn’t; I found it to provide extra comfort and support to the small of my back and help maintain good posture with the heavy loads. The shoulder straps and load lifters were also easy to adjust. Besides the weight itself, each pack was very comfortable, and I didn’t experience any shoulder or back pain.
The EXO EXS delivered a pack that fit my frame. Beyond the comfort the pack provides, I appreciated the wide belt that helped maintain stability without pinching my gut. I especially liked how easy it was to remove and reattach the bag to the frame, adjust the shoulder harness, and use minimal straps. Overall, I’m sold on this pack and am grateful for EXO’s effort and delivery of a pack system that meets the mark in accommodating a woman’s frame. I no longer dread packing meat and look forward to increased hunting independence.
Comment or ask questions here.
See what Justin Crossley thought about the regular version of the EXO Mountain Gear K4 here.