Mental Process for deciding between companies for a first backcountry hunting backpack

MeatSeaker

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Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
54
Location
Michigan
So I've been researching for my first serious backcountry pack for the past few months. A lot of the time I've been just spinning in circles, going back and forth over all the options and what would be the best for me. The choices are staggering. I'd gotten it pretty narrowed down between a few packs that I though would best fit my needs for day hunts up to a few days in the back country. Though I'm learning that some of these bigger packs can really be great all around packs when compressed down. So if you are like me and you are driving your self bonkers trying to decide on a pack here is what I decided to do. I just made a completely arbitrary comparison chart. I rated each pack just on pure conjecture reading reviews, listening to other people, watching every youtube video on these particular packs, and then giving a very subjective rating from 1-10, based on features I feel like are important deciding factors for me. These have no basis in experience with these packs whatsoever. I have no ability to go try these out anywhere at this point. These are completely personally biased by me in my inexperience.
I do know one pack company that has a cult like following on the Rok is Kifaru, and when I look them over the pack options just don't appeal to me at this time. This could change. I also will take a serious look at Seek Outside Peregrine, but not sure about the breakaway ability. I need to see more videos or see this in person.
Here are the packs though, that I put through Round #1 of this mental exercise to help me narrow things down. The Stone Glacier Solo 3600, the Exo K3 3200, and the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth. I would have to also purchase a lid for the sawtooth to be comparing apples to apples size wise. Here is what I came up with and some of my random mental wanderings/thoughts on the features of these packs. Perhaps this will help someone in my same boat who is trying hard to make these same decisions. If not, er, well there isn't much else to do.

PackSG SOLOEXO K3 3200MR Sawtooth +Lid
Weight10 (4#9oz)9 (5#1oz)7 (6#1oz)
Load Shelf Design1098
Load Shelf Access81010
Comfort Light9108
Comfort Heavy1097
Durability101010
Pocket Configuration6109
Aesthetics6109
Price6($691)6($641.98)10($560)
Make Location10(Montana)10(Idaho)5 (Philippines/Vietnam?)
Volume36003290/36902746+700lid/3446
Total Score859383


SG Solo: Price $691.00 with hydration sleeve, hydro holster and accessory pocket

Pros: best built in load shelf as you can get loads really high and tight against the back, best lumbar pad and waist belt/suspension for heavy loads, I like that the top of the bag has straps that reattach back to frame when carrying a load of meat vs the other packs.

Cons: Colors choices not very appealing, No hydration storage included. No side pouches, Only bags with decent pocket configuration are the big 5900+ or have to buy a bunch of accessory pockets. Have to release a few more straps to access the load shelf but not really a big time concern.

***Probably need to look at the SG Sky 5900 for better pocket configuration, and run lidless for shorter hunts/dayhunts



Exo K3 3200: Price $641.98 for pack and accessory pocket

Pros: Most reviews give this pack the best rated Comfort with typical loads and has great pocket configuration/features, Nice aesthetics, color choices, Roll top, Stretchy pocket for easy access items, nothing blocking lid pockets or stretch pockets. Has two straps built into the load shelf to secure meat, has fairly easy access into load shelf with the Velcro tri-fold. Has nice side pocket design, integrated dry bag/hydration included.

Cons: May have to purchase a separate load sling to get meat situated up higher as compared to SG load shelf which is included, Reviews say issue with zipper pulls can come off. Roll top not as clean looking without lid as SG

***Probably should just get the 4800 for 5 more oz to get more space at minimal cost. Can also pack down small and run it lidless for day hunts



MR Sawtooth: Price $560 with additional lid & accessory/belt pocket

Pros: Bonus for affordability, Bombproof zippers and autolocking buckles, Good Aesthetic design and color choices. Easiest buckle access to load shelf of all 3 packs.

Cons: Why do the top frame attachments straps run across the top pocket…seems like a design flaw, Lack of lumbar pad vs other 2 packs







PackSG Sky 5900EXO K3 4800
Weight10 (5#7oz)10 (5#6oz)
Load Shelf Design109
Load Shelf Access910
Comfort Light910
Comfort Heavy109
Durability1010
Pocket Configuration910
Aesthetics710
Price7($659)6($671.98)
Make Location10(Montana)10(Idaho)
Volume4300/59004805/5205
Total Score9194


Head to Head Comparison between SG Sky 5900 and Exo K3 4800

Con of running the Sky 5900 in bivy mode vs the Exo is that you have to undo more straps to get into the top of the bag, however can still access through the horseshoe. The roll top design, while probably not as clean as SG bivy top, is likely easier to manage when running the Exo 4800 lidless.


The Exo just checks more boxes for me in included features and available features. I feel like I will be able to get the crib load panel accessory for the Exo if I find I want to get loads on the meat shelf up higher. I feel like the comfort during a typical pack load in which you spend the vast majority of your time is paramount. All reviews point to the new K3 being a really comfortable ride on your back. A close 2nd is the ability to haul a heavy load of game relatively comfortable for those pack outs. For me though since my Western mountain hunts and pack outs will probably only be 1-3 per year if I’m lucky the benefit of that SG suspension and load shelf just don’t supercede the other features. Obviously the only way to know for sure would be to try both packs. This mental process has helped me narrow it down to the Exo or SG packs and I’ll be trying one or both out this year.
 
Last edited:

Shane.Killian

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May 12, 2020
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4
Location
Oregon City, OR
Looks as if you have done some solid research and great way to make a choice. If you haven’t had a chance I would highly recommend checking out Initial Ascents pack system they offer. In my opinion it would stack up very well in all of the categories you have listed. I love my pack system and it offers multiple different bag sizes that mount on the single framework ease for different needs.
 

Rokbar

Senior Member
Joined
May 8, 2020
Messages
294
Very thorough research you have done! I'm in the same boat as you and am looking at my first quality hunting pack. According to your charts the Exo's look great. I change my mind everyday now after reading more reviews. I'm looking for a pack with a load shelf. One that can be used as a day pack or for 3-5 nights. If I had to pick right now it would be a toss up between the MR Metcalf of the SO Peregrine. I'm an east of the big river hunter so I may pack out a whitetail occasionally or splurge and go west one year.
 

Kevin Dill

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Joined
Aug 26, 2014
Messages
2,575
That chart is basically how I used to choose between potential girlfriends.

I ended up marrying one who was off the charts. 😃

Backpacks and boots have a lot of similarities. Research will take you so far. The best looking or best featured boots/packs sometimes have a way of not working out under load for a guy. I like how you did your homework, and I hope you got the right answer!
 

prm

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Mar 31, 2017
Messages
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Location
No. VA
Narrow it to your top two, buy both. Do not remove any tags, try them on, fiddle with adjustments, walk around house with some clean, padded weight. One of them will stand out to you. Return the other. All of them are probably great packs, it’s just finding the one that fits you, and works best for the way you use a pack.
A note on your methodology. Be careful with simple scoring systems like that; a one or two point difference on a metric that means relatively little has the same weight in the final score as one or two points on a very important metric. Better to have a score, and then a weighting factor.
 
Last edited:

doverpack12

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Mar 6, 2013
Messages
2,362
I would add another consideration is the shape of your back because that will ultimately decide which pack fits you best between the SG and EXO. I've owned both including both frame versions from SG and one of those 3 frames will fit you best. I suggest with how close your overall numbers ended up you pick the frame that fits your back best. SG offers a flat flat frame in the Krux, and a curvy frame in the XCurve. EXO is kind of in between mostly flat with some subtle curve both at the hips and shoulders. So stand against a wall with shoulders and butt touching the wall, and first place your hand just above your butt against the wall and try to slide it behind you without leaning away from the wall. If it goes in easy you are curvy, if there is not chance you are flat. Add to that how far your shoulder blades stick out or how much rounding you have to your upper back and select the most likely two and try them out with typical weight and heavy weight.
 

Wright406

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Joined
Feb 11, 2018
Messages
389
I have used both companies. Both are great. The last couple years I've been using the SG. Prior I had the K2 frame from Exo, so I cant speak to the new K3. The K2 was great though. I prefer the pocket layout to the Exo over the SG. I prefer the SG load shelf over most all packs (haven't owned them all...yet). You've done great research and I believe both offer a 30 day return policy. If able, buy both as suggested above and finish your research. Good luck!
 

RockChucker30

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Here is a link to a piece I wrote on breaking down the decision points of picking the right backpack hunting pack for specific needs and hunting style. It's about thought process...may help you add some color around your decision.

 
OP
MeatSeaker

MeatSeaker

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Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
54
Location
Michigan
I will say I have also looked hard at Seek Outside and they have some great bag materials and pocket layout/design. I couldn't get over the access to the load shelf or the floating waist belt design so I kind of ruled them out. Perhaps that's a mistake, but with my budget I can't necessarily try them all. Since my "chart" ratings were so subjective and I'm so close between SG and Exo I may just order both the XCurve and Exo K3 frame to just try around with weight for a few weeks and then make that the deciding factor. I thought I had it figured out then my subjective ratings change as I read more about the Exo belt tendency to slip down on some guys under heavy load vs the SG you almost never hear a complaint about their suspension and waist belt. Almost everybody raves about that SG waist belt.
I will say I am a fairly neutral lumbar curve. I am definitely not flat backed at all. I can stand against the wall with my butt and shoulders against it and I get my hand right between the wall and my lumbar area no problem. Which makes me keep going back to the SG Xcurve. I think I've gone mental. Probably overthinking things just a smidge.
 
OP
MeatSeaker

MeatSeaker

Member
Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
54
Location
Michigan
Oh what would you suggest I use to play around with adding weight to the pack when testing to keep them in "new" condition while I try them out? I would like to get the frames loaded to 80# to do a real test. Perhaps some softener salt in a trash bag or maybe bag of concrete in a trash bag?
 

coohio1854

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Joined
May 13, 2020
Messages
133
Location
PA
So I've been researching for my first serious backcountry pack for the past few months. A lot of the time I've been just spinning in circles, going back and forth over all the options and what would be the best for me. The choices are staggering. I'd gotten it pretty narrowed down between a few packs that I though would best fit my needs for day hunts up to a few days in the back country. Though I'm learning that some of these bigger packs can really be great all around packs when compressed down. So if you are like me and you are driving your self bonkers trying to decide on a pack here is what I decided to do. I just made a completely arbitrary comparison chart. I rated each pack just on pure conjecture reading reviews, listening to other people, watching every youtube video on these particular packs, and then giving a very subjective rating from 1-10, based on features I feel like are important deciding factors for me. These have no basis in experience with these packs whatsoever. I have no ability to go try these out anywhere at this point. These are completely personally biased by me in my inexperience.
I do know one pack company that has a cult like following on the Rok is Kifaru, and when I look them over they just don't appeal to me at this time. Here are the packs though, that I put through this mental exercise to help me decide. The Stone Glacier Solo 3600, the Exo K3 3200, and the Mystery Ranch Sawtooth. I would have to also purchase a lid for the sawtooth to be comparing apples to apples size wise. Here is what I came up with and some of my random mental wanderings/thoughts on the features of these packs. Perhaps this will help someone in my same boat who is trying hard to make these same decisions. If not, er, well there isn't much else to do.

PackSG SOLOEXO K3 3200MR Sawtooth +Lid
Weight10 (4#9oz)9 (5#1oz)7 (6#1oz)
Load Shelf Design1098
Load Shelf Access81010
Comfort Light9108
Comfort Heavy1097
Durability101010
Pocket Configuration6109
Aesthetics6109
Price6($691)6($641.98)10($560)
Make Location10(Montana)10(Idaho)5 (Philippines/Vietnam?)
Volume36003290/36902746+700lid/3446
Total Score859383


SG Solo: Price $691.00 with hydration sleeve, hydro holster and accessory pocket

Pros: best built in load shelf as you can get loads really high and tight against the back, best lumbar pad and waist belt/suspension for heavy loads, I like that the top of the bag has straps that reattach back to frame when carrying a load of meat vs the other packs.

Cons: Colors choices not very appealing, No hydration storage included. No side pouches, Only bags with decent pocket configuration are the big 5900+ or have to buy a bunch of accessory pockets. Have to release a few more straps to access the load shelf but not really a big time concern.

***Probably need to look at the SG Sky 5900 for better pocket configuration, and run lidless for shorter hunts/dayhunts



Exo K3 3200: Price $641.98 for pack and accessory pocket

Pros: Most reviews give this pack the best rated Comfort with typical loads and has great pocket configuration/features, Nice aesthetics, color choices, Roll top, Stretchy pocket for easy access items, nothing blocking lid pockets or stretch pockets. Has two straps built into the load shelf to secure meat, has fairly easy access into load shelf with the Velcro tri-fold. Has nice side pocket design, integrated dry bag/hydration included.

Cons: May have to purchase a separate load sling to get meat situated up higher as compared to SG load shelf which is included, Reviews say issue with zipper pulls can come off. Roll top not as clean looking without lid as SG

***Probably should just get the 4800 for 5 more oz to get more space at minimal cost. Can also pack down small and run it lidless for day hunts



MR Sawtooth: Price $560 with additional lid & accessory/belt pocket

Pros: Bonus for affordability, Bombproof zippers and autolocking buckles, Good Aesthetic design and color choices. Easiest buckle access to load shelf of all 3 packs.

Cons: Why do the top frame attachments straps run across the top pocket…seems like a design flaw, Lack of lumbar pad vs other 2 packs







PackSG Sky 5900EXO K3 4800
Weight10 (5#7oz)10 (5#6oz)
Load Shelf Design109
Load Shelf Access810
Comfort Light910
Comfort Heavy109
Durability1010
Pocket Configuration910
Aesthetics710
Price7($659)6($671.98)
Make Location10(Montana)10(Idaho)
Volume4300/59004805/5205
Total Score9094


Head to Head Comparison between SG Sky 5900 and Exo K3 4800

Con of running the Sky 5900 in bivy mode vs the Exo is that you have to undo more straps to get into the top of the bag, however can still access through the horseshoe. The roll top design, while probably not as clean as SG bivy top, is likely easier to manage when running the Exo 4800 lidless.


The Exo just checks more boxes for me in included features and available features. I feel like I will be able to get the crib load panel accessory for the Exo if I find I want to get loads on the meat shelf up higher. I feel like the comfort during a typical pack load in which you spend the vast majority of your time is paramount. All reviews point to the new K3 being a really comfortable ride on your back. A close 2nd is the ability to haul a heavy load of game relatively comfortable for those pack outs. For me though since my Western mountain hunts and pack outs will probably only be 1-3 per year if I’m lucky the benefit of that SG suspension and load shelf just don’t supercede the other features.. Obviously the only way to know for sure would be to run both packs. This mental process has helped me narrow it down to the Exo packs and I’ll be trying one out this year.
I have been looking at everything and I can’t get away from SG
 
OP
MeatSeaker

MeatSeaker

Member
Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
54
Location
Michigan
Narrow it to your top two, buy both. Do not remove any tags, try them on, fiddle with adjustments, walk around house with some clean, padded weight. One of them will stand out to you. Return the other. All of them are probably great packs, it’s just finding the one that fits you, and works best for the way you use a pack.
A note on your methodology. Be careful with simple scoring systems like that; a one or two point difference on a metric that means relatively little has the same weight in the final score as one or two points on a very important metric. Better to have a score, and then a weighting factor.
I agree that I need a weighted metric as load carriage likely highly weighted, pocket configuration higher weight for me, but color/aesthetics and price less so.
 

OldGrayJB

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Joined
Feb 29, 2020
Messages
252
The Stone Glacier foliage color does have a slight green tint in person that doesn't show up in the pictures.... but i still wish they offered ranger green.
 

CoffeeGoat

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Messages
244
I'm going through the same process (though further behind) but I will prioritize finding somewhere to try them all on before making the final decision. There is just too much impact of fit on packs to really quantify with a numerical approach.
 

prm

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2017
Messages
952
Location
No. VA
Oh what would you suggest I use to play around with adding weight to the pack when testing to keep them in "new" condition while I try them out? I would like to get the frames loaded to 80# to do a real test. Perhaps some softener salt in a trash bag or maybe bag of concrete in a trash bag?

I just use bags of sand wrapped in heavy duty trash bags and duct taped. Cheap, easy. Concrete would work just as well. Wrap in a beach towel for testing.
 

Elkslayer67

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2019
Messages
246
Location
Western Washington
I like how well thought out your decision process is.
I went through this a few year ago. Admittedly not as in-depth as you.
Now I have recreational backpacked for 30+ years but for hunting I would use a small daypack out of my truck/base camp. After the kill someone would have to hike back to get the meat hauling packs. I few years back I switched to backcountry/backpack based hunting. In addition to the criteria you came up with I also looked at two additional things.
1 Simplicity- main bag with lid. I found I don’t need lots of pockets, they just add weight and are never quite the right size for what I am trying to stuff into them.
2 Longevity- construction and materials. I try not to chase the newest and best but look at a long term purchase. Most improvements are minimal and not worth the cost of replacing every year. On this line of thinking I try to avoid elastic unless it is easily replaceable like elastic cordage, nothing I have to sew in. Elastic breaks down over time. EXO has a stretchy pocket on the back which is very handy. But I know it it will break down rendering it useless or causing a person to send it in for replacement.
Because of this Stone Glacier inched out EXO ( for me). Each person has their own requirements these are just the ones that are important to me.

Now if someone comes up with a pack that hauls my backside up the hills. I will be all over it.
 

hikenhunt

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2013
Messages
282
Location
WA
Oh what would you suggest I use to play around with adding weight to the pack when testing to keep them in "new" condition while I try them out? I would like to get the frames loaded to 80# to do a real test. Perhaps some softener salt in a trash bag or maybe bag of concrete in a trash bag?

Whether you use salt, sand, etc., keep it cinched up so that it doesn't all fall to the bottom of the pack when you're wearing it.

I would also suggest the 4800 over the 3200. As you mentioned, you can run it lidless and these packs all cinch down really well. It's a small weight penalty for much more versatility.
 

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