Kifaru has a cult-like following and for good reason. When the president of a hunting gear company is a world-class stick bow hunter, coupled with entirely USA-made products, it’s not surprising that their gear is some of the world’s best. If you have been following Kifaru for the last couple of years, you’d know that any new gear creations have been thoroughly tested and vetted prior to release.
Kifaru Steelhead Chest Rig
Even though the Steelhead was designed as a fly fishing chest pack, I had other ideas on how to integrate this new pack into my arsenal. My fly fishing days are well behind me, and when I’m hunting I’ll be wearing a bino harness, but there are a lot of other outdoor activities I partake in where easily accessible gear is a must. More here.
High-Value Real Estate
Take a look at various high-speed professions and you will see a commonality. Military operators, wildland firefighters, and police all take advantage of the space between your nipples. Whether it’s spare magazines, communication devices, or notepads, these items are routinely used and when needed, a delay is not an option. Look at the value of this real estate in regards to hunting: the bino harness. In today’s world, it’s hard to take a hunter seriously who keeps their binos in any location other than a chest harness.
The beauty of a chest rig is that it allows you to keep essentials close at hand in a non-burdensome manner. There’s no disputing that a backpack has much more capacity but has the downside of having to take it off to access your tools. With a chest rig, you can sit in a pick-up, side-by-side, airplane, or tractor and never have to doff your pack for comfort or access.
The first thing that caught my eye was the breathable back panel. Rather than having four webbing straps coming together, the harness is tied together with a large rectangle of breathable mesh. After my four months of use, I noticed that it not only helps dissipate heat, but it also makes for a more comfortable fit. With a larger surface area supporting the Steelhead on your back, you can cinch the pack tight to your chest with less constriction.
The first time I tried it on, I took note of the size of the pack, specifically its width across the chest. I’m very used to wearing a bino harness holding my 10 x 42’s which is a small profile; however, after several months of regular use on my trapline and ice fishing, it has proven not to be an issue. Whether cutting in trail with a chainsaw, running the ice auger, shoveling snow, or making trap sets, the Steelhead did not encumber movement or pose an entanglement hazard.
Like every Kifaru product I own, it’s the small details that make everyday use more enjoyable. Smooth zippers, oversized zipper pulls, bomber buckles, and webbing management are a few things that Kifaru doesn’t overlook in its design process.
The complement of pockets throughout the Steelhead gives you plenty of flexible organization options. On the exterior, you get 3 open-top pockets. Inside the main compartment is a large zippered pocket, with a key lanyard. In addition, you have three more open pocket sleeves, while the rear compartment is wide open, allowing for each user to tailor this space to their own needs.
The main compartment has a great feature in which the sides have a sort of gusset in place that allows the pocket to open up very wide but offers protection from the contents spilling out onto the ground. This is one of those well-thought-out additions that are very simple but aids in its usability.
The open pockets on the outside as well as on the inside of the main compartment are made from a fabric that isn’t stretchy but also isn’t rigid. It’s noncommittal and it’s awesome. You can cram all sorts of things into these pockets and at the same time, they stay taut enough to securely hold smaller items. I found that in temperatures down to minus-30 degrees that this material stays subtle and has no memory of my overstuffing.
The rear compartment comes set up with a “ripcord” opener. Small webbing straps are sewn into the inside, which can then be pulled to the outside where the two zippers come in contact at the corner. This feature of quick access to your firearm works very well, and I did not have any hang-ups during deployment.
In addition, the rear compartment comes fully lined with velcro and is ready to accept a variety of accessories.
Another feature integrated into the rear compartment is an option to install a paracord support stopper, which is included, to create a work platform. The paracord is run-through sewn in tabs and acts as a catch that only allows the rear compartment to only open as far as you choose.
When purchasing the Steelhead, you can choose between the standard harness or an integrated water bladder pack, turning the Steelhead into an ultralightweight day pack. Kifaru is known for the modularity of their packs and that tradition continues with the Steelhead.
From the onset, I never intended to use this chest rig for its intended purpose of fly-fishing. I hadn’t really considered using a chest rig in the past even though I have been keeping my binos in a chest harness for years. Sometimes it’s strange how our brains work. I use a chest rig every day at work because it brings efficiency to how I operate, but why did it take me so many years to bring that same efficiency into my personal hobbies?
My two predominant uses for the Steelhead are trapping and ice fishing. With the former being the priority. I consider myself a novice trapper with only a small amount of fur to my name, however, over the first couple of years on the trapline, I found a small contingent of tools and supplies that I regularly misplaced or disliked how I stowed them for use.
Whether making sets or collecting my catch, this is what I keep in my Kifaru Steelhead:
- Ear Protection
- Lip Balm
- Used Flagging Tape
- I leave one pocket free for random use during the day
- Cell Phone
- Roll of flagging tape
- Trap Set safety tool
- Extra Nitrile Gloves
- Hand Warmers
- Extra .22LR mags
- Light Weight Beanie
When I transition use over to ice fishing my kit changes a bit:
- No change
- Soft Tube Jigs
- Cell Phone
- Hand Warmers
- Small Tackle Box
Kifaru Steelhead Durability
At the time of writing this review, I have owned the Steelhead for four months. It’s hard to give a true report on durability in that time span, however, the Steelhead is made with the same type of material as their flagship backpacks. USA-made 500d Cordura wears like iron and is the main material used in its construction.
A chest rig is by no means going to be subjected to the same sorts of abuse as a backpack, but the same quality of materials are used, with the same level of craftsmanship. I have no reason to believe that this pack won’t stand up to years—or even decades—of use.
First and foremost, I found no glaringly obvious operational issues or design flaws during my use so far. In an effort to be completely objective in my review of the Steelhead, I tried to think of the smallest of details that created struggles.
Take it or leave it, I personally didn’t find anything that was a dislike. For how I use this pack and the items I cram inside, it’s perfect. I have never worn a similar type of chest pack by a competing manufacturer, which clearly limits my data to compare against, but for how I implement this item into my activities, I don’t need to try any others.
Disclaimer; I am a huge fan of Kifaru’s products. I use their packs, Slick sleeping bag, Lost Park Parka, and now the Steelhead. Doing a review on one of their newest gear releases came with the challenge of not falling prey to a confirmation bias. It’s all so easy to fall into lockstep with your previous experiences with a company’s product. Being objective can be a challenge and I feel like I did my best to approach this review in that manner.
Don’t discount the Steelhead as a fly-fishing-only pack; since I’ve implemented it into my gear cache, I find myself using it more and more. The Steelhead has impressive durability, superior comfort, and genuine functionality. Whenever I buy a new product, my hope is that my money purchased something that lasts and makes my life easier. I am confident that both of these hopes have come true and I imagine if you choose to purchase one for yourself, they will for you too! Order here.
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