Recently I got the chance to do a spring bear hunt in Montana. This hunt was a backpacking hunt. I already have my own pack and all the essential gear. I like my pack… But, who doesn’t want the opportunity to try out new gear?!?
I am on a page on Facebook called Elk Addicts. Chris Horton and Bob Morgan run the page and if you don’t “like” them already you should. It really is a great page that stays positive. A lot of the other pages I have been a part of were short lived. There was a post asking what people use for a pack. I commented with “I love my KUIU Icon but would really like to try an EXO someday.” I received a message that day stating that I can try one out! I was thrilled at the opportunity and told them I would write an honest review when I got back, so here it is.
First impressions are important. With a pack they are not. Every pack feels great empty. How does it feel with 40 pounds of gear in it? Thats what matters. Nonetheless my first impressions were good. This pack is built well and it’s built here in USA. The materials are stout. The zippers are awesome, super smooth and I don’t feel like I had to be careful when I was forcing the zipper to close up the pack. One thing I did notice right away was the lack of compartments and the main pouch was not anywhere near as accessible as my KUIU. Personally I like have compartments to separate my crap. Also I love that I can open my Icon like a suitcase so I never have to dig for stuff. This is all personal preference. I know a lot of people that could care less about that stuff. I was excited to get out and use the pack to really test it.
For the hunt we were packing back at least 7 miles into a wilderness area for a minimum of 3 days. I had certain extras that aren’t on every hunt. Wilderness hunts take some extra equipment. All together I guesstimated about 50 lbs(gun was strapped to pack) were on my back that first hike. At first the pack felt pretty good but I could tell it was sitting a little low. I raised it. I raised it again. I tightened the shoulder straps and cinched the wast belt…. I could not get this thing to fit right. Keep in mind I do have somewhat of a strange frame. I am 6’1″ 208 lbs and I am all torso no legs… Maybe this was the issue? The pack just wouldn’t sit high enough for me. If I was skinnier maybe I could get the shoulder straps tighter to pull it higher? I am not sure but overtime I threw that thing back on after that first day, I dreaded it. By the end of the trip the fronts of my shoulders were killing me from tightening the straps.
That’s the bad.
There was a lot of good with this pack too. The pouch on the hip belt was awesome!!!! It has a ton of room, I kept my wind check bottle in there as well as a rangefinder and still had a lot of room for snacks and MTN OPS Trail Packs. Also the stretchy fabric on the out side pockets is really nice, it an be frustrating to get stuff all the way to the bottom but once it’s in, it takes all you have to get it out. For me thats good because I’m known to lose stuff from loose pockets. Also the cinch cords at the tops of the outside pouches are a great and very useful touch. I think this is a pack that could work really well for someone who fits the frame. For some reason I had trouble doing that. I have hauled plenty of meat in my Kuiu and I think I know my way around a pack. Read the Cold Canyon Bull post. On that hunt I hauled a hind 1/4, boned out front 1/4, straps and scraps off a bull elk and had no issues with fit and comfort. I honestly think the EXO is a great pack and very well built. It just wasn’t for me.
If you are in the market and set on an EXO but can’t try one on. Pull the trigger, just test it weighted before getting it dirty. All packs are built on different scales and sizes. There is no one pack that will fit everyone. With that said, if you are ordering a pack there is always a risk of the fit not working for you no matter what the spec says, so read up on them and check if the manufacture has a good return policy. Steve does have a good return policy and most top of the line outdoor manufactures will also. Fit is key when it comes to packs.
Again, this is my opinion. Take it with a grain of salt.
The website for EXO is http://www.exomountaingear.com you can get much more spec info there!