Picking the Right Hunting Pack: Stone Glacier Answers 5 FAQs

The logistics of backpack hunting can feel extremely overwhelming, especially for a beginner. The complexities of prepping for a hunt often lead to "fear-packing" amongst first-timers - a condition where the concern of leaving something essential behind leads to overpacking and an excessively heavy pack as a result.

Heading into the mountains with only your pack is as liberating as it gets. But with the complete disconnection from civilization, where your backpack is a lifeline, it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see why so many new hunters bring more than they need. There's immense pressure to get it right when it comes to packing.

Aside from hauling your gear for days on end, with a bit of luck, your pack serves a dual responsibility of ultimately carrying a heavy load of hard-earned meat. A good hunting backpack prioritizes capacity, minimal weight, comfort, a sturdy frame, and durability. Look for features that match pack size to trip duration and type of hunt, unpacked weight accounting for frame and material, functional compartments, and the ability to compress or expand based on need.

If you're on the cusp of fear-packing, then you have questions that need answering - and who better to do so than the makers of the most innovative mountain hunting backpacks on the market?

We've partnered with Lyle Hebel of Stone Glacier, a name made famous for its ultralight packs and gear, to answer 5 of the most burning hunting backpack questions. There's a lot to unpack here (yes that's a pun) so let's start by looking at pack size.

1. How Do You Size a Hunting Pack?

To size a hunting pack correctly, establish the game you're hunting for, the terrain, the weather, and the number of days you'll be hunting. Evaluating pack requirements on all four factors will lead to an optimal understanding of the weight and volume capacity needed for a hunting excursion.

The size of a pack (volume and weight) is usually where hunters get tripped up. It's easy to get distracted by pockets and gadgets and completely overlooks the size requirements of a hunting trip, but this should be the first stop.

"We get a ton of questions about how to best prepare for a backpack hunt. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all system for backpack hunting..." Lyle says, "The more specialized you can be, the more you’ll be able to shave excess weight while still ensuring you’re prepared for everything the mountain will throw at you. The type of game you’ll be hunting, the terrain, the weather, and the number of days you’ll be in the backcountry all influence your system. Once you’ve defined those variables, you can begin making specific decisions on each piece in your kit. A technical hunting pack should be at the top of the list."

This means wrapping solving for basic needs is the first step. If you're going for elk or deer over 10 days, you'd need a different pack than a 3-day goat hunt. Reducing your backpack hunt to the foundations will guide your pack decisions.

The intention behind the thought here is a backpack system is made over seasons, not your first outing. While the weather, terrain, and game each influence the final size of the pack you should use, there's a general rule that Lyle and the Stone Glacier team follow based on trip duration.

2. What Capacity Should a Hunting Pack Be?

When considering hunting pack capacity, day packs tend to be 2800-3200 cubic inches, 3600-5900 cubic inches for 2-5 days, and 6400+ cubic inches for a week or more. These general guidelines account for enough capacity to carry everything you need without being unnecessarily large.

Versatility in size is a key component too since it can impact how you hunt - Lyle puts it this way, "...you want a pack that can carry everything you need for your trip but can also be compressed into a streamlined profile for the hunt. This is especially true for archery hunts when stealth is essential."

Factors like terrain and what you're hunting creates high variance as well - but of particular significance to pack size is the weather. Lyle goes on to say, "Weather will be one of the most important considerations in packing your kit. The colder and nastier the conditions, the bulkier your gear is going to be. A five-day backpack in balmy September conditions is a very different trip than a five-day backpack hunt in cold, wet conditions."

If you hit Google for the answer to this question, you'll find a general rule that looks like the following: when figuring out the right pack size for a hunt start with a baseline of 16 liters (1000 cubic inches) and add 16 liters or 1000 cubic inches of space per day. Meaning, if you're headed to the mountains for 5 days you're total capacity (including baseline) should consist of approximately 6000 cubic inches or 96 liters. In a pinch, this could be helpful, but if anything it can result in carrying too little for shorter hunts or too much for longer ones. So if you go with this approach you should focus on customizing it to your trip as much as possible.

The size of your hunting pack isn't confined to volume, the other factor is weight, which can be split into how heavy it is unpacked as well as the weight it can handle.

3. What Is the Ideal Hunting Pack Weight?

To weigh as little as possible, an ideal hunting pack weight would be around 4 lbs unpacked, where an ultralight frame accounts for around 75% of the weight and the bag the remainder. Fully packed, a general weight rule is maxing at 20% of the carrier's body weight.

Meaning if you tip the scales at 200 lbs, your pack shouldn't weigh more than 40 lbs. In general, a pack geared for a multi-day hunt will way somewhere between 35-45 lbs.

Stone Glacier Packs utilize ultralight frames capable of hauling over 150 lbs with 2,500 cubic inches of capacity in the load shelf. In the case of the R3 Frame from Stone Glacier, it weighs 2 lbs 14 oz and can withstand 150+ pounds of weight - a remarkably strong frame.

Aside from material strength, the construction and design are instrumental in how a hunter can haul more meat. When needed, the bag separates from the frame to deploy the load shelf for carrying meat and gear. This system allows you to carry heavy loads efficiently close to your center of gravity, and it also enables you to immediately haul out your first load of meat after a kill without having to retrieve an external frame pack conserving your energy as a result.

Lyle and the Stone Glacier team spend enormous resources to reduce the weight of their packs - they view the role of pack weight like this, "Your pack is only as light as the sum of its parts. If you invest in an ultralight bag, stuffing a bunch of heavy and bulky gear into the pack will defeat the purpose of the lightweight pack. As the saying goes, 'ounces make pounds.' Every ounce counts and every ounce you can shave from your system (while still being prepared for the hunt) will help you in the end. Ultralight gear is an investment, but the lighter and more minimal you are, the more you can expand your potential."

4. What Features Should Sheep Hunters Look for in a Pack?

Sheep hunters should prioritize high-capacity packs to handle gear and layers needed for remote locations and challenging terrains where sheep thrive. As sheep hunting can often lead to long hikes, and up to 100 lbs of meat and head/cape, a comfortable and load-efficient pack is a necessity.

While bighorns are significantly smaller than elk, they're by no means small. And since they tend to live in some of the most difficult terrains to reach, that means your endurance has to be top-notch, and your pack comfortable.

"Sheep hunting is primarily a true backcountry endeavor," Lyle says, "...and you may be picking up camp to hike 10 miles or more every day in very mountainous, remote country. You typically bone out the entire animal, which will save you a lot of weight, but you’re still talking about upwards of 100+ pounds with the meat and head/cape plus your camp."

Endurance is the keyword here - you can build endurance for hunting but sheep hunting is the purest test of it. It has everything to do with the remoteness terrain. Where your pack is going to be on the larger end, even though you're constantly fighting the urge to carry extra weight you'll still be hauling a hefty bag.

Lyle summarizes sheep hunting packs as "This type of extended hunting requires a lot of capacity, very careful planning, and reducing gear weight wherever possible. Most backcountry sheep hunts in Alaska are going to require a minimum of 7,000 cubic inches of capacity and more for hunts that can range from one to two weeks."

5. What Features Should Elk Hunters Look for in a Pack?

Elk hunters should look for packs with a load-carrying capacity to handle the large scale of elk. A typical bull's hindquarter weighs around 70 lbs (bone-in without hide), and a mature bull can add 40-60 lbs of weight in the head, your pack needs the capacity and comfort to handle well over 110 lbs.

If sheep hunting was geared toward your physical endurance, then elk hunting would lean a bit more toward your stamina. That's certainly an oversimplification of both types of hunting and the difference between endurance and stamina, but the point is simply to illustrate the demands of your pack for each type of hunting.

Elk are massive and heavy, meaning your pack needs to offer enough space to handle the meat and not break your back in the process. According to Lyle, "When you’re miles deep in rugged terrain, you need a pack frame that can comfortably and efficiently haul a lot of weight..." to meet the rigors of elk hunting. Every ounce matters, regardless of the game you're after - and while it's nearly impossible to find true comfort packing out an elk, your pack should make the trek back bearable. Not every pack can do this. Here are the components your pack needs to have if you want the best elk-hunting experience.

What's An Ideal Backpack for Elk Hunters?

The best backpack for elk hunters includes ample storage, load-bearing capabilities, hydration compatibility, adjustable suspension, and weather-resistant construction. Prioritize backpacks made of durable materials, such as high-denier nylon or Cordura to withstand the elements.

If you're headed on an elk hunt, make sure that your bag will get you there and back in comfort and style. Investing in a quality bag is an essential part of the elk hunting experience and one that should not be taken lightly.

Elk tags are expensive, so don't go cheap on your pack and soil the entire experience.

The Perfect Elk Hunting Pack

Elk hunting requires specialized equipment, so make sure you size it according to how much you need to carry - here are the bare minimums to consider for elk hunting, but keep in mind that the best backpack for elk hunting should be one that fits your specific needs (duration, weather, terrain) and makes your hunt both easier and more enjoyable.

Storage Capacity:

Pick a backpack with ample room for your hunting gear, essentials, and emergency supplies. If you're going for elk in September and October, you'll need a ton of space for layers needed to handle the wide temperature changes. Lyle heads out with 6000 cubic inches in mind, which gives him enough space for a 10-day elk hunt.

Using either the Sky Archer 6400 or the Sky 5900, once he sets up camp, each pack can break down for a lower profile. More than enough room for bringing in gear and packing out meat.

Load-Bearing Capability:

It's not just having the capacity to haul meat, but to do so properly. If you're going for elk, you need a sturdy frame that evenly distributes weight, sparing your back from unnecessary pain. It's extremely reasonable to imagine a scenario where you'd be hauling 100 lbs or more if you have a successful hunt. Your body is more likely to give out than what you can harvest in most situations.

One of the most dangerous things you can do is leave 70 lbs of meat loosely packed on your back while headed down a mountain. The shifting weight will throw your balance off. Invest in a pack system that keeps the meat close to your back, and is unable to shift. This starts with a solid ultralight frame and a comfortable fit (shoulders, hip belts, load lifters) - trust us, you'll be grateful for the extra support after a successful shot.

Durability & Weather Resistance:

Early or late season, you're facing some of the toughest conditions out there, maybe you'll trek through the snow, but in the best climate, you'll still face water in some form, thanks to a high penchant for grassy settings and creeks.

Steep slopes or rolling hills, you'll need a pack that can handle the ruggedness that elk thrive in, and certainly one that can keep your essentials dry along the way. Weather-resistant features, such as waterproof or sealed zippers, and roll-top dry bags protect your belongings from rain, snow, and wherever elk take you.

Organization & Accessibility:

Choose a backpack with multiple compartments and easy-to-access pockets to keep your gear essentials organized, balanced, and readily available. External pockets should be easily accessible for quick retrieval of frequently used items, and even inside, place higher frequency items closer to the zipper, such as a spotter or water.

Invest in a Versatile Pack

Looking at packs suitable for elk and other western hunting big game, the best options are those that are versatile and easily adaptable to changes. Carrying a pack that adjusts based on need will help you spend your energy more wisely. And that's what this is all about - expending energy efficiently, which is your greatest commodity in the mountains.

Even elite mountain athletes that have trained all year in hunting fitness still trade in energy in the backcountry. While you can similarly build your readiness and fitness for hunting season, you can also make the experience more enjoyable by simply selecting the right pack for the job.

Special Thanks to Lyle Hebel, Stone Glacier Director of Marketing

Stone Glacier is synonymous with ultralight mountain hunting. Built by and for demanding mountain hunters, the company’s innovative gear is born from an obsessive approach to finding the perfect balance between technical performance, lightweight packability, durability, and versatility for big-game pursuits.

Stone Glacier has been making ultralight, load-hauling backpacks since Founder Kurt Racicot launched the first run of Stone Glacier Packs in 2012. The company’s growing line of innovative products now includes technical apparel, ultralight shelters, sleeping systems, and other gear specialized for backcountry mountain pursuits.