Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review: Camelbak packs

A few Elk seasons ago I managed to get myself lost. It was the first time I had hunted the area and I spent the afternoon and evening on a long stalk. I was so focused on the Elk I did not pay enough attention to my surroundings. When the sun set and I had to abandon the hunt and head back to camp which I assumed was just over the ridge. As I crested the ridge I didn't recognize any familiar landmarks. I guessed the stalk had taken me further away from camp than I realized so I continued on my original bearing to the next ridge. After an hour of hiking and still uncertain of my location I admitted I was in fact lost which brings me to the point of this preamble - I had the gear I needed because I was wearing my pack.

My gear gave me confidence and gave me options. Light, map and compass if I wanted to try to navigate my way out and/or make a fire and build a shelter as well as the comfort of extra clothing and food. I had some control over my situation and was able to calmly make good decisions. My adventure ended well, as I was able to navigate my way back to camp and the only suffering I endure is the razzing I get annually from my hunting partners about being (really) late for dinner...

A while back I did a gear review on the CamelBak Striker pack. I've since added another two Camelbak packs to my collection - The Commander and the Ranger.

All of the packs are well made and loaded with features like organizers inside compartments, cinch strap stabilizers, lashing loops, and easily adjustable shoulder straps and waist belt. I'll give a synopsis of all three.

The Striker is a great pack when the terrain is thick and maneuverability is a priority. It also excels when worn mountain biking. It is big enough to carry essentials and small enough not to get in the way. I've hunted with this pack on several occasions and found wearing it all day with ~20 pounds of gear and water is comfortable. I would estimate around 25 pounds is about the max for comfort. At 1,180 cubic inches it is difficult to stuff that much weight in it. It comes with a 70 oz reservoir that when full does tend to round the back of the pack when it is fully loaded with gear.

The Ranger is my newest pack and so far I am very happy with it too. Its 1831 cubic inches (30 L) is plenty for a day trip and very nice in the winter for extra clothing and food. It is a more traditionally styled pack with a lot of organization features. It is probably the maximum size I would want to wear when riding a mountain bike and then I wouldn't want to load it to its weight capacity. It falls short of being an overnight pack unless you are willing to be very minimalist. The Ranger is a very nice size for long day trips with enough room for multiple meals and peripheral gear like camera equipment. Though bigger it isn't burdensome nor a lot more catchy in thick brush. After a year of use I haven't found the max all day comfort weight limit yet. The pack straps and belt are slightly more substantial than the striker and the internal soft frame improve comfort. The Ranger is also equipped with the larger 100 oz reservoir.

The Commander is the largest of the three hunting packs at 2747 cubic inches (45 L). The straps and belt are upgraded and more supportive than the previous two. It also has a couple of nice pouches - including one with cartridge loops - that are nice and handy for frequently used small items. The down side to this feature is that it interferes with holster wear. The commander is large enough for overnight trips with a moderate amount of gear. My 2 man Cabelas XPG tent and Wiggys overbag fit in the main compartment with a few smaller items stuffed in too. The tent poles need to be tied along the side the pack as they are too long to fit inside the compartment. There is additional room for food, cooking gear, activity gear (minimal: fishing, hunting) and essential items provided they are compact. I have not over-nighted with this bag but I have carried it loaded with my camping gear and some additional iron plate weight, if you can put it in this pack you can carry it comfortably provided you aren't haulng rocks. It too comes with the 100 oz reservoir.

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