The Best Backpacks for Big-Game Hunting of 2024

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Hunting backpacks are a personal choice. They must carry very specific items and, in the case of big-game packs, handle massive loads of meat after a kill. But they must remain light and nimble for use while hunting.

We’ve spoken with hunters and field-tested several packs to suss out the top hunting backpacks on the market. To choose the best backpacks for hunting, I and other editors used them in the field, primarily in Colorado and Montana for elk and mule deer hunting. We also tested packs whitetail hunting in the midwest and have used several models for long-distance overnight hikes in the off-season. Most of the packs on this list have been through more than one season.

This article focuses on larger packs meant to haul meat and gear in the backcountry. For those who just need a daypack, check out this link. For the rest of you, there are a lot of options, and the attributes of a good pack can be found in many brands. At the bottom of this review, I’ve noted a few things to look for in our buyer’s guide for frequently asked questions, and I’ve also added a comparison chart to help you steer your decision-making.

The Best Backpacks for Big-Game Hunting of 2024

  • Best Overall Hunting Backpack Pack: Stone Glacier Sky 5900
  • Best Budget Backpack: ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag
  • Runner-Up Best Hunting Backpack: Exo Mountain Gear K4
  • Most Durable: Mystery Ranch Metcalf
  • Best Deer Pack: Badlands 2200
  • Best Sheep and Goat Hunting Pack: Stone Glacier Terminus 7000
  • Best Lightweight Elk Hunting Pack: KUIU PRO Pack System
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Best of the Rest

Hunting Backpacks Comparison Chart

Stone Glacier Sky 5900ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack BagExo Mountain Gear K4 Mystery Ranch MetcalfBadlands 2200Stone Glacier Terminus 7000Stone Glacier EVO 3300Exo Mountain Gear K3 Spyder Frame
12BF6933 4691 41D6 AA94 6C1CDEC15BC7 The Best Backpacks for Big-Game Hunting of 2024
The author elk hunting back at the trailhead with a fully laden pack; (photo/Sean McCoy)

Why You Should Trust Us

Our team of testers are avid hunters with decades of experience in hunting, as well as other outdoor pursuits. Lead writer Sean McCoy has been hunting since he was 12. That’s … a lot more years than he’d care to admit. But he still covers big ground chasing Colorado elk and mule deer each fall and he also travels for hunts in the Midwest several times each year. As a runner and a skier, he understands the benefits of lightweight and minimal designs in a backpack but knows that a hunting pack must be a capable, durable load hauler.

Rachelle Schrute and Nicole Qualtieri both contributed knowledge to this guide. Both are avid hunters living in Montana. Schrute, GearJunkie’s Hunt and Fish editor, pursues elk, deer, mountain lion, and bear, as well as small game, every year.

Our goal is to provide you with the best intel to make an informed purchase. We test this gear, and this is our honest opinion about our favorite products. These are the packs we’d recommend to our friends, and in fact, we do, usually sending along this guide when family or friends ask us which pack to buy.

Hunting Backpacks: A Buyer’s Guide

Obviously, these aren’t all the packs on the market. But these are among the best we’ve found. What should you look for in a backpack for hunting? Let’s break it down.

1. Haul heavy loads. If you intend to carry meat and/or camp gear, a hunting backpack should be capable of carrying a very heavy load. For big-game hunters who trek into the wilds, that means up to 100 pounds. Why? Because that’s what a big elk quarter plus some gear will weigh.

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Historically, this has meant hunters needed external frame packs. But pack makers have developed incredible internal frames and modular systems in the past decade, giving hunters exceptional tools for carrying both meat and gear.

Stone Glacier Terminus 7000 backpack testing
The author carries the Stone Glacier Terminus 7000; (photos/Lowell McCoy)

2. It should fit like a glove. Many packs come in various sizes or have adjustable torso lengths. Make sure yours fits properly.

3. Carry gear too. For many, it should carry gear while hunting. This means things like snacks, water, extra clothing, game bags, knives, and possibly your weapon for long walks. Multiple pockets are nice for organizing gear. And large packs should have straps to compress down when not fully loaded. For deer hunters who can drag game out of the woods, a smaller pack can be just fine.

4. Ample space. For those who pack deep into the woods, it should be able to carry enough gear to sleep out overnight — or longer. This means a sleeping bag, tent, and cook gear, plus the items noted above.

For this reason, modular systems that allow larger or smaller packs on a single frame perform admirably. These also offer the versatility to use a single frame on various styles of hunts.

5. It should be quiet. This is unique to a backpack for hunting — and is really important. The material should not make much noise when snagged on bushes. The zippers and buckles should operate quietly.

6. Don’t forget daypacks. For many hunters, these packs are more than needed. A small daypack works for those who hunt deer or smaller animals where they can be dragged out. Those with access to ATVs or horses also can likely get by with a simple daypack too, as your ride will handle the heavy hauling.

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Hiking Pack for Hunting: The Backpack You Already Own

Don’t want to buy a new pack just for hunting? No problem. If you backpack, you already own a pack that’s entirely capable of serving you as a hunting pack. It just won’t be ideal.

Backstraps, tenderloins, and meat scraps will fit into the main compartment of most large, internal-frame backpacks designed for hiking. If far from the trailhead, deboning front and rear quarters will allow even their massive volume to fit in larger packs.

Just be sure to bring game bags and a heavy-duty garbage bag or trash compactor bag to line your hiking pack to minimize bloodstains.

Most internal-frame packs can even carry the heavy load of a bone-in elk quarter. It probably won’t be comfortable, but it’ll do in a pinch. Just bring some paracord, lay the quarter on the pack, and get strapping. The job won’t be pretty or fun, but it will get the meat out of the field.

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