The pack you choose for your bushcraft adventures will be one of the most important decisions you make. Your bushcraft pack will carry all of your other gear and can be the difference between an enjoyable experience and a terrible one. In this post, I will show you how to choose the best bushcraft pack for your needs.
When I first started buying gear for my adventures in the great outdoors, I didn’t have much money at all. What little bit I had couldn’t be “wasted” on hobbies. There was gas and groceries to buy for my growing family. The situation being as it was, I often bought the cheapest gear I could find. In my mind cheap gear was better than no gear at all. This included my hiking pack. I started out with a regular backpack you would buy for school. It wouldn’t take long for my neck and shoulders to become fatigued and start to cramp. I thought it was just me and I just needed to toughen up and get my body used to carrying the load. After a couple of months of hiking and a hunting trip through the mountains of Wyoming, I began to suspect my pack. You have to understand that I didn’t have access to all the great sources of online information we have today and I didn’t really know anyone else who was into hiking.
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The two most important things to consider when selecting a bushcraft pack are:
- How much will you be carrying?
- How far will you be travelling?
If you are only going to have one pack, you should prepare for the worst case scenario. The worst case is having to carry all of your gear for several miles. Not only all the gear you have now, but any gear you hope to gain in the near future. A good pack should last for several years and so you should plan on accommodating any gear you plan to add in that time frame. If you have an average kit, you should consider getting a pack with a frame. If you are not used to carrying a pack, you have no idea how much difference a frame makes to your comfort and stamina. The frame helps to transfer some of the load off of your shoulders. You can get a pack with an internal or external frame. Each has its advantages.
Pros: An external frame is normally a little less expensive. It will carry the load higher on the back which helps transfer the load more vertically to your hips. It seems to me this helps you carry a little more weight. In warmer climates an external frame may keep you slightly cooler because the frame provides separation between the pack and your back. The external frame also provides ample places to hang or strap accessories.
Cons: An external frame pack is a liability in bushwhacking situations because the frame is very likely to snag on brush. The external frame keeps the pack a little higher on the back which may pose a balance obstacle in uneven terrain. I find it easier to lose balance with an external frame.
Pros: An internal frame pack generally has more room inside than an external. It will keep all of your gear inside and protected. It will also present a smaller profile and you can compress the pack tighter thus taking up less room. Since the pack is smaller and there is no exposed frame, it is also an advantage when you are in thick brush. Internal frames also ride a little lower on the back which can help with balance. The enclosed frame can also be more comfortable over extended hiking periods as the metal frame is padded from the hikers back.
Cons: The internal frame pack will normally be more expensive. It will also be hotter on the back because more of the packs surface area is touching the hiker. The internal frame normally rides a little lower on the back putting more weight on the shoulders which for some, may bring on shoulder fatigue sooner.
I know a lot of people who use old military style packs such as the MOLLE style pack. These can be a good cost saving pack if you can get your all your gear into it. The only disadvantage I have found with them is the lack of a frame. Again, for me this brings on shoulder and neck fatigue much sooner on longer hikes.
Another feature you should look for is the packs ability to shed water. I would not have a pack that didn’t shed water. There is nothing worse than reaching in your pack for a pair of dry socks only to find they are damp or wet. There are several different ways this is accomplished. Most packs made for hiking use a water resistant material on the outside, normally rip stop type nylon. This works well as long as there are no holes in the pack. Some manufacturers use a spray in, rubber type coating on the inside of the pack. Still others use a plastic liner. (Imagine a very thick freezer bag) Each has its advantages. The packs with the plastic liners have a habit of cracking in the creases over time. My preferred method is the spray in rubber type.
There are as many designs and pocket configurations for packs as there are manufacturers. There are also many different ways to pack your gear into a pack. These things are really personal choices. The best thing to do is ask around to people who spend a lot of time in the woods with their pack. What works for them is probably a good starting point for you. I don’t have to have a bunch of accessory pockets because I normally pack all my gear in the main compartment. I am very proficient at packing my gear. You may find a use for several different pockets. I also want my pack to have a way to attach things externally. There are a few things I like to have on the outside of my pack such as my canteen and cup. I also carry my machete and axe on the outside of my pack when I bring them.
Your pack will be one of the most important things you purchase for your outdoor adventures. I believe in being frugal when you can, but I also believe in spending your money where it will make the most difference. I believe your pack is one of the areas where spending a little more will greatly enhance your enjoyment. Some may have a different take on what makes a good pack, but these are the things that have made the biggest difference for me. What is your favorite type pack? Do you add anything to your criteria for what makes a good pack?