Side view. See how shallow the lower side mesh pocket is, barely enough room for a set of Sitka Gear Shooters Gloves but the outside vertical pockets are big enough to take two 48oz Nalgenes (side by side), a 14oz Nalgene, and a JetBoil stove kit. Nice. Also, look how slim and compact the pack is, good for working in tight spaces and thick cover. My Slik 613CF tripod with Outdoorsmans Pan Head and Walkstool are in the other long side pocket.
There are two world class, high end pack makers in the hunting slash tactical space. They are extremely well designed, made from outstanding materials, built for heavy duty (read military or SAR) use, and most importantly, their packs sport the best suspensions capable of handling big loads. One of them is Eberlestock.
I have written about the Eberlestock F3F FAC Track Backpack and tactical version of the F3M Halftrack but about a year ago I switched to the hunting version of the Halftrack called the F3H Halftrack Hunting Backpack. It is a little bigger at 3080ci, made of stealthier NT1 Quiet Cloth microfleece, and has two big luggage style load straps.
Front view. Note how the big compression straps run under the side pockets, the Black Diamond trekking pole sticking out of the right side hydration sleeve, and the REI Activestretch zip T-neck fleece top rolled up and stored on top of the bino pocket where I can get to it quickly.
In addition to the outstanding suspension, the F3H has three features that make this pack worthy of a GGR. The vertical side pockets are wide enough to easily and quickly load slash unload my tripod without disturbing anything else on the pack. They also have a cinch down strap to keep things from flopping around but the big luggage compression straps run underneath and independent of the side pockets which goes to my design comment earlier (telltale signs of expert user input). The second feature is the top pocket with the C shaped zipper which is where I keep my binoculars. This pocket arrangement allows me fast and easy access to the all important glasses. I like the PALS straps on top of the top pocket for attaching an accessory pocket, strobe light or SPOT unit but there is also a strap that I use to keep my midweight zip t-neck mid layer instantly handy (this is the piece that I put on and take off most often) but you could also use it for a full size ground pad (although there are PALS slots on the bottom of the pack or carry a full size pad using the luggage straps).
If you hunt like I do those things make a big difference because you can stop, doff your pack and be set up glassing within a minute or two. Conversely you can be packed back up and be moving again in very short order.
Panel loading type packs have been my long time preference. I like stacking the contents of my pack so I can see it all at once and grab what I want. I think the main load carries better that way too.
Panel loaders allow you to pack like an anal retentive obsessive compulsive pro. Top to bottom is a 3/4 length Therm-A-Rest, my W.E.K., OR balaclava, Marmot Precip shell jacket, Patagonia Micro Puff jacket in a stuff sack, and a Hill People Gear Mountain Serape in a stuff sack (which I am testing as a half sleeping bag or Elephants Foot).
Back view. The business end of the pack, the toughest part to get right. This is one of the best suspension harness sets in the business, the stuff that separates the good packs from the great ones. Note the small bicycle strobe just above the carry handle so I can find the pack when I lay it down for a stalk and the sun goes down (yes, that has been a problem which is why I carry a headlamp in my pants cargo pocket). Also, see that I have my Garmin Foretrex 401 affixed to the chest strap so I can check it regularly.
This is a great pack all the way around but it does have its limitations. Even though this is the hunting version, there is not a great capacity to carry out your game in addition to your gear. You could do a head and cape I think but you would be hard pressed to get a hind quarter on it (the big luggage straps are not long enough). The suspension could certainly handle it but the pack just isn’t laid out for adding on something big.
Also, between the main pack body and the backside of the two full length side pockets are two vertical sleeves that are marked HYDRATION. Obviously they are made for hanging a bladder on each side but they are way too tight to get a full bag of water in them when the pack is full which is a problem. In fact, I don’t think they are big enough to load a full bladder even when the pack is empty. Good idea, bad execution. I use them for my umbrella, trekking poles, snow wands, avi probes, etc.
Last, while I like the way the outside low mesh pockets cinch, they are not tall enough to be useful for much of anything. I would like them to be double the height.
The F3H Halftrack Hunting Backpack is an awesome pack for loads weighing between 30 and 60 pounds or bigger in a pinch. It has a low profile that works very well in dense cover or steep grades and it rides slash carries like a dream. I highly recommend this pack as long as you don’t have a big load to add on and hump out.
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