Written by B2H Co-Founder: Jeff Moran (@relentlesshntr)
Isolated and brutally demanding. If you asked me to define my hunts and hunting style in simple form, those two words are all that’s needed to allow your mind to paint a picture of what I put myself through. By the time my mid-September hunt rolls around, I have trained in the gym, on the trail and gone over scenarios in my head for months. I often hunt solo in what many guides will tell you is the roughest terrain to hunt animals in across the lower 48. I have broken through my physical limit, slipped and slid down cliffs, nearly died from dehydration, tested gear to the max, blown out packs, boots, pants, and been feet from deer, elk, goats and bears that could tap into the record books. I have survived in these situations for as long as three weeks alone and know that if I am not prepared and my gear is not up to the task, then I am putting myself in danger. Going onto the mountain and into the canyons with my return in question is not an option for me.
Hunting this way was not always how I went about it. No one in my family did it, no one that I knew even considered diving miles into tough country to bring animals out piece by piece. I didn’t read books, I didn’t watch videos or listen to podcasts about it; I just knew I wanted to experience this type os hunting and solitude on the mountain and I went for it.
I have used tons of different gear over the years of learning this style of hunting and I can promise you that you don’t always need the most expensive gear, or high end gear, in many areas of this hunt, but I can tell you that besides your boots, I would go all out for a high end pack if you attempt to do anything like this. I have gone in with backpacks attached to pack frames, packs that have no structure but are sturdy, higher end carbon fiber frame packs, titanium packs and more. To each their own here but I have built my body around this type of hunting and I can tell you the things you need to consider are ease of use, weight, your medical situations (more on this in a minute), and how the pack moves with weight in it. I have hauled out a couple hundred pounds with a pack in a single haul and if the pack is not up to the challenge, your life will be a nightmare.
With all things considered, I have finally settled on a pack that I am willing to use personally for more than a single hunting season and that would be Initial Ascent’s IA4K system. How did I settle on this pack you ask? Let’s go through it.
To start, any backcountry hunter or hunter that may have to haul out meat in multiple trips needs a pack with a solid frame. Work smarter not harder. That cuts down your options quickly. Next I took into consideration that I have a back issue. More than just aches and pains, my back is not structured like the average person. The arches in my back are exaggerated due to a spine issue and that will never change. After trying out two different metal frame packs, I would have pain from day one all the way to the end because there is no give in those frames to allow your body to adjust. If you’ve had back surgery or flexibility problems, you also should consider this. Stiff carbon fiber frames create nearly the same problems and I have personally blown out a leading pack from too heavy of a load and how weight needs to ride on my back. The IA4K system has a thick carbon fiber and fiber glass frame that is flexible but strong. It moves with your body and if you need to kneel, twist or bend over, the frame mimics your movement. This was the first key piece in my decision.
Next, consider ease of use. What are you hauling, how many days, and what do you need quick access too? I carry a lot because I may end up stuck away from camp for more than a day. I also carry cameras and gear I need to get to quick. The size of the lid and belt pouches are important to me. The IA4K has the largest options for all of that. Next, each brand will have YouTube videos showing how to take things apart, add different bags, tie in meat, and more. Almost every pack I have found is structured around 45 different clips that come undone, replaced, added and adjusted to strap in meat, food, gear, etc… Initial Ascent caught my attention by daring to be different here. Yes the bag and loaders have clips but everything fastens down with the straps quickly hooking into the frame with tabs. This saves time and energy on the mountain and is significantly easier to understand. I don’t want to have to guess or be screwed on the mountain because I don’t have all the right clips to change everything on my pack because I put down an animal. I want to get that animal processed and out of there.
Next I took into consideration the adjustments that can be made on the pack and how that will benefit me and everyone else on a hike or hunt. Starting from the bottom up we look at the belt. Normally to tighten a belt you have to pull the strap away from you to tighten it around your waist. Initial Ascent developed a hook type system where the belt strap can actually be pulled in your direction. This allows for you to set the pack to the right height, tighten your core, and tighten the pack down much more than I have been able to do with other styles. Next, their shoulder straps are exactly that, shoulder straps. Not much difference there but this system allows for the straps to be fastened do the frame of the pack at three different height variations beyond the normal Velcro adjust seen in all packs. Why is this important? Depending on the individual, you may want the pack to sit higher or lower on your back and also the bulk of the weight in your pack to be in different locations. I personally want the weight as high up on my shoulders as I can get it and from an athletic, fitness standpoint, you will do less damage by having the weight up high than sitting in the lower small of your back like I see the majority of the time on social media posts. All of this allows me to start a heavy load of meat in the middle of my back up to above my shoulders, creating less pressure on my lower back and making the pack out easier (the words ‘packout’ and ‘easy’ should never be in the same sentence but my vocabulary is failing me at the moment so that’s the best I have).
Lastly for this post, how does the pack hold weight and carry. I am an athletic build and pride myself on my fitness level but also B2H is a fitness based company. My search for the right pack system really needed to incorporate how weight held in a pack and if it shifts with you or adainst you not only on the mountain but also in shooting and training events such as the Total Archery Challenge and Train to Hunt races. I tested this pack in the gym, on the trail and on the mountain. I strapped plates to it weighing 175 pounds and hauled out over half an elk and all my gear clearing 120 pounds. The Initial Ascent IA4K pack was the first pack in which I did not need additional ties to get everything to hold down tight and the first pack that didn’t have a loose end somewhere that allowed weight to shift. If you’re side-hilling across a 50 degree slope and that weight shifts against you when you move, you are in danger. If you’re fatigued and nearing the end of a Train to Hunt race and your body leans slightly getting up allowing the weight in the pack to shift towards the ground, it will cost you time and possibly where you stand on the podium. This is not an issue you will have here as the pack, frame and weight become more of an extension of your body than an object working against you in critical moments.
In all, the IA4K pack system has exceeded all expectations that I had for it, and has renewed my faith in a carbon fiber type pack system that had failed me in the past with other brands. If I had to give you an honest downside, it would be that there isn’t a 6,000+ ci option but then again, that has forced me to be more efficient in my packing when going into the backcountry and cut down on my pack weight at the same time. Initial Ascent has covered all their angles here and are always open to listen to your opinion and needs and are more than willing to make adjustments you need or help you with your system to make it the right fit for you. So if you’re looking for a new pack, don’t cheat yourself by overlooking the Initial Ascent pack system. It stands toe to toe with all the other packs I have taken onto the mountain and will blow them out of the water in the race and challenge field.