Well, here we are on the other side of my Idaho wilderness elk hunt and it is time to follow through with the second part of the Kifaru review. Before we get started lets take a quick look at the highlights of Part I:
Kifaru International founder Patrick Smith has been designing and manufacturing backpacks for over 20 years. His passion is to help on-foot hunters live among the animals they are pursuing. To do that we have to walk long and far and carry everything we need on our backs. No cheap pack will suffice and even some of those that are more expensive do not do the job according to reports.
All Kifaru packs are internal frame structure. The LongHunter's framesheet consists of twin contoured aluminum stays and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). Kifaru custom fits the suspension of each pack to the individual hunter. When you order your pack you will be asked for your:
Whether you are right or left-handed
The LongHunter's urethane coated 500 D Cordura bag is packed with features. The main components include a top pocket, bottom zipper access, interior divider panel, bottom compression straps, main compartment, an inner storage sheath and storage bungee. The top pocket not only serves to cover and protect the main bag top access but it also removes to become a day bag. The internal divider allows the pack to be organized into upper and lower compartments. A bottom zipper, which is a hearty number 10-size to avoid jamming, is used to access the lower compartment. The inner storage sheath has a draw cord and is perfect for tripods and spotting scopes. A sleeping bag or other gear can be lashed to the underneath of the pack with the bottom compression straps. There are also compression straps evenly spaced up the side of the bag as well. The main bag is a single large cavity and only divided if desired with the internal divider. A storage bungee on the back of the pack makes for easy packing of lighter items such as a jacket or sleep pad.
Accessories available include a water bottle pouch, Platypus Water Reservoir, boot bag, Side Pockets, Phone/GPS Pouch, back pouch, possibilities pouch, Pull-Out Pouches and the cargo chair.
My initial testing included a waterproof test and a few hikes up and down the mountains of Pennsylvania.
In the waterproof test I placed the bag, loaded with gear, outside during a three day drenching rain. The top pocket contents got wet but the main bag contents stayed completely dry. The Cordura material that the top pocket is constructed of is waterproof, however, the days of soaking rain must have gotten through the zipper and stitching holes. This would most likely happen to any bag that didn't have a rain cover. Speaking of rain covers, Kifaru has one if you plan on hunting in wet conditions or you could just rig up a plastic bag.
The LongHunter was packed with 60 lbs of gear for my second test. I climbed the tallest mountains in my area many times. As I climbed, I learned. First, I learned that adjusting the shoulder straps with the lift straps was the single best thing I did for comfort. Get the pack up off of your shoulders and let your hips do the work! The lower shoulder straps can also be adjusted on the fly for precise tuning to your needs. I didn't feel the need to adjust or bend the stays, as they seemed to fit me fairly well. I found the LongHunter to be extremely comfortable on these relatively short outings and plan to go out on longer outings as my training level increases.
Now to Part II - Testing
First, I would like to explain the terrain in which we hunted. The first 100 to 200 hundred yards were not an issue, however, it wasn't long until we hit thick brush that we had to force our way through. From there it was basically up hill. The grade varied from time to time but just like a good company growth chart the trend continued to climb, as did we. Once we figured out which side of the creek we were supposed to be on we hit a hill that climbed sharply from the stream. My fitness was being challenged from the get-go. In the next few miles we were worked hard as we picked our way through hundreds of blowdowns, several old streambeds and steep sidehills.
It wasn't long before I realized my Kifaru was overloaded. Several times during the trek my hunting partner, who had a much lighter pack, traded out with me and shared the load. To be quite honest, at the time, we both preferred his pack! I was not impressed with the Kifaru's performance and was somewhat curious as to why so many people were giving the pack kudos. After all, the LongHunter is known as a heavy load pack, right? One of the main issues is that the pack felt like a potato sack hanging off of my hips. Everything was pulling straight down toward the ground. All I could think about was how this must be how the term, "my butt is draggin" came about.
Now, let's get to the real issue - my knowledge of how to stuff a pack, the weight loaded into the pack in relation to my level of fitness and my knowledge of the LongHunter's features. The pack was reloaded after returning home to closely match the weight and configuration carried in Idaho. I made a point to schedule a meeting with one of my friend's who is an extreme backpacker to see what I did wrong. It was 10 minutes into our meeting before he quit shaking his head! As he tore apart the pack he explained how I had my weight distributed incorrectly and also asked why I didn't use the divider. THE DIVIDER - how in the world did I forget about the divider? I even wrote about it for Pete Sakes! From above, "The main bag is a single large cavity and only divided if desired with the internal divider." *^#@! That single feature would have made quite a bit of difference. No - that feature would have made a huge difference!!
Another major factor was sheer weight. Using a suspended scale the weight of the pack came in just over 72 pounds. That is just too heavy and as I found out on the trip, unnecessary. As mentioned before, the Kifaru did a great job keeping the weight on my hips and off of my back, however, the problem was that my hips were simply not conditioned to handle that weight. We estimated Dave's pack at approximately 45 pounds so I wanted to see how the Kifaru did at that weight, packed correctly and using the blasted divider. Of course, it was incredibly different and more closely resembled the feel of Dave's pack. I would say even better, however, that would not be a fair statement since I cannot do another side by side comparison right now.
Back at 72 pounds and packed correctly I took the pack on the highest climb available in my area, approximately 1600 feet of elevation change from base to peak. Although my hips were still in some pain the feel of the pack was completely different from my experience in Idaho. Perhaps I will get to do another real-time test again next year.
The only suggestions I would make to Kifaru after a thorough testing would be to make a short DVD explaining the finer points of efficient loading and possibly add a couple of compartments on the outside of the main compartment, up high. The Kifaru LongHunter is a quality pack that takes a little getting used to and loading know-how to use properly at extreme weights.