In 2019 Exo Mountain Gear introduced a new generation of their highly regarded mountain hunting pack systems called the K3 line. This lineup of pack includes 4 sizes, the K3 1800, 3200, 4800, and 6400. I've had the opportunity to use 3 generations of EXO packs over the past few years and was excited to see the changes to the new K3 line. I picked up an Exo Mountain Gear 4800 pack and was interested to compare it to the K2 5500 that I had been using for the past couple of years. After putting a season in with the K3 4800 on my back, I feel like I can weigh in this pack as one of the most versatile, high functioning packs for mountain hunters. The K3 delivers improved adjustability, comfort, and fit vs previous generations of Exo packs.
The New K3 Spyder Frame:
The new Exo pack systems introduce the titanium K3 Spyder frame that features multiple height options and added adjustments in the lumbar pad and hip belt to provide a precise fit. Most of these adjustments are easily made, and I found a vast improvement in reduced hip-belt movement on the new K3 frame compared to older packs. The frame is incredibly lightweight, coming in at under 3 pounds, with an integrated load shelf, mico-torso adjustment, and added stretch materials and padding in the shoulder harness that make it very comfortable, even under heavy loads.
The Exo K3 4800 Bag:
My first Exo pack was a 3500, and after not having quite enough room for extended hunts, I decided to size up in the K2 system and used a 5500. I was reluctant to go down in size in the K3, as I had found the 5500 to be very adaptable to where it only added about 4 ounces over the 3500 but could expand to fit more gear. When weighing the choice between the K3 4800 and the larger 6400, the features of the 4800 made it my choice, and I've been very impressed with the updates and pleased with the capacity of the pack for my hunts last year. The 4800 features the addition of a new horseshoe "U" shaped front zipper that allows the bag to be very open when needed and loaded from the front, rather than only through the side zipper or top like the K2 version. I found this zipper to provide great access when I got into camp and wanted to dump my bag, and when loading it again for packing camp and essentials for a multiple-day trip and packing meat.
Another welcome addition was a water bladder/wet storage compartment. I don't typically use a bladder when hunting, maybe only 20% of the time. I do, however, carry water in flexible bags/reservoirs. I've previously had a bag lid fail, or a bladder get enough pressure on it to leak and end up with a wet back and wet gear. This compartment separates water from gear with a water-resistant material and makes for convenient water access, which is especially valuable when you have to travel to get water, and back to camp, a common need when hunting high country animals.
Other changes to the K3 are the new lid design with 2 pockets for a little more organization options and access, a side zip front pocket with stretch material, and new stretch material in the long vertical side pockets of the bag. These full-length side pockets have been a design feature that I really appreciate, as they'll fit my spotting scope and tripod in secure and easy to access pockets, where I don't have to decompress my entire bag to access them. The roll-top design creates a lot of vertical expansion for those long, extended stays in the mountains.
Removing the bag from the frame became much easier with the K3 system as well, which makes packing meat or gear between the bag and frame a breeze, No more need to unbuckle the load lifters, their genius velcro system makes this quick and easy.
My favorite part of the EXO pack systems is that they work as well for a week-long trip as they do for a half-day jaunt into the woods. They are lightweight, slim down when needed with the pull of a couple of compression straps, and conversely, expand when needed for long trips. While I didn't have a chance to take a full week-long trip with my 4800 last season, I did spend 4 -5 nights in a row and had ample room for my hunting gear.
Personal Experience with the Exo K3 4800 Pack:
Last fall I found myself with a couple of fun tags for high country animals. I drew a depredation mountain goat tag as well as a high country mule deer tag where I put the Exo k3 4800 to the test. My mountain goat hunt started in August, and I found myself skirting work Thursday nights, hiking a few thousand vertical feet and chasing goats for a couple of days before returning. I did this several times during the hunt, and while I didn't harvest a mountain goat, I got about 60 miles under this pack, a missed opportunity, and one of the most memorable hunts of my life. The pack was cool in warm weather, and worked as well with my gear and camp, as it did without it. I carried my bow and rifle into rugged mountain goat country, scaled a few cliffs, and was very impressed. Pack weights on this hunt ranged from 25 to 50 pounds.
During my mule deer hunt, however, I did get to put plenty of weight in the pack. After a few scouting trips, single night, and day trips, I ended up going out on the hunt alone. I packed in and set my camp the night of the opener, anxious to see what the next few days would bring. I took a buck late one evening and by the time I reached the down buck, it was dark. The buck had rolled off a cliff and broke it's g2 below the fork, so I field dressed the buck and decided I would come back the next morning to look for the broken antler and pack the buck out. By the time I reached the buck the next morning, it had snowed a few inches and I never found the broken tine in the freshly fallen snow. I caped and de-boned the buck, leaving the antlers and skull in the cape and loaded my pack. I had left most of my gear at camp to save some weight as it was extremely steep country. When I got back to camp, I unloaded and repacked the pack into a single load including my hunting gear, camp, and buck and made my way back to the truck. I was extremely impressed with the comfort of the K3 system. The changes to the shoulder straps and hip-belt were noticeable. I didn't weigh the pack but estimate that it was likely filled with 75 lbs of meat, 15 lbs of cape and horns, 30 pounds of gear, along with my rifle - which would likely put it at around 130 pounds. I packed this out over 4 miles to the truck, resting as needed along the way.
I also used this pack on several other hunts for archery elk, Idaho Mule Deer and training hikes through the summer. Pack weights ranged from 10 - 65 pounds.
Over the years, Exo packs have been part of many of my hunts, and the K3 system is an improvement over their previous designs. This was most notable with really heavy loads. I find the k3 system to be one of my favorite designs in regards to configuration, load-carrying comfort, and versatility available on the market. When I speak of high functioning versatility, I mean that it functions very well across the board, from light loads to very heavy loads without the typical cons of added weight or bulk found in some other packs. Exo packs are built by a group of backcountry hunters, and their designs are reflective of their experience. For more information in Exo Mountain Gear Pack systems, including the k3 4800, visit exomtngear.com.