As soon as you hold the EXO Mountain Gear pack, you know it was conceived by experienced backcountry hunters. After you spend a few days with it deep in the backcountry, you appreciate its versatility.
I’ve always been on the search for the perfect pack. I don’t feel it is truly possible to find a pack that will fit everyone’s hunting style, methods, and/or body type. For me, however, the EXO 3500 fits the bill. I find myself hitting the hills in early August, scouting country and animals until the seasons start — anytime from mid August to late October. The amount of weight I pack varies a lot. When I’m scouting, I’ll go as light as possible. Early season allows for fewer layers, and lighter equipment. Some of my trips are a quick run up to vantage, checking on a buck or bull, and racing back to try to get to work on time. As season approaches, the pack gains a little more weight. Some days I’ll just day hunt, and undoubtedly I’ll take at least one trip into backcountry that lasts several days to a week or longer. And if success ensues, the pack weight demands immediately see a big increase as my winter protein is carried from the hills. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a pack that could effectively handle all of these situations until this season with the pack from EXO Mountain Gear.
Let’s go over a few of the features and design of the EXO Mountain Gear 3500 before we get into my personal experiences with the backpack. The titanium frame of the EXO pack is what really sets it apart. The frame is incredibly lightweight and rigid to carry heavy loads. However, the design of the frame also allows the pack to twist or pivot with your body as you naturally twist and pivot at your waist. Even when the pack under torsion, it is extremely rigid vertically. It makes for an incredibly comfortable pack that moves with you as you pack. The top of the frame is contoured to move it away from the back of your head, so even fully loaded and expanded, you won’t hit it with your neck or head when you look up, and you can shoot prone with this pack on.
Upright Frame shows load lifters, contoured frame design, shoulder straps, lumbar pad and waist belt.
The frame is covered with rugged 500d cordura fabric that stands up very well to abrasion and tears. Load stabilizers attach from the hip belt to the frame to keep the pack in place, even with very heavy loads. The frame is adjustable in almost every way. Torso length can be adjusted. The lumbar pad, and contoured shoulder straps make for a customized and extremely comfortable fit. This pack’s adjustability allows it to fit all frames of hunters. The hip belts are available in 3 sizes so you can be sure to have a great fit, and put the weight from the pack on your hips, no matter your size. The hip belt tightens with an assisted pull that makes it very easy to tighten up the belt under light or heavy loads. Above the lumbar pad, the pack is also very well ventilated and cool.
The frame can be used alone, as a meat hauler using the attached load compression straps, or the accessory Load Panel/Beavertail.
The frame can be used with either the 3500 bag, or the 5500 bag. The bag is lightweight with one large pocket that can be accessed by a side zipper, or a top opening (zip drawn). The back of the bag features another pocket made with a stretchy fabric that is perfect for stuffing your jacket or other compressible items into. On each side of the pack, you’ll find one long pocket. These are perfect for tripods, spotting scopes, trekking poles, water bottles, etc. I’ve also rolled up clothing and packed it in the side pockets when needed. Below the long pocket is a shorter elastic pocket that is suited very well for water bottles. It also fits the butt stock of your rifle and will securely pack a rifle by securing it with the angled compression load straps on the side of the pack. The EXO packs are also hydration bladder compatible.
Side zipper access to main bag – shows accessory (stash pocket) attached long this zipper for easy to access items.
Stretchy outer pocket – this is great for stuffing your extra layers.
Side profile of 3500 bag – shows longer spotting scope/tripod pocket with elastic water bottle pocket below. It also fits a rifle very well.
The lid of the pack is a single pocket design that is removable. The attachment points on the bag are very adjustable to allow the pack to expand or compact depending on your needs. Overall, this pack is very well thought out from the angles of the load lifters and compression straps to the add-on accessories and pocket sizes/placement are perfect for the back country hunter’s gear.
I picked up a EXO 3500 this past summer and started using it exclusively for scouting and hunting trips in 2015. I had drawn a Mule Deer tag in western Wyoming and knew I would test the versatility of the pack as I hit the high country in early August to scout for bucks. This pack followed me through several overnight scouting trips, a 5 day backcountry bow hunt, an extremely wet and nasty rifle opener and through several more weeks of hunting. The EXO never left me wanting for a smaller or larger pack. As the season was drawing to a close I planned to spend the last 3 days of the hunt solo in another area I had hunted years ago. I hit the trailhead early in the morning with camp on my back, planning on going in about 4.5 miles to hunt some high country near my home. On the way up the trail I spotted an old mature buck, dropped my pack, and filled my tag. I was approximately 3 miles up the trail at that point. After I had verified that the buck was down, I returned to the trail and retrieved my pack – emptied my camp and food contents into a little cache and hiked up to process and pack out the buck. I was able to fit all of the meat from the big bodied buck into the pack. I fit my rifle in the side pocket and carried the cape and horns in my hand as I descended to my cache. I left the cape with my camping gear, and took the first trip out with the meat, my rifle, tripod, and a few other miscellaneous items. When I reached the truck, I dropped the meat in the bed, and hiked back up the mountain to get my camping items and the cape/antlers, which was easily secured to the pack and returned home well after dark.
After weighing the meat at 95 lbs, plus my rifle, pack and a few accessories, my pack weighed somewhere close to 120 lbs. The EXO Mountain Gear pack performed very well under that load, and while 120 lbs on your back is never comfortable, I was extremely impressed with the load carrying ability and versatility of the EXO pack. The frame was incredibly rigid vertically, but stayed tight to me as I turned my body to climb over deadfall and a few boulders. It’s a very well conceived frame concept that functioned incredibly well.
A few notes:
Along with the basic bag and frame, I also purchased 2 hipbelt pouches, (accessories), two (2) stash pockets, and the meat shelf. I kept the hipbelt pouches on my pack at all times, as well as the meat shelf, which rides between the frame and the bag. This allows for meat and other heavy or bulky items to be carried close to your back and separate from the contents of your bag. I weighted my entire setup at 5 lbs 8.2 oz.
I also packed out half of a cow elk with the pack on a late season hunt, and it once again performed very well. Allowing me to carry heavy loads and expand to fit my packout needs.
This pack is extremely easy to clean – I simply removed the bag and lid from the frame, along with the hipbelt pouches and threw them all in the washing machine. They came out spotless, with a little bit of hand cleaning, the frame was easy to clean as well.
The only issue I had with the EXO pack was the chest strap would sometimes come off. (I’m being nitpicky) It attaches with a unique buckle system that allows the strap to attach to the shoulder straps of the pack through a small slot in the buckle, which when under tension would slip off the shoulder strap on one side. With a slight modification of the slot placement on the buckle, (moving the slot to the outside edge, I don’t think there would ever be an issue.
Overall, I love the EXO 3500, and will continue to use it extensively. My next purchase will likely be the 5500 bag for those 7+ day excursions. (Of course you can use it with the same frame). Thanks for checking out the EXO Mountain Gear 3500 Backpack Review — we’d love to hear your comments or questions!
For more information on these awesome EXO Mountain Gear packs, videos, and some great photos and information about the EXO line of packs, visit: www.exomountaingear.com