Last summer shortly after receiving my Kifaru Muskeg 2800, I did a review about how I felt about it initially. There's a lot to like about the muskeg, and a few things that I have changed since then on the pack. If you want to read my initial post you can find it here (Muskeg Review Part 1). Now onto how I feel about the pack after a season of use.
Overall, I am happy with the pack, and I don't see myself buying anything to replace it at any point in the near future. The durability was as I expected with a kifaru product, showing no signs of wear after a year of use. The xpac makes for a very good hunting pack as it doesn't absorb blood, and it also keeps 98% or so of the water out of the bag. Sure it can get in through the seam lines in bad weather, and no I haven't seam sealed mine yet.
Duplex Lite Frame
The duplex lite frame is really the best part of the whole equation for me. I personally thought that the previous hunting frame really lacked enough horizontal integrity to be of great use. I could easily fold my hunting frame in half after owning it for only a year, with basically only one hand. However, the duplex lite is a step up for me on every level. Here are some reasons why I think it such a great frame.
Duplex Lite Frame PROS
- Stiffer Horizontally
- Has More Attachment Points
- Ventilates Better
- Costs Less
There really is no downside that I can find to it. Kifaru stepped up and improved the duplex lite in every area that the previous frame was lacking. This is the main reason Kifaru has me hooked in terms of a hunting pack. I don't know if this frame and what it provides can be beat as we go forward, but it certainly has no equivalent currently in my mind (and I own the best competition). Also as a side note, if you're trying to decide between the duplex lite and the duplex ultralight, get the heavier one. The 3 ounces or so of weight gain is worth the extra attachments points alone, not to mention the great gain in durability and rigidity by going to the 1/8th inch HDPE frame sheet over the 1/16. In my opinion, its well worth the 3 ounces for the stiffer, more functional frame.
Normally when I get a piece of gear I want to modify it to reduce unused features to cut weight, or to improve something as it pertains to my use, however this wasn't the case with the duplex lite frame. It was the case though, with the kifaru muskeg 2800 bag. For some time I kicked around several ideas before finally getting them nailed down in January. Also a big thanks to David at Native Textiles for doing the sewing for me. It turned out fantastic, and if you need a pack repaired or modified give him a call.
Kifaru Muskeg Modifications
Water Bladder Sleeve
This one is simple. I cut it out, end of story. There is a few reasons for this but two main ones that I will mention and point out. First is the fact that I don't use a water bladder, nor do I like them and care to use one down the road. So if I wasn't going to use it for its intended purpose it could stand to be removed to trim a bit of weight. My second reason was far more convincing for me at least though.
The nice part about xpac for a fabric in a hunting bag is that it doesn't absorb blood or water. This means the bag can easily be hosed out or hosed off. The downside of it is that if the inside contents of the pack every become wet, they will never dry as the pack is non breathable. Well that water bladder pocket inside is a 4 way stretch type weave and it absorbs water and blood like a SOB. It only took me one time of packing some meat in the bag to decide that sleeve was coming out. Even a week after meat packing, with the top of the bag open, the water bladder panel still wasn't dry. I ended up rewashing the bag, cutting out the panel, and drying it inside out.
Problem Solved and it cost nothing.
I love kifaru products as many of you know, but I also want to give my honest opinion and point of view on gear, so if it seems like I'm being rough, just remember that I do think this is the best hunting pack available for lightweight backpacking. That aside, the load shelf still doesn't do it for me.
I am one of the biggest load shelf fans you will find, and I was putting together makeshift ways to pack meat between the frame and bag of mystery ranch packs far before any manufacturer offered it as a feature. The load shelf on the Kifaru muskeg still doesn't do it for me though. The only good thing about it is that the muskeg has good compression all the way around, and is designed to have the bag detach from the frame.
I personally cut the load shelf off my pack as well. I still pack meat in the load shelf area, but a piece of cordura sewn to the bag isn't buying you anything. Compression straps at the bottom of the bag already hold the load of meat in place from sliding downward, and there is more than ample compression on the sides of the bag to hold a load in place.
A function load shelf in my mind should have the ability to control the height at which the meat is carried, and this one does not. It is simply more of a band aid to show people that it has the ability to pack meat in a load shelf. I think anyone who has used one a lot will realize that you aren't getting much here in this regard. So I cut the shelf off to save weight, and free up the second set of common loops at the bottom of the frame where I can attach a Kifaru grab it if needed.
This was the big one, and where Native Textiles came in as mentioned above. With the woodsman and the reckoning, as well as with the muskeg, I have hated the top closure system on all of them. It isn't as if the system designed by kifaru doesn't work, because in fact it does get the job done fairly well. I think in many ways its probably a system to provide closure to the bag while encouraging people to use a lid on the pack.
The guide lid is way too big for a kifaru muskeg 2800 though, and there is no smaller lid option. The reason I dislike closing the bag in the manner of folding it over and buckling it is two fold. First, I don't like having compression straps running vertically and horizontally across the bag. It gets messy and inevitably you need to undo one set of straps to get the other ones redone. To me this is sloppy and un needed. The woodsman was a little better in this regard because the vertical straps were movable on the daisy chain, allowing them not to run the entire height of the pack. The woodsman also works much better with the guide lid.
Secondly I think it just looks and feels sloppy. I like my gear organized and secure while I'm hunting, and the look and feel of the kifaru closure system on these bags is really "strappy" and messy looking to me. Like I said, it works fine, but it was about enough to drive me to another bag option if I couldn't get it figure out.
So I a zippered top closure installed with a flat lid pocket sewn into it. The new pocket is slightly bigger than the old one which came on the bag, so it makes that fit some items a little better, and now I have a very clean streamlined bag, which I much prefer. Native textiles was able to use the same aquaguard zippers, and I had cordura lined over the top of the pocket, which is still built in xpac. This will keep the bag with the same weather and water resistance, but will provide some abrasion protection to the top of the pack when antlers and skulls are placed on top of the pack.
This will be the pack I use primarily this year, and after the above mentioned changes, it has become my favorite hunting pack that I've owned (out of over a dozen). With the modifications the pack is more streamlined and a bit quieter, while doing everything that I need it to do.
The size of this pack is perfect for what I do. I was able to get a week of food with a 65mm spotting scope, tripod and all my other gear in it last fall with no issues. I have since purchased a spotting scope pocket for the front of the pack just to keep the scope a little more available when I am carrying all my gear.
The compression on the pack is fantastic, and directed how I have come to prefer. The straps being sewn to the bag make life much easier in my opinion. The 3/4" straps on the back of the pack have also surprised me in their bow carrying ability. I doubted how well they would perform originally, and thought that they would slip over time. After last archery season though, I did hikes of up to 11 miles straight with the bow held on by those two straps, and it never moved a bit.
All in all, its still my favorite pack that I own, and the one that gets grabbed first out of the garage when I head out. Its also the only one I consider grabbing when meat packing is on the agenda.