After using the feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 for over 2 months this fall, I have really come to love it’s ...Read More
Are you thinking about making the Kifaru Muskeg your latest purchase? Well after getting mine in the mail last week hopefully I can shed some light on my feelings and thoughts about it, and why I think it may be my favorite pack to date after trying well over a dozen different models in the past. There are several things that I am loving about this new design right out of the box.
Duplex Lite Frame
First off I want to mention the new frame which has been paired with the release of the Kifaru Muskeg. The duplex lite is quite possibly the most significant upgrade to this new pack over the hunting frame/woodsman combo I had previously been using. The differences looked subtle at first, and I wondered how much difference I would really notice, but as soon as I tried it on I had no more questions. The simple addition of the horizontal crossmember to the frame makes the frame leaps and bounds more rigid horizontally, which was my only real complain with the older version.Also, although I obviously don't have a ton of time under this pack yet, it seems that the breathability and airflow for the wearer's back will be much better. For someone who sweats a lot, and who has had heat stroke twice, this is also something that I care a bit about. The new lumbar pad on the duplex lite is also a little better in feel in my personal opinion, and as before, Kifaru still has the best hip belt that I have seen on any pack, any where. The hip belt alone is what convinced me to switch to a Kifaru backpack in the first place.
This bag really is my favorite to date. I have griped a bit in the past about there not being a great offering from Kifaru in the real of 3,000-4,000 cubic inch bags, which is the sweet spot for what I like in a pack. The Woodsman was an appealing option when it was released, and it served me well over the last year. However, I had some things that I didn't particularly care for personally, but this muskeg has addressed those.My main complaint with my previous pack was that the compression straps were on piece that ran fully around the bag. Sometimes this works great, but at times it leaves a bit to be desired. Specifically with the use of the meat shelf, the compression system of the woodsman was impossible to get as tight as I wanted it at times. The muskeg now has separate compression on both sides of the bag, and it runs in the proper direction as well (meaning the buckle end is towards the frame not the middle of the bag.)I also really like the incorporation of the xpac fabric, and the overlayed 500d cordura in all of the spots where it is likely to encounter the most abuse. This allows for a pack with a few extra features at a similar weight to one that has no features, or at a lighter weight than one made of only 500d. A couple of my favorite features on the pack are the small slot pockets for tripod legs on both sides of the pack, and the side zip entry.I have long viewed a side zip entry as the best possible zip access for a bag from a bowhunter's perspective, because you can access the bag without removing a bow that is cinched to the pack. The zipper on this bag, and on the xpac belt pouches for that matter too, is the smoothest and best feeling waterproof zipper I have seen on any bag. Usually waterproof zippers are stiff and a pain to use, but this one is fantastic, and probably even better than the zipper on the 500d bags. I also am enjoying the slim outside pocket that runs down the back, which will allow me to stash my hat, gloves, and an empty water bladder in a spot that is easy to access.The 3,000 cubic inch version is an extremely sleek and slim pack which I really like about it, however, the great part about the muskeg is that Kifaru has offered it in 3 sizes so that you can tailor the bag to the amount of space you need. After several initial loadings of the pack with all my archery elk gear, it seems that I can get all my gear plus about 6 days of food inside this bag for me. I would be able to stretch this pack out for 10+ days by leaving my camera out, but instead I will most likely attach a guide lid in the case of trips beyond the 5-7 day mark.If you have a system of ultralight gear that is minimal and very dialed, then the Muskeg 3000 might be right for you. For general backpacking use I think most people would find the 5000 cu in model most effective, and for those with cold weather gear or long extended trips, the 7000 inch bag may be the perfect fit. Whichever one you pick, this is a pack that I am really excited about wearing for the upcoming fall, and probably well into the future. It has everything I need in a pack while being able to maintain the compact feel that I like on my back.
A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a pack from Mystery Ranch from their #hauloffame photo contest on Instagram. They were gracious enough to pick my photo, and then let me pick out a pack paired with their guidelight frame. A week later it showed up on the front porch. This will be my initial thoughts and impressions about the pack, and later on this fall, after I get to throw some elk meat in it a time or two, I will write some more about my thoughts on it.To be completely honest, I had a Mystery Ranch pack, well packs actually, in the past. I had a crewcab, Metcalf, and dragonslayer at different points in time, but I sold those off about 5 years ago to explore other options. Since then, I have used both Kifaru and Stone Glacier with great success, and have had a few packs from both of them respectively. Originially, I had some things that I didn't particularly like about Mystery Ranch's old NICE frame, but from initial impressions it seems that they have fixed the majority of what I disliked about that system. Below are the areas that I felt like my old Mystery Ranch pack lacked in, and how I feel that the issues were solved in the newer version that has been out for a few years.WeightThis is the obvious one in my opinion. Not everything about a pack can be summed up by total weight by any means, but it does factor in, at least to me. The crewcab pack I had back in 2012 weighed in at 7lbs and 14oz empty and without add on accessories. To me, an 8lb empty pack is overkill, even for the level of durability that a mystery ranch product provides. Stone glacier has proven that an incredibly durable and reliable pack can be built for well under 5lbs, and even under 4lbs in some of their products, while still remaining capable of carry weights into triple digit figures.I was happy to see that when I put the pintler on the scale it was much closer to the 5lb mark than it's older predecessor, thelongbow, was on the NICE frame. It still won't be the lightest pack on the market, but they've cut the weight down enough to make it a competitive option while still providing a very good frame for load hauling.Load Lifter/ Frame HeightThis is probably the number one reason I had sold my NICE frame and pack bags originally. The old frame had no functional shoulder lift other than a glorified stabilizer strap from the shoulder straps to the top of a short frame. Around the time I sold my NICE frame Mystery Ranch did come out with an add on accessory that I believe was called a lift kit, but it added even more weight to the old design, and just seemed like too much of a bandaid to me.The newer guidelight frame addressed this issue in its design by providing a taller frame and plenty of lift for people of average height. It may have adequate lift for longer torso sizes as well, but I can't especially comment on that as I am only 5'8". There is plenty of rigidity in the frame to get the lift needed, and the angle is adjustable at least on the lower side where it attaches to the shoulder straps. I also like that the frame attachment for the load lifter and the upper compression straps come from the same point on the top of the frame, which helps the two opposite forces balance each other out some and eliminate some stress.Waist BeltWhile not a deal breaker before the old waistbelt was a standard outward pull belt. While functional enough, it lacks the ability at times to get enough tension on the belt to switch a load fully to the hips. I'm once again, the guidelight frame addressed this and includes a center pull belt that tightens much more easily and smoothly than the old design. The belt is also better ergonomically fit wise in my opinion, and more comfortable from my initial impressions with some weight in the pack for brief stints. More testing of it this fall though will help me decide if it's as effective as I think it will be.Load ShelfAt the time the NICE frame was released the load shelf idea wasn't nearly as popular as it is now. There were people, including myself, who were strapping meat between the bag and frame still, and it worked just fine. The guidelight has what Mystery Ranch refers to as the overload feature. This means there is a panel sewn to the bag and buckled into the frame underneath the bag for extra space when the two are separated.The extra panel isn't necessary to pack things in this location, as I've done it plenty of times without this feature. However, it's a nice add on feature that certainly doesn't hurt at all when getting some extra gear or meat on your pack.The shelf on this pack is well designed and quick to access. Some other packs can take quite some time to get everything readjusted and tensioned correctly for the shelf to carry well. The design on this pack is well thought out and works efficiently, letting you turn a small pack into something to carry your gear plus 60lbs or more of meat at the same time. I am also very fond of having good compression at all 4 sides of the frame, which this pack does very well.SummaryOverall I really like this pack so far. It solves every issue I had with my previous Mystery Ranch pack, at least on first appearance. The tri zip design of the bag is also why I chose this bag when they gave me the option. It's by far my favorite design of any bag I've used, and it's incredibly organized and easy to access all of your pack contents at any time. It's also one of the easiest designs to load when packing up.It seems every bit as quality as the American sewn packs I've had from Mystery Ranch as well as other companies, and I don't have any initial reservations about quality. It also includes some of the great designs that Mystery Ranch has developed over the years like the adjustable yolk for torso length sizing. The bag attachment system is similar in that it is also a very elegant design to seamlessly accomplish what it need to and do so in a very easy manner for the end user.Overall I'm very excited to put a little bit of time under this pack and really give it a spin in order to compare it to a couple of other packs from Kifaru this fall. I'm not sure that I will prefer it any more over what I have been using, but it's a worthy competition and a very good option, especially at retail price of under $500.Look for my full detailed review on this pack later in the year.