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How not to Backout on a Packout


By Johnny Mack republished and renamed with permission by Lauren Silvers, REVOL

Instagram: @washington_backcountry & @thesoulfulhunterpodcast


The necessity of a quality backpack for hunting

From the moment humans set foot in school or even before, there is an expectation that students and humanity be able to carry their own weight. This idea is predicated upon human nature’s need for things, comfort and protection. With the desire and necessity for one to carry their own weight both figuratively and literally, the backpack became a symbol of self-reliance and adventure.


If your journey is anything like mine then you probably started your backpack “collection” with some sort of character or childhood hero plastered on a cheaply made Chinese pack that had it’s zipper break before the school year was over. In turn causing not only you, but also your parents to understand the importance of investing into products that are going to stand up to the abuse that young children often give to their belongings and truly get the value out of the product.


As I continued to grow in mind and stature, the evolution of purchasing backpacks transitioned from the K-Mart special to a classic Jansport, which made it all the way through high school and even college. It was when my trusty ol’ Jansport finally gave up the ghost coupled with my endeavors turning elsewhere that I began to be captivated by the expansive offerings that backpacks provided. Fast forward a few years and before I knew it, I was selling backpacks to customers at the local REI as I shared my passion for backpacking and adventure with everyone that would listen.


By this time I was a journeyman backpacker with hundreds of miles under my boots and experience with multiple packs. It seemed as if I was being paid in product to work as I was thrilled to try out new gear and different styles of packs. Everything from ultralight minimalist styles to the Cadillac's of comfort, I learned a tremendous amount about backpacks and what separates the good from the not so good. From fitting a pack all the way to why they ride and support weight the way they do. I knew it all, or so I thought.


As I turned the page in my never ending quest for adventure and fulfillment, my journey led me to becoming a hunter. Being that I was a high school football coach at the time and it conflicted with the typical seasons for deer and elk. I learned quickly that in the state of Washington, I could travel the same trails that I journeyed every August as a backpacker, only this time adding a rifle and a kill kit to my pack in search of an illustrious bruin.


Deciding what to pack and bring with me was the easy part. The hardest part was deciding what to pack all my gear in. As I stared at my collection of backpacks, I settled on what I considered to be the sturdiest frame and suspension that I had. After reading multiple hunting forums that stated packing out animals adds a lot of weight and stress to packs, and that a hunter needs to have a pack that can handle excess weight comfortably, I figured what I had would suffice.


Call it ignorance or inexperience, but I was too cheap to concern myself with the word “comfortable” and too caught up in the excitement of my first backcountry hunt that I ignored the experienced advice of others. Rather, I set off with a standard backpacking pack without questioning whether or not it was the right or comfortable thing to do. It wasn’t until the moment I filled my first big game tag and felt what the term “dead weight” really meant that quickly had me questioning my choice. As my rookie hunting partners stayed back to fill their own tags, I became concerned with the thought of the meat spoiling in the 90 plus degree weather we were experiencing. So I decided it best to load ALL of the meat along with the hide into my pack and set off on the 9 miles back to the truck.


With every step, I regretted my decision as the bloody meat and hide sunk into a ball at the bottom of my pack. With every agonizing step, I would adjust my load lifters and do everything that I could to make my pack feel comfortable on my shoulders and waist. Unfortunately, with every step I exposed each weakness and flaw within that pack as it slid slowly past my bum and further away from my back and hips. Resulting in more weight and agony being applied to my shoulders and neck. Just typing this out I’m experiencing phantom pain returning to my body as I once again replay the hellish torture I endured while on my very first packout.


At that moment, the experienced backpacker in me quickly understood the importance of investing in yourself and your gear, as I assessed the situation and determined that I never wanted to experience pain like that again. Before long, I sold all of my backpacking packs and feverishly set off in search of a “hunting” specific pack. Something that included a meat shelf for compressing and securing loads while keeping the weight centered and close to my spine. A pack that I could have and use for the entirety of my hunting career without regret or remorse.


As I concluded on a brand name pack that was highly reputable within the hunting world, I felt as if I had no need to look any further, or so I thought. With each hunt, the shine of the new pack became dull as the stress on the backpack was clearly evident. Not only that, but the pack developed a serious squeak coming from a main support stay that was annoying enough by itself and loud enough to spook any animal nearby. With the annoying sound in my ear coupled with excruciating pain between my shoulder blades on every heavy packout, I had enough and began looking for something else.


My endless search led me to discovering Initial Ascent at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City. Their backpacks caught my eye and I knew I wanted to experience one of their packs first hand. With more research, I discovered that their backpacks are 100% made in America and have a lifetime warranty, both of which I love. Not to mention an extremely sturdy one piece carbon fiber frame that seemed to handle weight without any of the squeaks or annoying sounds like the pack mentioned before. As I got to know Dennis Stokes (co-owner) while recording an episode of The Soulful Hunter Podcast, I fell in love not just with the pack itself, but with the company as a whole. And I was even more pleased to find out that they send handwritten notes out with every pack purchase.


Before too long, I had put their pack through multiple tests as I was fortunate enough to fill my bear, deer and elk tag that year. Without hesitation and reservation, I can confidently say that Initial Ascent found a fan for life! My back, spine and shoulders have never been happier. When you invest in a backpack, you are not just investing in an item that allows you to carry your own weight. You are investing in a product that CAN and WILL carry the weight of yourself and all of the adventures that await you on your journey of self-reliance. Happy hunting and stay soulful!

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