Experienced backcountry hunters have long understood the importance of high-quality, intelligently designed pack systems. The pack is the epicenter of any deep-wilderness adventure and is often the make-or-break piece of equipment essential for success. The ability to fit the hunter, to perform in austere conditions, and to comfortably haul essential supplies and gear are not options when you’re miles deep in rugged mountain terrain—they’re essential features.
ALPS OutdoorZ is a leading innovator and manufacturer of field-tested packs for tough hunting missions. The company’s eXtreme packs and gear have withstood the harshest conditions in the most challenging terrain and climates North America can dish out. But like dedicated backcountry hunters, the ALPS OutdoorZ designers continue to dig deeper and to develop products that, like their consumers, go that extra mile.
After two years of exhausting field tests and continual refinement, ALPS OutdoorZ has developed the most advanced iteration of the company’s heralded frame and pack design yet called the Elite.
Defining the Mission
The purpose of the ALPS OutdoorZ Elite frame and pack was to develop a gear and meat hauling system that offers minimal weight with maximum comfort while optimizing durability and function for the deep backcountry hunter. This required careful consideration of the materials used, an all-new frame design, and refinement of the adjustment straps and lashing systems to ensure a comfortable fit for a broad range of body sizes.
Beyond ruggedness and ergonomics, the Elite frame and pack needed to address the specific gear storage needs of hunters. The type of supplies and equipment required on a typical backcountry hunt, accessibility of these items, how the items are prioritized, and organizational hierarchy of gear all were taken into consideration in the design of the Elite system.
A Modular System
The Elite is a variation on the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander X frame and pack system. Like the Commander X, the Elite system is comprised of a sophisticated and adaptable meat-hauling frame that also accommodates one of two pack bags. This modular approach allows the hunter to choose the best configuration for the conditions.
For example, packing out a large animal such as an elk or moose typically requires multiple trips—especially on solo hunts. Since the Elite frame is a standalone system, it can be loaded to the hunter’s physical limit for maximum pack-out efficiency.
For packing out smaller game animals like deer, goats, or pronghorn, the backcountry hunter can often haul the meat and cape while also managing the weight of the loaded gear pack. The Elite frame and pack design allows the hunter to load the pack with the meat and cap and then to secure the gear pack to the frame, carrying everything back to the main camp or trailhead in a single trip.
Lightweight, yet tough enough to withstand anything the wilderness can dish out. Those were the requisites for the Elite’s soft components. To that end, the ALPS OutdoorZ designers selected 500D Cordura for its combination of high abrasion resistance, robust tear strength, and relatively light weight. This material comprises most of the pack frame and pack bag panels, as well as the waist belt, shoulder straps and accessory pockets. Field testing on Western backcountry hunts—arguably the most challenging environments for any piece of hunting gear—proved the 500D Cordura to meet all benchmarks.
In addition to mandating a tough and lightweight fabric, the Elite designers acknowledged that weather also plays a big part in a pack’s ability to perform. Rain and snow can quickly compromise lesser fabrics and add considerable weight to any pack—not to mention allowing pack contents to get wet. Although the Elite packs (as with most ALPS OutdoorZ packs) include a built-in rain cover, the 500D Cordura is treated with polyurethane to promote high water resistance and quick drying.
A Combination Frame/Meat Hauler
The core of the Elite system is the frame. This is a standalone system that serves as both a high-volume meat hauler and a pack support. Despite the frame’s 30-percent lighter weight than previous eXtreme-series pack frames, it is also 30-percent stronger to provide support for as much meat and cargo as the hunter can carry.
The front load panel and side “wings” feature adjustable buckle straps that allow the panels to wrap securely around game quarters and capes, eliminating the possibility of load shifting and ensuring the load is balanced and stays that way. Additional support comes via the thickly padded, 6-position torso adjustable shoulder straps and an equally plush waist belt designed to minimize or eliminate pack sway under top-heavy loads.
The new Elite frame accommodates two available Elite pack bags. These pack bags secure to the frame with a series of compression straps, so they are easy to install and remove, and can be installed over a loaded frame. This means hunters can haul meat and their pack bag at the same time if they so choose.
The Elite frame measures 24 inches high and 12.5 inches wide and is designed to accommodate a torso range of 14 to 20 inches. The minimal weight is 3 lbs., 10 oz. with the waist belt pouches removed. Two waist belts are offered. The standard belt range is 31-55 inches, and the small waist belt range is 27-51 inches. Each belt utilizes the MOLLE system with a zippered and removable pouch on each side for easy access to small items.
Further aiding comfort is a contoured lumbar design and a 3D Air Mesh suspension to promote air flow and to minimize moisture buildup on high-exertion or warm-weather treks. An integrated anti-slip lumbar pad helps keep the frame positioned in the small of the back and further reduces the potential for load shifting.
Elite Pack Bags
Because not every hunt is the same, the Elite system allows the hunter to choose the pack bag best suited for the mission. The smaller Elite 1800 pack bag (1 lb., 8 oz. min. weight) offers 1800 cubic inches of storage space, making it suitable for long day hunts or minimalist bivouac hunts beyond the spike camp. For multi-day hunt support, hunters can choose the Elite 3800 pack bag (2 lb., 3 oz. min. weight) with its expansive 3800 cubic inches of storage capacity.
Constructed of the same rugged and PU-coated 500D Cordura as the Elite frame, the Elite pack bags incorporate storage features that experienced backcountry hunters understand and appreciate. Key among these is the full-access main compartment.
Unlike most wilderness packs that feature top-load access, the Elite pack bags offer full access to the primary storage compartment. Left- and right-side zippers allow the main compartment to be fully accessed, eliminating the need to remove items, or to partially unload the pack to retrieve items stored in the lower portion of the pack bag. And with independent left- and right-side zippers, it’s easy to access either side of the bag and retrieve contents without disturbing the load. Inside the main compartment are five mesh pockets to keep smaller items organized and easy to access.
Additionally, the Elite pack bags come with a zippered top compartment—perfect for small, frequently needed supplies or for quick-access gear like a medical kit. Finally, three exterior stretch-fabric pockets are included. There is a pocket on each side of the bag that is ideal for Nalgene bottles or similar large containers, which can be secured by lashing to the side buckle strap. The pocket on the front of the main compartment features its own cinch strap and buckle and is a great place to stow larger, more awkward items.
Other desirable features of the Elite pack bags are the drop-down bow and rifle pocket for hands-free weapon carry, an integrated rain cover, and a water bladder pocket and H2O port.
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