BisonGear “Lemhi” Multi-Day Hunter’s Pack
By Bob Butz
It’s hard to deny the data that indicate a declining interest in multi-day backpacking excursions. Statistics from the National Park Service has shown that — while interest in “done-in-a-day” excursion is one the rise — participation in overnight backcountry activities among the general public has steadily fallen since the 1970s. Similar figures aren’t available for USFS and BLM land in North America. But if the market catering to the mountain-hunting subculture of modern backpackers is any indication, one might think the opposite was true.
Never before have hunters had so many options when it comes to backpacks. Up until very recently, the choice was pretty simple: external-frame packs were the only serious consideration for hunters headed into the backcountry. While not as comfortable or safe, external-frame packs were worth every bother when it came to packing out an animal taken in the backcountry.
But times have changed as materials and construction of internal-frame packs has improved. If a hunter is smart and debones their meat in the field, the modern internal-frame packs they increasingly carry are now capable of more comfortably handling more weight than an average person can carry.
It’s All About The Fit
Before I go into the reasons why The Lemhi from BisonGear is my new favorite pack, I should mention that a standard, stock version of the product was sent to me late last winter, long after any opportunity to test the product in the field had passed.
But a profoundly bad experience years ago taught me that miles from camp on the top of a mountain with no name is actually the worst first-testing ground for a piece gear so integral to your success and survival in the field.
The popular backpack company, whose name I won’t mention here, promised me indestructible construction, unmatched quality and a universal fit. But on Day One of a four-day hunt for free-range aoudad in the mountains of West Texas, I found that the pack that fit so well on neighborhood hikes, rubbed and chaffed and restricted overhead arm movement when the country took a serious a pitch (a major inconvenience when clamoring over Volkswagen-sized boulders and ascending sheer rock faces).
After a three-hour climb to a sunbaked ledge so high I could see into Mexico, the pack’s waist belt left me with angry abrasions more commonly associated with road rash. My shirt and backside of my pants were soaked with what I thought was panic-induced sweat from the climb. But when I went to take a sip of precious water, I discovered that the pack’s internal, state-of-the-art hydration system had sprung a tragic, pinhole-sized leak.
That first day, the failings of the pack sent me back to camp before the sun got any higher and dehydration sent in. A jammed zipper. A ripped stitch. For every day after, the pack became was a constant and irritating burden, one I suffered and obsessed over rather than paying full attention to the hunt. I still wonder if all the bother cost me a shot at Barbary.
When it comes to combining ruggedness, light weight, load support and the almost unheard of option of being able to personally customize any pack in their product line, Montana-based BisonGear has always garnered a high level of praise from serious backcountry bowhunters.
Combine BisonGear’s stellar reputation for quality with the The Lemhi‘s $359 base price and you naturally expect a lot. And you get it, if you understand that the true quality of a pack has nothing to do with talk of space-age fabrics, pockets and dazzling marketing campaigns. When everything is said and done the true quality of a pack is determined by how comfortable it conforms to a body in motion and how it performs under varying load.
Over the winter months and on into spring, I worked on breaking in The Lemhi as one might a new pair of boots. In addition to loading it with a 25-pound bag of wood stove pellets and various odds and ends I carry when checking my winter trapline (a roundabout loop through varying terrain anywhere from three to four miles), I also used the pack in gym as a substitute for a weighted vest.
I’ve never read of many people testing a pack in the gym. But if your workout routine includes functional movements designed to build strength and endurance in the field, it’s just about the best place to give a pack a real thrashing.
My own routine always incorporates trail running and jumping, step-ups and pull-ups, crawling and dragging objects of various weights sometimes interspersed with shooting my bow with an elevated heart rate — activities designed to recreate scenarios encountered in the field. I wore The Lemhi loaded with around 40 pounds for all these activities and more and in every case the freedom of unencumbered movement was impressive.
As winter turned to spring, I swapped wood pellets for sand bringing the weight inside the pack up to 60 pounds, and once as much as 80, on my regular overland hikes. Wondering just how much the stitching and shoulder straps could handle, I even tried fitting the pack to a pull-up bar and hanging from it (roughly 180-pounds). Not only super-quiet, the “wolfskin” fabric of The Lemhi (along with the stitching) appear to have similar qualities of modern Kevlar.
A pack should have pockets, but it’s entirely subjective when it comes to the question of how many. The Lemhi’s, two main side pockets could carry gear as large as compact spotting scope and a brace of water bottles; the main compartment has a place for a hydration system, but for aforementioned reasons, I’m not a fan. Pockets on the waist belt were made big enough to carry all the essentials a hunter would want close-to-hand (with the exception of a sidearm holster, one minor miss that can be remedied if you really want to customize the pack to include such a feature).
Lash-straps for a sleeping bag, tent and sleeping pad were all thoughtfully placed. I would have liked built-in a sling for carrying a bow or rifle but, again, this is a customizable option that can be either retrofitted or added when a customer purchases the pack.
Final thoughts: Any pack that can come through the months long torture test I put this one through, and still look and operate pretty much as good as new, is worth every penny. The only failing I experienced came by way of a cracked plastic buckle on one of the lash straps. Easily swapped out for a spare and hardly a deal breaker.
The Lemhi Specs
Standard features of The Lehmi included a 3,200 cubic inches, large, single compartment, EveryWhichWay™ adjustable, contoured shoulder straps, internal aluminum frame, sewn-in sleeve for hydration system, sectional lumbar support with Leno Mesh for breathability, padded hip belt with low-profile pockets, interior zippered pouch, built-in compression straps, four exterior pockets. Check out www.bisongearonline.com.