Mystery Ranch Metcalf Backpack Review

A good backpack is one of my most important pieces of core hunting gear. In fact, I would rank a backpack as one of the five most important gear pieces for hunting. If I have a good rifle and solid boots, a capable backpack is probably next on my list because it gives me the confidence to get my game out of rugged places with the least amount of work.

The Mystery Ranch Metcalf Backpack is a solid backpack designed for hunters. The pack’s 70-liter bag separates from the frame and forms a load shelf capable of hauling over 100 pounds. Overall, the backpack is durable, comfortable, and functional. After putting on over 200 miles with the Metcalf on my back I’m now breaking down what makes it a good pack and how it could be improved.

Why I Bought the Mystery Ranch Metcalf

My first year hunting in Idaho I was blessed to harvest a cow elk and antlerless whitetail. The cow elk came during an early season hunt when the daytime temperatures were up around 80 degrees (F). After quartering out the elk, I toted a full hind quarter over my shoulder for a mile and a half with my rifle hung around my neck bouncing off my knees at every step. Luckily, I found a road that passed close to the elk after getting back to my truck. No such luck with the whitetail. After I harvested the deer I gutted it and carried it slung across my shoulders (it was a small deer) for a mile. Rifle bouncing off my knees once again.

Up until this point, $400+ hunting packs seemed like a luxury that I couldn’t afford. After that season I understood how they could improve the quality of my hunts. After a couple of months, I settled on the Metcalf because it was one of the cheaper options, and it went on sale so I bought it.

How I’ve Used the Metcalf

At the time of writing this review I’ve used the Metcalf for two archery elk season, two deer seasons, and two bear seasons. It’s also come with me on several hikes. In all I’ve put on over 400 miles with the Metcalf on my back. It’s come with me on hikes ranging form a quarter mile to 15 miles. I haven’t used it on an overnight trip yet.

I’ve used the Metcalf to pack out two deer and one bear. The longest pack-out was about 2.5 miles. The bear I packed out was in canyon that required a vertical climb of 1300 feet (over 1.5 miles) to get back to the truck. So I feel like I’ve put the pack through it’s paces pretty well.

Mystery Ranch Metcalf loaded with 2/3 of a whitetail doe plus the hide.

The meat plus hide weighted about 60 pounds in addition to the 25 pounds of gear I was carrying. Total pack weight was 85 pounds.

What I Like About the Metcalf

Durability

The Mystery Ranch Metcalf is extremely durable. It’s made of tough nylon that doesn’t tear and is very hard to create any kind of abrasion. I’ve pushed through miles of dense forests and countless patches of thick hawthorn and you can only see a few obvious abrasions in the material.

Comfort

The Metcalf is a very comfortable pack. When I have it loaded with 40 pounds or less I barely even notice it. There is a multitude of compression straps that make it easy to adjust load placement and carriage. This makes it easy to keep heavy items close to your back so they ride better. It also makes it so the pack can keep a low profile when it’s not loaded.

When loaded the Metcalf obviously becomes less comfortable (as does any pack). However, the stiff should straps and substantial waist belt make it easy to distribute weight evenly and spread the load to be as comfortable as possible.

Fit

Adjustable shoulder straps and yoke make the pack easy to fit. It took me a while to figure out exactly how to fit the pack in the way that worked best for me, but once I got it down it has been great.

As I mentioned earlier, the compression straps make it easy for the pack to keep a slim profile when it’s not loaded. I really appreciate having a big pack like the Metcalf that I cinch down to use as a daypack without having extra material and straps flapping all over the place.

Versatility

Mystery Ranch did a great job designing the Metcalf to perform well in a variety of situations. I’ve used it primarily as a day pack but it has enough storage capacity to be comfortably used for a 3-5 day backcountry trip. This is a great pack to meet most big-game hunting situations.

Load Carriage

Having a pack that allows me to carry out a large portion of an animal by myself has given me so much more confidence when hunting remote locations. I’m not as afraid to go into remote, hard-to-access areas knowing that I might have to get an animal out.

The Metcalf can hold more weight than I can carry. When I carried out 2/3 of a whitetail plus the hide last fall, the total pack weight was about 85 pounds. That’s probably the most weight I’ve carried in the pack so far. Obviously, the pack out was heavy, but I felt stable wearing the Metcalf and the load was well distributed.

Price

Any load-hauling hunting pack is not going to be cheap, but the Metcalf is priced competitively for its niche. You can expect to pay about $500 full retail for the pack. Fortunately, you’ll often see sales where the Metcalf is discounted to around $400. This is a couple of hundred dollars less than many similar packs.

Some Things That Could Be Improved

Organization

The Metcalf is a simple pack. It has one main compartment with top and side access, two side pockets (depending on the year the pack was made they may both be stretch pockets (newer models) or one stretch and one zippered pocket), and a lid with two large pockets. That’s it. There aren’t many options for organizing your gear.

This isn’t a big problem, but it would be nice to have another internal pocket, divider, or something to separate smaller pieces of gear. I tend to load up smaller gear pieces (headlamp, knives, tags, batteries, etc.), gloves, and snacks in the easy-to-access lid pockets. Those pockets usually fill up pretty quickly and I end up wishing there were some zippered side pockets as well.

Shoulder Straps and Hip Belt

I wish the Metcalf’s should straps and hip belt were a little wider to help distribute weight just a little bit more. Most of the time this isn’t a problem and the pack feels amazing. However, once I get full pack loaded with meat I start to wish the shoulder straps were just a little wider. Same with the hip belt.

Would I Recommend the Mystery Ranch Metcalf?

Yes. I would not hesitate to recommend the Mystery Ranch Metcalf. It is a good, solid pack that will last a long time. You will probably get tired of the pack and want something new before it wears out. If you’re looking for a load-hauling hunting pack that can be your one-pack solution for big game hunting for around $400 I think the Metcalf is definitely the best option. If you’re willing to spend a couple of hundred dollars more then you might want to look at some other options.

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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