I needed a new meat hauler pack, and fast. My 2022 archery and rifle hunts were coming up, and I’d somehow lost track of my old one — my Dad’s weathered 1980s frame pack that I’d used to handle everything from packing in a spike camp to hauling out elk quarters.
That faithful family heirloom vanished during our move from one corner of Colorado to another. Did someone ‘accidentally’ put it into the moving day donations pile? I grilled my wife, but she pleaded her innocence. I mostly believe her.
Then I remembered meeting a hunter who was rocking Mystery Ranch’s Metcalf backpack last season. I ran searches and found lots of positive reviews for the Metcalf and decided to put it to the test. And I came away impressed on so many levels.
Let’s jump into the pack’s key features and explore this excellent bivy-style multi-day backpack category-by-category.
Mystery Ranch Metcalf: Specs & Features
- Weight: 6.0 pounds
- Volume: 4,335 cubic inches
- Dimensions: 30.8″ x 14″ x 12.3″
- Frame System: Guide Light MT Frame
- Harnessing Style: Framed
- Materials: 500D CORDURA Nylon
- Zippers: YKK (coated for water resistance)
- Hydration Reservoir Compatible: Yes
- Colors/Patterns: Coyote, Foliage, Optifade Subalpine
- Removable lid with zippered pockets
- Bow and rifle carry straps
- Top, front, and side compression straps
- Overload Guide Light MT Frame for meat hauling
Elk hunting can really tear up your gear. I often find myself in the hardest-to-traverse blowdown in the forest, with branches and rocks ripping at all of my exposed surfaces.
But the Metcalf‘s heavy-duty 500D Cordura nylon resisted those attacks from prickly oak scrub and tree branches, with no tears or punctures.
The pack’s nylon fabric is relatively quiet, but I occasionally noticed a swish noise from the shoulder straps as my arms swung. The fix was simply loosening the straps, and that annoying sound disappeared. Then I felt confident that I could put a stalk on an elk without this bag making a racket.
Organized Storage & Pockets
I’m the guy who stuffs all his gear haphazardly into the bag and then deals with the consequences later. I’m glad Mystery Ranch understands my style and helps me stay organized.
The bag features a removable lid with two nifty pockets to keep essential items close at hand — things like your spotting scope, skinning knife, calls, and headlamps. I found the Metcalf’s storage area to be quick and easy to access without having to do a bag dump.
The main compartment is cavernous, more than big enough to hold all my essential camping gear, plus several luxuries I really should have left behind at camp. I easily packed food and water for a week, with plenty of room to spare.
If I wanted to carry less on my back, the Metcalf’s main compartment can be compressed to a more compact size to use as a daypack or meat hauler. A great feature.
My Dad’s hand-me-down frame pack had lousy zippers, noisy and easily jammed. But Mystery Ranch uses quiet and reliable YKK zippers, so I had no such issues.
Plus, their zippers have a waterproof flap covering the slider that sheds water and virtually eliminates the need for a separate storm flap.
Mystery Ranch’s 6-point hip support system was a massive upgrade from my tattered, no-name 1980s frame pack. I was astonished at how the Metcalf kept the weight ideally situated over my hips and never sagged.
Unfortunately, I ate tag soup for elk during September’s bowhunting season, so I can’t testify to the pack’s ability to spread its load to my hips and lower back while hauling meat. (Hey, OTC public land archery is hard, okay?)
But I did pack the Metcalf with around 40-50 pounds of gear, water, and food. Thanks to its thick, soft pads, I barely noticed the weight on my hips. I’m sure it could have handled significantly more weight and still been comfortable.
Back comfort is just as important as hip comfort, so I evaluate both when choosing a hunting pack. I never had any lumbar discomfort, thanks to ample foam pads that fit snugly into the lower back and provide firm support.
What remains to be seen is how comfortable my back would have been if I had hauled out 100+ pounds of elk meat like I had set out to do. But, after reading countless reviews, I’ve learned that hunters are quite impressed with this pack’s weight distribution across its frame, even when loaded to the gills.
Another major plus was this bag’s abundance of compression and load distribution straps that let you customize and stabilize your load profile.
With its highly adjustable and firm-yet-cushy shoulder straps, the Metcalf holds its payload tight against your back — right where you need it to be — not digging into your shoulders like other packs, because they lean the weight away from your body.
I need a bag that keeps my load steady, especially when packing in rugged mountain terrain. I’m constantly climbing over fallen trees, skirting boulders, or sliding down scree fields, and can’t afford to have my bag getting all wonky and throwing me off balance.
I went through some gnarly terrain this year, but the Metcalf held on like a toddler on a piggyback ride. It clung to my torso through every uncertain maneuver and slipped exactly zero times.
As a minimalist traveler and hunter, I always want to cut pack weight and bring fewer items. The Mystery Ranch Metcalf may sound like overkill for my minimalist urges, but when using it folded down as a daypack for archery and rifle hunting, it performed like a champ.
I rarely need more than a couple of days worth of gear in my bag, so I’m highly impressed by how much I could fit into the Metcalf. At 4,300+ cubic inches, it’s plenty big enough for multi-day trips.
Frame + Overload Feature
I put this bag to the test in every way except the most important one — hauling out elk meat. If I’d harvested an animal, the Metcalf would have been perfect for lugging a big bull back to the truck.
The Metcalf uses Mystery Ranch’s Guide Lite MT frame, their tried-and-true load stabilization platform. This frame forms a solid foundation for the pack, making it capable of handling hefty loads.
The pack’s expandable storage space creates an overload shelf with a 100+ pound load capacity. Heck, it can probably carry more weight than I can lift. I’m excited to use the Overload feature on my next hunt. (Fingers crossed!)
Summarizing Why I Love the Mystery Ranch Metcalf
- Versatile enough to use as a daypack
- Convenient and detachable storage pack
- Ultra-durable 500D Cordura nylon material and YKK zippers
- Frame can expand easily for meat hauling
- Easy-to-adjust load straps
- Weight is evenly distributed across the back and hips
- Lifetime warranty
How I’d Improve It
- Add sewn-on pockets to the hip belt. (It has MOLLE attachments.)
- Make the hip straps easier to adjust
- Add segmented storage in the main bag to keep dirty and clean gear separate
- Add loops for Camelback hoses
Who Needs this Backpack?
- Multi-day backpacking-style hunters
- Hunters with a high likelihood of harvesting
- Those needing a reliable meat hauler
- Hunters who want a frame pack that can compress down into a day pack
- Hunters who carry a boatload of gear with them
Who Might Not Need this Backpack?
- Treestand hunters
- Road hunters
- Ultralight hunters
- Hunters who constantly get skunked
Wrapping Up My Mystery Ranch Metcalf Review
I judge gear by how long it lasts. Like my Dad’s no-name pack from 1981, I think the Mystery Ranch Metcalf will endure rugged backcountry hunts for many years to come. I also sleep easier knowing that Mystery Ranch offers a lifetime warranty against defects.
Along with its durability, I really appreciated this backpack’s overall comfort. The thick, padded back support is a game changer for me, and I can only imagine how awesome this pack will feel when loaded with a big bull elk.
Because of its versatility to switch between a daypack and a multi-night bag, I can see taking this bag along on most of my future hunting adventures. And who knows? I may just pass it along to my kids in a few decades, so they can lose it at their own moving sales.
This bag survived the rigors of my recent Colorado wilderness hunting, so I’m confident in recommending it to my readers. If you’re in the market for a top-of-the-line bivy-style hunting backpack, Mystery Ranch’s Metcalf may just be the one.
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Last Updated on January 18, 2024
Josh Riley lives in Colorado with his wife, Mary, and their three wild and crazy children. He’s an avid hunter, fisherman, backpacker, elk meat connoisseur, and international traveler.