I have just finished up my main 2017 season of guiding putting around 110 days on the hills, plus my own personal hunting and scouting before the ‘season’ started. Nearly every single one of those days I wore the Kifaru hunter frame with the Argali pack fitted. I got this pack late 2016 replacing my Kuiu Ultra 6000.
For those who have not heard of Kifaru they are based out of Denver Colorado and specialize in packs, light weight tipis and stoves. They also make some other products like sleeping bags and insulation pieces.
They make all their gear in house and offer a semi-custom back pack range. Frames and harnesses are made and set up to your dimensions you send in when you order the pack. They then offer a mind-boggling array of pockets, pouches and bags that you can fit to your frame. This means you can customize your pack to exactly how you like it. The down fall of this is can be a bit confusing as to what bag to buy as they offer A LOT of options. The packs are a full modular system and allow easy on and off. I prefer a removable bag mainly so I can wash it after a few hunts. Kifaru offers a wide range of colour and camouflage options aswell which is nice. Kifaru has a very comprehensive website and hundreds of in depth videos showing each product in detail. I found this a huge help as there are not many of these packs to look at in NZ.
I ordered the hunter frame in 24” height, Argali bag, guide lid, spotter pocket and hip belt pouches. Most of my guiding is day hunting but I like having a big pack as I take a fair bit of gear (first aid and survival) and I also prefer to pack out meat and hides inside my pack. I then do a few 5-10+ day back pack hunts where the larger volume of a pack is necessary. I have found the Argali to be a good size for my uses, plenty big enough when you want it to, but also simple and light enough to compress well for a day pack. (this pack was sold as 7000CUI, I have since measured it and found actual volume to be around 4100 Cubic Inches or 68-70 Liters)
I first tried on a Kifaru pack in 2015 at their factory shop in Denver, and the harness was immediately noticeable to me. The biggest issue I have with packs is the waist belt. I am fairly scrawny (around 30” waist) and find that every pack I have tried either cuts my waist in half or doesn’t get tight enough. Kifaru has taken a different approach than most other packs I have seen and tried on. They have gone with a thinner and ‘wider’ (from top to bottom) waist belt with a large surface area that really sucks onto your waist under load. This to me was a major selling point for the pack. The harness has quite a large amount of padding that forms ‘torso’ pads. These offer a lot of comfort and keep anything from digging into your back under heavy load. The contoured shoulder straps fit well and have a movable sternum strap. My only niggle is the sternum strap is not removable as I never use one and find them annoying (I may cut it off yet). The harness is fully adjustable for height, while not as quick as some others to adjust it is quite simple to do. When you order your pack, send in your height and weight details and they will fit the straps to you. The Waist belts come in sizes ranging from 27” to 40” meaning there is a size to fit everybody. The harness has a large removable lumber pad covered in a non-slip fabric. The load lifters of the pack are also adjustable, meaning you can set them for your height and preference. I have left all adjustments as they were from the factory and have not had any issues. The harness offers endless adjustments and with a ‘made to order’ product you should have no issues getting one that fits you.
The Duplex Frame
Kifaru offers packs that are neither a true external frame nor an internal frame, they are somewhere in between, and offer the best of both pack styles I think. A few other top pack lines use a similar system. The ‘frame’ Kifaru uses is made from a heavy-duty molded HDPE ‘plastic’ which come in different thicknesses, 1/8” and 1/16”. I went with the ‘hunter’ frame which is 1/16” which seems plenty strong (SEE BELOW). This then has 2 vertical stays which add more rigidity to the pack. Frame stays come in the option of carbon arrows(ultralight), Aluminium or carbon composite stays. I went with the carbon composite as they are the most rigid. The frame comes in 3 heights, 22”, 24” and 26”. I chose a 24” which suits me well (178cm tall/5’ 10”). 26” will offer more leverage for the load lifters but I find a taller pack annoying in the monkey scrub. So far, I have found the harness and frame to work perfectly. I have packed out close to 20 animals this year(2017) and have found it be as comfortable as a pack can be under heavy loads.
The “Argali” bag
I am quite simple when it comes to packs and pockets, I prefer my pack to have one main compartment with maybe one or 2 small pockets for accessories. I find extra zippers and pockets to be very frustrating to use and just more weak points, weight and areas water can get in. The Argali is just what I wanted, one large big compartment. It is listed as 7000 Cubic inches or 114 Litres, I have measured this bag at around 4100 Cubic inches or 70 Liters. I would rather have a bag too big and not need it than be left strapping stuff to the outside of my pack. The Argali has 3 compression straps per side and neat roll top closure with a compression strap that comes over the top of the pack to cinch everything down (much like older Macpacs). 2 bottom straps pull the bag into the frame, and when the bag is empty it can compress down to nothing. I found the straps to be in all the right places when jamming bulky loads in and on the pack. Tough 500d Cordura material makes up what I have found to be a very well thought out design.
Pockets and pouches
Kifaru offers an endless array of pouches and pocket add ons. I went with 2 small belt pouches, spotting scope pocket and a ‘guide lid’ to add to my Argali.
Belt pouches are super handy for GPS, PLB and small snacks and I don’t know how you could live without them once you get used to it.
The spotting scope pocket I have found to be a fantastic addition to the pack. As a guide, my spotter is in and out all day long and the pocket Kifaru makes is big enough to fit my 65mm spotter and my Slick tripod which is very handy, it also easily fits my 95mm Swaro aswell. The scope pocket has an attachment point at the top so you can cinch this into the frame which is very important I think, when running the pack half empty this prevents the scope from bouncing around.
The Kifaru ‘guide lid’ is a great concept that combines a small day pack and the lid of a pack into one. This adds around 1200 cubic inches/20Litres to your pack(probably 10-15 usable). It’s the perfect size for small accessories you don’t want in your main pack and within seconds you can unclip it and convert it into a small day bag. I primarily bought this for my own bow hunting where I often drop my pack for the final stalk. I have found it to be very useful addition to my main pack. This is quite similar to the lid the older Macpac bags came with, that converted to a ‘bum bag’.
- Versatile pack system
- Easy adjustment and custom fit and sizes
- Fairly light weight
- Made by the people who sell them
- Order time, not much of an issue unless you really need a pack quickly
There is not much I don’t like about this pack system, I have had no problems and after taking it apart and looking and how it is made it seems very durable and should last. Kifaru sell most of the individual components that make up their packs making it easy to get spare/replacement parts if necessary. The main problem with Kifaru packs is the cost. These packs are not cheap. They are made in the USA to a very high standard using top notch materials. This means they will always cost more than brands made in big factories in Asia. Is it worth it? I think this all depends on who you are and your pack usage. If you do one or two pack hunts a year there are cheaper options that will fit the bill. If you wear your pack 150-200 days a year like I do, I think Kifaru offers a very good option. As a guide, I cannot afford to have a pack fail in the field nor can I afford to be uncomfortable for days on end. If you are a serious pack user I think Kifaru is definitely worth checking out. SEE BELOW!
Stay safe and good luck in the mountains!
I have just finished up my 2018 season and thought I had better update this review as this season was an interesting one pack wise. About mid way through this season my pack started to show some serious signs of wear and this was very disappointing. I was able to have the pack repaired quickly by Twin Needle in Christchurch who did an amazing job of fixing things up and getting me through my last few hunts.
Shoulder Strap Attachment
This was the first area to show weakness and looking at it now its not overly surprising. The Shoulder harness is sewn into the waist belt by two rows of stitching, and this stitching is only through ONE layer of Cordua fabric on the belt. This stitching was very nearly completely worn through and I have no doubt that it would have broken if I did not have it repaired. When shouldering the pack all the weight is placed on this area, and it needs to be very strong to stand repeated stresses.
Close up of the failed stitching area, it is mainly the fabric(cordua) that is failing, not the stitching it self
The repair from twin needle. They ran the stitching right through the entire waist belt, as it should have be done in the first place, and strengthened the area with extra webbing.
All gear can and will fail, but I do think this is a poorly though out attachment point for the shoulder harness, and should have been made more durable from the beginning. A premium pack should last more than 2 season, even with heavy use.
Kifaru has made a change to their attachment point(above) which seems stronger at first glance. But this stitching is still only through one layer of Cordura. This merely has two extra rows of stitching as a safe guard to the system failing. I think they need to make the stitching through the entire belt(2 layers of Cordura, plus padding and soft face fabric) as Twin Needle has done(below)
Hunter Duplex Frame
The other issue I have had with the Kifaru pack system is frame flex. The frame sheet is very rigid vertically, but has no real horizontal stabilization. Over time the frame sheet has become ‘weak’ and flexes quite easily, especially with a heavy load. I probably should be running the ‘Tactical’ frame as I am a ‘heavy user’, but I still think the hunter frame should have handled more. The Guys at Twin Needle fitted a small sleeve for me where a carbon arrow could be used to add horizontal rigidity to the frame, this arrow is easily removed as well. This was a simple addition that added no real weight, but made the frame alot more stable and rigid.
My frame showing how easily it ‘folds up’
The stabilizer that Twin Needle made up for me.
The guys at Kifaru(Aron and Frank) have been very good to deal with during this time. They set up a replacement pack for me as fast as they could and got it sent over here free of charge. This was very generous of them. Kifaru has already made some changes that are working toward solving these issues. They had ‘fixed’ the shoulder strap attachment points before mine had failed and all new packs will have the newer attachment points(as seen above). They have also changed the foam in the harness. This is a good move as all the foam in my shoulder harness has compressed into a very thin shoulder strap.
The frame flexing issue seems to be a rare one(I do know of one other Kiwi with the same issue), but I still think it should not happen. The new ‘light weight’ frames from Kifaru have a very similar stabilization rod to the one that I had made up. I think this will definitely stop any issues with the light weight frames folding up.
I don’t know how to feel about this failure. At first I was very disappointed and angry. Kifaru sells a ‘premium’ product that should last for years, and they have many happy customers with years of use in their packs. But my pack would have been completely unusable after 2 seasons if not for the repairs I had done.
The pack system for me is still very comfortable, but I do feel that it should last much longer than 1-2 seasons of use.
It may be that I have got a ‘dud’ pack, or that I am just ‘that guy’ that seems to wreck all gear that comes within my reach. Kifaru did have very good customer service and a good warranty during this failure, but I dont really wan to be getting a new pack every year(regardless of cost), I want gear that will last for 5+ seasons, but I may be dreaming if this is even possible??