First off if you are serious about hunting do yourself a favor and buy a quality pack. Having a pack that will last a lifetime, will hold up to the harshest abuse and keep you comfortable while packing out 100+ pound loads is well worth the investment. A few years ago we were introduced to the awesome folks at Mystery Ranch Backpacks. We quickly found out what we had been missing in a backpack as we began to use the Longbow during the 2012 season. Fast forward to last year. The Metcalf was introduced to their lineup and was fit with the NICE Frame to create one of the most versatile and quality packs in the entire industry. After some serious use last year it quickly became our favorite all-around pack.
From packing your camp deep into the backcountry for week-long hunts, to hauling a big bodied bull elk back to the truck, this pack is a versatile workhorse. While many would be content at this point of the game, the masterminds at Mystery Ranch in Bozeman Montana were trying to find ways to improve the design. They came up with some improvements and soon had sewn up some prototype NICE Metcalf 2 bags. We were fortunate enough to get our hands on one about a month back. We’ve taken it on a couple hunts in the backcountry and are glad to say it’s better than ever.
After some solid use in the mountains I’m happy to say the new changes are a welcome improvement. The new NICE Metcalf is the minimalist hunter’s go-to pack. The full length side zipper allows easy access to the entirety of the bag without needing to unload gear. Ten compression straps keep your load secure and fully expanded with the new Alpine Lid this packs reaches 4200 cubic inches.
The new bag is now 8 oz lighter than the previous model, weighing in at 2lbs 4oz. I’m not one to count ounces but every bit helps and the build quality is still Mystery Ranch tough. I doubt you could break this thing in a lifetime of hunting.
1. Added Load Shelf
The new bag utilizes a new load shelf made from 500D Cordura. I was bummed I couldn’t test it out this spring but come fall I’m sure many people will be happy with this feature. This addition now creates a more stable platform for carrying meat between your bag and frame. Additionally it will help to keep your load from sinking too low along the frame. The higher you can keep the weight the more comfort and ease on the way back to the truck.
2. Exterior Detail Pocket
One thing a lot of guys have been asking for is an external pocket on the actual bag itself. The Metcalf 2 now has an exterior pocket on the packs side. I used this for items such as GPS, radio, tags, knife, beacon. At first I didn’t think I’d use it a whole lot but by the end of the week I had used it multiple times daily. Most likely you’ll need to un-shoulder the pack to access it but if your feeling stretchy you can pull gear out of the pocket quickly on the fly.
3. New upper buckles and redesigned lid
The upper portion of the bag now features two male buckles rather then the female one’s featured on the original Metcalf. These buckles now attach to the back half of the NICE Lift Kit and help keep any gear loaded in the top of the pack loaded securely. This keeps any type of shift to a minimum while hiking and helps keep the bag compressed when the lid isn’t attached to the exterior. Often when hiking out from camp I’d put the lid in the main bag and tighten my compression straps so that my bag was of minimal size and I could slip through the heavy brush with minimal noise and less chances of hanging up on branches and downfall.
The lid also has been altered for 2014. The lid is lighter than the previous version and weighs 9 ounces. Capacity is 700 ci and quick attach straps come with and act as shoulder straps for carriage.
4. Customizable frame height via NICE Lift Kit
The new Metcalf 2 features a customizable frame height. The attached load lifters are no longer and the NICE Lift Kit is their replacement. This allows the frame height to be tailored to different body heights. The key here is to find the correct angle when meat is being carried between the frame and bag. It is important to know that the Lift Kit is a separate accessory. This piece is crucial when packing heavy loads and makes a big difference by transferring weight off of your shoulders.
5. Improved hydration design
This year the port for a hydration system has been changed to allow quick and easy passage through the bag for attachment to either shoulder strap. Previously the port was very tight and only really designed to work with the right shoulder strap. This may seem like a small change but being able to quickly pull out your hydration system, fill up, and get back on the trail or a stalk can make a big difference. Sometimes the little things add up and this is a welcomed improvement.
Overall I’m impressed with the new features and can’t wait to load this down with an elk this fall. Take a good look at your current backpack situation. Now is the time to make a change to a quality pack that can handle all of your hunting needs. The pack has officially launched so be sure to check them both on their website and on Facebook.