|A Kifaru Longhunter ready to bug out.|
When looking at higher end packs, there are two general camps--civvy backpacking brands and those more geared towards tactical/hunting purposes. I wanted some durability and capabilities that you can't, to my knowledge, get in a civvy-style backpacking pack (REI, Osprey, etc.), so the more tactical-leaning brands came to the forefront.
Unfortunately, it seems like you need to spend a pretty hefty chunk of change to get a capable, larger capacity bag from the brand names--Mystery Ranch, Eberlestock and Kifaru. There's a gap in the market for something high quality, capable 3-5 day pack around the $250-$300 price range, which is really about what I wanted to spend. I'm hoping/thinking that we may eventually see something in this ballpark from the guys at Hill People Gear--which would be a major win--but that's another story.
Anyways, after much research and some e-mail correspondence, I eventually settled on Kifaru. I've never been a big fan of Kifaru's stuff--it's very expensive for starters, some of it looks bizarre, and the brand in general gave off a bit of a fan boy impression to me. But, their duplex frame got the nod from most of the experts, time and time again, so there had to be something to it.
Kifaru's products are divided up into three main lines--KU, which is ultralight, silnylon-y type stuff, military, which is heavy duty 1000D Cordura and plastered with a PALS webbing, and their hunting line, which is 500D Cordura. I'm not a fan of tons of PALS on a pack, and appreciate the lower profile look of the hunting line, so the Longhunter was the direction I was leaning.
Kifaru recently introduced a new, upgraded version of the Longhunter, which for some reason they've named the Longhunter Legacy--you'd think the Legacy would be the older pack. I was able to pick up a gently used old-style Longhunter on the second hand market for a substantial discount over a new in box price, and I was also able to skip the infamous Kifaru wait-time, which can range for 4 to 12 weeks, which is a bit ridiculous in this day and age. One downside--no lid for the packbag.
|The business side.|
The suspension system is very adjustable, can be made to fit a variety of shapes/sizes. Kifaru's are often perceived as custom packs, but really, they adjust their frame to fit the measurements you give them. To my knowledge, they have a few different sizes of waistbelt and a choice of frame stays--normal and flat back--and the rest is adjusting the pack's various straps for fitting. So, when you buy 'em right from Kifaru, they are a custom fit. Who knows why it takes them weeks to do that.
The duplex frame is a separate component--you can separate the pack bag and attach another bag or a compression panel and use it as a load hauler. This was an important feature for me, as I don't want to be stuck with one bag and like the option of a load hauler for carrying something like a 5 gallon military water can or a 5 gallon bucket of food.
The Pack Bag. Well, it's not horrible, but it is underwhelming. The Longhunter bag is a big single compartment, with a pretty lame divider for the sleeping bag compartment--it doesn't do a whole lot of dividing, leaving big gaps that things can and will fall through. On the inside, there a hydration sleeve...and that's it for internal organization. As with most bags, the Longhunter's hydration sleeve is just about inaccessible when the pack is loaded up.
The exterior is a bit better, with compression straps, elastic and attachment points for Kifaru add-on pockets. No wand/water bottle pockets though, which are a no-brainer on most any pack.
My big beef with the bag--complete and total lack of organization. Essentially, the Longhunter's bag is a $300 fancy jumbo laundry bag. That means lots of digging when you want to find something--and yes, even if they're divided up into subloads/stuff sacks. And my pack is the 5200 cubic inch model--the new Legacy packs are 7300 cubic inches in size, which would make the digging problem much worse.
It's a very lame design, and the digging gets old pretty fast.
Yes, the various lids do add an extra level of organization, and yes, the out-of-the-box lack of organization can be solved (in part) by adding on various pockets and attachments from Kifaru, but, for goodness sake, the pack bag is plus or minus $300 on its own, and this model of the Longhunter is over $550 new from Kifaru--the Legacy models are over $600! If you're going to drop that kind of cash on a pack, you don't want to have to spend several hundred extra on pockets in order to make it user friendly.
Lack of High-End Touches
A final disappointment is an overall lack of the kinds of "touches" you expect on a high end pack. Things like velcro or elastic strap keepers to help tame the mass amounts of webbing. Or heck, even a sewn over tab to help prevent webbing from slipping through buckles and sliders--nope, the tabs are all straight. There's nothing poorly made about the bag or the frame, but there's nothing that would suggest it's worth the asking price.
The Wait Times.
I honestly have a really hard time with a multiple-week wait time for just about anything aside from a truly custom made item. Make things, keep them in stock, and if they're not in stock, put them on back order. If you're going to buy, I'd give the second-hand market a thorough search. On the plus side, Kifaru's wait times help prop up the resale value of their products, which often sell for close to retail prices on the second hand market.
The Price Tag
Yep, it's steep. Unfortunately, the competition is in the same general price range, so you're going to drop a big chunk of change if you want something high end. Maybe I missed something in my search, but packs from brands like Mystery Ranch are just as spendy.
I don't have any experience with Kifaru's other packs, but I would not pay the retail price on a Longhunter. Why? The lackluster pack bag. I'm just not a fan and don't think it's worth what they're charging. $100--maybe. $300?
I would, however, potentially pay the retail price for the duplex frame--unlike the bag itself, the duplex frame is a very good, does an excellent job at distributing weight. The frame is the big reason why people spend the bucks on the larger Kifaru packs.
Shockingly, I'm looking to explore an alternative to the Longhunter bag--right now, the C25 pack bag/Highlander/compression panel from Hill People Gear looks promising--some pictures and details on their forum thread here. Lots of versatility with the compression system, big main compartment with the C25--(though I wish it had wand/water bottle pockets) and then the Highlander gives you some organization/faster access to gear needed throughout the day.