Richard Saunders takes a look at the best outdoor bags, backpacks and rucksacks in an effort to help lighten your load when out in the field
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Spring has sprung and summer is just around the corner. Nothing gladdens my heart and lifts my spirit more than the thought of putting away my thermal boots and winter jackets in anticipation of a few months of stalking the sun-dappled hedgerows, and when it comes to swapping out my kit for the warmer months ahead, choosing from a selection of the best outdoor bags is high on my to-do list.
Successful stalking means travelling light of course. I can remember the days when going shooting meant a pocket full of Eley Wasps and a gun bag over my shoulder. Nowadays I’m weighed down by an endless amount of gear that I tell myself I simply can’t do without.
A knife, rangefinder, phone, car keys and spare pellets go with me every trip. But on occasion, there’s a torch, spare batteries or battery packs, a sling, thermal spotter, shooting sticks, camouflage netting, a bean bag seat – the list goes on.
And then there’s the gear jammed into my truck – a chair, a sack of peanuts, hide poles, trigger sticks, some tools for running repairs and an air tank (Read here for the best compressor for airguns). I realised I had a problem when I found myself packing a chronograph “just in case there was a problem with the rifle”. I mean, what could I do about it if there was?
The fact of the matter is that despite reminiscing about the good old days, many of us want to take advantage of modern technological advancements, and that means carrying extra gear.
For a time I’d simply cram as much as I could into various pockets. Before long I’d look like a camouflaged Michelin man and negotiating fences was increasingly difficult. And when I did need a vital piece of equipment it took forever to remember which pocket I’d put it in.
Of course, some kind of bag is the answer and there are plenty to choose from. So, for our group test this issue, we’ve gathered together a sample to check out in the hope one of them will suit your needs and make spring and summer stalking a little easier and more successful.
Outdoor bags – what are the best options?
+ Long-lasting, sturdy
+ Very big
+ Designed for use in the field
– No side pockets
It’s safe to assume that man has been carrying a bag for as long as he’s been using a gun to put food on the table. And it seems a safe bet to say they looked a lot like the modern game bag.
There’s a reason for that – they work. The Bisley Game Bag is a good example and will give many years of service. The basic design may go back hundreds of years, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been augmented by thoughtful, modern design touches.
To start with, it’s big. It’s easily large enough to carry three or four rabbits or half a dozen pigeons, and the wide canvas shoulder strap distributes the weight comfortably across your shoulders. There’s no sliding buckle to adjust the length. Instead, with seven holes, there are a couple of satchel-like straps.
Of course, bags are intended for all-year-round use and I found that even with a couple of jumpers and a thick winter coat, the Bisley Game Bag adjusts to sit easily across the chest with enough movement to allow access and to take it off quickly.
Thick, strong and water-resistant canvas will help keep everything clean and dry, and the double-stitched leather straps and brass-coloured buckles are just as durable. Better still, they don’t jiggle or flap about when you’re trying to keep quiet.
At risk of pointing out the obvious, a game bag is meant for carrying the things you’ve shot. A thick rubberised lining is easy to wipe clean, and a large nylon net pocket is ideal for slipping in smaller game like squirrels and pigeons.
The downside of using a traditional game bag is that once you start filling it up with the things you’ve shot your equipment starts to get in the way as there are no separate compartments or pockets. But that’s fine if you plan to travel light and fill your pockets instead.
+ Excellent quality – fine leather detailing
+ Great colour combinations
+ Plenty of space
+ Designed for use in the field
If you should ever find yourself in the middle of a driven pheasant shoot with a 12-bore over your arm and a labrador at your feet you’ll at least know that a Jack Pyke Canvas Game Bag won’t make you look out of place, especially in the fawn colour on test (green and brown are also available).
It may be a humble bag, but this is a seriously good-looking piece of kit, finished tastefully with a leather roundel on the flap featuring the Jack Pyke logo. Fortunately, it performs as good as it looks. The water-resistant canvas makes the bag light but durable. However, if you go for the fawn colour it’s likely any mud and bloodstains will show up.
The double-stitched straps are made from thick leather and are nice and long, giving you plenty of capacity to carry game in the main compartment, which has a wipe-clean brown plastic lining.
Many game bags are made simply to look good as a country accessory when walking around a game fair. However, although it’s undoubtedly good to look at, the Jack Pyke bag is designed for use in the field. For example, nothing flaps or jangles, not even the buckles when you give it a good shake.
The strap itself is made from wide canvas and once again, subjected to the two jumpers and thick winter coat test, proved to be both comfortable across the chest and plenty long enough thanks to more satchel-type straps on the sides. I also found that when carried over one shoulder the canvas was sufficiently grippy to prevent it slipping off.
Like most if not all other game bags, the Jack Pyke offering has a generous nylon mesh front pocket which enables you to stow smaller game, or even put a rabbit in until you have time to open up the main compartment. A strap across the top both secures the net and makes it easy to slip items in without having to look.
+ It’s a proper backpack, so can be used in other situations
+ Water-resistant material
– Bright orange interior may be divisive (if practical), but that’s down to taste
It’s easy to assume that any backpack will do when it comes to hunting – just shake out your footie gear or fishing bait and off you go. Of course, that’s true. But the same logic dictates you could also use a Tesco bag for life.
The point is that all manner of things can be used at a pinch, but purpose-made items are nearly always better. Like the Ridgeline 25 Litre Day Hunter backpack. As the name suggests, it has a 25 litre capacity, but a 35 litre version is also available.
For starters, the material is designed to not only be water-resistant, but to minimise rustling. And if you get caught out in a deluge it takes seconds to fit an elasticated nylon cover.
Access is via a large zip that opens halfway down the bag. The bright orange interior is designed to prevent you moving off by mistake without having closed everything up.
A firm, flexible back board provides enough rigidity to avoid the bag collapsing if you only have a few items in it, and it also has a deep elasticated pocket. With the main flap closed, an additional pocket on the front is ideal for items you’ll want to get to quickly, such as a torch or phone.
A convenient grab handle makes it easy to pick up or carry the Day Hunter by hand when it’s not on your back. The carrying straps themselves are nearly three inches wide and padded for added comfort. Generous adjustment both top and bottom ensure a good fit, even with bulky clothing, while a belt across the stomach helps prevent it slipping.
More straps on the side of the pack mean you can tighten the main bag around the load you are carrying, not only for added security, but to minimise any noise and the potential for loose material to snag in the field.
A pouch attached by an adjustable strap to a loop on the bottom of the pack is designed to accept the butt of a scoped rifle, whilst those side straps will be able to hold the rest of it in place.
+ Lots of space
+ Great adjustment for lots of layers
Of course, shooting in the spring and summer is not all tip toeing around the hedgerows in the sunlight with the bare minimum of gear. One of my permissions requires a long walk, often carrying a hide. And being out all day means food and drink is as important as my rifle and pellets.
Available in a huge range of colours and camo patterns, this outdoor bag is made for such situations. At 55 litres it’s big enough to carry everything you need for a full day in the field.
Made from Cordura nylon, the Crafter is water-resistant, and a waterproof cover stowed in a velcro pocket at the bottom gives added protection in extreme conditions, as does a snow collar with a drawstring and cord stopper.
Main access is via a large-zipped pocket at the top and a separate front-opening clam shell provides additional access. Inside there are plenty of compartments, including a secure document sleeve.
Webbing straps both inside the main compartment and on the outside are MOLLE-compatible, including a couple at the bottom designed to carry a sleeping bag or mat if you intend shooting prone.
The pack can incorporate a hydration system (not supplied), such as the CamelBak, in a secure compartment that includes passages for a drinking tube.
The Crafter has been designed for comfort. A pair of metal straps ensure good rigidity and are covered by an adjustable ventilated padded harness system. The thick padded shoulder strips are 80mm wide and have plenty of adjustment to accommodate multiple layers of clothing.
In addition to a sternum strap, a thickly padded waist belt can be removed, if necessary, to distribute weight and ease pressure on your back. The use of ITW Nexus quick-release buckles and zippers with glove-friendly cord pulls ensure everything snaps open and closes securely.