01 October 2012

Bison Gear Pack 'The Lost River' follow up review

Back in May I wrote my initial piece on this pack here. Since then I've had the chance to use the pack extensively and in that time it has only grown on me. I've used it as a day pack, a hunting pack, a foraging pack, I even used it for a three night four day excursion into the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

BisonGear of Alberton, Montana USA, has been making packs for a long time. Prior to the BisonGear moniker they were known as Pack Idaho. They've always been primarily focused on bowhunter's pack needs and they've made a reputation for both design execution to that end, as well as world class customer service. For at least sixteen years they've been known as BisonGear, and in that time I've not heard of, read about, or seen a negative comment regarding the products or the service. A reputation like that isn't bought, nor does it just happen overnight.

From their website:

...are designed by hunters, tested by hunters and cut, sewn and fitted one at a time to do one thing – hunt. Our packs start with field-proven ergonomic designs drawn from decades in the woods. Each has lumbar support and hip pads sewn in. Each is compact for a low center of gravity. And each features straps that adjust more ways than a hunter's plan of attack. The result? You can move through tight brush without getting hung up, carry a busload of gear without strain and shoot unhindered while wearing a BisonGear pack.
Lastly, we combine intelligent design and quality materials with craftsmanship. Each BisonGear pack is one of a kind. You order it. We sew it. This means it usually takes about three weeks to get your pack. It also means you get a pack that fits you perfectly and is customized to your needs.
The materials used in BisonGear packs run the gamut from Bucksuede, fleece, to many different colors of wool. One might think that wool wouldn't be a good choice of materials for a pack but it has all of the critical attributes needed to be so with the addition of being super quiet. It is durable, dries fast, non reflective, and did I say quiet? I have been very satisfied with the wool material in my pack, it has performed very well.

From their website:

Materials are drawn from lessons learned hunting. Part traditional, part technical, they're quiet, durable, subtle and able to stick it out in any weather. Exteriors are camo and earth-tone Woolens or BucksuedesTM that are not only durable and naturally water resistant, but also silent as your shadow. We line our packs with quiet, water-repellent ripstop nylon. Straps are nylon, hardware is ShellShock and zippers are bomb-proof.

The Lost River is a design that's been around since near the beginning as far as my research can tell me. A lumbar design with Every Which Way padded shoulder straps that are truly customizable for fit. There are three main pockets outside of the primary compartment. Two wing compartments that are large enough to hold a forty-eight ounce Nalgene Silo water bottle or a 10x10 70d nylon tarp such as the BCUSA 10x10 I've written about in the past.The third compartment is center front of the main body.

Inside the pack lid there is another compartment, as you can see in the image below I'm using this to carry my first aid supplies as well as thin field guides as well as a few other items.

There is also a slash pocket inside the pack on the back wall with a fold over cover. It's an organizer of sorts with multiple slot pockets sewed into it as well as a long envelope style slash behind the organizer. This was the perfect spot for me to carry a 5x7 casualty blanket, which if you look close you'll see in the image above, folded up and against the back wall of the pack interior. This in conjunction with a tarp can make an unexpected overnight camp better than just barely bearable. The following two images make the slash pocket easy to see and understand, as well as the organizer inside of the slash.

The pack is listed as 1,625 cubic inches with an expandable detachable game bag  that comes in at 1,232 cubic inches. I've found it plenty big enough to do what I need even on a couple days out. As we move into winter I'll put it back on a frame in order to carry winter kit loads though. Here's a look at what's being carried in the pack now, without a frame. Shelter, fire, water are accounted for, as well as about three thousand calories of food, enough to stretch me three days if I had to and without supplementing with wild edibles, game or fish.

The game bag is quite functional for its design purpose as well as a multitude of other applications ranging from stuffing it and using as a pillow to an improvised water carrier. It really is quiet sizable and well made. It folds flat and is stored in the bottom of the main compartment. It can be buckled into place at the bottom to keep it from shifting side to side while carrying a load, or it can be completely removed and used in other ways, you could even use it to hang food in bear country if you wanted to.

In the image on the right you can see how the bag looks while in the pack, the buckles can be use to integrate the bag into part of the suspension system or cinched off to the frame when using it. This makes carrying heavy deer or elk quarters easier and more stable.

Even if you don't have the quarters of big game to haul out of the back country you can still use the game bag for carrying anything that you don't want to come into contact with the pack.

There are a couple tie down straps on the top and bottom, well low forward below the middle compartment on the front of the pack. I typically use the top to strap a tarp/bed roll system to the pack and the bottom to strap a camera tripod, of course that could be inverted it's just how I currently prefer to carry each. They are also useful for carrying that jacket you needed for the morning chill or while on a stand but not while hiking up the mountain or during the midday sun. The images below show where the straps are located and how I use them.

The top straps are integrated into the lid as seen above.

The lower straps are sewn into the pack where the center back compartment meets the main pack body.

With tarp/bedroll on top and tripod on the bottom.

The pack carries low into the back, presenting an excellent center of gravity.

The pack offers a great center of balance, rides low but comfortable and presents no problems when shooting either rifle or bow. I spend a lot of time tracking, stooped over or kneeling as I examine the ground and sign from the passage of my quarry. Unlike conventional packs this one carries perfectly for that, it doesn't overbalance or feel top heavy at all.

The pockets on the belt serve to carry my navigation kit in one, and a tracking & game dressing kit in the other along with a few other odds and ends. These particular pockets are made directly into the waist belt. You can order other options here, be it a water bottle holder to detachable pockets.

You can order their packs with customized features that range from extra pockets to custom sizes, custom belt pockets, pack frame attachment points and so on. One of the better features in my opinion is the ability to use the pack with a frame when needed.

The whole world kind of went gaga over internal frames and I'd be the first to be a champion their features, however, an external frame is a very versatile thing, especially in a hunting pack or anyone like me that tends to do more than backpack an existing trail. External frames are the kings of carry for odd sized and awkward heavy things like elk quarters for example. By being able to meld the pack to the frame or not as needed and to be able to maintain comfort without a frame is an indicator of truly superior design. On the BisonGear website you'll find mention of customizing the pack for use with a Peak1 frame. I was able to rig mine with a frame from an old pack from the early '80s. I don't remember the frame maker or name, I do know that I managed to firmly connect my pack to this old frame in about ten minutes of fiddling about.

Oh, and one last thing, did I mention the warranty?

In their words.

All of our packs and pack accessories are guaranteed for LIFE against defects in materials and workmanship. Should they ever fail to provide satisfaction because of defects in materials or workmanship, we will repair or replace it at no cost to you. Problems associated with normal wear or abuse will mean a reasonable repair or replacement charge. You are responsible for shipping charges to and from us for the repair. At BisonGear all of our packs/pack accessories carry this warranty whether it was a you bought it 15 years ago, it was a gift, you bought it secondhand etc. No receipts are necessary...ever
I've really enjoyed using this pack over the past several months. I've come to like everything about it and would change very little, the only issues I had are rather nitpicking at best.

One would be the 'grab handle' for lack of a better way of saying it. Currently it's a short piece of webbing sewn into the main pack compartment and the back.  See image below.

I would personally prefer it to be longer and beefier, its working as is and I have no reason to believe it isn't strong enough. I just prefer a beefier grab handle, and if possible, adjustable in nature. Sometimes I hang a pack from a tree limb, sometimes a hook, sometimes a nail. Due to the length of this one, whatever it's hanging from is sticking into whatever I have strapped to the top of the pack. If it were adjustable, or just longer for that matter then that wouldn't be an issue. Told ya I was nitpicking.

All in I could not be more pleased with the pack. While I know I'll be using this one heavily and it has firmly entrenched itself as my go to hunting pack, I'm also sure it won't be my last purchase from BisonGear. A Lemhi is next on the list! Or maybe a Houndsman?

Consider BisonGear Backwoods Bum Approved!


  1. What a comprehensive and detailed review. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I'm fighting every fiber of my being not to pull the trigger right now. I need to unload a few things before i invest in another pack! :)

    Thanks again,

    1. Thanks Jon.

      I know the feeling. I finally came to terms about a year ago, with the realization that there is no one perfect pack. Ended up with a canoeing pack line, a hunting pack line, a overnighter, a expedition, and a...

      Well yeah, I feel your pain.

  2. Perhaps we should combine forces and just start our own online Bushcraft outfitters store! ;)

  3. Hi there- love the review! I have a pack on order from Angelo currently but was wondering: how easy are the hip pockets to access while wearing the pack? I just got a KUIU pack but the hip pockets are virtually inaccessible while wearing it. Any comments on the Bison Gear in this respect?

    1. Hi Aaron, thanks for the kind words. I don't find the hip pockets hard to access, part of the reason why is the zipper pull is long enough to get a nice grip. They open and close fine one handed.

      Thanks for that bit on the Kuiu pack, I've been looking at them but want to see one in person before pulling the trigger. Nice to know about the hip pockets.

  4. Thanks for the reply.
    Don't get me wrong: I love KUIU and have a fair amount of their stuff. My pack from them is the 1850. I'm looking forward to comparing it side-by-side with my Lost River when it comes. The layout is terrific in my opinion on the KUIU pack. Love the compartment/pocket arrangement. A little noisy for hunting whitetails with a longbow in Wisconsin...but that's nylon for ya. Once it's on your back though, it's not going to make much noise if it's well adjusted. For what it's worth.... Thanks again for the reply.

  5. Dear A.G., excellent review, after reading, I ordered The Lost River. I am looking forward to using it on my many hunting trips, including a Sitka deer hunt on Kodiak (do it your self hunt), this year.