Badlands OX Pack Review
If you read or talk about hunting enough, invariably you will hear the advice that you "have to go where the game are" which is usually well away from any roads. This holds particularly true when hunting western public land or roadless areas. Well let's say you're an average hunter, what are your options to accomplish this goal?
First you could ride horses or mules. A great idea and a superb way to get in and out of the backcountry, except they can blow a large hole in a hunting budget especially if you maintain them year around.
Scratch the hooves and go with an ATV. Also a great idea, but again they can get quite expensive, plus the cost of transporting them to your hunting destination. Once you get there though you might find out that local or federal laws prevent the use of the ATV other than on designated trails. So you're back to square one at least partially.
The last option is simply to get your hiking boots on and pack into your dream hunting destination. For a lot of hunters this is the only option. Now lets assume that you have taken the necessary steps to get in shape the next step will be locating and purchasing an appropriate pack. Yes a pack, if you have hiked any kind of distance with weight on your back, you know that the pack can make a decisive difference in how the event turns out. Boots are also high on the equipment list and revile the pack in importance.
If you plan to stay for a few days and pack out an elk or deer by yourself and want to minimize the trips you will take, you are limited to a frame pack. Most non-frame packs are either not rigid enough or not large enough to haul all your gear and your game back to the vehicle. The Badlands OX is a new external frame pack that is aimed squarely at the pack in, pack out on foot style hunt.
Pack view of the Badlands OX
Back view of the pack. Notice the copious amount of padding
around the hips and lower lumbar portion of the pack.
Badlands is in the business of creating packs particularly tailored to the hunter. We have covered their Hypervent pack in the past. Like most small manufacturers that focus heavily on quality and service (with a larger than average price tag) Badlands has a loyal customer base. Previous Badlands owners have been highly anticipating the OX for several years and the company has somewhat released the pack in the past only to pull back. Officially this year, 2010, is the release of the finalized OX and we were able to get our hands on one to test.
The OX aluminum non-welded frame weighs in at around l.5 pounds. The complete frame with OX pack weighs in at a bit over 9 lbs. Overall the pack has 7 compartments and 9 pockets totaling an official 4400 cubic inches of space. The pack is pre-equipped with all necessary pockets and straps to attach either a rifle or bow.
The pack has a series of quick snaps and a pocket in order to secure a rifle or bow.
The frame itself is available in two sizes medium and large. Medium is best for most average height hunters; however if you are much over six feet tall you may want to look at the large frame. Camo patterns available are either Realtree MAX-1 (which is a western sage style camo) or AP (all-purpose darker colors with more hard woods).
The frame and suspension can be completely removed from the pack and used simply as a regular frame pack. There have been a few retailers selling this stripped down form of the OX for at least a year.
Badlands claims a superior center of gravity for the OX. To test this out, I strapped my two kids into the pack, the oldest is six and the younger is 3 for a combined weight of 80 pounds. It wasn't particularly easy getting the kids in but the OX absorbed them with the proper straps to balance out the load. While walking around with this unwieldy, talkative load I found that the OX did seem to have a slight shift in gravity towards the shoulders over a traditional frame pack (such as an ALICE frame pack). This weight shifting appears to be created by the curve of the OX main aluminum beams. This tends to get the load closer on your shoulders and hips thus increasing the amount you can tilt backwards before you completely tip over. Keep in mind that the OX does not defy physical laws though and you can't stand upright without a care, because you will buckle over like any other heavy load frame pack. By the way, if you think my experiment with the kids is unusual; I invite you, the reader, to do some internet searching for OX photos. There is at least one set of pictures of a guy with an entire unskinned, ungutted black bear strapped to his OX frame.
It's worth noting as well, that with the abundance of straps that you have to spend some time tuning your load and the strap placement and tightness. Like properly balancing a trailer you're towing on a long trip, properly balancing the pack load and straps will make for a smoother, more comfortable hike.
So what's not to like about the OX? First is cost, it's not cheap, a complete OX will set you back roughly $460. This high cost is offset by Badlands unlimited lifetime warranty. Basically if you break it, they will repair it at no charge as long as you pay freight to and from the manufacturer. If you're the type that does at least one hike in trip a year, this warranty could easily offset the cost of the pack over several years of use. If you are just starting out packing in and are on a tight budget you might want to look at military surplus frame packs before taking the plunge on an OX.
Second the pack is probably going to be hard to get for a while. Check with your local Badlands retailers to see about availability if you plan to try one out this fall.
Last, Badlands always seems to be very light on instruction manuals or some type of literature regarding how to use or at least suggested uses for the various pack compartments and straps. It may seem silly to need a manual for a pack, but with 16 pockets/compartments and many straps it can sometimes be difficult to figure out precisely how the designers intended the pack to be used. Perhaps some of the aura of obtaining a Badlands pack is the zen of figuring out its correct or best use without help.
In conclusion the OX is a solid buy if you are a regular pack in style hunter. It could be a good purchase even if you're packing in for just one hunt, especially when compared to the alternative costs (horses, mules, or ATV's). The OX is probably not the best option if you are simply walking in and out on a day hunt, although it will still be handy when packing out a complete mule deer or several elk quarters.
For more information about the Badlands OX please visit Badlands.