Could the Exo Mountain Gear K4 5000 improve upon my previous K3 backpack and how does it compare to other premium quality backpacks? This review aims to answer that. I hate short term reviews of gear where the reviewer spends just a week or two with an item then gives it a glowing report. I’ve now backcountry hunted, backpacked, and hauled substantial loads of meat with my K4 over the course of two years and have something to say.
Why Trust Me?
I know how hard it is to find honest recommendations and to narrow down American made gear. This is why I started American Gear Guide. I take my recommendations seriously and only recommend the best of the best. Here are a few reasons to trust me.
- I make independent recommendations based on personal experience (not paid to endorse a product).
- I’ve hunted, fished, gathered, and gardened since childhood. I fill my freezer with meat via bow, rifle, and rod.
- As an avid outdoorsman that reviews gear for a living, I also actually own and use all American made gear.
- My background includes 10 yrs working with the Forest Service as a Wildland Firefighter, Ranger, Wildlife Crew-leader, and Forest Ecologist. I certified as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I’ve backpacked extensively throughout the USA and 45 countries including in the Middle East, Central & South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. See About page for more.
- I attend industry trade shows like Hunting Expos & Outdoor Retailer to stay informed on the latest innovative equipment.
- This guide receives regular updates with the newest gear.
- Continuous learning & self improvement are encouraged, so I welcome your criticism. If you think I missed anything then please leave some helpful suggestions.
So what’s my experience to say anything on backpacks? Well, I’ve hauled plenty of heavy loads like a human donkey. From Hotshot firefighting with a 16 hr a day base load of 40 lb and frequently adding 43 lb with a 5 gal water cubey, or less often an extra 70 lb with a water pump kit, or most frequently 20 lb of additional chainsaw gear… to backpacking deep into USFS Forest Inventory and Analysis survey sites randomly assigned anywhere in the Rockies with forest. Most importantly I grew up backpacking and backcountry hunting. Thus, I’ve tested many packs and know when I find a good one.
Performance & Improvements
After two years of backpacking, scouting, hunting, and harvesting a Muley buck on my local archery tag, my K4 5000 pack has performed as well or better than my older K3 backpack but in a more streamlined package. I have yet to find a more comfortable backpack when packing out meat in the 100 lb range. So what are the main improvements of the K4 over the K3? I loved my K3 and it hauled out the most memorable bull elk of my life, a non-typical giant (shown below) that I’ll be hard pressed to match. You can hear the story of bowhunting that bull on the Hunt Backcountry Podcast Episode 316 which you can stream on any podcast app or click here.
The subtle improvements over the K3 4800 are mostly seen in the pack frame. Instead of the bulkier titanium frame of the K3, the K4 utilizes two carbon fiber stays to provide frame support. The hip belt on the K4 is slightly taller over the hip bones and the lumbar pad is larger than on the K3. After packing out meat I broke down the K4 pack frame to clean off blood in the washing machine and found the K4 slightly easier to dismantle and rebuild. On the K4 bag itself, the side pockets are more streamlined and have zippers instead of drawstrings. I’ve included photos of both the K3 and K4 packs and frames at the bottom of the review to compare.
Another new feature of the K4 pack frame is the addition of laser cut MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) attachment points on the hip belt. Personally, I found the most helpful molle attachments to be a hip pouch for accessories like my rangefinder and snacks, an insulated nalgene bottle holder, and the molle is a great way to attach my favorite kydex holster from Ivory Holsters who make holsters specifically designed for the molle of Exo Mountain Gear packs. I prefer Ivory Holsters for bushwhacking due to their excellent retention and enclosed design that prevents twigs from entering the holster and poking the trigger. Note, I have the original adjustable pack clips on my Ivory holster which still work with the K4, but the optional molle clips are easier to put on and take off the holster with the K4 (I tried them at the Western Hunting Expo).
The longest self supported trip I did with my K4 5000 was only 5 days but I could have easily gone much longer. I own extremely high quality, compact, and lightweight backpacking gear so the fairly large 5,658 ci (92.7 L) volume of the K4 5000 was more than enough space. Personal gear choices have a big effect on how large of a bag you need. It helps that my gear is the best quality you can get like a Feathered Friends sleeping bag and down jacket, FORLOH camo, Therm-a-Rest Neoair Xtherm pad, Zpacks DupleXL Tent, and more (see my gear list).
As far as carrying my bow, an abundance of straps allowed me to either carry my bow on the back of the pack vertically using horizontal straps or horizontally under the lid or “pack brain.” Exo Mtn Gear makes an optional quick release rifle attachment for carrying rifles directly on the backpack.
There are a lot of great features on the K4 5000:
- Ease of detaching the bag from the frame to load meat directly onto the frame shelf.
- Horseshoe shaped pack “face” zipper allows quick access into the guts of the pack.
- Thickly padded shoulder straps and hip belt.
- Nice hip pocket for snacks and my range finder.
- Insulated nalgene bottle holder.
- My Ivory Holster strapped perfectly on MOLLE attachment points of the hip belt.
- Plenty of pocket space plus large, long side pockets that are a good fit for a spotting scope, bugle, tripod, narrow tent, sleeping pad, etc.
- The frame easily removes from the bag so you can stuff your dirty pack into a washing machine.
- Stretchy side pockets for fast and quiet access to gear.
- I prefer roll top designs like the K4 for expanding or shrinking with the size of your load.
Durability & Trade-offs
Like my previous K3 the manufacturing quality of my K4 backpack is superb. The markers of pride in craftsmanship are all there; the stitching, fit, and finish are perfect. The designers chose strong materials that will stand up to many years of harsh backcountry use like Mil-Spec 500d fabric and larger #10 YKK zippers. Backcountry scrambling and bushwhacking are hard on packs.
There’s little I don’t like about the K4. What cons could I nit pick? Maybe weight, but that’s a hard compromise. A popular trend in backpacking is the move towards ultralight equipment including ultralight backpacks. I appreciate ultralight packs when I’m only backpacking but when hunting and hauling meat, the trade-offs aren’t worth it to me. The K4 5000 is not ultralight, weighing about the same as similar volume competitors at 5 lb 13 oz total, but it’s far more supportive and comfortable to haul seriously heavy loads than any lightweight pack I’ve tested. It’s also more durable. I expect the K4 to last many years hunting.
I found the K4 5000 to be an exceptionally well thought out hunting backpack. This is my personal go to pack when I need to haul 100+ lb of meat and gear. I’ve tried out competing backpacks from friends and at hunting expos like those from Kuiu, Sitka, and Stone Glacier to compare with one another. Like I said with my previous Exo Mtn Gear K3, I wouldn’t trade my K4 5000 for any of them.
The K4 5000 can be found directly through ExoMtnGear.com.
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