The first thing that strikes you about this durable backpack is its weight. At less than 3 pounds, it felt like a feather compared with the other hunting packs we tested—a serious plus for hunters who tackle tough terrain where every ounce counts. After that, you begin to notice all the smart details that make the Bow and Rifle Pack so great—and worth your money. If you want to lighten your load for a simple day hunt, the front detaches to serve as a daypack. When you’re thirsty, you can take a sip from the included (and removable) 70-ounce reservoir.
After you stuff all 2,200 cubic inches of the main compartment, the frame balances the load nicely while the ergonomic, mesh-lined back panel keeps you comfortable. Then there’s the pack’s slick namesake feature: adjustable straps and a foldout bow-cam or -rifle-butt support pouch that securely hold your compound bow, rifle, or crossbow. It comes in four camo patterns as well as a Scent-Lok version ($170). —Colin Kearns
From a dead accurate factory rifle and hunting boots inspired by the demands of mountain warfare on the far side of the world to futuristic self-warming clothing and an ingenious treestand safety harness, this year’s winners will help any hunter improve his game.
The Gear Tests
Before a product earns recognition as Best of the Best, it must undergo field testing by our experts. In all, 150 products were tested, and 26 were deemed fit enough to earn Best of the Best honors. Here are some of the testing procedures we used:
Rifles and Shotguns
• Guns were inspected for overall fit and finish, and trigger pull weights were verified. Barreled actions were removed and inspected with a borescope. Rifles were shot from a benchrest, three shots at 100 yards, with three different types of ammo, to determine accuracy. Shotguns were fired from a low-gun start on the trap and skeet field with a variety of hunting and target ammo to assess responsiveness and function.
• Penetration and weight retention of big-game bullets were examined using the Ballistic Buffalo, an ingenious instrument created by Rifles editor David E. Petzal (fieldandstream.com/ballisticbuffalo).
• Knives were tested for edge holding, initial sharpness, and ease of resharpening. Special-purpose knives were tested by cutting wood, parachute cord, and seat belts.
ATVs and UTVs
• ATVs and UTVs were loaded with gear and driven hundreds of miles through narrow wooded trails, rock fields, and mud pits.
• Optics were submerged (riflescopes had turret caps removed) in 1 foot of warm water for a full minute, then placed overnight in a chest freezer at 10 degrees to test fogproofing. Then they were left out for another night and again checked for any signs of internal moisture. In addition to examining optical quality in varying light conditions, our experts tested the riflescopes with live-fire exercises.