An External Frame Pack for the Masses: Outdoorsmans Optics Hunter by Wilderness Athlete

One of the first backpacks I owned back in the 80s was a Kelty external frame.  It was a solid pack – aluminum frame and all.  It’s hard to find an external frame pack nowadays, especially a reliable one.  And they’re not ideal for snowshoers.  Nonetheless, I found one that any shoer should consider.  

The trend nowadays has been internal frame packs: They’re not as bulky and provide a narrow main compartment area.  Internal frame packs offer more maneuverability and stability.  The user’s center of gravity is easier to maintain, particularly when scrambling during a steep ascent or wildly shifting weight when descending a slope.

An internal frame is supported, in most cases, by aluminum stays (or other composite structure).  While sturdy, the stays offer a flexible solution to keep the pack secure on the hips and conforming to the user’s back.  Additionally, most internal frame packs require the user to set the load with care.  This helps sustain a more acceptable center of gravity for a better sense of balance and movement.

The reasons are obvious as to why the internal frame design surpassed external frames.  When empty, my Kelty external frame pack was heavy.  Its aluminum frame overwhelmed its design.  Kelty was forced to create a main compartment without a lot of pockets and features.  Plus, the pack’s material was thin and frail (to compensate for total weight). 

That was then.  

And this is now: Wilderness Athlete’s Outdoorsmans Optics Hunter Pack System.  

Simply, this pack’s external frame backpack is strong.  Unlike my Kelty pack of old, the Optics Hunter Pack has a two-pound carbon fiber reinforced external frame.  In total, the pack weighs about seven pounds.  This is particularly lightweight for an external frame.  

The pack’s suspension system is second to none, further supported by an external frame that literally conforms to the user’s back.  The bag itself is connected at eight different points to the frame.  A person’s center of gravity is aptly maintained, in combination with the pack’s massive carrying capacity – approximately 4,600 cubic inches.    

Nevertheless, the pack is ideal for users at a height of 5’2” to 6’10”.  That’s versatility at its best; that’s the design’s primary concern.  Backcountry snowshoers can pack for the long haul (ideal for hut-to-hut treks).  This isn’t your mom’s day pack or a delicate commuter: The Optics Hunter is a brute.  It’s made to last.  It’s made to battle the toughest of excursions, in any season. 

Photographers and peaceful observers of the outdoors can carry heavy, fragile equipment on the trail.  However, the Optics Hunter was primarily made with hunters in mind.  What does hunting have to do with snowshoeing?  Many hunters have turned to snowshoeing as a way to access remote areas of the landscape for optimal hunting grounds.  They also need a pack that can handle up to 200 pounds (not entirely desirable, but necessary when transporting gear and meat).      

So, how does an external frame pack with an enormous main compartment offer stability and functionality?  In my opinion, the pack’s burly shoulder straps and hipbelt are the primary ingredients for the stability required to handle Sherpa-like loads.  

The Optics Hunter is an expedition pack.  It’s a pack that can handle the rigors of years and years of abuse.  But that’s what Wilderness Athlete wants: Beat the living crap out of this pack…and enjoy every moment of it.

Additional hunting-related features:

*Underneath each pack bag is a load carrying system that is part of the frame. This is ideal for meat packing or caching food and water for those long hunts.

*The “V” notch rifle rest in the top of the frame allows for a solid rest while shooting from the sitting position due to the solid base of the frame/pack system

*The rifle carrying system is built right into every pack and securely holds any size rifle, bow and muzzleloader

For more information about the Outdoorsmans Pack System, visit  

For more information about Wilderness Athlete, visit

About the author

Ryan Alford