I’ve spent a grip of my hunting tenure combing the western mountains. I simply can’t get enough of the steep slopes, pungent pines and the sight of golden aspens fluttering in the breeze. I love it!
During my treks across the West, I’ve tested more backpacks than Justin Bieber has hair gels. Why? Simple, a good pack can make the difference between an enjoyable hunt and a miserable one, especially once the game is put down. Of course, I’ve found a few I can depend on — backcountry staples that heed the demands of a true wilderness adventure. With that noted, I’m always on the lookout for a new backcountry tote loaded with purposeful features. When Badland’s new Vario Pack System arrived on my doorstep, I couldn’t wait to load it up and take it for a test drive.
About The System
The roots of Badlands are firmly established, and its latest pack addition may very well be its most extraordinary to date. The Vario System provides the hunter with throngs of customizable options. Hunters love options!
The system’s backbone is the Vario Frame. Built to haul serious loads, the frame showcases an adjustable shoulder strap and waist belt as well as a spine-contoured back suspension design. The unit comes with a Vario Frame Meatshelf and Ultralight Batwing Accessory, which is used to suck loads to the frame. Torso sizes of Medium and Large are available.
Once you have the frame, the fun really begins. Badlands offers four packs (Vario 65 Bag, Vario 50 Bag, Vario 33 Bag, and Vario Day Bag) that simply slip over the frame. More on this later. In addition, pack builders can also add the Vario Game Bag and Vario Deluxe Batwing to complete their masterpiece. Being able to swap packs of different sizes allows the hunter to better prepare for specific hunts.
How It Works
The system is a breeze to operate. The frame is the base and contains an internal stay system composed of a new magnesium alloy. The frame tips the scale at approximately five pounds. Side of the obvious shoulder and waist belt adjustments, the freeing of three buckles that connect each side of the included Ultralight Batwing Accessory allow access to the fluorescent orange (safety first) Meatshelf. The shelf is sizable, sturdy and top adjustment straps allow you to adjust the size of the shelf to the load.
Adding a pack to the system takes seconds. Minus the daypack, each has a pair of sleeves located on the top backside where you can choose Medium or Large settings. Simply release your load-lifter straps on the frame’s top front and slide the sleeve over the frame. Be sure to push the load-lifter buckles through the slits cut into each pack. Now it’s time for the bottom attachment. Remove your bedroll straps and feed them through the bottom buckle on the frame and then run them back through your bedroll straps. Next, reattach the load-lifter straps and start matching buckles. It’s really that simple. I’ve dealt with packs that require a NASA-pedigree to operate. My 14-year-old can switch between packs in minutes with the Vario System.
What better test to throw at a new pack than a moose hunt, right? My father-in-law pulled a coveted Colorado tag, and some pre-season scouting revealed plenty of moose in the unit’s high-alpine willows.
Knowing we would be making long treks each day and be hauling lots of gear, I attached the Vario 6500 Bag to the frame. This pack boasts a total volume of 6,500 cubic inches and the top-loading design allows for immediate access to inside-the-pack gear. A pull-tab closure system keeps top compartments closed and the ultralight Ripstop Fabric promises durability and keeps weight down.
Not only did the system, because of its many customizable adjustments, carry well, it proved to be a workhorse when my father-in-law dropped the hammer on a great bull moose.
I love a pack that doesn’t require bloody game bags to be placed inside the main compartment. With the Vario System, I could fill the meat compartment, strap it down and then reconnect my Vario 6500 pack. Multiple buckles with long straps allow for several points of contact, and because the straps are so lengthy, sucking a load down is super easy. I hate short straps. This pack doesn’t have them.
With a full boned-out moose hindquarter loaded in the pack, I slid into the shoulder straps and stood up. I immediately noticed the extra support in the shoulders. Yes, you want the load to ride on your hips, but when you’re hauling a lot of weight off the mountain, your shoulders will take some abuse. Badlands knows this and fitted the frame with its thickest memory foam shoulder straps to date. The shoulder straps also include the load-lifter straps, which allow you to further customize the feel of the load to your body.
The waist belt buck proved ultra-adjustable. Velcro straps on the belt allow the wearer to choose between a medium or large setting, and the belt sucks down snug and doesn’t move. Over the course of the day, I packed four loads of moose meat off the mountain. It was a labor of love, and the pack performed flawlessly. Yes, I could have easily detached the 6,500 pack for each trip, but I wanted to give the entire system a test drive. It passed.
More To Love
Badlands put a lot of TLC into this system. Other notable features that caught my eye were the included holster strap located in the waist belt. This holster held my FN 509 Midsize 9mm well and didn’t create an uncomfortable ride. I also tipped my hat to the fact that most of the packs in the line will tote a bow or rifle, is hydration compatible and have a number of additional tie-down points.
In addition to hauling out a bull moose, I also used the Vario System to tote my 14-year-old’s monster Colorado Pronghorn off the plains. I placed the entire boned-out pronghorn in the Badlands Vario Game Bag and carried it out in one load. This pack is impressive and will be one I will use for seasons to come.