The snow began to fall as I struggled my way up through the big fir trees, legs burning under a pack loaded down with all of my gear for a three-day solo elk hunt. It was the day before the rifle season opened in my home state of Montana and with a heavy winter storm forecasted, I was headed to one of my favorite elk opener spots with all of my gear on my back. I estimated the weight around seventy pounds with my rifle included as well as a tipi shelter and woodstove. Having to still set up camp and cut firewood before the snow set in, I pushed hard and lit the fire in my stove as the snow began to sock me in for the afternoon. If the forecast held, I’d have an opening day of clear skies, ten to fourteen inches of fresh snow, and a mountain all to myself.
Most avid hunters have a personal gear list developed over years of experience to suit their style of hunting whether it be treestands for whitetails or ten-day backcountry expeditions. The list will get more in-depth as a hunter plans to stay out farther and longer from civilization and must rely on their pack and its contents for not only comfort but in some instances survival. Proven, quality gear is a must for the hunter wanting to push their personal limits and take their hunting to the next level.
Using the gear I trusted enough to go it alone through a Montana storm allowed me several days of unfettered hunting with not another person in sight. I saw several bulls but not any I was ready to notch my tag on so soon. Shaking the ice from my tipi and stuffing it back in my pack, I started the long walk out to my pickup. “I’m glad I chained up the tires beforehand,” I thought to myself as the storm had deposited almost knee-deep snow by that point, and freeing my only mode of transportation home would have been questionable.
One of, if not the most critical tool for backcountry success is a quality pack capable of standing up to the challenges of years of rigorous use and abuse. Enter Frontier Gear of Alaska (FGA), a line of gear designed and sold from Anchorage, Alaska. Kevin Dana, the owner of Barney’s Sports Chalet and the home of Frontier Gear is as avid a mountain hunter as you’ll find. A lifelong Alaskan resident and former sheep guide, he and his crew design and test their line of gear on all things Alaska. From the lowlands and big Alaskan moose quarters to the alpine and sweeping Dall sheep horns, their external frame packs are renowned in the North Country for being able to withstand anything thrown at or in them.
While Barney’s sells various brands of quality gear for all things hunting, their bread and butter is the FGA line. The FGA Freighter Frame can be equipped with three different bags; the 6800 cubic inch Hunter or the 7800 cubic inch Pinnacle, the Yukon bag is 7800cu as well with some slight differences from the Pinnacle. I’ve used the Freighter and Hunter (made in the USA) for everything from Dall sheep, Alaskan moose, and brown bears to solo elk hunts in Montana, hauling loads up to 110 pounds or better for several years now. The aircraft grade aluminum of the Freighter ensures a rigid, virtually indestructible frame that when coupled with the heavy 500 denier reinforced Cordura of the Hunter, Pinnacle, or Yukon Bag creates a system that’s known the state over for its durability. There’s a reason that more guides and resident hunters in Alaska go to FGA for their pack needs than any other brand.
When you lay your hands on an FGA pack it’s apparent the attention to detail involved in the creation of the system. From Barney’s website:
We use our custom shoulder suspensions system made of a three layer memory foam for supreme comfort when packing out that trophy of a lifetime. The shoulder suspensions operate on the “yoke” system which allows our staff to completely customize each pack to the hunter, accounting for both height and weight dimensions. The smart, anatomical design gives the user the most comfortable and functional fit, even under heavy loads. We also customize our own contoured “free floating” hip belt with non slip grip to prevent the pack from moving up or down. The hip belt is tapered, meaning that it is wider at the bottom than the top, which matches the contours of the body.
Despite my enjoyment of the pure functionality of the Freighter frame, the hip belt and shoulder straps are like none of the other packs I use, taking the suck out of those 80-110 pound loads. While most of my packs I’d liken to a half-ton pickup, capable in their own right of hauling a decent amount of weight; the Freighter is more like a one-ton dually. When you’ve got heavy things to move a distance you need the right tool to do it safely and efficiently, that’s what this pack system is designed to do.
The Freighter with the Hunter bag weighs in at approximately seven pounds all told. Several accessories are available to compliment personal preferences including a lumbar pad for extra support, detachable hip pockets, rain cover, meat shelf, and a rifle/bow carrier.
While the upfront cost will start anywhere from 775.00 to 900.00 depending on optional accessories, rest assured customers are getting their money’s worth. As owner Kevin Dana says, “Our small batch production allows us to control every aspect of the process, from Phase 1 to the finished product.”
The Frontier Gear of Alaska line has a lifetime warranty for material and workmanship defects as well as a repair option if a hunter wears their pack out. The crew at Barney’s wants to help with whatever they can to keep you in the field and putting loads of meat in their packs.
If you’ve got a trip of a lifetime planned, are considering trying your hand at mountain hunting for the first time, or just in the market for an expedition-type pack upgrade, consider giving Kevin a call at 1-907-561-5242 and check out his website Barneys Sports Chalet.