I took the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander Frame + Pack Bag through the paces at elk camp this year. This combination is not really a frame and pack but a full system for hunting and packing meat quarters. The frame has a comprehensive lashing system, 5250 cubic inches of pack storage, a rifle carrier, an adjustable frame, and a shelf. Plus, ALPS OutdoorZ includes three extra extension straps just in case you can think of something else to add to the Commander’s capacity.
Commander Freighter Frame
Let’s talk about the frame. The frame is a lightweight aluminum that is adjustable to your height and torso preference (surprisingly, not all frame packs have true torso length adjustment, so this is a welcome feature). By simply removing the retaining pins you can adjust the torso cross frame and extend or shorten the height of the frame. This gives the frame a nice torso range from 17-inches up to 23-inches. The shoulder straps and waist straps are thick and padded — and I appreciated the both of these qualities when I was hunting the elk trails with a full pack.
The Command Frame — which can be purchased separately without the Commander Pack Bag — has three pockets: a knife pocket, a flashlight pocket, and a shooting stick pocket. I didn’t use the shooting stick pocket but the option is built-in. The frame has a mesh back band that provided excellent ventilation, which helped tremendously on my 4-hour hiking hunts. The hip belt also has two handy pockets, which easily held my binoculars and a few protein bars.
Commander Pack Bag
The Commander Pack Bag has an unreal 5250 cubic inches of space for packing. The inside of the bag from the top contains a middle divider if you need to keep some gear positioned at the top of the ample main storage compartment. For easy access to large loads, there is also a bottom entry zipper, which makes it easy to separate, organize, and get to your gear.
The rifle holder is sufficient for just about any rifle with a scope — it securely holds your rifle to the right side of the bag and uses a standard pocket system for the butt of your gun. The top cover flap includes a zipper pocket and will easily cover a full load, which is tightened shut with a Spindrift collar with draw cord. I spent four days in the pouring rain at elk camp and all my gear remained dry with this system. The pack has a strong single handle lift at the top of the shoulder straps, which I like for grabbing and tossing the pack around.
What else does it have? Pockets. Lots of pockets. Two small pockets run up the right side while the left includes a rectangular pocket suitable for a spotting scope. The zippers are all sturdy, and the stitching held up through four days of abuse. I can’t say that it is rip proof, but it didn’t tear or rip when hiking through miles of forested elk trail and is made of nylon ripstop fabric.
In case you were wondering, the ALPS Commander Pack Bag includes a hydration pocket and port for hydration systems — and that means you don’t have to off the pack to get at a water bottle.
A Heavy Hauler at a Super Affordable Price
The ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag gives you many options for hunting. The frame itself has enough pockets to act as a sufficient but slightly heavy day pack — and you could even strap on a bag or a smaller day pack if you wanted a leaner system for quick hunts. While my elk season ended without an elk — my hunting buddy was successful the day I had to get home — I have full confidence that I could have hauled out an elk quarter with relative ease. Of course, the Commander and Pack Bag combination is versatile enough that you could carry enough gear to camp in the backcountry . . . or go light for a quick jaunt into a canyon.
While the quality for the price on this pack is hard to beat, it does have one con: The frame uses clevis pin attachments that use a metal ring to stay in place. As you walk, the ring bounces against the frame making a slight-but-annoying metal-on-metal tinging sound. I tied some nylon cord to the rings for the first trip and that stopped the noise. A guy could also substitute different pins that would keep the pack soundless. You could also wrap a bit of tape on the frame where the rings bump — all easy fixes, but I wanted you to be prepared for your first trip out with the pack.
All-in-all, the ALPS OutdoorZ Commander + Pack Bag is a good all-around hunting pack, but when you consider the very affordable pricing, it’s an excellent solution in its price range.