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The new SJK Rail Hauler 2500 hunting backpack system is a beast! When it first arrived, I thought, “Oh man, this pack is big.” But then I tried it on, and it seemed to disappear. I adjusted the shoulder straps, cinched up the hip belt, and busted out a few imaginary hunting moves: Rifle to shoulder, then twisting from the hips, back and forth, stepping over a log, avoiding a tree, then ducking under imaginary brush.
The Rail Hauler 2500 stayed put, and more importantly, it stayed quiet.
As I dismantled the backpack, which was created through the new Slumberjack “SJK” brand, the genius of the Rail Hauler 2500 design started to shine through. The Rail Hauler 2500 is really two hunting backpacks in one unit.
*Note: SJK has updated the Rail Hauler frame and now sells it as a standalone unit, but the Rail Hauler 2500 two-piece system remains in the company’s lineup.
The first piece is the rail system, which is basically an aluminum frame backpack. SJK claims it can haul 200 pounds — but I would prefer not to be the guy underneath 200 pounds to test that claim. Either way, the frame is solid.
Better yet, the bottom fold out ledge, which is typical of heavy hauling backpacks, is non-typical in design — it’s narrower than the width of the frame, but plenty wide enough to support an elk hind quarter. The attention to detail on this point is much appreciated — I like the narrower profile while navigating a forest.
In addition to the fold-out ledge, there are two wing flaps that wrap to secure your load, as well as a top flap that folds down over. The result? You can secure most loads with just three straps and buckles.
As a heavy load hauler, the shoulder straps have about the right cushion and adjustability, though you’ll likely need to cinch up the load levelers at the top to get the pack to ride closer to the tops of your shoulders (they start out a bit loose from the factory).
The hip belt has plenty of cushion and you can adjust it on the fly. More importantly, the hip belt is removable.
The SJK Rail Hauler 2500 2-in-1 System
The Rail Hauler 2500 also includes a separate backpack as part of the system. The main “bag” of the Rail Hauler 2500 is a roll-top backpack complete with shoulder straps. It does not have a frame, which keeps it light. It’s essentially a very large daypack. If you remove the hip belt from the main pack’s frame, you can install it on the roll-top pack, giving it a more stable profile that will carry more weight.
This system lets you haul gear into base camp, drop the frame, and go hunting with a light pack. It also lets you shed the frame for those quick hunts where you’ll never stray all that far from your pickup truck or ATV.
The Rail Hauler 2500 delivers the best of two worlds — the ability to carry out a heavy load as well as move fast and light. The versatility is just astounding.
As you might guess, SJK also sells the Rail Hauler frame individually. If you already have a light hunting pack that you like — but isn’t capable of heavy loads — you can buy the Rail Hauler frame and strap on your daypack in place of the SJK version. Sure, the cool Kryptek camo won’t match, but the functionality will be similar.
Pockets and Straps
The only downside to the Rail Hauler 2500 is that there are not many pockets that are readily accessible. Why? The core promise of versatility in managing loads makes exterior pockets a bit of a design issue, and their placement depends on how you intend to use your pack. Fortunately, the pack’s wings and top flap have grids of PALS/MOLLE-type webbing, so you can attach extra pouches that fit the particular gear you carry and want easy access to.
As for strap length, SJK doesn’t scrimp — you’ll likely have far more strap length than you’ll actually use. I almost started hacking them back, but thought better of it. In the winter, I’ll need longer straps for the hip belt to go over heavier clothes. And a big load? I might need some extra strap length. I ended up rolling the ends and rubber banding them together in little balls. (I’ll cut them off later when I’m sure of the maximum length I want.)
The roll-top pack has one deep-but-slim exterior zip pocket, as well as an interior sidewall pocket, which can be used to hold a hydration water bag. The two wings have slim sidewall pockets.
SJK Rail Hauler 2500 Fit and Finish
The first thing you’ll notice about the Rail Hauler 2500 is the Kryptek camo pattern. At first it looks like the body of an insect — maybe even the wing pattern of some undiscovered carnivorous butterfly — but in the field the camo seems to blend well enough. As I mentioned in my review of the Rail Hauler 2500’s lighter sibling, the Carbine 2500, the Kryptek camo pattern grows on you.
The aluminum frame is bronze, and it matches the Kryptek camo well — the non-traditional bronze color speaks to the overall attention to design detail that went into the Rail Hauler 2500.
The Slumberjack SJK Rail Hauler 2500 combines an an aluminum frame with a separate pack.
You’ve got to admit, the Rail Hauler 2500 is a good looking pack — rides nice, too.
The shoulder and hip belt provide plenty of padding.
Bottom ledge. Narrow profile helps you fight through brush.
Stingray or backpack?
Frame, leaning on bag.
SJK includes nice shoulder straps on the bag.
At 2500 cubic inches, you can pack a lot of gear.
The rifle carry system (tucks into pocket when not in use).
Into the Woods
To assemble the pack, all you have to do is stuff the roll-top pack with your gear. The heaviest or least-needed gear goes in the bottom, with items that you’ll want to access more frequently on the top. If you shed layers as the day warms up, you can open the flaps and easily strap a jacket in without opening the roll-top pack.
In this first-impressions review, I’ve only taken the Rail Hauler on one hunt. I saw five cow elk, two whitetail does, and one four-point buck. No shots. But, as I looked into a deep hole down a steep ridge into a canyon, I had a decision to make: head down to get in front of the moving elk — or stay on the nice flat old logging road?
If I were successful at the bottom, I’d have a tough hike out. . . . With the Rail Hauler 2500 on my back, though, I decided to go for it. Such is the confidence that a great pack inspires. And the elk? They slipped away.
Still, the Rail Hauler 2500 would have been ready for more. It’s earned a spot on my back in future hunts this season. If you want the strength of a frame pack with a versatility of a big day pack, the SJK Rail Hauler 2500 is easy to recommend.
Update: Quartered a medium whitetail buck, hauled all of it out a mile — rode great.
Update 2: Used this pack system on another ten hunts — great comfort under all sorts of loads, hauled two elk. No failures, but one bolt started to loosen. Recommendation? Tape a hex key for the bolts inside one of the wing pockets, just in case.
Get the Gear:
Rail Hauler 2500 — Combines an aluminum frame with a removable pack for heavy loads. The system also lets you use the fabric pack portion as a day pack, without the heavy-duty frame . . . see it at Amazon.
Rail Hauler 2.0 Frame — Just the updated frame design, which you can still use with another bag or a smaller hunting pack you already own.
Carbine 2500 — Blends the best of a light daypack with a versatile system that will let you carry a lot of gear . . . as well as add on a deer quarter . . . see it at Amazon.