A question that frequently comes up this time of year as guys are shopping for and receiving new packs is “What’s the best way to load my pack?” Here I will thoroughly cover how I typically pack my Icon PRO 7200 for a multi-day outing. This will be quite a bit different from how I pack an Ultra bag, which I’ll cover in a future post. Let me preface by saying that there are a number of logical ways to load the Icon PRO with gear, below is simply what has proven to work best for me through trial and error.
Below is my empty and compressed 7200.
What’s Going In?
For the sake of this demo, I’ll pack what I would take on a solo 4-day October high country Mule Deer rifle hunt. This will be a pretty universal gear list, as the only main differences for longer/shorter or colder/warmer hunts will be variations in the amounts of food and clothing.
Here’s what’s going into the pack:
- Sleeping Bag- Super Down 30 Degree
- Sleeping Pad- Thermarest NeoAir XLite
- One-Man Trekking Pole Shelter
- Tripod- Slik 624CF Pro
- 15×56 Binoculars- Swarovski
- Bino Adapter on Plate- Outdoorsmans
- 3L Hydration Bladder- Platypus Hoser
- 1L Soft Bottle w/ Filter- Platy Bottle/ Platy Gravityworks
- Stove, Pot, Fuel- MSR Micro Rocket & Titan Kettle
- Titan Spoon
- Collapsible Cup- Sea to Summit
- 4 Days Food (and Coffee!)
- Camera (Canon T3i, larger than average)
- Main Headlamp- Petzl NAO
- Emergency Headlamp- Petzl e+lite
- Havalon Knife w/ 4 Extra Blades
- 1 Large Game Bag- Caribou Gear
- 2 Small/Medium Game Bags- Caribou Gear
- Mole Skin
- Wet Wipes
- Mountain Money
- Tenacious Tape
- Pack Rain Cover- KUIU
- 7 Rounds Ammo (rubberbanded bundles of 3 and 4)
- Small Notebook and Pen
- 1 Extra Pair Ultra Merino Socks
- Chugach NX Rain Jacket
- Chugach NX Rain Pant
- Super Down Hooded Jacket
- Ultra Merino 145 Bottom
- Ultra Merino 210 Zip-T
- Ultra Merino Beanie
- Ultra Merino Neck Gaiter
- Northstar Gloves
Light and Bulky to the Bottom
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way first, all of which stows inside the main compartment. My sleeping bag is the lowest item in the pack, as it provides lightweight loft to keep heavier items riding higher in the pack. Keeping the heaviest items high and tight to the body aids in making a pack not feel as heavy, compared to if the heftiest pieces are stored low and away. The sleeping bag is not an item that will need to be accessed in a rush, further qualifying it’s place at the very bottom.
On top of the sleeping bag sits the rolled up tent body and fly, and on top of that is where I keep my Super Down jacket. Keeping the Super Down here serves two purposes: 1) It provides additional loft from the bottom as described above, and 2) It sits at a level where its easily accessed by opening just a small portion of the main horseshoe zipper. It’s nice to be able to grab the down jacket quickly when sitting to glass or take a break. If it’s cold out and you plan to remain stationary for a little while, you want to get insulated before any accumulated body sweat starts to freeze.
One more note on starting from the bottom- If the lower webbing loops on the pack aren’t occupied by a weapon holder accessory, I like to install the compression straps and cinch the bottom together- essentially raising the lowest resting point of the main compartment for a higher overall gear load (photo below).
My 3L Platypus Hoser always goes in the right side, interior vertical hydration pocket. This pocket has a hanger and convenient hose port to run the hydration to to my right shoulder strap. While the matching pocket on the left also has a hanger and hose port, I’m right handed so I like to drink from the right. For lefties, the right shoulder strap hose clip can be removed and re-attached to the left shoulder strap.
My extra (usually empty) 1L Platy Bottle and gravity filter are stored in the left-side interior vertical pocket. If using a gravity filter, keeping it inside like this adds extra protection from impact and insulation from freezing.
Optics, Tripod, Camera
Now that I have up to 3 Liters of water hanging on the right side of the pack, I need to balance it out- a perfect job for the tripod. My tripod always goes on the outside of the pack, on the left hand side. The feet slide into the exterior stuff-it pouch, and the upper frame to bag compression strap secures the top end with a single wrap.
Optics, whether is be a spotting scope or 15×56 binos, fit nicely into the exterior vertical-zip pocket. I put my game bags underneath them, just to keep the weight sitting a hair higher.
My camera typically moves back and forth between the lid and the main pack compartment. If there’s enough room in the lid with my clothes (addressed later), I prefer to have it there for fast access and to keep the weight nice and high. If there’s not space in the lid, it sits in the same area as my Super Down which still offers efficient accessibility. There have been times, usually during epic pack outs, where I’ve simply buckled the camera case into my bino harness to keep it at the ready. Whatever you do, don’t ever have your camera too deep in the pack to draw in a hurry.
Organizing with Dry Bags
While the Icon PRO offers plenty of pockets to keep items separated, I still find myself making use of dry bags in various sizes to compartmentalize. Bulk food, cookware, clothes, and small rarely used items get dry bagged. Not only is it convenient to pull out a bag of related items that are typically used together, but it’s nice to have the peace of mind that electronics, paper, and small gear won’t be easily lost or damaged due to moisture. Furthermore, in the event that maximum interior bag space is needed for meat, the dry bags and their contents can be lashed to the outside of the pack.
My food almost always fits into a Medium roll top dry bag. This simply goes into the main bag compartment on top of everything else above that’s already in the pack. As items get eaten and trash is generated, I like to reserve the large lower mesh panel pocket as a dedicated waste location. Putting wrappers back into the food dry bag just creates a mess of confusion after a couple days, and having bits of garbage tucked “wherever” throughout the pack is just plain annoying.
Cookware and Tags/Small Items
The dry bags with cookware and small items (tag, license, pen, ibuprofen, Havalon blades, moleskin, emergency headlamp, etc.) fits easily into the large mesh top panel pocket.
I’ve always liked to keep my extra clothes in the pack lid. While I don’t have a great reason for doing this, I just like to keep the bulk down in the main pack compartment. And at night a lid stuffed with clothes, removed from the pack, with a shirt around it makes a pretty nice pillow. As seen in the photo below, this dry bag of clothes only takes up one of the two large lid pockets.
The Chugach NX Jacket rides on its own in the other lid pocket for easy access in the event of an inadvertent rain or cold biting wind.
Small frequent use items always ride in the top outside horizontal zip pocket. With a built in zip divider, this compartment is actually two pockets in one. The innermost pocket has a key clip, making it a safe place for… you guessed it, keys. Being that it takes opening two zippers to reach, it’s also a safe location to keep a wallet if you don’t like keeping your wallet at the trailhead.
In the larger outer portion of this pocket are my headlamp, tripod head with bino adapter, Merino beanie and neck gaiter, Merino gloves, Havalon knife, snacks, and extra shells (rubberbanded to eliminate noise). Because it’s so common to end up using the pack as a shooting rest, keeping extra shells here is a smart move for fast access during the heat of the moment.
Hip belt pouches are another excellent place to store frequently used odds and ends. Here I typically keep my chapstick (Scarpa makes really good chapstick by the way), wind indicator bottle, cell phone, bundle of three extra shells, and handheld GPS if using one.
Just the same as the tripod on the left side, I make use of the stuff-it pocket and frame compression strap to securely attach my rifle. By running the compression strap between the scope bell and barrel, a firm downward pull is achieved which really locks the gun into place. In the event that extra protection for the scope and action is desired, the side vertical pocket can be opened and strapped over the outside of the gun.
For inquiring minds, this is a Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight RC in .270 WBY Mag. The scope is a Nightforce NXS Compact 2.5-10×42 with IR and ZeroStop, mounted in Seekins Precision bases on a Talley 20MOA base.
Fully Loaded, How Much Room is Left?
Below you see the pack loaded with everything that’s gone in up to this point. While it looks pretty full, there’s still plenty of space to add even more gear, and/or pack out a large load of meat.
- The back pocket of the lid is only 1/3 full.
- The left inside vertical pocket only has two small items in it.
- The lower inside panel pocket is empty.
- Both large exterior side vertical pockets are empty.
- The exterior back vertical zip pocket is only half full.
- Gear in the main compartment has plenty of room around it.
- Gear in the main compartment stops well below the snow collar.
- Extending the snow collar would add at least 2,000 cubic inches.
- Load Sling mode would provide yet another 2,500 cubic inches.
- If push came to shove, dry bags could easily be strapped to the outside.
I hope this has helped answer some of your questions. If nothing else, it’s always fun to see someone else’s kit and a few pack photos. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post in the comments section below.
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