After searching for a decent pack for both backpack hunting and overnight trips for awhile, I went with the recommendations I got here on the forums and bought an REI Crestrail 70.
I had a chance to really use the pack as intended about three weeks ago on a Mountain Goat hunt in the BC Rockies. Overall, I REALLY like the pack. The hunt involved a 5.75 hour ascent to our spike camp/cache at about 6400ft. During the ascent, I carried about 50-60 pounds of gear, rifle, ammunition, food and water. With some very minor adjustments, I found the pack very comfortable to wear. The hip belt worked well for me, making the load a breeze to carry up some very steep terrain. Load distribution was excellent. I used one of the pockets on the hip belt to carry spare rifle shells, while the other was covered by the Kifaru gun-bearer I used for the first time on this trip. While I had read about guys replacing hip belts with ones from Kifaru, so far I am liking the one that comes from REI. (of course sometimes we don't know what we are missing!)
I found the pack design well laid out. Everything was easy to get to, The zippers and fasteners all worked as intended. While I used a 3L MSR bladder on this trip, the water bottle pockets on each side of the Crestrail 70 came in handy for all kinds of things when I wanted quick access to something without having to take the pack off. I really like the compressability of the pack as well. It goes from carrying an overnight/multi-day load to compressing down to a good sized day pack quite nicely.
From the spike camp, I used the pack everyday to carry my essentials. Again, its compressability was a really nice feature. At one point I climbed probably the steepest terrain I have ever done before up to about 8400 ft. The Crestrail 70 again was extremely comfortable and served me well. Never at any point did my shoulders or other part of my body feel fatigued from wearing the pack.
The descent off the mountain...unfortunately without any Mtn. Goats, took about 3.5 hours. Again, no issues with pack serviceability or comfort. I am duly impressed with this pack and can't wait to get out on another trip with it.
More notes on the hunt. We saw Mountain Goats everyday during our four day hunt. The one day I climbed up to 8400ft. we saw 15! Anyone that has experienced the challenges of Mountain Goat or Sheep hunting will understand perfectly that while you may see animals all the time, even those that are close enough to invite a shot, the real challenge is getting them somewhere you can take a shot where they won't fall off the Mountain side!
This was the first backpack hunting trip that I used a Kifaru gun-bearer. I REALLY like this piece of kit. I found carrying it scope forward enabled me to climb better in steep terrain without constantly banging into the scope if it were under your arm. This was also the first trip that I seriously used a water bladder. I have always been a Nalgene bottle kind of guy. While I still had one on the trip for extra water and to fill the bladder, I am a convert on the water bladder. While I have used hiking poles for years, I had never used them on a Mountain hunt before. Most likely because I had a rifle in hand at least half the time. With the Kifaru gun-bearer, that wasn't going to be an issue, so I used two hiking poles. Again, I am a convert and will use them again on any Mountain trips I do. They proved themselves extremely valuable in this trip.
If anyone is looking for a quality and affordable pack intended for the same purpose as mine, I suggest you give the REI Crestrail 70 a serious look.
Be safe and enjoy!