We’ve gotten the chance to test some of the best hunting packs out there, and we really wanted to put together an Initial Ascent Pack review after seeing the design and specs of these Initial Ascent packs. Like always, we wanted this review to come from actual use and field testing where we could really get to know this Initial Ascent IA4K Pack to see if it could claim a spot among the best hunting packs out there.
Initial Ascent is a newer company that specializes in backcountry hunting packs. Initial Ascent Packs are designed to haul meat, and they give you the ability to come out with as heavy a load as your body can handle. Initial Ascent Packs brought their lineup of packs to market a few years back and have been making a splash in the hunting industry with their unique frame design.
The Initial Ascent IA4K Pack provides phenomenal load hauling ability and a well thought out bag design, while still maintaining an incredibly light weight. I had the chance to test this pack in many conditions over the course of this year’s scouting and hunting seasons. We’ll go over what we liked and didn’t like about it in this Initial Ascent pack review.
Make sure to check out our other latest gear reviews, as well as our other pack reviews! While we certainly haven’t gotten the chance to test them all, we’ve been able to put a good number of them through some hard core field testing over the last few years.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: Test Parameters
There really isn’t anything better than just getting out there and using a pack in the field in real world conditions. I used this Initial Ascent IA4K pack with a heavy load on multiple training hikes, scouting trips, hunting trips, and backpacking hunting trips in all types of weather conditions. From hot, summer days to frigid, winter temperatures in the fall where it dipped down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit with 10 inches of snow, I tested this Ascent IA4K pack in just about everything. I got to pack out two animals with this Initial Ascent IA4K pack as well with one of the loads weighing in over 115 lbs.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: Specs
The Initial Ascent IA4K Pack boasts some impressive specs and offers you a very light weight pack, while still handling a load incredibly well. It features 500D Cordura material and their unique Triaxial Carbon Fiber Frame.
Here are some of the Initial Ascent IA4K specs:
- Frame weight: 19 oz
- Total weight: 5.6 lbs (bag, frame, lid)
- Total weight: 5.95 lbs (bag, frame, Pannier Load Carrie and lid)
- 4500CI (bag and lid)
- Triaxial Carbon Fiber Frame
- Adjustable harness
- Multiple size hip belts
- 3 bag sizes (2K. 4K, 6K)
Initial Ascent Packs: Hip Belt and Harness
The Initial Ascent Pack hip belt is a 3 piece design that features a massive lumbar pad and dual density foam. I found this hip belt to be extremely comfortable, and it really secured a load well. Over the years of testing packs I’ve learned that a larger lumbar pad suits me best, so this Initial Ascent Pack was a perfect fit. The harness system is pre-formed and provides exceptional comfort and adjustability.
The hip belt and lumbar pad are more substantial than others I’ve tested as well. The lumbar pad was a great balance of softer foam (but not too soft) on the outer layer with a high density foam under that for when you really cinch the pack down with a heavy load. While the higher density foam isn’t quite as comfortable on a daily wear basis vs if it had a nice cushy soft outer layer, I felt like it performed better with a heavy load because of that. It’s a give and take.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: Unique Frame Design
Initial Ascent Packs feature their Carbon Fiber Integrous Frame. This frame is the product of over 15 renditions (and counting, I believe) to get the composition exactly the way they wanted it, along with design tweaks. Most notable on this Initial Ascent frame is its solid one piece design, curved to fit your back while providing great air flow with its unique extensions on each side of the frame (see picture below).
These “arms” if you will, extend out from each side of the pack for multiple purposes that we’ll talk more about below, but they really do a great job of securing a heavy load. They take a little getting used to if you are accustomed to a pack with an internal frame, as I found myself scraping my arm on them the first couple times I put the pack on. After a little use I didn’t even notice them any more.
Another awesome design feature of the Initial Ascent Frame is that those top two “arms” I mentioned above double as a place to hook your gun sling. Having your rifle slide off your shoulder is super annoying, and this design gives you a built-in sling keeper. Pretty sweet design.
How the Initial Ascent IA4K Pack Handles Weight
How a pack handles a heavy load is one of the most important things for me and most serious backcountry hunters. A pack might feel great with 40 lbs in it, but the real test is how it handles 100+ lbs. For this Initial Ascent Pack review I was able to not only test it on training hikes with 75 lbs of sand, but also got to pack out two animals with it, with one load weighing in over 115 lbs. The Initial Ascent IA4K pack more than passed the test. In fact, it was as comfortable or more comfortable than any other pack I’ve tested so far.
If you’ve ever hauled over 100 lbs out of the backcountry for any length of time, you know that gravity is the enemy a pack faces in keeping the load from sagging/sliding down your back on to your glutes, restricting your muscles’ movements, adding unwanted strain on your shoulders, and making it uncomfortable. That was NOT the case with this Initial Ascent IA4K pack. While I will say that I felt slightly more pull on my shoulders than the Exo K3 4800 I tested last year, that was in no way due to it sliding down my back, but was more the design of this Integrous Frame vs the narrower internal frame design of the Exo Pack.
This Initial Ascent frame offers more rigidity and less flex, which has its pros and cons. I found it just as comfortable, if not more, than anything else I’ve tested with a heavy load, but slightly less comfortable than some on a day to day basis, but only by a little.
That’s not to say it was uncomfortable in any way, but the rigidity of the frame made it a bit less comfortable with less weight in it when just carrying the weight of your gear for the day. While you lose just a little bit of comfort on a daily basis, you gain a ton of load hauling ability because of the rigidity for when you need to pack out a heavy load. It’s a small trade off.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: Bag Configuration
The Initial Ascent IA4K pack gives you a great pocket configuration that is very functional without adding a bunch of weight. The whole Initial Ascent IA4K pack system weighs in at just 5 lbs 9 oz (frame, bag and lid), which is impressive given how well it handled a heavy load. The Initial Ascent IA4K pack offers you one main bag, two exterior zippered stretch pockets on the front, a full length spotting scope side pocket, a half length tripod pocket on the opposite side, and two stretchy pockets on the lower outside portions on the sides of the bag.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: IA4K Bag Shape
Another unique feature the Initial Ascent Bag is its wedge shape. It becomes shallower (depth-wise) at the base of the bag and grows in depth as you move up towards the top of the pack. Why is it designed like this you might ask? This design helps keep your gear from working its way down to the bottom of your pack and helps keep your load riding in the middle of your pack where it should be.
Because of this design, the bag is also wider, which helps spread the weight across your back rather than out away from your back. Again, a well thought out design. The closer your gear is to your center of gravity, the less it will pull away from your back and cause shoulder pressure. The pack isn’t so wide that it interferes with drawing a bow or shooting a rifle, but it is a little wider than the Exo K3 4800, the Mystery Ranch Selway 60, and Sitka Mountain Hauler 4000 that I tested last year.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: The Lid
The lid is large and features a center zipper for easy access and helps keep your gear from falling out when you open up the lid. The lid also features a small pocket on the underside for your license, bow repair kit, or whatever other small item you want to keep safe during your hunt. Finally, the lid has a Velcro pocket for a bladder to make sure you keep a water supply with you at all times since this pack is designed to always have the lid with it.
I absolutely love the design of this lid. I particularly liked the slightly larger size and center zipper, and I found myself using the lid to store more gear than with other packs I’ve tested due to its size and convenience.
Another thing I absolutely loved about the design of the Initial Ascent Pack lid was the small notches that allow the lid to lock into place on the frame. This small, but well thought out feature was something I really appreciated. Having the lid slide down the pack is annoying, but I never once had the IA4K pack lid budge on me. Well done, Initial Ascent!
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Organization
Field testing for this Initial Ascent Pack review is where I really got a feel for the layout and design of the organization of this pack. The day in and day out backcountry grind really is the best way to find out if the organization works for you.
Personally, the pack as a whole had plenty of organization without the need for tons of pockets which makes it hard to find things. On the downside, I REALLY missed that U-Shaped zipper other packs I’ve tested have, which makes loading and unloading the pack easier. With that being said, you can get that U-Shaped zipper in their IA2K pack right now, so that’s something I may have to look into. Even thought the Initial Ascent IA4K pack has two full length zippers (one on each side of the pack), I found them a bit cumbersome to use when packing up for a weekend hunt, and I usually ended up getting into the pack through the top of it.
If you like having your gear further organized, you can pick up some of their Initial Ascent Pack Sacks and organize your gear in those, then throw them in the main bag. While field testing for this Initial Ascent Pack review, I found that using a couple of the Initial Ascent Pack Sacks was really useful. If you are someone who likes to have a bunch of pockets integrated into your pack for organization, you may want to look at another pack as the Initial Ascent pack isn’t really designed to have a ton of pockets, however, it does have more pockets than some of the other packs out there.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Accessories
Initial Ascent Packs offer you a number of great pack accessories to complete your pack for just about any hunt. I’ve had the chance to play with a number of them, and I can say they all serve a specific and defined purpose. You’ve got the option to add:
- Initial Ascent Bow Holder
- Initial Ascent Dry Bag
- Initial Ascent Hip Belt Pouches
- Initial Ascent Rifle Holder
- Initial Ascent Water Bottle Holder
- Initial Ascent Rain Cover
- Initial Ascent Pannier Load Carrier
- Initial Ascent Decoy Lanyards
As you can see, there are a ton of different accessories available for Initial Ascent Packs. They all have their place, but for me personally, I find myself always taking the Initial Ascent Pannier Load Carrier and a Hip Belt Pouch. In my opinion, the Pannier Load Carrier is a must have of the accessories as it keeps your load secure and tight to the frame. I’m a bit OCD and don’t like straps hanging everywhere, so I usually take the time to roll up the unused strap material which is integrated into the straps of the Initial Ascent Packs. The pack cover is awesome as well, especially if you are in wet weather.
The Initial Ascent Bow Carrier worked really well for me throughout the archery season other than the retaining piece of the clip breaking off during use. It didn’t affect its functionality or use, and Initial Ascent replaced the clip for me as I expected they would.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: What I liked
After spending over 30 days in the backcountry with this Initial Ascent IA4K pack this year, in weather from 95 degrees during summer scouting, down to -15 degrees on a Colorado mule deer hunt, I can confidently say that this thing can take a beating. It’s comfortable day in and day out, offers a well thought out bag configuration, and is packed with features. After all of the testing was done, here are some of my absolute favorite things about this pack for this Initial Ascent Pack review:
- Incredible load handling ability
- Extra large lumbar pad (and rubberized grip)
- 1/2 length tripod pocket (and retaining strap)
- Rifle sling hook (built in to the frame)
- Lid design
- Pannier Load Carrier
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Load Hauling
First and foremost, the thing I loved the most after doing this Initial Ascent Pack review was the way this pack carried a load. Personally, it was probably the most comfortable of any pack I’ve tested so far with a heavy load. These Initial Ascent Packs really have earned their place in the “Best Hunting Packs” category for me with the way they carry a load. It’s one thing to say a pack is comfortable with camp on your back, but it’s an entirely different thing to say it’s comfortable with well over 100 lbs strapped to it, and the Initial Ascent IA4k accomplished that extremely well.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Lumbar Pad
The lumbar pad on all Initial Ascent Packs is super beefy and probably the most stout of all that I’ve tested to date. It was awesome and proved to be extremely comfortable. Of course, all won’t love a lumbar pad this large, but it was perfect for me.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Tripod Side Pocket
The Initial Ascent IA4K offers a unique half length side pocket specifically designed with a tripod in mind. Complete with a secondary strap to hold the tripod secure (so you don’t have to use the compression strap) it makes this setup work really well and was something I really came to appreciate.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: Rifle Sling Hooks
When I set out to do this Initial Ascent Pack review, one of the features I was extremely excited to test was the hook that can be used for your rifle sling. It proved to work really well and keeps your rifle super secure. While they would be a touch wider (depending on what sling you use), they worked really well and kept your hands free to glass, use trekking poles etc. Big with with this design.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Lid Design
I loved the size and usability of the lid. The ability to put a 2 liter bladder in the underside pocket if needed, and the small pocket on the underside with a large main pocket, made this my favorite lid of all the packs I’ve tested. One more small pocket on the outside would make it perfect for me, but hey, you can’t have everything right?
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Pannier Load Carrier
The Pannier Load Carrier is a must have with this pack system. I love its functionality and the way it holds a load, but testing it out for this Initial Ascent Pack review left me wishing it had extendable straps on the bottom. Again, a super easy fix and another thing the folks at Initial Ascent Packs may soon change. I needed a little more length on the bottom strap when packing out a whole deer.
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: What I didn’t like
There are a few things that I didn’t care for after doing the field testing for this Initial Ascent Pack review. None of them are deal breakers for me, but just a small nuisance:
- Water bladder inconvenience
- Hip belt straps coming out
- Lack of U-shaped zipper
- Not quite as “cushy” as others
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Water Bladder Inconvenience
Probably the biggest complaint I had after doing this Initial Ascent Pack review was the inconvenience of having to somewhat disassemble the pack to refill my water bladder each day. While the lid conveniently offers you a place to stash a bladder up to 2 liters, I typically use a 2.5 or 3 liter bladder, particularly during archery season, so I can’t put mine in there.
Being that it didn’t fit in the lid pocket, I had to put my bladder in the Pannier Load Carrier pocket, which is between the frame and bag. While I love that it’s not inside the bag, it was a pain to have to pull the load lifters out, unbuckle the side buckles, and pull the bag off the top of the frame to access the bladder. There is an easy way to remedy this so you wouldn’t have to dissemble the top end of the pack (i.e. Velcro, buckles or clips), and I have a feeling that’s a change that may be in store for future generations of the Initial Ascent Packs.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Hip Belt Strap Issue
Another small annoyance I had with the IA4K Pack was that the forward pull hip belt straps occasionally came out of their retention slide. It’s a small thing, but was frustrating at times. A simple fix for this would be to sew a larger fold on the strap to prevent (or at least greatly reduce the chance of) the strap coming out unintentionally. It happened enough to catch my attention.
Initial Ascent pack Review: Zipper Design
This one is just a personal preference thing, I but as I mentioned earlier, I wish the IA4K Pack had a U-Shaped zipper. I’ve use both the side zipper design like this one and the U-Shaped zipper design, and the U-Shaped zipper is simply easier to load and unload.
Initial Ascent Pack Review: Rigid Feel
One last thing I noted during this Initial Ascent Pack review was that overall, the pack had a more rigid feel to it. It wasn’t uncomfortable by any stretch, but it wasn’t quite as comfortable on a daily wear basis as the Exo Mountain Gear K3 4800 I tested last year. It wasn’t that far off, but not quite as soft feeling overall. As I mentioned earlier though, you get superior load hauling capabilities as a direct result of that rigidity.
Check out our IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review Video!
How The Initial Ascent IA4K Pack Ranked
IA4K Initial Ascent Pack Review: Conclusion
After nearly a year of testing for this Initial Ascent Pack Review I would ABSOLUTELY recommend Initial Ascent packs. We all have different needs and wants in a pack, and packs fit everyone differently. With that being said, you know you are getting a load hauling machine with an Initial Ascent Pack. If at all possible, it’s always best to try on a pack before deciding if it’s best for you. They are kind of like boots, they fit everyone differently.
Even though Initial Ascent Packs are newer to the market, they are making a name for themselves with some amazing backcountry hunting packs. While not the absolute best I’ve tested in the daily comfort and functionality department, they were definitely the best I’ve tested in load hauling ability. You give up a little of that “cushy” feel but gain a lot of hard core, meat hauling ability. They are absolutely worth a look!
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