Features and Performance
Space and Access
My K3 has 3200 cubic inches of volume (roughly 52 liters) but you can also order the 1800 daypack variant or go up to 4800 or even a massive 6400 cu in (or 104 liters for metric people). I thought 3200 would be just fine for my intended use as an overnight pack or extended daypack. But I could easily use a drybag with another 50 liters of gear stuffed in it and compress it between the frame and pack as an extra load, effectively doubling the volume – that’s the magic of a modern external frame pack. I did just that in September when I spent a week in a mountain hut.
You can use Exo Mountain Gear’s dedicated drybag or any other tall and slim bag of similar size. This works great if you plan to get to a hut or a basecamp first and later use just a 3200 cu in bag as a daypack (with game hauling capability if you’re into hunting). Adjusting the pack to carry an extra load attached to the frame is easy and takes just minutes; Exo Mtn Gear explains how on their website in detail. All-in-one pack? Why not!
Pockets and Organizing
The K3’s main compartment is just one big cavity, which I prefer for a mountaineering pack. It’s easily accessible either via the roll-top closure or by a full-length side zipper. Obviously, side access won’t work if you use the dedicated drybag as a waterproof liner. And there are small loops inside for an add-on Stash Pocket but I prefer to keep my main compartment free of any hanging pouches – it helps to compress gear inside.
The secret weapon of the Exo Mtn Gear K3 is the design of the big side pockets – full length, compressible, and with micro-drawcord closing – one on each side. These are perfect for long items that you need to keep handy on a pack. I used them for camera tripods and hiking poles during my mountaineering trip, but they also work great for arrow quivers, spotting scopes, tent poles, or even a short lever-action rifle (handy when hiking in bear country).
Next to that, you’ll find two elastic side bottle pockets. Each with smart pass-through for compression straps which could be used either to lock the gear inside or to keep the pockets fully open for easy in-out bottle operation. They are really big; each of them easily holds two standard Nalgene bottles (or Yeti 36 oz. Rambler and a Grayl filtering flask together). Need some extra storage for quick-access gear like a rain jacket, light insulation, etc.? There’s a full-length open-top elastic pocket on the front, made exactly for that. I keep my Arc’teryx Atom LT and Alpha FL in there.
The classic-looking lid is about 5 liters in volume, plus there’s a small accessory pocket on top. The lid is fully floating, so can be moved up or down depending on the pack load. It can also be completely removed if the pack is used in daypack mode with all excessive weight stripped off. That lid also comes in handy if you want to haul some extra stuff in a “cargo” space strapped to the frame. In such a carrier mode a lid secures the upper part of a load and makes the whole package perfectly stable.
I’ve tried many backpacks in my life. And honestly, the K3 is on par with the most comfortable packs I’ve ever put on my back. On my way to the mountain hut, I put well over 65+ pounds into my pack, lid, and a drybag, with a total used volume of more than 100 liters (54 in the pack, 5 in the lid, 50 in my drybag plus all pockets were fully stuffed with gear). And still, I was able to carry it for a couple of hours on my shoulders and hips. The straps are comfortable and the waist belt is beefy, comfy and nicely hugs around the hips. For size reference – I’m 6’1 / 190 lbs and used a tall frame and medium belt.
The shoulder straps are fully adjustable in length and height and are long enough to use the K3 over my heavy winter garment. The sternum strap is adjustable, load lifters stabilize the pack perfectly, and full-length webbing allows you to attach small items to the shoulder straps (like a monocular pouch, knife, mobile pouch, and more).
The waist belt is a secret weapon of this pack. It can easily transfer up to 75% of the weight to the hips – easily adjustable depending on your carry preferences. It consists of three separated parts – a heavily padded lumbar panel (best I’ve ever carried) and two thick side panels, which hug around the waist and do an awesome job not only of transferring the weight but also locking and stabilizing the whole pack on the hips. And for really heavy hauling that’s the way to go. The front buckle, two-inch straps, and two D-rings work together like a pulley system so adjustment is precise and can be cramped down really hard if needed.
Last but not least there’s a webbing carrier belt on each side, which is great to attach gear like pouches, a knife, a handgun holster, a rangefinder, and more. The carrier belts are secured by Velcro closure so can also be used on pass-through pouches or leather knife sheaths. I usually carry a lens pouch on one side and a medium-sized MOLLE-backed zipper pouch on the other (for lens filters, extra batteries, SD cards, etc.).
However, the overall comfort of this pack comes from the titanium frame, and how well it distributes the weight on the back, shoulders, and waist. Such construction brings heavy hauling experiences to the next level of comfort. So I’m not surprised why mountain hunters favor external frames for overloading the carry system – it just works! And it does the job, which no internal frame pack can do.
The big advantage of such a system is that you can put the heaviest load directly on the frame, so it’s as close to your back as possible. That also moves the center of gravity of the whole pack closer to your spine for increased comfort of heavy hauling. It’s great for hunters (to carry game in the pack) but also works to carry food supplies, extra clothes, water containers, a tent, even firewood – just put whatever you want.
This pack is pretty rain-resistant on its own, but not waterproof – the stitchings are not sealed. So in a substantial downpour, it can let some water in through the stitching lines. But there’s a perfect solution to this – get the dedicated Exo Mountain Gear drybag and use it as a liner (with Velcro attachments to keep it in place), roll it down to close, and voila! You have a fully watertight pack compartment. And I mean totally! I’ve been testing this pack in September, so some rain was expected. That’s why I kept that waterproof liner inside all the time. A mere six additional ounces gives you simple peace of mind in any weather, so I highly recommend it.