Carryology delivered. Your inbox. every two weeks.
Only the best stuff (and giveaways!), we promise.




Exo Mtn Gear K3 Review

by , November 11, 2021
Be the first to review

An external framed backpack is one of the oldest carry inventions – three sticks tied together to create an A-frame has been a concept known for centuries. In the ’50s Kelty introduced the first pack with a modern external metal frame. It was a revolution and allowed outdoorsmen to carry heavier loads comfortably. A couple of years later the internal framed pack was born in the garage shop of Greg Lowe and changed the backpack industry again. But, is an external frame a thing of the past? Not at all! Quite the opposite and the Exo Mtn Gear K3 is a really good example of how modern technologies and materials can bring the old concept back to life, and make it perfect.

Exo Mtn Gear K3


  • Name: K3 3200 Pack System
  • Brand: Exo Mountain Gear
  • Format: External frame backpack
  • Measurement: 7" x 11.5" x 35" (expanded); 2.5" x 11.5" x 25" (compressed)
  • Capacity: 3690ci (bag and lid)
  • Weight: 5lb 4oz (bag, frame and lid)
  • Zippers: #10 YKK Racquet Coil Zippers
  • Material: 500D Cordura Fabric
  • PriceUS$619.99


Who It Suits 

Outdoorsmen looking for scalability and the flexibility to pack big additional loads; backpackers, bushcrafters, survivalists, mountain hunters operating in heavy terrain. Simply speaking, if you need to carry heavy stuff in the backcountry or you need scalability with the potential capability to carry more – this pack is for you.

Who It Doesn’t

Climbers, mountain runners, ultralight hikers – if you belong to one of these groups it might not be your first choice of pack.



At first glance, the Exo Mtn Gear K3 looks like a classic alpine pack – a tall and slim top-loader with a heavy-duty padded belt. Side pockets, top lid, padded straps – just a classic look. There are a couple of color options available; mine came in an olive and foliage combination, which I think looks good and blends in with the colors of the wilderness – especially well with subdued gray and green tones of the mountains. It is definitely a handsome pack!

Exo Mtn Gear K3


After a quick inspection, it becomes obvious that the Exo Mtn Gear K3 is not “just another mountaineering pack”. You quickly realize that it’s been built around an external frame so the pack is perfectly supported and allows you to haul an extra load between the main bag and frame. It’s tough, made for heavy loads, and designed to carry all day. Considering all this the total weight of about 2.35 kg is lower than I expected. I know of many classic internal frame packs with 55+ liters capacity that are even heavier. In the case of this pack, I can’t even use the term “weight penalty” because there isn’t one.

Exo Mtn Gear K3

Materials and Hardware

The K3 pack is made of 500D Cordura fabric with mil-spec webbing and Duraflex US-made buckles. The zippers are all #10 YKK Racquet Coil – heavy-duty and pretty weather resistant. The back panel, shoulder straps, and hip belt are filled generously with soft, closed-cell foam for increased carry comfort.

And finally, the frame itself, which is made of titanium. Yeah, you read that right – titanium! How cool is that? It’s lightweight and extremely tough – no doubt it’s the toughest backpack frame on the market. There’s no way it can break under even the heaviest load – your spine and back would be seriously hurt first, believe me. It will outlive any other frame made of either composite materials or aluminum. The only rival would be a stainless steel frame, but that would add at least 2 pounds to the overall weight so yeah, let’s forget about steel. For this particular application Titanium is unbeatable. The only downside is the price, of course. So buy once, cry once and enjoy the excellence (you can thank me later).

Exo Mtn Gear K3

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!

Exo Mtn Gear K3

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.

Exo Mtn Gear K3

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.

Exo Mtn Gear K3


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).

Exo Mtn Gear K3

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.

Exo Mtn Gear K3

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.

Exo Mtn Gear K3

Extra Features

The K3 is hydration system compliant and features a dedicated hydration zipper pocket. Not only does it allow you to remove and top up the bladder on the go, but it’s also watertight and separated from the main compartment. Even in the event of a broken bladder, your gear inside the pack will remain dry.

Compression straps? Sure, two on each side and two on the front. These provide all the flexibility in gear attachment and compression for the main sack you may need. All the straps are equipped with quick-connect Duraflex buckles (US-made). The manufacturer offers dedicated add-on attachments for a compound bow or a rifle, but even without any of these I was able to strap a recurve bow to my pack with ease.

Exo Mtn Gear K3

Alternatives to Consider

It’s not easy to find a direct alternative, which would be US-made, tall “alpine” shaped, and as light and strong (titanium!) as the K3. Still, the packs listed below are worth checking as external frame alternatives to the K3 system:

The Good

  • The heavy hauling capability, comfort, and weight distribution of a titanium frame
  • Space for an extra load between the pack and frame doubles the capacity
  • Side pockets (especially the long ones)
  • Scalability
  • Tall and slim alpine form of the pack for mountaineering
  • Premium materials and craftsmanship (fully made in Boise, Idaho)

Not So Good

  • External frame always adds extra weight
  • Not a pack for outdoorsmen on a budget, but considering really expensive materials (titanium) and the manufacturing process based fully in the USA, that $620 price tag is, in my opinion, justified


I’ve been using internal frame packs for almost all my life and for light to moderate loads they work just perfect. But when crossing 50 lbs of stuff in a pack… Well, you really should consider serious support for your back, which an external frame can offer. It’s fully adjustable, seriously padded, and well designed – all that makes the K3 a superbly comfortable pack. And that 1 lb or so of extra weight is certainly worth it. Lightweight packs are great when going lightweight (pun intended). But with 60 lbs or more on your back, you better have a good and load-capable carry system!

The Exo Mtn Gear K3 is a perfectly scalable ”all in one” pack; put extra load between the frame and bag on your way to the basecamp and use the stripped-down setup later as a daypack. For backcountry hunters, this solution is a must – carrying a mountain goat on your back to the basecamp requires a proper pack. But there are many situations when outdoorsmen, bushcrafters, and backpackers can benefit from such a system too.

In a nutshell, the Exo Mtn Gear K3 is a very good heavy hauler, which can also be stripped down to do a good job as an ‘extended daypack’ (especially when hiking with kids and you just need to carry more gear for your family). It’s a pack that you can easily tailor to your next outdoor adventure, whatever that might be. And it’s all made in the good old USA, with top materials and perfect craftsmanship. It’s a top-tier pack, no doubt.

Exo Mtn Gear K3

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
Brand experience
X Factor

Reader's Review

Be the first to review

All Reviews


Carryology delivered. Your inbox. every two weeks. Only the best stuff, we promise.