Backcountry Backpack Shootout

This shootout is between two up and coming outdoors gear companies – Black’s Creek, and Teton Sports. Both make excellent gear that’s worth checking out – but if you are looking at a mid-size back-country pack that will really earn its keep in that coveted 3,000 CI/60 Litre range, which is best?

In this corner – Teton Sports Hiker 3700! Teton Sports Hiker 3700Weighing in at 1.6kg (4 lbs) and going for $84.99 on Amazon, this is a 60L 3,700CI full size bag.  It comes with a built-in rainfly, and in your choice of Red. Basic specs from the manufacturer:

  • 420D Double Line Ripstop / 600D PU
  • Pack Weight: 4 lbs (1.6kg)
  • Hydration Capacity: 101-Ounce (3 Liter) Bladder Not Included
  • Capacity: 3700 Cubic Inches / 60 Liters
  • Waist Belt: 28″ – 51″
  • Torso Length: Adjustable 16″ – 21.5″

And in this corner – Black’s Creek Antidote! Fully Packed Remedy 7 AntidoteWeighing in at 2.3kg (5lbs) and going for $350 on their site, this is a 40L 3,000CI mid-size bag. The rainfly is an additional $30 and the bag comes in Real Tree/Matthews Camo, or Ranger Green. Basic specs from the manufacturer:

  • 1000D Cordura or 3 layer Tricot fabric construction
  • Pack Weight: 5 lbs (2.3kg)
  • Hydration Capacity: 85-Ounce (2.5 Liter) Bladder Not Included
  • R7-2 waist belt
  • Torso Length: Adjustable

Everyone loves to quote the weight (Denier) of the Nylon they use – but what does it really mean?  There are 3 major factors: Abrasion Resistance, Tear Resistance, and Weight.  No one variety places top across the board, but both 1000d and 420d place very well. With backpacking gear you naturally want the light weight, tear resistance, and abrasion resistance. 1000d is dramatically heavier than 420d, but 420d has far better tear resistance. Both are excellent materials for a pack.

This means that no specific material is the all-around winner. You have to balance it out. In the case of these two packs, that means a difference of half a kg (1lb) before you even include your own gear.

This review will be quite thorough, and cover these sections: Fit, Build, Comfort, Performance, HikingHunting, and Value. This is being done by two people over a three day hunting trip, so we’ll be covering ground, hunting, hiking, then re-loading and swapping packs half-way through to get a good comparison. This means both of us got a chance to carry the pack under both loads. We covered 23.5km (14.6 miles) of ground and 450m (1,476 feet) of elevation over 3 days in two areas – the dry desert scrub near Sedona, and the pine covered hills near Flagstaff.  Terrain and temperature sometimes bias reviewers towards specific packs, so this way we got plenty of trail time in quite different areas.

3 day gear loadout
10kg of gear

The load-outs for this trips are pretty beefy – Each of us carrying 4 days worth of food and 4 liters of water for 10kg (22lbs) of weight. There’s also quite a bit of bulk to manage with winter season sleeping bags, a 2 person tent and compound bows.

On to the Review!

Backwoods Backpack Shootout 2
12kg vs 13kg when fully loaded
  • First: Fit

If your backpack doesn’t fit and you can’t easily adjust it, what’s the use of owning it?

Both packs are adjustable, albeit by different means. The Teton Sports Hiker 3700 has the pads mounted so that they slide up and down on rails. The shoulder straps are mounted to the back pads. They provide a video demonstrating the adjustment and features .

Antidote adjustmentThe Black’s Creek Antidote is also adjustable, though the method is quite a bit different. The butterfly pads are anchored to a series of loops along the back of the pack. They do not provide a video. The shoulder straps are attached to the butterfly pads in the back, and have a tendency to get twisted when adjusting the fit. Both packs can adjust to fit most people, though at 6’3, one of our testers was at the very limit of the Antidote, it could have done with another set or two of loops. Adjusting the packs took just a few minutes even though both testers are different sizes and torso lengths.

  • Fit Winner: Teton Sports

The Hiker 3700’s ‘infinite’ adjustment along a rail is easier to fine tune. They provided enough rail to fit our 3 testers from 5’8 to 6’3 with no troubles. The Antidote came up slightly short on both ease and range.

  • Second: Build

Durability, weight, design, layout, and comfort are all vital to a backpack

Sharp untaped seamsThe Black’s Creek Antidote is made in the USA of Cordura 1000d, which is very abrasion resistant, but fairly heavy. The backpack is made of very sturdy techniques and materials throughout, and includes extremely nice features like Velcro keepers for the straps and an additional foot bag to hold your rifle or bow securely to the pack. It’s very well padded and extremely well designed. There are numerous pockets and storage areas, and everything is pretty well laid out. The side-zips on the bag allow for quick access to items if you pack them well. There’s a nicely made dedicated hydration bag holder, though the routing for it works for some bags better than others. There’s even a pocket for the optional rain-fly. My biggest issue is the lack of taped seams on the front section – not only can water leak into the bag this way, it leaves some fairly sharp edges inside the pack.
The focus of this bag is clearly hunting and it shows in the build.
UPDATE – Black’s Creek has warranty repaired the bag, and the seams are now all properly taped. I’m a bit concerned because none of the bags at the store I bought it from had fully taped seams.

The Teton Sports Hiker 3700 is made in China of 420D Double Line Ripstop which is very tear resistant and extremely light. The backpack is well made, though it emphasizes weight-savings over durability. It has a number of well-thought out features like the waist belt design and clever pocket layouts including a great little pocket on the belt. The padding on the back and hip belt is excellent, breathable, and generous. There’s a large divider in the main pouch with a Velcro hanger that could be used for hydration or whatever else you feel is appropriate. The top-down storage of the bag is very quick to load. The included rain-fly is easily accessible in the bottom mounted pocket. My biggest issue with this pack is the edges of the shoulder straps need more padding. The focus of this bag is to make a very affordable light weight traditional hiking pack, and they have succeeded admirably.

  • Build Winner: Teton Sports

Both bags are really excellently built, but the lack of taped seams in the main compartment and the annoyance of the water bottle tube routing edge the Teton Sports 3700 ahead.

Build Update!
I was contacted by Black’s Creek right after publishing this review – there is *supposed* to be a taped seam there, and they warranty replaced my bag for me right away.  It now comes literally down to just water bottle routing… and therefore essentially a Tie

  • Third: Comfort

Comfort is highly subjective, and for this we’ll bring in a second opinion

Backpacking with the 3700 The Teton Sports Hiker 3700  is also a very well-built and well padded bag. It has a tall profile, and was comfortably within its limits during these tests. A very comfortable pack, it included a number of ways to adjust and fine tune the load. It has load lifters on the shoulder straps, stabilizers on the hip belt, and compression straps to pull the whole bag snug.

Backpacking with the Remedy 7 Antidote 3The Black’s Creek Antidote is a very well-built and well-padded bag. It has a lower profile, and was pretty close to its load limits during these tests, but it was extremely comfortable. Load lifters on the shoulder straps and stabilizers on the hip belt help you fine tune the load very effectively. The bag sacrifices dedicated compression straps for a combo strap that also secures a bow, so if you remove your bow, your pack is no longer compressed.

  •  Comfort Winner: Tie
    • Tester 1: For me, the Black’s Creek Antidote was most comfortable when I packed it, reasonably comfortable when the other tester packed it, and I was able to hike all day with no hot spots or aches.  It was even comfortable to lean against when I sat watching a game trail and reading for a couple hours. I’d have liked the bag to be slightly more adjustable, but it was good enough. The Hiker 3700 was not uncomfortable, but the shoulders were a bit too sharp.
    • Tester 2:  The Teton Sports 3700 is not, at first glance, a very comfy bag. However, it does have a couple things that give it an edge up. The infinitely adjustable back allows for finer tuning than “a little low” and “a little high”.  The split hip belt allows the top to keep tension while the bottom flexes to my movements. The arm straps are made out of a material that didn’t catch on my shirt and create hot spots. Despite the lack of very thick padding, the 3700 flexes with you, feeling like it isn’t there.
  • Fourth: Performance

How a bag lives up to its potential on the trail makes the difference between a bag and a backpack. Can it really improve your trip, or does it just get the gear there? 

Backpacking with the Remedy 7 Antidote 1The Black’s Creek Antidote fits close to the body, making it easy to move through the trails, trees, and brush. Wearing this backpack all day on trails ranging from narrow to high exposure and over slickrock, ice, and mud there was never any feeling over overbalancing or lack of stability. It didn’t impede carrying a bow, and presumably wouldn’t impede a rifle either. The hydration tube routing was an annoyance on several occasions, and the side bottle pouches are too inflexible to be of any real use while the bag is full. This means that for any sort of break you need to stop and unship the bag, or have a companion fetch something for you. We were easily able to do 5 push-up burpees while wearing this pack, as well as jumping jacks. Picking things up off the ground was no issue at all.

Backpacking with the Hiker 3700The Teton Sports Hiker 3700 doesn’t fit quite as close to the body as the Antidote, having a more traditional backpacking fit. There is often an air gap between your back and the bag. This is very nice in hotter weather, but it does mean that you can’t move quite the same way as you would without a backpack on. I love the belt pouch on the hip belt and the excellent hydration routing. It made pauses for things like water or map quick and easy. However, the bag caught on things with surprising regularity, and was awkward when going through brush or low areas. It was easy to get unbalanced on snow and ice due to the height of the bag, even with most of the weight stowed in the bottom portion. Neither tester was able to do push-up burpees properly without the bag hitting them and getting in the way. Picking things up off the ground was a bit of a procedure. Ironically, the Hiker 3700 was actually more stable with a tent on the bottom.

  • Performance Winner: Black’s Creek

This one is also pretty subjective, because it depends a lot on what you expect the bag to do. In this size range, I expect a backpack to do more than just get my gear from base camp to base camp. I expect to wear the bag all day across all manner of surfaces, no matter if it is deep mud, ice, snow, steep climbs, or pleasant pastures. The Antidote had a profile better suited to this usage.

  • Fifth: Hiking

If hiking is your main focus, you probably care about this section quite a lot. This is about how well the bag gets your gear to the site, how comfortable it is all day, and how you feel about putting it all back in the bag the next morning to hike to the next site.

Large top loading, can for scale
Large top loading, can for scale

Loading, hiking, unloading, and re-loading the Teton Sports Hiker 3700 is a pleasure. It’s very fast and easy to load and re-load, and extremely forgiving. If things aren’t packed perfectly, the cinch straps still allow you to tighten it down so well that the gear doesn’t move around much. Obviously, it’s also larger than the Antidote, and so you can more easily fit 4 days worth of gear in this bag. You could probably go as far as 7 or 8 days of gear if you were able to handle the weight of the extra food and water. I’ve test loaded this bag up to nearly 45kg (99lbs) and it’ll take it if you can. Setting up or breaking camp with this bag is a breeze due to the sleeping bag compartment, generous front pouches, and top-down loading.

Small top loading. Can for scale
Small top loading. Can for scale

Packing your gear into the Black’s Creek Antidote is not nearly so fast or pleasant. It has great side zips and lots of pockets, but this means that everything has to be loaded and unloaded just so, or you’ll need lots of time to get it stowed again. The opening is also quite a bit smaller. The bag can handle quite a bit more weight that we put in it, but you’d have to put it all on the exterior. The interior was stuffed so tightly for 4 days of travel that the water bottle pockets on the outside were practically unusable. It’s possible you could cram another meal or two in here if you weren’t picky about it. The lack of a sleeping bag compartment means that everything has to come out to get to your bag, and it has to go back first no matter what. Putting a real tent on this backpack is not a fun chore, but it is possible. I’d recommend a bivvy.

  • Hiking Winner: Teton Sports

It’s fast to pack, fast to unpack, easy to stroll along with, and actually more stable and comfortable with a tent than without. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I’m just going along on a pleasure hike with some friends that I’d take the Hiker 3700 over the Antidote.

  • Sixth: Hunting

This is where it all comes down to stealth, performance, and maneuverability – but none of that means anything if you can’t get yourself there and then get back loaded down with game.

Backpacking with the Remedy 7 AntidoteIt’s fairly clear that the Black’s Creek Antidote is a better bag for hunting in many ways. It has an included foot to hold a rifle or bow. It comes in camouflage colors that actually work fairly well in a woodlands setting, and it’s a comfortable well-made bag. On the upside, this does make it a lot better bag to take hunting. On the downside, it’s a harder bag to live out of due to the fact that you will have a hard time working with a tent on this bag, and so for that, it’s really more suited to base camping. I didn’t luck out and snag any game on this trip, so I can’t speak first hand to how well it takes the extra load of animals – but I certainly wouldn’t want to pack out more than rabbits or turkeys with this pack. It just can’t take the weight.

Backpacking with the Hiker 3700Nobody has ever suggested that the Teton Sports Hiker 3700 is an ideal hunting pack. I am not suggesting that now – it’s bright, reflective, and a bit noisy. However – if you need to get large game back from the campsite to the car, this bag can take a lot of load. It’s also easier to clean out due to the simpler construction, and I verified that it dries a lot faster. If I were taking deer, this would be a better pack to carry it out with. I wouldn’t wear it while stalking, however. It’s just too ungainly.

  • Hunting Winner: Black’s Creek

I don’t think either of these are ideal back country hunting bags, but for short trips the Antidote can stick with you while stalking. Just don’t take more game than you can carry, because this bag will leave you with a lot of return trips.

  • Seventh: Value

What are you really getting for your money?

This comes down to dollars and cents – and there’s really not even an argument to make for Black’s Creek here. It’s more than 4x the price of the Teton Sports bag and delivers a backpack that’s really not where it needs to be for that kind of money.  It is made in the USA which carries a lot of weight with me, but for that tag to mean anything the build quality would have to be superior. It’s not. Update- Now that it has been warranty repaired, the Antidote bag rates higher in my estimation – but not 4x higher.

  • Value Winner: Teton Sports

It’s pretty obvious you’re not getting 4x the value with the Black’s Creek Antidote. The Teton Sports Hiker 3700 is just an all-around better deal.

  • Overall Winner

Teton Sports takes this contest without a doubt. It all comes down to the Top Gear style “Which one would you take home with you?” question at the end.

The answer is simple – I bought both, I own both, but the Teton Sports Hiker 3700 is the one I would pick if I had to choose. It has an included rainfly, it’s capable of comfortably carrying a full-size tent, it’s easier to use while on the trail, and it’s just plain better built.

The Black’s Creek Antidote is a wonderful bag, but when it comes right down to it, there’s just too few things it’s better at. In my gear closet, it’s going to be relegated to short bivvy-based hunting trips. The Hiker 3700 will be coming out for the long trips with friends.Backwoods Backpack Shootout

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