An interview with Sam Kolb of Bullpacs hunting packs.
By Steve Joseph
Steve Joseph How did Bull Pacs get its start?
Sam Kolb About 20 years ago, some elk hunters out of Lewiston, Idaho, packed out an elk on some rickety old aluminum pack frames and swore there had to be better equipment out there for the job. Their search left them empty-handed, and since they ran a machine shop they decided they’d make their own. After several years and countless hours, they finally fine-tuned a frame that was super strong, pretty lightweight and much more comfortable for those long packs out of the mountains loaded with elk.
Though they weren’t really interested in making that part of their machine shop production, they had the production aspect all figured out. Their mother, Janice, moved back to Lewiston and was looking for work when the business idea was born; the shop would manufacture Bull Pacs and Janice began sewing the components, assembling packs and shipping orders. In 2014, Janice decided she wanted to retire from pack production, and after months of training and passing of the baton, our family moved Bull Pacs to Vancouver, Wash., where we have continued with pack production and started working on new accessories and ideas to go with the Bull Pacs.
SJ What sets Bull Pacs apart from the other packs?
SK We’ve always had a passion for good, solid hunting gear. When I first laid eyes on the Bull Pacs, the solid design and workmanship definitely stood out. Once I tried it on, I loved the way it fit and was convinced it could comfortably handle any load I was able to shoulder. I couldn’t wait until the next season to try it out with a load of elk meat! That was 14 years ago and I have packed thousands of pounds of game on my original Bull Pac, with very few signs of wear and tear. I was actually surprised at just how tough and comfortable Bull Pacs really were, whether packing out elk quarters or just hiking the backcountry in pursuit of the next big adventure!
SJ What about accessories that are available?
SK We have started producing a number of new accessories to outfit new or old packs. Our most popular addition is the rifle mount, which mounts securely to the Bull Pac frame and provides hands-free use when hiking or packing meat, but still allows quick access to ones rifle without removing the pack. We have also developed a decoy extension that allows a person to securely strap on super-tall loads that are otherwise unwieldy to haul around. We have started carrying RAM Mount accessories to facilitate attachment/use of flashlights, Go Pro cameras, spotting scopes and cameras or other similarly threaded electronic equipment. We have a couple different sizes of game bags for bone-in quarters or boned-out meat. We also have Bull Pac Straps for quickly cinching download on the pack frame for hauling meat and/or gear. And we are just finishing up an axe mount similar to the rifle mount to facilitate safe axe hauling. We have several other ideas we are working on, with things to come in the future.
SJ Speaking of, where do you see Bull Pacs heading in the future?
SK We are excited to continue the company’s legacy that’s built on quality, durability and personal customer service that Bull Pacs has provided to the outdoor community for years. While we love the Bull Pac, we are also working on a number of accessories and other innovative adaptations that will make your Bull Pac useful in a number of different applications. We hope to continue to grow as a grass roots pack company that represents solid, no-nonsense gear that gets the job done and doesn’t let you down, for the everyday hunter.
SJ You have a lifetime warranty. How important is that for your customers?
SK We do our best to produce products that will provide decades of worry-free use. What good is a warranty if it craps out on you in the bottom of the canyon? However, as we all know, anything mechanical can break. If you have something break, slip and land on a rock and bust a weld or have something you don’t think held up as it should have, we will happily take care of it and make it right! We pride ourselves on customer service that’s second to none. We treat our customers how we’d want to be treated and don’t make excuses if an issue arises. More people like a company that stands behind their product, and we make sure our customers feel appreciated and are well taken care of!
Hunting season is fast approaching, or maybe not fast enough. There are many different schools of thought on how to pack your day pack for hunting season, and I personally prefer the minimalist approach. Less is more. I do not believe that there is a need to pack 50 pounds of unnecessary weight on my back, so my goal is to pack as light and as smart as possible. For the overpackers out there, answer this question: When was the last time you used even a quarter of the gear you packed each day? 1992? I thought so!
If you are in a water-rich environment, why pack water around? It weighs a ton. I prefer a Lifestraw, which weighs almost nothing and filters 99.99 percent of the impurities from water. I just drink from a stream if I need water. This way I can hydrate all day if necessary and I’m not weighed down. But I fully realize there are many areas that do not have flowing water, and if that is the case, I fully encourage the use of any type of water-bladder system. Most hunting packs have an integrated water bladder, or at the very least, a system that can be used with one. It’s just a matter of finding the pack you prefer.
Think this through. If you are hunting in the West and are going to really exert yourself, you will need nutritional support. My recommendation is to condense your food and ensure the best possible protein and carb loads for your physical requirements. I pack a handful of protein bars, string cheese and hardboiled eggs. I also take a small bag of nuts, a couple of Power Blocks for extra energy and a few instant coffee packs to fuel my caffeine demon. All of this takes literally no space and weighs ounces. If you are working out of a blind or are doing a more stationary hunt, your physical requirements are less and you can pack accordingly.
If I am bowhunting or packing into the high country on horseback, I always pack a pistol with an extra magazine in the event I have to put an animal down. If I am rifle hunting, the sidearm, in my opinion, is unnecessary.
Whatever your preference, and they have multiple uses.
You can use your imagination here. Throw a handful in a plastic bag and you’re good to go! Literally and figuratively.
Bring additional ammunition, but don’t go crazy. You most likely don’t need to tote boxes of ammo with you each day. Personally, I tend to pack additional rounds in the pockets of my pants for easy access. Game calls should also be readily accessible.
I will pack the smallest tube known to mankind with minimal fragrance. I also pack a tube of scent-free lip balm with sunscreen.
A high-quality range finder is a must in all hunting situations. I recommend any product that effectively compensates for uphill and downhill ranging. Additionally, binoculars are as important as your weapon. High-quality glass is a game changer. While it may be spendy, I recommend Swarovski products, but there are many products out there with great quality at lower pricepoints. Also, binoculars should not be kept in your pack. Keep them somewhere where they can readily accessed.
I am a huge proponent of layering, and I will limit what I carry in the field. I prefer a merino-wool base layer. I often opt towards vests for core warming and will choose a jacket based on the temperatures and conditions. If it is cold, I bring a packable down jacket. If it is not, I will bring a lightweight jacket with wind stopping capabilities. If rain gear is necessary, pack the lightest option you have. There is absolutely no need to pack three jackets. Choose the most functional gear for your body type, climate and geography. I will typically have my jacket secured on the outside of my pack or on my saddle. I will not pack a jacket into my day pack; it wastes space and can become a huge nuisance.
A lighter and some lightweight fire-starting product like Wetfire, a type of tinder, is perfect. I like this because you can light it in the rain. I keep these items in a plastic bag and squirrel them away in that one random and illogical pocket that is in every backpack.
You can pack a prefabricated kit or make your own, but think of weight and space. I prefer a SAM splint, Ace wrap, needle and dental floss for emergency sutures, medical tape, gauze pads and iodine tablets to make a disinfectant. Bend the SAM splint and pack supplies in the splint then wrap it all with the Ace wrap. This takes less room and the contents stay secure. I have seen some first aid kits that are loaded. While there is nothing wrong with preparation, you can make due with the supplies I’ve listed for most injuries.
Not a bad idea in case you get stranded or weather becomes severe. You can use it as a blanket or a shelter, and it folds up into a tiny weightless packet.
I recommend packing a small roll of lightweight nylon cord. You can “Macgyver” just about anything with this.
Depending on the temperatures, I will pack either lightweight merino-wool gloves or, if it is cold, I will bring a heavier, insulated, waterproof pair. Not both.
My tip? Carry all of your licenses, all states and all game at all times. I keep mine in a plastic bag inside an internal pocket of my pack. This way, no matter where I go, I never forget them. This works great for me because I use the same pack for hunting and fishing.
You never know!
And that is it. All of this gear has minimal weight and covers most of your needs. Again, consider that what I have described here is for a day pack. Proper planning and packing can truly reduce your energy expenditure when it is needed most! ASJ
Editor’s note: Kirstie Pike is the CEO of Prois Hunting & Field Apparel for Women.