My Kifaru Zulu pack was ordered in the middle of the summer and it arrived approximately 6 weeks later as predisclosed on the Kifaru website. This minor wait, in my opinion, was worth the satisfaction of having a well-constructed pack custom made to my provided measurements. Also, Kifaru prides itself in 100% American construction, something I’m willing to pay a slightly higher price to support in economically difficult times. Here are some of the pack features:
- Weight: 4 lbs. 5 oz or 1.9 kilograms
- Capacity: 2,800 Cubic Inches + (Note: capacity fluctuates with expandable draft collar) or 45.8 liters
- Access: Top Loading
- Construction: 1000 Denier Cordura Nylon Coated Nylon, Delrin Buckles, Stitching and Bartacking, Large YKK Zippers, Berry Amendment (100% USA Made) Compliant.
- Priced from: $272
- Price as Tested: $403
The pack I ordered arrived in a
Kifaru offers its customers the ability to customize their pack with color option, XTL Lid (essentially a detachable lid), pull out components, padded waist belts with and without MOLLE attachments and more. This particular pack was ordered in Coyote Brown Color with grommets, the XTL lid and unpadded waist belt without MOLLE grids. It is a traditional rucksack design with deep tunnel pockets on three sides of the main body. There is a large over the top compression strap that helps keep contents close to the body. It also functions to hold a sleeping pad under the lid very securely. It has a robust 19” frame that allows for carrying heavy loads yet is not overly built to be bulky and obtrusive. The pack has multiple MOLLE PALS attachments throughout. Compression straps run the entire length of the pack and work to secure loads tightly.
Recently, I loaded up my Zulu pack with a standard load for a weekend trip and headed out to a local trail for a conditioning hike and comfort test of this new pack. The Mountainsmith heritage of the Zulu is apparent when shouldering the pack and attaching the waist belt. Despite a lack of padding, the hip belt rode nicely on my waist and supported the 25 or so lbs nicely. One criticism of these packs is their weight. While certainly not an ultralight/minimalist pack, it is not too heavy to be noticeable and it ranks similarly with comparable backpacking top loaders of equal size and shape. The slightly heavier duty construction is a fair trade off for a pack that will be thrown in canoes, carried in the back of pick up trucks and packed into the woods 12 months of the year regardless of weather conditions. As a Survival Instructor with the Wilderness Learning Center, I have seen my fair share of student gear. As a former employee of a large scale outdoor sporting goods store, I have had access to virtually any pack I could ever want.
The Kifaru Zulu has become my all-time favorite ruck. In particular, I love the ability of the pack to expand to my needs. On this particular hike, I was able to cinch down the straps and have a compact “3 Day Pack” style ruck that wasn’t too large to be left behind. After the hike, I repacked it in anticipation of an upcoming weekend canoe trip in the Adirondacks. The expandable draft collar provides upwards of 1000 cubic inches more of capacity that is greatly needed when carrying extra bulky colder weather gear or group supplies such as large cooking pots or area tarps.
The optional XTL lid purchased gives me the ability to organize my immediate use gear in the lid and have it ready in a moment’s notice. It has one large pocket that opens from the pack’s back and one smaller map sized pocket on the inside that also has attachments for Kifaru pull outs. In a pinch, the XTL can be used as a possibles pouch with the included shoulder strap. I see the XTL as a great way to carry your 10 essentials in one convenient place.
In addition to the Zulu pack, I ordered a large POD by Kifaru which holds my nesting Wiggy’s bags. These Pods are the easiest way to quickly stuff gear and attach it to the packs multiple PALS grids with a split buckle. The combination of the expandable collar, XTL lid and large POD gives me the capability of carrying loads for extended stays in the backcountry upwards of a week or two on end.
By the end of my day hike, I noticed no hot spots or wear marks on my shoulders or hips. Wearing only a lightweight half-zip top and moving fast to keep warm, the pack never once rode up on me or became uncomfortable. One interesting design feature intended for the battlefield proved useful in my woods romping. The pack has quick release shoulder straps in case a soldier must ditch it and fight. I used them after resting my bones in the back of my SUV and dumping it in the cargo area before driving away. I’m sure the quick detach feature can prove useful in other ways than my tired end of the day actions.
The last notable point to make it the ability of the Zulu to “dock and lock” multiple pouches or their Tailgunner waist packs. I own a Tailgunner I pack as well and can use both sets of shoulder straps simultaneously. The way I figure, if I ever needed to carry even more gear, I can carry the Tailgunner the standard way and wear the Zulu higher on my back than usual and use the Tailgunner pack as a rest for the bottom of the Zulu. While not the best option for long hikes, I certainly see this ability as important if I am portaging a boat or trying to move my gear while minimizing the number of trips from point A to point B.
Though I haven’t owned the Kifaru Zulu clearly as long as other packs, I know it will become my “go to” pack for longer trips. I have thought about whether or not the price of a quality pack and slightly added weight is worth it and I can say wholeheartedly it is. For the quality of this pack and the excellent design, I’m willing to pay a bit more and shoulder (sorry for the bad pun) the weight. Military designed packs don’t look civilian, are slightly heavier and may appear ugly to some but they are built as tough as nails. In my commercial and recreation use of this pack, I can easily see it outlasting me. For the woodsbum and outdoors enthusiast alike, it will be a great addition in their outdoors gear. I view a pack as a way of carrying your life on your back in the wilderness. I also see packs in the same light as a car or truck since both carry cargo. Combining these two thoughts together one can view the Kifaru Zulu as a rugged yet refined American made sport utility vehicle with an iron-clad guarantee. A guarantee against any flaws or defects and a guarantee to help you “expand the outback” as Kifaru says and unleash your inner Woods Monkey.