About a month or so ago, I received the new CamelBak Commander XT for review. This is a big pack, with many built in features, designed for the hunter and outdoorsman that spend extended time periods out in the field. A month is a long time to use something before writing a review. But in this case, I can honestly say that this pack has been used for nearly everything the Woods Monkey reader will ask it to perform. It’s even been tasked to perform quite a bit that it wasn’t designed for, which it did admirably. The 100oz. hydration bladder, large internal storage capacity, outdoor tuned design, Mossy Oak camo pattern, and a robust build, make the CamelBak Commander XT a real winner for the Woods Monkey. Above all, the CamelBak Commander XT is focused on keeping you hydrated.
Like other products from CamelBak, the Commander uses an internal hydration bladder that stores inside the pack closest to the wearers back. The bladder is accessed through a zippered compartment that is nicely insulated. CamelBak says that the bladder is insulated so that it helps keep the bladder from freezing in cold weather. I was able to test the bladders temperature tolerance on the back deck of my house. I filled the bladder to the full 100oz capacity, and left it on my back deck overnight while the mercury dropped into the low 20’s. The next morning I checked the bladder expecting to find ice cracked through the bladder. However, I found the bladder still intact, with only a very slim layer of ice having formed inside. The cold resistance of the Commander is impressive, I’m confident it will perform just as well in colder temperatures.
One of the most interesting features of the Commander is that the smaller organizational pockets are separated from the main compartment in what amounts to two separate packs attached at the bottom. I have to admit, I thought it was a little weird when I first picked it up. After the first afternoon hike with it, I realized it was pure genius. As the main compartment and, what I’ll term the outer compartment, are separated, there is a set of five webbing straps holding them together. What this allows the user to do is cinch down a jacket, raincoat, poncho, or bedroll securely in the pack, very quickly.
This is especially handy for those times of the year when an afternoon shower or the sun dropping behind a hill can lower the temp or wet the woods walker. Having an easy place to store a jacket after it warms up, or pull it out of when the rain starts coming down is just plain good thinking. I like this feature; it makes so much more sense than lashing things to the outside of a pack where they get dirty, wet, and worn. This is also a comfortable place to put an ultra light tent, sleeping bag, tarp, or bedroll, ensuring the hikers pack stays nice and organized.
Speaking of getting out and doing, the Commander XT is plenty big enough for a several day outing. With 2,503 cubic inches of storage space, it’s spacious enough for a weekend jaunt. I tested the versatility of this on a weekend trip my wife and I took to Moab, Utah. I decided a substantial test of the usability of the Commander XT would be for it to serve as my luggage, day pack, and equipment mule from the time we left the house until we returned. I was able to comfortably pack two changes of clothes, a second set of shoes, a small camera tripod with camera and batteries, a small 2 meter Ham radio, binoculars, and all the various bits of kit expected to be toted by a Woods Monkey. Once in the hotel (hey, I didn’t say we were roughing it!), the bag was unloaded and clothes put away. From that point on, it was used as a daypack, and equipment hauler, for the duration of the trip. With a jacket cinched into the above-mentioned storage space, the Commander carried everything needed for two days in the Utah parks, including a camera tri-pod and plenty of water.
The Commander is outfitted with an adjustable waist belt and chest strap that made carrying the pack very comfortable for extended periods of hiking. One particular jaunt to see the Landscape Arch inside Arches National Park (highly recommended by the way) was a round trip of three and half miles. For such a big backpack, the belt and chest straps, along with the nicely padded shoulder straps, make long durations of wear very comfortable.
The outer pockets are set up to be able to organize your trip’s gear into easily manageable spaces. With a zip-closure outermost pocket, the wearer can quickly access the most used essentials, like a compass, GPS, map, or similar items. Inside the small storage area you’ll find a zipper mesh pocket against the outer rear wall of the pack. There are also two pockets with Velcro closures, and a handy key-keeper with a built in clip to keep keys from getting lost in the bottom of the pack. In between the main compartment and the outer organizer, there are two mesh pockets with a simple elastic top. I found these to be handy to hold dirty gloves, wet socks, and the others pieces of equipment that you don’t want mixed in with the rest of your equipment. As I mentioned earlier, my version is in the Mossy Oak camo pattern. I’ve found this to be an exceptional pattern for general hunting use.
Though I received the Commander after my hunting season was over, I did have the opportunity to try it out in the woods. In the high country of Colorado, Mossy Oak does exceptionally well. It’s a good fall pattern for most areas, keeping some light browns and greens in the pattern for disruption of the wearers outline. For a deep winter pattern, Mossy Oak is probably too light, and you might be best served with the RealTree pattern, which is also available on this model. It just all depends on when you’ll be using it if you’re a hunter. An excellent addition to the Commander is the blaze orange flap that can cover the rear portions of the pack.
A real hassle for any hunter is how to wear your pack with your hunter’s orange. If you wear it over your orange vest, you’re covering that lifesaving orange and probably not operating within game laws. If you wear your orange vest over your pack, you’re continually taking your vest off to access the pack, which is also not a safe move during hunting season. The folks at Camelbak solved this by incorporating a blaze orange flap that can be pulled out of its own dedicated pocket and quickly attached to the rear of the pack. This keeps you operating within game laws, and still keeps your pack on the outside of your orange vest where you can get at it. Of note should be how easy it is to attach the orange flap to the pack. In my first attempt, I was able to figure out how to attach the orange flap, and complete the job in easily under a minute. No review of a hunting pack would be complete without a fair amount of shooting being done while wearing the pack.
I’ve made quite a few shots at white tails because the opportunity arose and the shot presented itself. This can often happen while you’re walking to a stand, or hunting area and haven’t yet had the opportunity to drop your pack. So it stands to reason that any good hunting pack should be able to be worn while shouldering a rifle.I brought the Commander along to a work training session that would have me behind a rifle for a prolonged period of time. The first course of fire was a 25yrd jog with full equipment, dropping to prone and firing at 100 yards. It was immediately apparent that having the hydration tube stored in its zippered compartment on the right shoulder strap hinders the shoulder weld to the shooter. I removed the hydration tube from the right side and moved it to the left, and continued shooting. After 60 rounds of .308, shot at ranged from 100 yards to 400 yards, and in prone, sitting, and kneeling positions, the Commander was still very comfortable. The chest strap can cinch the shoulder straps in so that they are out of the way of a rifle’s weld to the shoulder. One of my fellow teammates and long-range shooters tried it as well. He’s a short and wide, 220lb fireplug of a guy, and he commented on how much more comfortable the Commander was over our issue Alice packs.
I found the Commander to be a very nice, full-sized pack. With the addition of the 100oz. cold resistant water bladder, the Commander is a real winner for hunting, hiking, and over-nighters. If you’re like me, and you like to have a bottle in addition to any hydration bladder, you’ll be glad to hear that the side pocket easily carries a GI canteen, or Nalgene type bottle, securely. You can shoot with it on, be seen with it, and pack several days worth of clothes and equipment. I’m pretty impressed with the Camelbak Commander XT. If you’re looking for a pack in the upper end of size that is still comfortable to wear on a full day in the field, give the Commander a try. It sure impressed me!