Deciding between the 3500 or 5500 can be a tough choice and we get this question almost daily. As a general rule our recommendation is if your average hunt is 5 days or less go with the 3500. If you consistently do 5+ day plus hunts then you will be better suited with the 5500.
One thing that differentiates us is our load shelf design, which has the same capacity to haul-out meat, regardless of which bag you choose. Both the 3500 and 5500 (as well as our 2000) offer the same fit and load-capcity because they all share the same frame. When choosing one bag over the other, the only difference is how much gear you need to carry.
Our bag ratings are also extremely conservative, the 3500 has 4700ci of use-able gear space, while the 5500 is closer to 7000ci. That is anothing thing to consider when comparing our pack weights to others.
Some guys are very minimalist and can hunt 10 days out of a 3500. Others like to pack a lot of extra stuff for the "just in case" items and need all the space a 5500 offers for a 3 day hunt. Some guys do a lot of late-season hunts, where extra clothes take up a lot of space.
Although the high-end capacity of the bags differs by a notable amount, both the 3500 and 5500 bags compress down really well when you are not using all of the space they offer.
From an actual size perspective, the 5500 is 3″ deeper (10″ vs 7″ on the 3500), the same width (side-to-side) and 10″ taller.
Go with the 3500 if...
- Average hunts are under 5 days
- You spend a lot of money to save every ounce you can in your pack
- You pack from a minimalist perspective and have a "less is more" perspective
Go with the 5500 if...
- You do multiple week long trips every year
- Your pack weighs more than 45lbs on a 3 day hunt
- You aren’t as concerned about the extra ounces and prefer the extra space
- You do a lot of late season hunts where bulky clothing is required