Climbing the Denali Summit — High-Altitude Mountaineering With A Hunting Pack

Climbing the Denali Summit — High-Altitude Mountaineering With A Hunting Pack

"I bought and have used the Exo Mtn Gear K2 5500 backpack for years while hunting in Alaska. As a military mountaineer, I am planning an expedition to climb the highest peak in North America, and I will be using my Exo pack for this adventure. This pack has held up great while bushwhacking countless miles through Alaska and packing out extremely heavy loads of moose. Now, it will be going to one of the harshest environments in the world, at the summit of the highest mountain in North America, which rises to 20,310' above sea level."

Exo customer, Sean P., shared this message with us in early 2023. And while we were glad that his trusty K2 pack was still going strong, we were getting ready to release our all-new K4 Pack Systems when we received this message. And sending a new K4 Pack to the top of North America sounded like a great test.

For the remainder of this article, we will be sharing a post-expedition trip report that Sean shared with us, as well as the feedback after using the K4 7200 Pack System to train for and then complete his summit of Denali.

Now, in Sean's words...

Sean on the Summit of Denali

The following is going to include subjective opinions I observed while using the K4 7200 Pack System during the training leading up to, and the completion of my Denali Expedition. Exo Mtn Gear builds hunting packs, made for hunters, by hunters, and to my knowledge does not claim to be a premier high-altitude mountaineering brand. But I like their products and that is why I chose to use the pack for this application.

To give some context for Denali, you carry all of your gear split between your backpack and a sled that is pulled behind you. The total weight of all my gear was 140lbs. Almost everything carried is bulky, due to the heavier (non-ultralight) gear needed for extreme cold temperatures and the increased amount of food needed to fuel the effort.

The movements are broken up into sections between camp locations, which are miles in distance with roughly 3,000' of elevation gain between camps. This link explains the route we took.

We single-carried (meaning moved with all our gear at one time) to camps 1 and 2. From there, we leap-frogged our gear using caches for camps 3 and 4. That consisted of taking a percentage of your gear close to the next camp, burying it in the snow, and walking back to camp.

We would wait for the next day or the next good weather window, pack up camp, and take the rest of our gear to the next camp and set up. Later that day or the next day we would go to our cache and get the gear we buried in the snow and bring it up to our new camp. This method allows your body to acclimatize better and cuts down on the weight you carry per movement. Needless to say, there is a lot of walking under heavy loads for long periods.

Overall, the quality and functionality of the K4 Pack System is outstanding. It worked great for the train-up and the actual climb. The expedition was a success, and we were able to summit Mount Denali. More specifically, here are some of the aspects of the K4 7200 Pack System that stood out to me after using it for my Denali Expedition...

Sean Climbing with his K4 7200 Pack


The bag design and layout is well thought-out, organized, and streamlined. The K4 7200 is a massive bag when used at its full capacity, yet it magically compresses into a day pack when not fully loaded. I love that the width of the bag is not wider than shoulder width. The pack's compression straps are placed strategically so that when you sinch them up, they pull upwards to keep weight higher on the back.

There is a good number of pockets to keep gear separate from the main pack. I kept my light-insulating jacket, extra gloves, and beanie in the front stretch pocket. The water bottle pouch attachments on the hip belt are angled for ease of access when wearing the pack. The K4 Lid kept all my electronics organized and accessible without having to search through or dump the main bag's contents to find smaller items. I used 2 of the K4 Hipbelt Pouches for easy access to snacks, sun buffs, and other small items.


The K4 Frame carries heavy loads extremely well. Denali forces you to stuff a lot of gear you will carry for a long time.

Normally you want to use the pack's waistbelt to distribute weight on your hips when carrying heavy loads, but there were times I didn't use the pack's waistbelt due to the sled I was pulling. Even when not using the pack's hipbelt, the pack's shoulder straps are very comfortable with 75lbs in the pack.

For the time I did use the pack's waistbelt as intended, it worked great at transferring the load to your hips. The waistbelt on the K4 is robust and well-padded, and without a doubt, the pack would do great at distributing weight with loads of 150 pounds. During my workouts and training leading up to the expedition, I would take two 50-pound sandbags and sandwich them between the frame and bag, utilizing the “meat shelf” for this 100-pound load. The weight stays secure on the frame, which supports the heavy load well, yet still allows the frame to move with you as you are walking. I have full confidence that the K4 will be able to carry heavy moose quarters on my future hunts in Alaska.

Climbing & Sled-Pulling


I used my K4 7200 as one of my checked bags when flying to Colorado for our altitude training event. The airport is super hard on luggage, but my K4 survived the round trip with no rips, tears, or frays. I was more impressed that it was unscathed after I shipped it with all my gear forcefully shoved into it and cramming sharp pointy objects into the side pockets.

(Note from Exo: We recommend putting your pack inside a duffel bag when checking it as luggage for airline flights. While our packs are tough, the belts and machines used for luggage processing can have issues with the exposed webbing and buckles if our packs are not placed inside a duffel bag to protect it.)

On Denali, I had no issues with broken clips or loose stitching under heavy loads. I was able to use all the buckles, zippers, and straps with winter gloves on. I managed to not break any zippers or buckles, even after they froze shut from lying in the snow.

The carbon fiber stays for the frame system held up great. I was skeptical at first because carbon fiber can become brittle in cold temperatures, but I also noticed that Exo's K4 carbon fiber stays are by far thicker than any of the other carbon fiber pack frames I have seen on the market.

We experienced temperatures down to -25 degrees, and even though I slammed the bag on the ground and sat my full body weight on top of the loaded pack during rest breaks, every component of the K4 held up great to the extreme cold.


The real story of how I found Exo Mtn Gear began about 6 years ago (well before K4 packs, and well before my expedition to Denali), as I was trying to figure out the best hunting pack that fit my needs. After what seemed like hundreds of hours of research, ordering, and comparing various packs on the market, I found the Exo website. I gave them a call to get answers on what makes their packs better than the rest.

I was on the phone with one of the Exo guys and began asking all these off-the-wall questions. The person I spoke with stopped me and told me I have the perfect person for you to talk to, who will have intimate knowledge and experience with the pack. They didn't even put me on hold and 20 seconds later I was talking to Steve Speck, the owner of the company. Steve didn't even try to sell me on the pack, instead gave some highlights on why their pack would work based on what I told him.

As we wrapped up our conversation, he told me to try the pack, do some testing, and if I didn't like it, to send it back. In my opinion, after our conversation, I think he understood that no matter how awesome companies think their products are — not every product is for every person. I absolutely appreciate him just listening to my needs and wanting me to try it out for myself. After trying the Exo (a K2 at that time), I sent all the other packs back to their respective company.

Sean with Teammates on Denali

In the many years since then, the ongoing customer service that I have experienced with Exo has been outstanding. I love to support companies that make their gear in the USA. And I love that Exo has stuck by their mission statement, “to build the best backcountry hunting pack systems available, provide the best service possible, and do it all right here in the USA.”

I will continue to use Exo packs for my hunts other adventures in the future. I would highly recommend an Exo pack system to any outdoorsman or hunter.

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