By Tony Martins

Most outdoorsmen, as well as countless members of our military forces, recognize Eberlestock as an innovative manufacturer of top-grade backpacks for hunting and field operations. I suspect however, that far fewer have considered configuring an Eberlestock backpack as a carry-on for airline travel that will also serve well in the field, possibly in a different configuration, after the flight(s).

My upcoming and greatly anticipated hunt halfway around the world in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan will require 4 connecting airline flights just to get there! In discussing this with Eberlestock founder Glen Eberle, and the fact that my usual carry-on backpack was inadequate for the gear I would be taking on this trip, he suggested an ingenious and versatile solution to this problem – the Super Spike Duffle, zipped onto my Mainframe Backpack.

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Eberlestock Super Spike Duffle in the illusionary Doppleganger camo pattern, with shoulder strap attached. Delivered in a tiny mesh bag, I’m not sure how they stuffed the duffle in there, but the bag is a nice bonus, useful for storing small gear items.

Airline carry-on bags have grown larger over the past few years – partly in response to charges for checked baggage and partly due to concerns over all-too-common damage from handling. Thus, some of the wheeled suitcases now being carried on are downright enormous, and most airlines have adopted size and weight limits for carry-ons. The common standard is 22x14x9 inches and 15-17 lbs. but sizes and weights vary by airline. Carriers for my trip, Delta, KLM and Air France, are more generous on weight (26 lbs. max) but Turkish Air has a published limit of 17.6 lbs. Loaded for travel with valuable optical gear, my Mainframe/Super-Spike is a little oversize, measuring 25-1/5×15-1/2×11 inches and weighing 29 lbs. – so we’ll see what happens.

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Eberlestock bare Mainframe Pack (left), loaded with Super Spike Duffle in my airline carry-on configuration (center), and covered with the 4 oz. Featherweight Rain cover (right).

Now here’s the beauty of this ingenious setup: If an airline refuses to allow carry-on of this rig, simply unzip and remove the Super Spike Duffle from the Mainframe, attach the shoulder strap to the duffle for carry-on, and then handover the Mainframe to be checked! The advertised dimensions of the Super Spike Duffle are 22x13x11-1/2, and removing the frame lightens the carry-on by 4 lbs. 5 oz., so this “surprise” development provides a good compromise for negotiation with inflexible airline personnel. Once safely on the airplane, I plan to cover the rig with a small Eberlestock Featherweight Rain Cover before stowing in the overhead compartment above my seat (or thereabouts). This should keep inquisitive eyes and prying fingers out, in the event that I nap on any of the long overseas flights. MSRP’s: Mainframe Pack – $189.00, Super Spike Duffle – $59.95, and Featherweight Rain Cover – $24.95.

For use in the field, the modular and comfortable Mainframe pack system with ultra-light Intex II aluminum frame can function as a day pack or freight pack. It converts to a meat hauler in seconds, and works with over 15 Eberlestock add-on accessories. According to the company: “It will haul any man-portable load with the same alacrity and a lot more comfort (and quiet) than a giant freighter frame,” and I don’t disagree! I plan to also use the Super Spike Duffle in the field attached to the Mainframe, possibly with one or two Batwing Pouches. Made of the same tough fabric as their hunting packs the duffle weighs 24 oz., and adds 2900 cubic inches of capacity, with handy tuck-pockets at each end. Each Batwing features a wrap-around zipper for access, internal hydration sleeve, external tuck-pocket and backside webbing loops which give the added option of attachment by hanging on the pack rather than zipping in place to the pack frame (or duffle). Each tall (21-inches), narrow (6-inch wide, 5-inch deep) Batwing adds 615 cubic inches of capacity and weighs just 11 ounces – perfect for carrying a large spotting scope plus compact tripod, or even a full-size tripod. MSRP for the Batwing Pouch is $39.95 (each).

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A couple of Eberlestock Batwing Pouches (left), attached to the Mainframe and loaded with tripod, spotting scope and other gear for use as a field pack (center), and zipped to both sides of a Super Spike Duffle as well as the frame, with rifle and scabbard attached for use as a hunting pack (right).

One of the added bonuses of zipping the Super Spike Duffle and a Batwing Pouch or two to the Mainframe is that this creates a void space between frame and the gear bags, where you can carry… more gear! This space is ideal for a water bottle or hydration pack, like Eberlestock’s 2-liter system, or quick access to other gear like a rainsuit. My Eberlestock Scoped Rifle Side Scabbard that I have previously used with my full-size Eberlestock JP9 Blue Widow pack fits nicely in this space. Attached with Alice Clips (2 were included with my scabbard) through webbing loops, the vertical positioning is adjusted easily – from low on the pack for carry on foot, to higher placement for riding on horseback. This thing is super-tough and very well padded to protect your valuable rifle and scope. Scabbard dimensions are 34” high, by 7” wide, by 3” thick, and just fit my Weatherby Vanguard mountain rifle with 50mm scope, medium rings and high profile adjustable turrets. MSRP’s: Eberlestock 2-liter Hydration System – $37.95, Scoped Rifle Side Scabbard – $59.95

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The Eberlestock Scoped Rifle Side Scabbard with rifle (left), and view from the back rest side of the highly adjustable and remarkably comfortable Mainframe Pack, with scabbard and rifle attached (right).

A couple of additional Eberlestock accessories will accompany me on this hunt. There’s a very good chance that when my shot opportunity comes on this extreme mountain hunt, it will be necessary to shoot from a low profile position, on a steep uphill or downhill angle. Shots like this are often taken while resting the rifle on a backpack. Furthermore, the outfitter has cautioned that a “long” shot on the wary mid-Asian ibex we are hunting may be required. Thus, in trying to prepare for every possible scenario, I will be packing an Eberlestock Pack-Mountable Shooting Rest. When attached to the pack via built-in clips or compression straps, this rest provides a more solid platform to steady the rifle adding confidence for long-range shooting. It also provides an additional inch or two of elevation for muzzle clearance. This compact unit is solidly constructed, yet weighs next to nothing! MSRP = $29.95.

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Weatherby Vanguard mountain rifle ready for action atop the hunting pack, supported and stabilized by a lightweight Eberlestock Shooting Rest.

At the time of this writing in mid-September, just two weeks from departure to Kyrgyzstan, the area in the Tien Shan Mountains where we will be hunting has been receiving rain at lower elevations and snow above 10,000 feet. At the suggestion of Glen Eberle (who has become a trusted mountain hunting mentor), I will be taking a second rain cover. The Eberlestock Large Reversible Rain Cover is big enough to go over a fully expanded and loaded J-type pack like the Blue Widow, including a rifle in a scabbard, yet it weighs just 9 ounces. Its aggressive elastic edging pulls it tight around the pack to seal out the elements, even when the pack is not fully expanded. Although we will no doubt be hunting in snow, I opted for the UNICAM Universal Digital Camouflage, reversible to Blaze orange instead of Snow Tech Digital. Reasoning: I often ditch my pack on final approach for a shot, and blaze orange acts like a beacon that is much easier to locate on return than white or brown camo particularly when that “approach” turns into an extended walkabout. MSRP = $39.95.

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Hunting pack configuration with Eberlestock Large Reversible Rain Cover attached, and highly visible blaze orange side out.

The right (or wrong) gear can make (or break) a hunt. I’m confident that the cards are stacked in my favor for success with the Eberlestock gear described above, for this once-in-a-lifetime hunting adventure. Be sure to check back on this blog for a performance report after the hunt covering both the gear, and the hunter…