The Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 Backpack (MSRP: $330, ~28 ounces / 794 g) is an innovative frameless pack designed specifically to accommodate bear canisters. It features a unique water bottle storage system, optional shoulder-strap pockets, a removable foam back panel, a floating hipbelt, a large wrap-around exterior pocket, and a closed-cell foam (CCF) pad attachment system.
- curved space under the main compartment externally accommodates a bear canister at the hiker’s center of gravity
- waterbottle holders attach to hipbelt for easy access
- roll-top closure cinches down with single strap
- 35 L claimed capacity (main compartment)
- 35 pound (16 kg) maximum weight capacity
- padded hipbelt
- large wrap-around rear pocket is fabric on the sides and non-stretch mesh on back
- daisy chains along the central line of rear pocket
- daisy chains on shoulder straps
- dedicated ice-axe storage system
- dedicated CCF pad storage system
- 210 d Gridstop / 330 d Cordura fabric
Moving to the Sierra Nevada from the southeast three years ago was an exercise in bear canister discovery – namely how terrible and cumbersome they are. My backpacking system simply wasn’t designed to accommodate a bear canister. As it turns out, none of the packs I’ve tested since then – several of them quite excellent – really shone when it came to bear canisters either.
The Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 immediately caught my eye for this reason. It’s designed specifically to:
- Accommodate a bear canister at the bottom of the pack to maximize comfort and stability and,
- do it on the outside of the pack, allowing for ease of access during the day without having to unstrap the canister.
I took the Bears Ears 50 out for a quick two-day, one-night excursion in my home turf around Lake Tahoe to gather my initial thoughts. The Bears Ears 50 will be my pack on a two-week Sierra High Route trip later in the summer of 2021 – a trip that will provide me with the testing experience to file a Performance Review at a later date.
I loaded up the Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 with about 30 pounds (14 kg) for my short testing trip. That’s way more than I would typically take on an overnight, but I wanted to see how the pack faired as it crept up on its maximum weight capacity – particularly as my trip involved steep climbs and descents, talus, scrambling, and sandy, unstable footing. A few cans of beer provided the extra weight I needed.
It’s worth noting that the water bottle holders on this pack hang off the hipbelt. This design has practical application for usability (i.e. no contorting around to fish bottles out of side pockets) but it also means the next heaviest thing in the user’s pack after food – water – is also at the user’s center of gravity along with the bear canister.
The combination of floating hipbelt and water/bear canister positioning created a lot of confidence as I scrambled up and over a talus field to reach my destination, and even felt steady as I navigated the downhill the next day.
The Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 carried my 30 pound (14 kg) load easily. The J-shape shoulder straps are .75 inches (2 cm) thick and just shy of 3 inches (8 cm) wide where they meet the shoulder. The removable foam back panel is .25 inch (1 cm) thick. The Bears Ears 50 necessitates careful packing (you don’t want anything hard pressing up against your bear canister or your back) but once a user has her packing strategy dialed in, it’s easy to achieve a comfortable carry with this pack. The floating hipbelt (with .5 inches / 1 cm of foam padding) and attention towards weight distribution in the pack design also help out in this regard.
My upcoming Sierra High Route trip will almost certainly see me pushing this pack right up to the 35 pound (16 kg) mark, but I don’t estimate that additional five pounds (2 kg) will be enough to take this pack from comfortable to not.
The externally stored bear canister and hipbelt water bottle holders both give the Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 high marks in usability, allowing for water access on the go and food access without rummaging around in the pack, respectively.
But there are a few other features worth noting. A length of shockcord running in a loop directly above the bear canister storage area provides storage for a CCF pad, while a shock-cord and webbing system along the central spine of the pack provides better-than-average trekking pole/ice-axe storage.
The rear external pocket is voluminous and wraps entirely around the pack from one side of the back panel to the other. The sides of the pocket are 310 denier Cordura, while the outside panel is non-stretchy, open mesh.
Between the exterior pocket and the expandable main compartment (the roll-top closure extends a solid 12 inches / 30 cm above the shoulders), it would be easy to overload this pack, so users who depend on a lack of volume to manage their pack weight should beware.
A glut of daisy chains run up and down both shoulder straps as well as along a central strip of fabric attached to the exterior rear pocket. I’m a fan of clipping on-the-go items to daisy chains, so I appreciate this touch.
As a final nod towards usability, Nuntak Gear notes that the bear canister storage area can be used to hold any number of large, bulky items like packrafts, winter gear, Ursacks, or Nunatak’s Cargo Sack (essentially just a cylindrical stuff sack). I’ve yet to try this function, but will likely test it out on Colorado’s Collegiate Loop with an Ursack later this summer.
The Nunatak Bears Ears 50 seems like a unique and versatile pack. It combines a rich feature set, thoughtful design, and bulky-item carrying capacity (complete with floating hipbelt) with a 35-pound (16 kg) load capacity and minimalist removable foam back panel. The water and bear canister storage areas are well-situated for a stable carry, even over talus or while scrambling.
I’d prefer to see this pack rendered in X-Pac or Dyneema Composite Fiber for some waterproof capability, but also understand that this pack is aimed primarily at western hikers operating in ranges without a lot of all-day rainstorms.
How the Nunatek Bears Ears 50 fairs under the maximum recommended loads for extended carries remains to be seen, but my initial impression of the pack is overwhelmingly favorable.
Learn More: Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 Backpack
- Buy the Nunatak Gear Bears Ears 50 here.
- See the Nunatak Bears Ears 50 Backpack in our Gear Shop to research more info about it.
- Browse more Nunatak Gear in our Gear Shop.
- read more by Andrew Marshall
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