If you’re lookin’ for an upland bird vest that could be best described as a “pack mule” and can handle the rigors of hunting in tough environments with the capabilities and ruggedness of carrying enough gear, water, AND birds, then you should definitely consider the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack.
As wingshooters our vest, besides our bird dogs and shotguns, is one of the most crucial pieces of gear we use in the uplands. The vests we don in the field must be comfortable, functional, durable, and of course carry a limit of birds. I have been using the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack for the better part of six years. I’ve used it to hunt in a multitude of environments for a variety of birds. It does have its pitfalls as all vests do, but in my opinion the positive features outweigh the negative.
The vest is made for serious bird hunters. The pack can be worn for short and long hunts and handles both warm and cool weather outings. Although for those who get hot easily, the vest can cause the hunter’s backside to sweat while walking. With minimal gear for short hunts, the pack is easy to carry. However, on longer treks it can get heavy depending on what is being hauled. All those storage compartments can be a blessing–or a curse.
The majority of the pack vest is constructed of lightweight, rip-resistant material coated with a protective layer of polyurethane to maintain dryness. The 600-denier polyester material is very durable. To this day, I have never discovered a tear or rip on the pack. The seams and stitching are of high quality, never fraying while bustin’ through plum thickets and other thick cover.
The two top-loading shell pockets are made of a neoprene material with Velcro tabs for quick and easy access to shot shells. Why the decision was made to use neoprene for the pockets instead of the same durable and tough rip-resistant material the rest of the pack is made of is a legitimate question to raise. More on that later. With lots of blaze orange on the backside, the vest is highly visible. The two water bottle holders and front pouches are a mixture of blaze orange and gunmetal grey with tan accents.
The Pros of the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack
Price – The vest comes in at an affordable $149. I have seen special pricing during the holidays that drops the price to around $100, a very competitive price when compared to other “technical” upland vest packs on the market.
Wear & Comfort – The L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack is available in regular and long sizing. I measure 6-foot-3 athletic build and opted for the regular size. It fits me well enough with no complaints. I chose the regular size as I did not want the vest to be hanging well below my lower torso where it would rest or bump along the back of my upper legs when walking. This is just personal preference.
The vest is comfortable to wear. With its molded back and adjustable hip belt it helps distribute weight. The countered and adjustable shoulder straps are easy to operate without having to remove the vest. The pull tab on the straps can be adjusted to customize overall fit of the vest.
Working in tandem with the hip belt, the alterable straps help tighten the vest keeping it close to the body and eliminating shifting while on the move chasing after birds. The vest can be loosened just as easily allowing for layers of clothes to be added during cold days.
Storage – One of the best features in my opinion is all the storage the vest offers (a contrast to the Review of the L.L. Bean Pa’tridge Strap Vest II). It has more than enough cargo space to carry an array of gear, gadgets, and food. It has four storage compartments in the form of zippered and Velcro pockets. All four storage units are located on the back of the vest. Accessibility is easy with the help of a hunting partner, or the bird hunter must remove the vest in order to access the desired pocket. I do not see this as a negative factor, but simply part of the stowage design.
The largest storage space is the sizable and very easily accessible rear-loading game bag. The blood proof bag can be zipped open for easy cleaning. The game bag has ample space for a limit of four Kansas roosters, with enough room to throw in a handful of bobwhite quail and a snipe or two for good measure. There’s no fighting to find the opening of the game bag as it naturally stays open, allowing for the uncumbersome placement and removal of birds from either the right or left side.
The most visible outer storage feature is the mesh zippered pocket, where I maintain a collapsible dog bowl. The second largest pocket is almost undetectable. It is held shut with Velcro instead of a zipper. This pocket can fit light layers such as a shirt, gloves, beanie, etc. Anything larger such as a coat or puffy vest I place into a storage bag and stuff it into the game bag section. This protects whatever garment from blood and wet birds if they fall into a creek or lake! The third and fourth storage compartments are accessed by zippers and are great for items such as first-aid and survival kits, headlamp, handwarmers, and snacks.
Two additional storage compartments come with the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack in the form of a pair of detachable blaze-orange pouches. They appear to be the same size; however, one is slightly smaller than the other. They were created to hold GPS units, dog electronics, and other small devices. I have an iPhone 10X and it fits nicely in the larger pouch. It has been placed on the left shoulder strap, opposite of my right gun-mounting shoulder.
The pouches can be affixed to either of the shoulder straps at various heights, so they can be somewhat customizable for each wearer. The picture on the website depicts both pouches on each of the straps. This makes absolutely no sense as the mounting of the shotgun would be inhibited. I have completely discarded the smaller of the pouches as I’ve found no need for it. L.L. Bean needs to get rid of the second smaller pouch as it offers no practical uses.
The Forgotten Back Tag – A small, almost insignificant feature located at the top back portion of the pack is often overlooked, and probably not well-known for its intended use. It’s a piece of blaze orange material approximately four inches in length that has been sewn with an opening running the length of the piece. It allows for the insertion of a (brass) pin, that holds a “back tag,” usually in the form of a vinyl blaze-orange license holder. This type of license holder is typically seen and worn in the North Woods and nor’ eastern part of the country where certain license and permits must be displayed. With L.L. Bean having made its roots in Maine it makes sense why it was put on the pack vest.
Water Storage – To put it simply, hydration. This was the second factor that was of great importance to me when determining whether to purchase the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack. The vest can carry a lot of water. If a bird hunter needs to carry water for his or herself and their dog, then this beast of a pack mule carries enough for both.
The vest features two open side-mounted water bottle carriers. The elastic opening allows for various sizes of water bottles to be carried. However, containers that are a bit more robust fit better. The carriers measure approximately just over 6 3/4 inches deep. I have found that the Nalgene Everyday 32 ounce Wide Mouth Bottle fits perfectly.
The pack vest is also hydration compatible. Bird hunters wanting to add a bladder must purchase one as it does not come with the pack vest but is sold separately. The vest pack accommodated a 3-liter Camelbak bladder system during a Wyoming sage grouse hunt, which called for having enough water while walking the high desert sage sea.
The bladder would be perfect for those hunters who put in a lot of miles or even on a back country upland hunt. Think arduous hunts for chukar, sage grouse, and the coveted snow cock. The hydration bladder in tandem with a filter can add much needed water during remote hunts.
The Cons of the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack
More Shells – My biggest complaint is with the two ammo pouches. Not only do they barely hold a box of 25 shotshells, they’re badly positioned, and the neoprene type of material does not stand up to the rigors and abuse of walking through thick cover.
The shell pockets need to be about 25 percent larger and made of Cordura NOT neoprene. After only one year of using the L.L. Bean pack, I noticed that the neoprene pocket flaps were beginning to fade and wear faster than if it were made of something more abrasive. The pockets are kept closed by the use of Velcro. After six years, the Velcro has kept its fastening ability, but other options should be considered. Both ammo pouches need to be moved more towards the center, instead of being positioned almost on the hips. By enlarging the pockets, their awkward positioning could be fixed by the mere fact of making them bigger, causing the pockets to be more towards the center and easier to reach in and out for shot shells.
Bouncing Water Bottles – The other feature needing improvement is the ability to secure the water bottles from bouncing out from their holders. I quickly discovered that taller water bottles tended to bounce or fall out far easier when bending over or jumping across a creek or off a fence. A drawstring cord system incorporated into the holders could easily remedy this, providing additional security for your water bottles.
Compression Straps – L.L. Bean needs to add two nylon compression straps underneath the vest so bird hunters can strap clothing (jackets, rain gear, etc.). Many traditional style vests have compression straps on the back for just such a thing. The very small adjustable nylon straps located on the back of the vest are barely usable due to the inability to tighten enough to actually secure clothing items.
Conclusion on the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack
The L.L. Bean Technical Upland Vest Pack met my requirements and provided all the features I needed for successful outings in the uplands. I have been for the most part very satisfied with the pack vest. It held up to my expectations minus a couple of improvements that L.L. Bean could easily remedy. The pack is a very good vest; however, it can be a great vest if the design is tweaked just a bit. Mind you, the L.L. Bean Technical Upland Pack Vest is not a vest that can be worn while driving from field to field. It lacks the sleek design of more traditional and strap vests that can be left on while traveling. This “mule” of a pack is a workhorse for the uplands and would have to be removed and put on each time it’s time to hunt. The pack vest hauls everything a bird hunter needs for a long day afield.
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