This is a minimalist’s pack. If that’s a problem for you, get over it. You’ll love this pack anyway.
I’m a photographer, backpacker, naturalist, guide, and overall adventure enthusiast. I’m not a gear junkie, but I like good gear, and if I can’t find a use for something, it doesn’t get used, end of story. I’ve tried and tested enough packs to know which ones I like and which I’m happy to give back or retire to my closet until I can hand them off to a new owner. There are a treasured few I keep, and the Brooklyn Outfitters Wolfjaw 16L is going to be one of them.
To be honest, I didn’t really need another pack when my BKO Wolfjaw arrived in the mail, but I was excited to test it out just the same. I finally got a chance to do so a few days ago and after putting the bag through the paces in one of my favorite outdoor playgrounds, New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, I can say this pack is here to stay.
Straight out of the box this pack is, dare I say it, pretty. The craftsmanship is top notch; the pack is simply designed, but expertly constructed, and the materials look as if they are built to last. Unlike many lightweight bags made of thin and fragile materials, this one seems durable enough to withstand some serious bushwhacking, rock scrambling, and other less tame pursuits unscathed. Since all of Brooklyn Outfitters’ packs and gear come with a lifetime guarantee, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the pack survives all the torture I’m bound to put in through, but it’s nice to know that a company stands behind its products, and I can rest assured that this pack won’t fail on me in the middle of a summit attempt or halfway through a tough day of hiking.
The Wolfjaw comes in two colors and one color scheme; black with red accents or red with black accents. My bag is “Midnight Black” and the bit of red on it gives it just enough pizazz to make me feel hip wearing it. I know that sounds pretty shallow, but when you are in the woods, sweating, swatting flies, and stinking like a horse’s rear end, anything that makes you feel less uncivilized is welcome. The black does blend in way more than red, so if you aren’t worried about misplacing your pack in the trunk of your car or tucked away in the woods, and want something discreet but still stylish, go with black. The red color on the other hand, is super flashy. It looks awesome in photographs, stands out against just about any landscape, wilderness or urban, and won’t get so easily lost when you place it down to use nature’s facilities. Wearing it, you will also look like you are ready to rescue your fellow adventurers and provide medical assistance at any time; the color is called “Ski Patrol Red” for a reason. Fortunately, the black accents keep the bag from being obnoxious and instead, make it the perfect accessory for completing that “bomber in the backcountry” look of all those attractive and fit hikers you see gracing the cover of Backpacker magazine.
As handsome as the Wolfjaw is, looks would mean nothing if this pack didn’t perform and it does. My first test of the Wolfjaw was on a short hike up East Rattlesnake Mountain, which overlooks Squam Lake in New Hampshire. I had hiked the trail up once before, and knew the view at the top was impressive, so I loaded my pack up with some camera gear, a DSLR and two lenses plus filters, extra memory, and a spare battery, a rain jacket, map, and headlamp, my iPhone and sunglasses, and my tripod. Because the pack is a simple by design, there aren’t a ton of places to put so much gear, but I found it easy to place my smaller items (map, phone, headlamp, and sunglasses) in the zippered outer pocket, and stuff my extra camera equipment in a Clik Elite Camera Capsule zippered pouch inside the main compartment along with my rain jacket. I used the compression straps on the outside of the pack to attach my tripod, and carried my camera with one lens attached on a neck strap slung over my head and one shoulder, and my water bottle in hand.
The compression straps on this pack are really well designed and work exactly like compression straps should. Because they wrap all the way around the pack, they actually compress the bag evenly when tightened, and its possible to carry a load hug snug against your body, for maximum balance and comfort. On many bags, I’ve found the compression straps only tighten the sides of the bag, as opposed to the entire girth of the bag, and I think the method that BKO uses on the Wolfjaw is far superior.
The bag also has an extensive daisy chain of webbing running the length of it, punctuated by a single ice axe loop at the bottom. The daisy chain provides a number of attachment points for extra gear, so you have options, even with the bag’s minimalist design. I didn’t have to use any on my hike up the Rattlesnakes, but I could see myself clipping on rope, climbing shoes, or any number of other accessories onto this pack in future use.
The hike up East Rattlesnake is only about 0.7 miles from the trailhead up to the overlook, but the trail gains about 700 feet in that short time, traversing a number of switchbacks. The mosquitoes were out in droves, and they magnified in intensity any time I stopped, so I beelined it to the overlook quickly, burning through some calories on the way up. The Wolfjaw handled beautifully. It hugged my body without feeling too tight, and perhaps because of the frameless design, I had less problems with my shirt riding up in the back than I do with other compact daypacks. There is some padding on the back on the Wolfjaw, but nothing designed to aid ventilation, yet I found my back to be no more sweaty than with any other pack.
Lightly padded shoulder straps, with webbing for attaching accessories, balance the weight of the pack’s contents easily. A sternum strap and waist strap, each made of webbing with a sturdy no-slip buckle, hold the bag securely to the body. A loop at the top of the pack makes it easy to hang, and the roll top closure provides secure protection with easy access to the bag’s contents.
The Wolfjaw does have a hydration sleeve, which I could have used instead of carrying a water bottle. I forgot to pack a bladder though, and upon investigating the bag, I can’t figure out where the hose is supposed to exit the pack. Because the Wolfjaw has a roll-top closure, like a dry bag, feeding the hose up through the top of the bag does not seem practical, but neither does cutting a port for it in the side of this water resistant bag design. There is also a little clip inside the bag above the zippered pocket where the hydration sleeve is, and I have no idea what this is for. If I had to pick one thing to complain about in regards to the Wolfjaw, it would be this whole hydration sleeve system thing. Mostly, because I’m sure it makes sense to the guys who designed it, but I don’t get it!
The top of this part of the bag also felt stiff on the back of my neck, but only when I first put it on, and only for the first time I wore it each day. Within a minute of having the bag on, I couldn’t detect the stiffness at all, and the bag felt super comfy.
Once I reached the overlook, I started snapping photos almost immediately, first with my camera, then with my phone, then with my camera again. I also grabbed my rain jacket out of the bag and put it on, despite the fact that I was warm, because the constant assault from the biting mosquitoes was a bit more than I could bear at the moment. After resting at the overlook for a bit, I decided I had enough time to try for the adjacent peak, West Rattlesnake, and still make it back in time to the East Rattlesnake overlook in time for sunset in case the views over there weren’t as good.
The Wolfjaw is made of a durable, lightweight, water resistant Cordura material. It means water doesn’t get in very easily, but it also doesn’t get out easily either, a thought that occurred to me when I put my now sweaty rain jacket back in its place inside the pack. Overall though, I think the extra protection the material provides makes me feel more comfortable using this pack in challenging weather conditions than some of my more breathable bags.
As I scrambled over to West Rattlesnake, I found myself thinking, “Wow, I really like this pack.” Usually, I avoid frameless packs whenever carrying camera gear because I find them uncomfortable with camera equipment, but the Wolfjaw changed this for me. It felt light and moved with me, and carried all my necessary gear (probably about 15 lbs in total) easily and comfortably. I enjoyed the freedom of not feeling weighed down, something I love when I hike without a pack at all, while still being able to shoot, something I often miss when I go camera less into the backcountry. Now, I can have the best of both worlds.
The 0.8 miles between East and West Rattlesnake went quickly, and when I reached the overlook on the western mountain, I was instantly glad I decided to push further. The view was outstanding, and from a photographic standpoint, almost overwhelming. So many viewpoints, with rock faces, gnarled and twisted pine trees, and stunted shrubs, all overlooking beautiful Squam Lake, surrounded by mountains and dotted with islands rising from the water, created opportunities for multiple compositions, and I bounced back and forth on the mountain, leaping up and down boulders, and winding my way in and out of paths, shooting multiple angles. The pack’s compact design forced me to stay very organized, and made going from one location to another easy. I liked it so much I even bothered to snap a few shots of my new pack enjoying the view.
After the sun settled behind the mountains, I began my trip back to my camp in the fading light. The mosquitoes had stopped biting and the hike back was pleasant. Despite the late hour and having a few miles already under my feet, I felt alive with the energy and excitement of my amazing sunset hike with an awesome new pack.
For the hiker who wants to carry just what they need and nothing more, the Wolfjaw 16L is the perfect companion. All too many people often venture out into unfamiliar territory poorly prepared, so the Wolfjaw’s simplistic design is perfect for those who would prefer to be carrying nothing at all. There is more than enough space inside for rain gear, safety equipment, food and water, and the bag’s lightweight, comfortable design makes it seem as if you are hardly carrying anything at all.
Purists too, will appreciate the pack’s no-frills design and excellent quality. It doesn’t have anything it doesn’t need (except for maybe that pesky inner clip near the hydration sleeve) and it really doesn’t need anything it doesn’t have. One small change I’d like to see considered on future iterations of the pack is an integrated whistle in the pack’s sternum strap buckle. Ultralight and minimalist hikers love gear that is multipurpose, and adding a built-in whistle to a buckle that already exists will ensure that those going light don’t skimp on safety.
I’m already looking forward to my next adventure with this pack, which is conveniently, tomorrow. The Wolfjaw and I will be trekking up the Hancocks with my friend Brett who is more than halfway towards conquering all forty-eight 4000+ foot peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. He’s also a blogger, naturalist, biologist, and serious outdoor enthusiast, so my original plan was to have him test out the pack for a second opinion. However, I like the Wolfjaw so much, I might have to reconsider and keep it all to myself!
To learn more about Brooklyn Outfitters and to purchase the Wolfjaw pack, visit their website at www.brooklynoutfitters.com. Brooklyn Outfitters offers guided outdoor trips to various destinations throughout the northeast, catering to the weekend warriors of New York City. They also sell 100% USA made, hand-sewn packs, such as the Wolfjaw 16L and its bigger sibling, the Wolfjaw 34L.
Also, check out The New England Nature Blog, where Brett writes about, you guessed it, the nature, ecology, and wild places of New England. His writing is really fun, and I always learn something new when I visit, so be sure to stop by.