Some of you have read my review of TAG Bags from a hunt I did in Western Alaska a handful of years ago. In short, I hung our moose meat in TAG Bags and in conventional cotton heavy-duty game bags on the same meat pole, in order to assess the performance of each. That year we had unseasonably warm weather, and my experience with the TAG Bags wasn't good. The meat in the cotton bags developed a dry surface ("crust", as some call it), while the meat in the TAG Bags did not. The TAG Bags also stuck to the meat, didn't breathe properly (if at all), and were a general disappointment. I've never lost game meat to spoilage in close to 30 years of doing this, and I am really diligent about meat care. Since then, I have changed my seminar material and the information I have written on this site concerning meat care, to recommend using TAG Bags or other synthetic bags to move meat from the kill site to camp, and to then change out to cotton. You can read those recommendations AT THIS LINK.
Last spring I was approached by the owner of Caribou Gear, concerning their synthetic game bags. He claimed that his bags perform much better than TAG Bags, and he was so determined to prove it that he sent me a whole box of them. I had been planning another game bag test for these bags for some time, and so when I ended up guiding a moose hunt this fall, I brought the Caribou Gear game bags along. I was very surprised by their performance, to say the least. I thought that because they were synthetic, they would perform similarly to the TAG Bags. This was not the case. The Caribou Gear bags feel a lot like a cotton bag, while TAG Bags have a much smoother texture. The tightness of the weave feels about the same, when you try to blow air through the material, but the texture had me intrigued.
We killed our moose at 9pm, in a rainstorm. Conditions remained wet and somewhat warm for almost the entire hunt. These are the worst conditions for meat care that you will encounter in Alaska, as it is nearly impossible to get the meat dry. By the time we finished processing the kill, it was about 2am. We worked the animal on a tarp in order to keep the meat clean, however because the moose fell in a sandy area near the water, it wasn't long before we ended up with some sand on the tarp. It was inevitable. To protect the meat from sand, we placed it immediately in the Caribou Gear bags as it was removed from the carcass; it never touched the tarp. Because the ambient temperature was fairly high (upper 50's), I opted to put the bagged quarters inside large contractor trash bags and put them in the river as soon as they were removed from the carcass.
We probed the meat immediately after the bull was killed, and the core temperature on one hindquarter was 102 degrees. After soaking until 10:30 the next morning (about 8 hours), we probed the meat again and were very surprised to see that it had fallen only to 75 degrees (water temperature was about 47 degrees). So I left all four quarters in the river while we cleaned up the carcass and packed the rest of the meat out. That gave them another two hours in the river, at which point I probed again and saw that the core temperature of our test hindquarter had dropped by 5 degrees to 70. We packed all the meat to camp and built a brush pile, placed the bagged meat on top of the brush for ventilation, and piled more alders atop the meat before placing a tarp over it, to keep the rain off. By morning the meat had fallen off to around 55 degrees and I knew we would be okay as far as bone sour.
As to the performance of the Caribou Gear bags, they started out very wet, and became more-so once we put the meat in the river. One front shoulder was so wet that it ran blood all over my pack while we were loading it. The bags began to dry while they were atop the brush pile, but became damp again when we floated out the next day to another spot. That night I pulled the bags off to accelerate the drying process overnight, and hung the bags on our meat pole under our tarp, so they could dry (I never cleaned them in the river). The bags were mostly dry the next morning, and I re-bagged the meat with the same bags, as flies were beginning to appear. I had cotton bags with me, but because conditions were so wet, I was reluctant to use them right away, and would only do so if it proved necessary. On our final day, we floated for about eight hours, with the bagged meat tarped in our round boats, to keep river water off of it. When we unpacked the meat at the takeout, the bags were (predictably) wet again, and that night I pulled the bags off one more time, for the entire night. As an additional precaution I sprayed all the meat with citric acid solution in order to counter the effects of the moisture and potential bacterial growth (though there was no evidence of a bacteria issue). At this point the meat did not have the slick surface that it gets once bacterial have really taken hold, but I wasn't taking any chances. By the next day, the bags were relatively dry, but I went ahead and changed out for cotton just to hasten the drying process. The meat was mostly dry at that point though.
At no point except when we first pulled the meat out of the river did I notice a tendency for the bags to cling to the meat. In fact, even after hanging for several hours, though the meat was not crusted over, the bags still didn't cling to it (as they did with TAG Bags in the previous test).
I realize that this is only one experience, and in fairness to TAG Bags, I would like to do a future test where we have both types of synthetics hanging on the same meat pole together. I just didn't have them with me on this hunt. In short, I was very pleased with the Caribou Gear bags, and would at this point recommend them over TAG Bags, for their ability to wick moisture from the meat, and hang loosely around it without clinging to the surface. I think the rougher surface of the Caribou Gear bags enhances these capabilities.
On the negative side, we did end up with two small tears where the bags were lacerated by sharp rib ends. Frankly, this can happen with any game bag though, and I did not see this as an indicator of the weakness of the material. We just tied off the holes and continued to use them.
Has anyone else had experiences with these bags, and if so, what's your take?