Hawk Helium XL
I have always used a climbing stand for deer hunting, but this year I decided to try a new system. With lightweight lock-on stands becoming the new norm , I decided to buy into the hype. My stand of choice was the Hawk Helium XL. Weighing in at only 12 lbs with a platform that measures 24" X 30", it seemed like an easy to carry stand with more than enough room to work with. I paired the Helium XL with the Muddy Aerolite sticks. A review for the sticks can be read here.
With more than enough room to stand and maneuver, the platform is probably the best part of this stand. Most of the other stands I was considering weighed about the same as the Helium, but the platforms were usually much smaller.
A single strap is used to attach the stand to the tree, which makes setting up and tearing down a lot easier and a lot faster. The strap is also designed very well being both easy to tighten and quiet. To set up, you run the strap around the tree and snap it onto the small brackets on ether side of the bar that holds the seat up. Once fastened on both sides, you fold the foot platform straight up against the tree and the seat (pointed towards the sky) and tighten down the strap as tight as it will go. This gives the teeth on the top bracket a good bite into the tree. After the top bracket is tightened, you push the foot platform down, which pushes into the bark of the tree and forces the top bracket deeper into the bark. This is rock solid if you do it right. It has no squeaks, no wobbles, and no movement.
Another huge advantage of this stand is that its very compact on my back, so it's very easy to get in and out of the woods with it.
Honestly, hawk dropped the ball on the seat cushion that goes with this stand. It has two Velcro straps that run underneath the seat, which would probably work fine if they were the right length. You can't really tighten the cushion enough to get it to not shift around, and the Velcro sewn onto the straps is completely off centered. Not being able to really tighten it down causes the cushion to shift around whenever you adjust how your sitting in the stand. Small details like that can make a big difference on a long hunt.
The biggest con with the stand is the shoulder straps. They are pretty cheaply made with some simple plastic buckles with a seatbelt-like cord running through them. Being that the stand is so light, this doesn't really make it uncomfortable to carry. The problem is that the straps slip through the buckles sometimes when putting the stand on your back. The solution to this is to buy new, nice straps to attach to the stand, which I plan on doing. With better straps, it will not only be easier to put on your back, but it will also make carrying it a breeze.
Despite some minor quality issues with the straps and the seat cushion, this is a solid stand. I am glad I spent the money on it, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a lock-on setup. It's very light, packs pretty easy, and compared to similar stands, it's not too hard on your bank account at $149.