Thursday, February 9, 2012
Gear: Choosing A Backpack
Facts: In no circumstance should a pack ever weigh over 40 lbs unless you are only hiking in to a location a couple miles from a trail head. Anything above this takes away from your backpacking experience. If you are distracted from the joy of your surroundings to think about back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, or foot pain due to excess weight, that is not acceptable.
Some people have to have all the amenities while others can deal with a little more discomfort, pack a toothbrush, tarp, and a prayer are on their way! Decide where you fall on this spectrum and what you need and what you can do without.
Versatility: You first must decide what the pack will be used for. Will the backpack used for day hikes, overnighters, weekend, week-long, or long distance hikes. Most people don't have an endless budget so they want one that can span as many of these options as possible, others may want their pack to serve an exact purpose. I think packs can be lumped accordingly: Day packs by themselves as they are only used to carry some snacks, drinks, and extra clothes. These packs range anywhere from regular book bag style backpacks to more elaborate packs with several compartmeents. They should fall in the range of roughly 20-35 liters. Overnight and weekend packs can be lumped together also. These packs can be a little bigger than normal since weight may not be as much of an issue due to the lack of day after day after day of hiking. I almost always overpack on these trips due to the extra 12 ounce containers that almost always find priority on my packing necessities list. I will warn you however, overpacking in conjunction with extensive miles in a recipe for a bad sore time and likely to steer away first time backpackers from the hobby. Packs for overnight and weekends should fall in the neighborhood of 55 - 70 liters. These volumes are set in an estimated window to consider different sized people: ex. someone who is 150lbs I would recommend to purchase a pack closer to 55 liters while, someone who may be 250lbs would need a litter extra room to accommodate some larger clothing, maybe a long sleeping bag, and most likely a larger food bag. If considering a thru hike long distance hike where you will need to carry a week's worth of food at a time, packing and contents becomes paramount. A 65 liter pack is the maximum volume for a backpack you will need. When doing a long distance it is very import I would recommend. If you can't fit what you need in that size you need to re-evaluate your contents. (I would be more than happy to help with that if it becomes an issue with any of you guys). I would also recommend nothing smaller than a 58 liter pack unless you belong to the ultralight cult. There is nothing wrong with that either, its just most people don't plan on carrying almost nothing and crushing 40 mile days.
Brand: The top two brands I will recommend when buying a pack are: 1. Gregory 2. Osprey. I have used both and have been more than happy with each. I thru-hiked with Gregory Baltoro and currently use an Osprey 58 liter lightweight pack that meets all my needs and may being seeing a thru-hike of the PCT before too long. I submitted the attached photo to the Gregory website and they actually used it on their webpage! Other brands to consider are: Granite Gear, Mountain Hardware (ok, but they make better apparel, sleeping bags and tents I think), Gosomer Gear for the Ultra-light guys (not as much support with these packs and not made to exceed max load - usually like 25lbs or so) and R.E.I. actually make pretty good packs. All of the prior mentioned companies have excellent customer service and will replace, repair, or even refund in almost any situation in a timely manner. I would steer clear of any North Face gear. Unfortunately they have fallen into Abercrombie and Fitch market targeting frat boys and the image obsessed weekend warrior. Their quality has compromised in gear with exception to their serious alpine gear. Your backpack is often an extension of your personality so pick the design and color that you like best and fits your backpacking lifestyle.
Price: Now the part that hurts....To get a good quality pack with lifetime warranty you may have to come off your wallet a little bit. Remind yourself it is for a lifetime investment for a very healthy pastime. I would suggest setting aside $150-$250 for your backpack budget if buying new from store. R.E.I is a great place to buy from if you are a member, which is a mere $20 for a lifetime membership, will put a lifetime warranty on anything you buy in the entire store. Backcountry.com often has good deals. EBay is always a must check when you have narrowed down your specific choice. Do not be duped by great deals for seemingly tough looking no-name backs here though, you will only be disappointed. If you live near an R.E.I, they often have scratch and dents where they sell items that have been periodically returned throughout the year for various reasons. These price of these items are reduced significantly sometimes only because it was not what the customer wanted (no defect). I bought a $300 dollar brand new pack at a scratch and dent sale for $50 dollars due to a busted zipper on a very insignificant pocket, which I was able to repair myself. There are also websites that sell used gear and have gear swaps. This may be another great opportunity to get some nice gear at reduced prices.
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