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Backpack Selection

Posted: April 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Gear, Preparations | Tags: , , | No Comments »

While a Boy Scout I used an REI external frame backpack. I had a great time in Boy Scouts, but the pack, well, could have been better. It was heavy, and not particularly large. The shoulder straps were thick, sweaty, and connected too low on the frame, causing the entire pack to fall away, like a drunkard swinging from a lamp post. The hip straps were meaningless.

I listed it for 30 bucks on Craigslist. No one called.

But, it carried my gear for years, so I can’t speak too poorly of it. However, for this trip, we knew we needed something better. On the advice of a friend, we visited Adventure 16 on Pico. It’s similar in size to an REI, but friendlier, and the prices a bit lower. A kind clerk named Doug walked us through latest backpacks available.

Did you know backpack manufacturers release new models of their lines every year? I didn’t. Doug expressed disdain for the 2010 version of a backpack that caught our eye. “It just doesn’t feel right,” he explained. “And look at that zipper. What were they thinking? 2009 is where it’s at.” I asked him what he thought of REI backpacks. “Their internal frames aren’t so great, but the external frames are good.”

Doug and I agreed to disagree on that one, but the packs he suggested for us felt good in the store. They were on sale, too (2009 model — they’re trying to get rid of them to make room for the 2010’s). That’s how we ended up with a Gregory Z65 for me, and a Gregory Jade 60 for Halbe. They were about $160 each.

But! Someone had offered to loan Halbe a Kelty backpack for the trip. And, after years of childhood pain, I wanted to be sure I’d made the right choice. We filled our packs with clothes and cans of soup to simulate a full load (35 pounds for me, 29 for Halbe) then took them for a hike by the Rancho Park Golf Course.

The Kelty was not nearly as comfortable for Halbe. Though the shoulder pads were thicker than the Gregory, they cut deeper. The Gregory packs have an air pass-through area in the mid-back, to help keep cool. Though it was not warm out, Halbe’s back became uncomfortably hot after only 15 minutes of Kelty. Plus, the Gregory packs have zipper access to the entire length of the storage area (others only had top access). The shoulder pads were comfortable. Despite carrying the equivalent of a toddler on my back, I didn’t feel overly encumbered. The hip straps were actually holding weight, and the bag (after a few adjustments) felt secure on my back. We walked a few miles (and garnered a few quizzical looks from the golfers), then decided the Gregory packs were the way to go.

Backpacks, done. Good. Now we need to decide what to put in them. Fitting our lives into 65 liters of space will be a challenge.

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