Saturday, May 7, 2011

Which Pack to Choose?

So you know you need a new hiking backpack. Or maybe you've got a big trip planned and you want to make sure you get the right backpack. With so many great brands to choose from how do you decide. One obvious route is to pore over the top picks of professional reviewers who are given lots of different packs to use and abuse. Backpacker Magazine's Gear Guide is a great place to start.

Ultimately though you've got to make some decisions about your needs.
  • How long will you be wearing your pack?
  • How much gear will you need to carry?
  • How heavy will that gear be and how much space do you need for it?
  • Is your purchase for a specific use or will it be a multi-purpose pack?
Today's standard of measure for backpacks is the metric liter and in general you'll need 65-75 liters of space for your average 4-7 day backpacking trip; 45-60 liters is usually sufficient for a weekend. Usually the longer you've been on the trail the smaller and lighter you'll want your pack to be. One of our customers came down to our store last summer out of the mountains and needed to replace his broken down old pack to finish his 273 mile hike from Massachusetts to Quebec on the Long Trail. He had a lot of lightweight gear, knew how to pack, and didn't need extra space for heavier clothes or 3-season gear. He choose a 50 Liter pack to finish the last 7-8 days of his trip to Canada.

As the owner of an outdoor gear store I follow the reviews and have a lot of great packs to choose from when I plan a trip. I'm headed out on a 6 day trip to the John Muir Trail in the Sierras next month and wanted a lightweight backpack. Since we'll be above 9,000 ft and there will be snow on the ground most of the way I've chosen a 65 Liter pack because I'm going to be carrying a few extra layers of clothes, crampons, and a heavier and larger sleeping bag. I really don't want to carry a lot of weight so I determined that any pack over 4 and a half pounds would be too much. At the low end of the weight range was the GoLite Pinnacle at 2.1 lbs. Weight typically equates with comfort, features like extra zippers and pockets, and load carrying ability. Sometimes weight also equates to quality; for example was a lighter, stronger grade of aluminum used to make the frame?

Several other GoLite backpacks made the top of my list, but ultimately I selected Millet's Expedition 65. At 3 lbs. 7 oz, it is lighter than many of the possibilities, although not as light as I was really hoping for. In the end the Expedition has enough support for the 40 lbs of gear I need--including snowshoes and an ice axe--and a good combination of features like a full length front panel zipper that opens from the top and bottom. I also liked the look of the Expedition 65 and suppose that style might be an important factor in your decision too!

1 comment:

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