Oh, The Backpacks!

When I first started considering this running-to-hiking thing, I figured there would be a whole different equipment set to manage other than cold weather base layers, which are pretty much the same in both.

Well, I was right. It’s a much different, somewhat overwhelming and pretty comprehensive set. But things the average runner doesn’t use/need, like water sterilization, bear canisters and sanitation trowels jumped easily onto my basic equipment list. Limited options made those fairly straightforward choices. Even shoes came to the list with little effort, as many of the hikers whose journals I’ve read show a preference towards trail runners which, for a trail runner, is an easy-peasy.

Tents and sleeping bags came to the BEL with a bit more difficulty, but still found their way there in a reasonable amount of time, thanks to price being a primary factor.

Then came the backpacks. Oh. My. Word. The backpacks! It didn’t take me long to discover that choosing the right pack is as difficult (and important) as finding the right mate. This isn’t a simple color choice, this. No “I’ll take the purty blue one” here.

First, there’s torso sizing. That proved to be a simple thing, mercifully. A quick Google search, measuring tape and two minutes of my wife’s time gave me that answer: 17.5 – 17.75″.

Then the fun began. Sifting through manufacturers, and the various pack styles/sizes within those manufacturer’s offerings. Mind-numbing. User reviews are usually a big help to me while I’m shopping for things online. Not here. For every “Osprey is my go-to pack!” there was a corresponding “Meh”, or at worst, “Their packs are overpriced for what you get. Try a (insert name here) instead!” And that was the commentary on ONE pack from this ONE manufacturer. I visited my local outfitter for some recommendations to help me narrow down my options, but the hiker-on-duty wasn’t any help to me, as he didn’t state a clear preference for one manufacturer/pack over another. Sigh.

Additionally, there’s the size/weight issue to add confusion to the purchase consideration. If you’re trying to keep your total pack weight under 35 pounds like I am, a 6lb pack is a bad choice. But I need to buy a large enough model to carry all the stuff I’ll require for anything from an overnight to a week in the woods. That’s when capacity (in liters) comes into play. This requires some guesswork for the uninitiated wannabe like me. Reading blogs and trail journals has helped narrow it down some. A 25L pack is primarily for day trips. I get that. But is a 45L big enough for 3-5 nights if I’m not carrying a stove/cooking gear? Or do I need to go 50L+ to get there? And would I look silly carrying a 65L pack on an overnight, even if I compression strap the daylights out of it to shrink it down? Should I be looking at two separate packs, as I’ll be doing trips as diverse as overnights to seven day excursions? ARRRGH!

Then there are the things that you can’t know until you actually get out in the woods with your mate and use it for real. Is a separate sleeping bag compartment essential, or unnecessary? Is a built-in raincover important? How about a removable top pack? Does the location of the hydration bladder in the backpack make it a hassle to remove when the pack is full of your stuff? And many, many more…

Like I said, shopping-for-a-mate difficult. And I really need to pick the right mate, because I’m going to be carrying it for hundreds and hundreds of miles. And horror stories of picking the wrong mate exist a-plenty. The “I tried it in the store with weights in it, and it felt great. But after two miles on the trail, I took it off, hung my food on the outside of it and left it for the bears” tales of woe are fun to read, but scary to the newbie.

But it’s not all frustration and bad news. I’ve found some packs I like that fit my price range. I’ve narrowed it down to twenty. By the time the Hundred Mile Wilderness is snow-free three or so months from now, I should have it narrowed down to eighteen…

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