Monday, October 17, 2011

The House on Your Back

Backpacks are a big item that comes up frequently by new hikers. What should I get? When do I get it? How do I find the right size?
A variety of packs. I am carrying the HUGE Lowes backpack to start.

The nice thing is – there are many backpacks these days being constructed with much lighter materials. When I began my ’07 hike northbound, I had a six pound Lowes pack. That was the pack weight alone with nothing in it! When I reached Virginia, I realized that in order to make it through the tough parts of NH and Maine, I needed to downsize the pack. And I'm sure glad I did. I went from six pounds to a smaller pack just under three, losing three pounds. You can’t begin to imagine what three pounds less weight on your back does for you.  There’s less aching on the trails. Less exertion. Less pain. And much more enjoyment.

But in order to downsize, you need to make sure your gear is right for the pack. That is why I always advise hikers to get the gear figured out first. Never buy the pack first. Inevitably you’ll get one that is too big then proceed to try and fill it with unnecessary gear, and thus the pack weight goes up, up and away.  So figure out your gear, have that gear list “shaken” down by other hikers who know what to look for (that is, can tell you what you need and don’t need for your hike).

My son carried an Osprey for his northbound AT trek
When you have your gear ready and gathered, go to a reputable outfitter to get measured for a backpack and find one that works for you with your gear load. REI as a link for measuring your torso length for a backpack. Don’t go by your height. I happen to be fairly tall but I need a small backpack, as I have long legs but a short torso. An outfitter can measure your torso and hips accurately to get you the best size.

I went to a ULA Catalyst to finish my southbound this past spring
Packs. There are some great brands out there. Brands I have seen carried on the Appalachian Trail are Golite, Gregory, Osprey, Granite Gear, and ULA. They can vary in dimensions and in the weight of the pack itself. I eventually went to a Gregory Jade for the second half of my northbound hike and for almost all my southbound hike. Then I realized I wanted to go even lighter for a pack weight but with slightly more capacity. The ULA catalyst fit my bill very well; so long as I kept my gear weight under 33 lbs. With the lighter weight packs, the weight of your gear itself needs to fit the pack specifics or wearing the pack can be uncomfortable. Which is another reason to get gear first, pack last. 

Get the house that’s right for you, even if it might cost a bit more. A good fit makes a great hike.     

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