Two of the most important items to take on any backpacking trip are the backpack and footwear. If either one fails during a backpacking trip, the hike can become an nightmarish adventure of misery and pain. After hiking all day with X number of pounds on your back...who wants that? This particular blog will discuss the backpack so that life on the trail can be easier.
I am often asked at Travel Country, “What type of backpack do you use?” Or while I am on a trail, “Why did I choose this particular backpack that you carry?” The answers are simple for me, but hard to explain to others. Like the - commonly used on trail - phrase, “Hike your own hike”, or the expression, “What works for one person may not work for another”, selecting what gear to use boils down to personal fit and personal preference.
It’s remarkable how frequently people wear packs that don’t fit them properly. Often, this turns into one of three things: an injury, regular muscle stiffness, or simple uncomfortability.
There are numerous dimensions of a pack that must fit the back well. I can’t tell you how many times I see people walk into Travel Country and - after surveying the packs - grab one that looks nice off the wall...only to have it be a horrible fit. But they don’t realize because they don’t know what to look for or how to judge it. Torso length, hip size, and various other measurements factor into whether a bag doesn’t fit, fits ok, or fits phenomenally. Take my advice, a medium is not a medium is not a medium. Buy your bag from an outfitter in person - so they can size you and fit you properly.
In regards to preferences, there are many variables a person must wade through to decide what works best for them. Some of the areas to address are: the type of backpack, how much weight will be carried, what type of gear, duration of the hike, what type of bells and whistles (options) are sought after in a backpack. There is a great website www.backpacking.net that will give the reader excellent information on gear, including the backpack, under Beginning Backpacker.
Based on the many trail miles I have hiked, along with working for an outfitter, I have developed a fairly broad knowledge base on gear.
And though there are other options that can work, I look for an internal backpack that has simple features, is lightweight, carries all the gear needed for a particular hike, and is comfortable on my back - maintaining the importance of a proper fit as well as construction.
One of my favorite backpack manufacturers that meet my criteria for a backpack is Granite Gear www.granitegear.com. Over the years I have owned several Granite Gear backpacks, - including the Vapor Trail and the Escape A.C. 60 - that I used on my 2010 Appalachian Trail thru-hike and have never been disappointed. The original philosophy of the company, “To design innovative, functional and durable gear”, still stands today and has given the company many national awards including several Editors’ Choice Awards from Backpacker Magazine.
I decided to take with me on a recent 260 mile backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, Granite Gear’s Backpacker Magazine’s 2011 Editor’s Choice Award, the Blaze A.C. 60.
Immediately, upon receiving the backpack, I was impressed with two features; the weight of the pack and its simplicity. I put the pack on my personal scale and it came in at a respectable 2 pounds 15 ounces with a volume rated at 60 liters, or 3660 cubic inches, giving me plenty of space for my gear, water and food. The straight-forward, aesthetic appearance kept up the Granite Gear look of functionality.
A stretched side pocket on each side had enough room for a one liter water bottle and gear. The stretch exterior front pocket, added to the recent Escape A.C. 60, was also attached to the Blaze. I found this a great pocket to place my tent body and rain fly in, along with my rain gear. This was a great location for wet gear - instead of inside the dry main cargo compartment. Being on the exterior also gave me the advantage of accessibility when the sun came out to take the wet items out and dry them in the rays of the sun. The LineLoc compression cordage replaced compression straps helping to reduce the weight and can be easily replaceable.
What I love most about this backpack is how it rides on my back. I normally carry a pack weight between 25-30 pounds, well under the rated 35 pounds. The pack weight never made me off balance during the hike as I climbed up and down the mountains.
The shoulder and waist belt never made me uncomfortable. The best feature of the suspension system is what Granite Gear calls its Air Current Suspension. I believe the channels in the AC suspension system acted like a bellow as I was walking, allowing cold air to enter and hot air with water vapor (sweat) to escape. I could actually feel the hot air escaping on the back of my neck on warm days. The adjustable torso length helped me dial in the proper fit for a luxurious ride.
The only thing I could find negative about the bag was the stretch fabric on the side pockets snagging on tree branches. One particular snag ripped a small hole in the fabric when I was hiking off trail.
As I said in the beginning, not all gear is for everyone. What I do know is Granite Gear’s Blaze A.C. 60 is a great fit for me. It has all the features that I look for in a backpack and I would recommend to anyone who is a lightweight backpacker to at least give it a try.
Hopefully, this primer has helped you think a little bit about what you need in a backpack. Just remember, 1) plan well what you need and like as you choose a pack and 2) make sure that unless you have an acute knowledge of how packs should sit on your shoulders, hips, back and how to manipulate a pack to fit exactly right - get to an outfitter that can properly teach you how do to so yourself. That way you’ll find a bag that fits, and you’ll have that knowledge to last a lifetime. Good luck!!