Just when I thought I was done…..last minute gear-list changes!

I am not ashamed to admit that I have very little backpacking experience. A year ago, I didn’t own a single piece of backpacking gear. Through diligent research, extensive comparison shopping, and trial-and-error, I cobbled together a decent thru-hiking set up. Unfortunately, experience can ruin even the best thought-out plans…that’s what happened to me, at a fairly inopportune moment.

Pack Fitting: Part 1

This time last year, I went to a pack-fitting at REI. My torso length measured 16.25 inches, which I would come to discover is a terrible length as it fits smack in the middle of extra-small and small sized packs. Basically, I would always be at the very highest or lowest range that a pack would fit. No one mentioned hip size, and I didn’t think much of it. It just seemed that if the torso length fit, the hip belt should also fit. (Hint: Not true)

Heck no!

First, I tried on the Osprey Aura 65L and Osprey Ariel 65L. From the start, the fit was awkward.  The REI employee spent a substantial amount of time trying to fine-tune the fit of the Aura, but it just wasn’t meant to be. The pack was too tall and the load too high on my body, which pulled me backward.

Then, I tried on the Deuter Act Lite 45+10. The fit of this pack was much better because of the adjustable torso length options. I hardly noticed the weight inside the pack. Sadly, this pack was also too tall, which inhibited me from extending my neck to look up.


Next, I tried on the Gregory Deva 60L. This pack felt like the Cadillac of backpacks. The hip belt and shoulder straps were well-padded (almost excessively so). There were pockets (and pockets and pockets). The material felt durable enough to take on an Everest expedition.

I tried on both the extra-small and the small. The extra-small was a smidge too small, and the small was a bit too big. I erred on the bigger size. Before I ever took the pack out on a shakedown hike, I returned it to REI due to poor fit in the torso. Huzzah for that return policy.

Winner, winner! (if only I were thinner)

Searching for a pack in the store hadn’t worked for me. I found a great deal and took a chance on the REI Flash 52 (which I found on the REI Garage for a smoking price). I wanted to fall in love with this pack. The Flash weighed 2.5 pounds less than the Deva and still had the features I was looking for. Everything felt kosher…EXCEPT the hip belt didn’t wrap very far around my hips. My lady hips were trying to sabotage my hike, and I would have none of it.

The Flash came on all three of my shakedown hikes. I found the pack to be quite comfortable and roomy enough. Sadly, at the end of each day, my very prominent hip bones were chafed and sore. Information from online forums told me that this was normal, so I didn’t worry. Until I did. Research indicated that there should be 3-6 inches of space between the padding on my hip belt. Wearing the Flash, I had a whopping 10 inches of webbing space. No bueno.

Pack Fitting: Part 2

Back to ‘heck no!’

My backpack found it’s way to the chopping block, and I found my way back to REI. I tried on the REI Flash 60L. From the moment I put it on, it was a big nope. Something about the frame felt like I was wearing a 2×4. I tried on the Osprey Aura 50L (again). Nope. I tried on a Granite Gear Crown VC Ki 60L, which made me feel like an ultralight backpacker but just wouldn’t comfortably accommodate my gear. Nope, nope, nope. With less than 50 days to go until trail time, I was not happy to be without a proper-fitting pack.

Uncharted territory with untested gear

I mentioned that I might order a ULA Circuit and hope for the best. Hearing this,  the REI employee went and pulled an Osprey Exos 58L off the shelf. I glanced at it warily. Much to my surprise, the Exos fit well. I walked around the store and hiked up and down the stairs. Ultimately, I returned my REI Flash 52 and ordered the Exos.

There are 40 days until I embark on this journey. I am still working full-time, and most of the weekends are dedicated to spending time with family and friends. That means I have no time for shakedown hikes (plus, it is FREEZING in the Pacific Northwest right now). Heading to the AT with new gear isn’t what I prefer, but I don’t have another choice.



I am cautiously optimistic about this purchase…but I am not going to force it if it isn’t right. Fingers crossed that the Exos will help me get over the river and through the woods to Katahdin.

Things I Like About My New Pack

  • It isn’t blue! (I have too much blue and grey gear)
  • Lightweight (even lighter than the Flash 52!)
  • Excellent product guarantee
  • Slightly larger volume compared to Flash 52
  • There are some pockets
  • I can hang my ATC hang tag on the tiny compression straps 🙂

Things I Am Unsure About

  • Am I cool enough to pull off a black and green pack?
  • Will the mesh pockets and back hold up to abuse?
  • Will it be comfortable to wear with 25 pounds?
  • Am I going to have the same pack as everyone else?

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Comments 19

  • victoria hill : Jan 20th

    I switched to the Exos 38 partway through the Camino de Santiago (my previous bag carried too much and tore into my back and hips). This was the best decision I could have made and I still use this bag for everything, even to carry my groceries home. While I have no delusions it can fit everything for an Appalachian thru hike I would use another Osprey Exos pack in a heartbeat.

    • Heather P : Jan 20th

      Hearing all these positive reviews makes me feel so confident in my purchase! I seriously debated getting the 48L but in a size small it is actually just 45L, which I don’t think would be enough volume. I would love to figure out a way to downsize eventually! Less room=less temptation to pack extra stuff.

  • Chili : Jan 20th

    Am I cool enough to pull off a black and green pack?
    – If you think you are, you are!

    Will the mesh pockets and back hold up to abuse?
    – The back pocket won’t be a problem, but be careful with the side pockets. They wear quickly from abrasion (the mesh catches VERY easily on branches/thorns/etc.). I have an Exos 48 with a few hundred miles on it, and these pockets have been the first and only thing to wear down. You will probably need to patch them up during a thru-hike.

    Will it be comfortable to wear with 25 pounds?
    – Yes. The Exos carries mid-weight loads exceptionally well.

    Am I going to have the same pack as everyone else?
    – The Exos 48 is probably one of the most popular packs on the AT, and for good reason. If the 58 ends up seeming a bit large for your gear, I would recommend trying the 48.

    • Heather P : Jan 20th

      Naturally, just as I posted this blog, The Trek released a gear review about the Osprey Exos 58 saying how popular it is. I feel a little bit like a lemming 🙂

      I plan on carrying a needle and thread….I am going to be sad when my mesh pockets rip!

  • Kate G : Jan 20th

    Glad you think you’ve finally found your pack. I tried out and returned 3 or 4 before going with my REI Crestrail, which has served me well in my shake-down hikes. I have a similar torso length, but had the opposite hip belt problem (I probably wear mine too high, but it seems to work for me). I got a small pack and they swapped out the hip belt for me with an XSmall for no charge (I am a size 10, so I have no idea what women who are actually small do). Of course, now I’m eyeing ultralight packs at the last minute…

    • Heather P : Jan 20th

      Pack fit is a very personal preference! Plus, no two packs fit the same way. I think REI makes some nice packs….I never would have gotten rid of my Flash if it weren’t for the hip belt problem. I will say, I am not striving to be an ultralight hiker, but taking pounds off my pack helps me hike happier!

  • Meghan C : Jan 22nd

    I have a black and green Exos 58 too! It was such a fight to get an REI employee to pull it off the shelf and let me try it on. I’m hearing A LOT of women having this problem. I also noticed that the “women’s packs” are more expensive. I can’t help but wonder why they are so stubborn about having women try on this WONDERFUL pack, which seems to fit those of us with weird sizes so well.

    • Heather P : Jan 28th

      It’s funny because both times that I went to REI to look at packs, the salesperson never suggested the Exos. But, when my husband went, they recommended that he try it on. I am glad I asked about it….honestly if my husband hadn’t tried it on a while ago, I never would have known about the Exos.

  • Miriam Garrett : Jan 22nd

    I felt like I was reading my bio when I read your post. I, too, fall between a small and extra small. I have tried Osprey, Deuter and Deva with almost exactly the same results, especially the too tall part. I finally tried Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60. It seems to be solve all my problems although I have only day hiked with it. We plan to do some several day/weeklong hikes this spring to really wring things out. Just a thought if the Exos doesn’t fit your needs. BTW, the GG Mariposa is only 1.9 pounds.

    My husband and I (he’s 71 and I’m 63) had planned to thru hike this year but he is at a critical stage in his business so we’ve decided to put it off til next year. I look forward to following you journey. We’re in Atlanta. If you have time for a drink or dinner before you get to Springer or need any support, just let me know. We enjoy helping thru hikers get launched.
    Miriam Garrett

    • Heather Provoncha : Jan 23rd


      I have heard so many good things about the Mariposa! I will keep that in mind if the Exos doesn’t work well.

      A year flies by…but I am sorry I won’t get to meet you on the trail! We are actually flying to SC and then getting a ride to Amicalola, so the most time we will be spending in Atlanta is a 45 minute layover 🙁 such a bummer because I love that city and I would have been honored to meet up for drinks!

      Thanks for following along and commenting…the support is such a comfort!

    • PattiWP : Jan 25th

      I had the same problem with the Flash 52 but when I went to REI to return it, the salesman brought out a replacement belt from a discontinued REI model (in a larger size) and we switched it out (they’re just velcroed in) and it worked GREAT! LOVE REI!

      I went through the same process and tried nearly every pack out there…including the Mariposa, suggested above. It fit well amd I loves the pockets but after 2 weeks I started having back problems due to the lack of a sturdy frame (hope Miriam reads this).

      Anyway, good luck with your hike – people love their Exos and I’m sure it’ll work great for you! You’re in for a grand adventure!

      • Heather P : Jan 28th

        Lack of frame is why the Granite Gear pack wouldn’t work for me! When I was at REI, one salesperson suggested switching hipbelt sizes, but then a different employee stated that my pack wasn’t designed/able to have interchangable hipbelts. I am glad to hear it worked for you though! Represent that pack!

  • Kelsey : Jan 23rd

    This is so cool! You’re an OT! I just got accepted into OT school. Now I will have to wait to plan to thru hike after school is over. So awesome. And totally yes with the osprey pack. Best wishes on your journey.

    • Heather Provoncha : Jan 23rd


      Congrats on getting into OT school! The nice part about being an OT is the flexibility to do things like hiking the AT!

      • Kelsey : Jan 24th

        What type of setting do you work in? Because this is so cool you can take time off to hike the AT!!

        • Heather Provoncha : Jan 24th

          I work in acute care, but I am actually quitting my job to hike. Unfortunately, taking a leave of absence wasn’t possible….so I am rolling the dice. Thankfully, the job market is pretty good. Plus, you only live once! I will have my whole life to work ?

          What setting are you interested in?

          • Kelsey : Jan 26th

            Absolutely! That’s exactly what I am thinking.

            Also, I am interested in geriatrics. But I did my internship in a hospital setting and I really like that too. So much to learn!

  • Meghan : Jan 26th

    I got a ULA OhM 2.0. I wanted light. Taking it on a shake down next month in AZ. I am driving east when the time comes. When do you plan on starting?

    • Heather P : Jan 28th

      We are starting early March! I hear good things about the Ohm 2.0…perfect for going good light and quick! Some day, when i can convince myself to take less stuff, I would definitely consider that pack! When do you start?


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