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)
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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