Plus-Size Speed Dating: An Unlikely Hiker’s Search for the Perfect Pack

Plus-Size, Curvy, Short Torso Searching for Life Partner to Travel the World, Piggyback Style!

Do you remember speed dating? It was a thing. Is it still a thing? Prior to online dating apps, willing participants would go to an event where they would meet other individuals searching for companionship. The catch is that the amount of time they had to meet, chat, and pitch themselves was limited. 

Being married with three children and a dog, spending any time finding a trail partner for my torso was the farthest thing from my mind. My brother, more of a millennial than I am, tried online dating with some success. So I thought, what if my lonely plus-size torso could apply a speed dating approach to selecting a Pacific Crest Trail life partner?  

Dating a Backpack

Here is Saul. He is an awesome matchmaker. He gave me permission to post this picture 🙂

I read great articles about picking a pack, but there are few for plus-size people. Picking a thru-hiking pack is personal. This potential partner will hug you and lug your stuff up and down the entire Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not just something that you can look at and simply swipe right. 

The day of my dates, I was excited, nervous, and curious about prospective suitors. REI would be the obvious site of our date and our matchmaker an excellent sales associate. As I slicked my hair into a ponytail and put on my Trek hat, this backpacking novice looked in the mirror and said, “You are strong and capable. Torso, you can handle this.”

Size matters.

Enter Saul, a team member at REI who caught my eye. I marched up to him and said, “I’m looking for my match. Are you the matchmaker?” He was obviously confused, but played along and it was clear he was my guy.

My goal was to spend five to ten minutes trying on three different style packs: 60L, 50L, and an ultralight pack. Prior to the dates, I did some research, but—ever the novice—began ready to learn. Before my torso could be introduced to potential partners, it needed to be measured. WHAT. It turns out that the length of your torso matters; I’m apparently a small. Note to potential daters: size does in fact matter. 

Date One: The Osprey Aura 50

Osprey Aura 50.

After telling him about my plans, Saul measured me. I walked directly to the Osprey Aura 50. She was beautiful, thick in all the right places, and I imagined skipping through the landscape singing The Sound of Music with her. Her name was Jade, which matched her coloring. But I knew I needed to look beyond beauty as I only had ten minutes with her. 

Jade, size small, weighs 4.2 pounds empty and advertises impressive features: Anti-gravity panel, hydration sleeve holding up to a three-liter bladder, and ample exterior pockets, nine plus the main compartment. Saul added 15 pounds to Jade and she allowed me to adjust her waist and shoulder straps for the right fit. We decided to take a stroll around the store. I had spinal fusion surgery on my lower lumbar in March, so a perfect fit was even more important. It was a tall order for this short torso. My favorite feature was the side compression straps; I felt fully and appropriately embraced, but not suffocated. I did wish the belt clip wasn’t so flimsy for my curvy belly. By the time we rounded the bend, ten minutes was up. 

Date Two: The Gregory Deva 60

Gregory Deva 60.

Next, Saul introduces me to Gregory Deva 60. Gregory was large, red, and assertive. He was definitely a gym rat and he was relatively attractive (not that looks matter). The Gregory Deva 60 boasts solid features—and should, considering his price tag. He introduces himself as the “Cadillac of Packs” and boast many awards. Weighing in at 4 pounds, 9.76 ounces (small), Gregory has special suspension flexibility where the harness and hip belt rotate independently to provide optimal weight-to-fit ratio. The pack comes with all the bells and whistles, too many to name: 3D Air Mesh, Sidewinder water bottle pocket, rain cover, and more. My favorite part of this pack was the removable day pack option, which I’m not sure matters on the PCT. I disliked the size of the hip pockets, and with only 15 pounds I felt somewhat hot. Maybe Gregory was too clingy. The timer dinged and I moved on.

Final Date: The Osprey Lumina 45

Osprey Lumina 45 ~ Great pack! Just not for me.

My last date was Lulu, an Osprey Lumina 45. Weighing in at 1 pound, 12 ounces, I felt my back perk up and push me toward the Lumina. Flirty and light, Lulu was a stunning ultralight option for me. With four pockets plus the main compartment, I knew I would need to take care how much I packed. As a PCT dating novice, I wasn’t sure that ultralight was my thing. I liked the 3D tension mesh back panel, top cording loops to attach extra items, and the hydration compatibility. I wasn’t sure if I could trust the Nano technology fabric for what I wanted to carry. But it could have been my naivety. Honestly, I got major day-hike, friend vibes. The hip belt had no pockets and felt thin and rigid. Lulu wasn’t for me and our time wasn’t even up. We stood awkwardly looking at each other in the mirror. I knew it; Lulu knew it. We were not a match.

The One

Thank you, REI Dallas!

The speed dating event was over and, while I could have tried on more packs and strolled through the aisles with a plethora of other candidates, I looked to my right and saw Jade. Without the 15-pound weights to fill her, the Osprey Aura 50 had slightly deflated from our first meeting. She looked like she had been chosen last in gym class; in fact she was the last one in the store. I took this as a sign. Jade would be my companion on the PCT. I reached out my hand to help her up by her top handle and embraced her lovingly.

It was clear that I did not need to download an app and swipe right or left. I just needed to show up as I was: plus-size, open-minded, and ready to share my love for the Pacific Crest Trail. 

PS: If you need to find your backpacking mate, Better Call Saul!

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Comments 24

  • Turtle : Oct 19th

    I have an Osprey Aura 50 as well. I hope you too are as happy together as we are. Happy trails!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 19th

      Hey Turtle! Yes, we’ve taken the next step and added weight and started workout dates. I think she likes me too. 😉

      Reply
  • Bob Taylor : Oct 20th

    I wish you both many miles of happiness.

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 20th

      Thank you! We’ve begun our training and can not wait to hit the PCT in 2020!

      Reply
  • Jonathan : Oct 20th

    Thanks for this Shannon! I’ll be interested to see whether the speed date turns into a happy long-term thing. I have the Osprey Exos and one thing I find annoying is that the curve at the bottom of the frame is a bit too tight and can rub/dig into my hips. Maybe the Osprey women’s packs are a bit more generous in that department!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 21st

      Jonathan! This is great info for other daters! I have a pretty short torso and unfortunately, not blessed with a rear-end 🥴 I had back surgery and the feature loved was how supportive and tight the belt was without sitting on my bottom. It felt like a back brace in a good way. I’ve been training with her for over a week and I have noticed what you are talking about. However, only time will tell and right now, I’m really into her.

      Reply
  • TBR : Oct 21st

    A most entertaining read.

    Good luck out there!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 21st

      TBR! Thanks so much! I enjoyed writing it! Thanks for your support!

      Reply
  • Matt : Oct 21st

    Best of luck on the PCT next year!

    BOILER UP!!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 21st

      Boiler Up!

      Reply
  • Crystal : Oct 23rd

    Wheat kind of training are you going through?

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 23rd

      Crystal! That’s a great question and the subject of my next blog piece! I’m going to wait a few more weeks before posting, because I want to give detailed statistics. You can find more of my prep info on my IG @fireroamingwild – Basically, once I got the pack and shoes, I’ve started walking on the treadmill changing different variables: pack weight, incline, time and distance. This week I’ll be adding more pack weight to my current regimen. Great question!

      Reply
  • SMB (Rocketman) : Oct 23rd

    Fun article. Thanks for sharing it.

    Remember, you are just dating still. Or maybe you are living together. Either way, you can still get a separation of it isn’t working out. (Especially since REI has a very generous return policy.) As time, training, and money allows, start building up the rest of your kit, because that will certainly influence your relationship with Jade.

    (I’m still using the beast of a Gregory that I bought in 1994 because I haven’t bought a more compact sleeping bag than the North Face synthetic I bought in 1993. Slowly I’m improving my kit, but the big backpack makes it really temping to bring more stuff than you need. Or more food, which is my personal packing problem.)

    Happy Trails!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 23rd

      Rocketman! You’ve provided some invaluable advice! Jade and I are definitely in the honeymoon phase. I’m simply adding weight by sheets and towels. I figure if I add weight overtime, I can collect a kit that is flexible. I would rather have a pack that isn’t full than one that is bursting. I’m concerned about the weight of water and how much I will need to carry in the desert. 😱 Thank you for this feedback! Very helpful!

      Reply
  • Eric Smith : Oct 25th

    Shannon – what an amazing adventure you are embarking on. You have a great sense of humor and wit, and you remind me in some ways of Second Chance Hiker, who was a participant in this years hiking season. I attempted a through hike last year and was sadly forced off trail by a chronic foot injury (still 3 months and 1100 miles tho’). I’m seriously contemplating another attempt in 2020. There is so much and so little to know about the process – I know that’s quite paradoxical, but what I mean is that some of the preparation can be done beforehand, while other aspects will only become obvious once you are on the trail. I hope your sense of anticipation grows with each step you take in this direction. I look forward to reading more about your preparation and planning in the months ahead.

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 25th

      Eric! I hope you’ll join the PCT Class of 2020. That is an AMAZING accomplishment! If you are on Instagram, I’d love to follow you @fireroamingwild – I have followed Second Chance and what an amazing journey! I look forward to writing more pieces. I’m waiting for the PCTA Permit Portal to open on Tuesday, before I sit down and write my next blog post. Thank you for supporting me! I hope to see you out there!

      Reply
  • Kevin Neft : Oct 26th

    On my second osprey pack now! Love them! I hope it is a long relationship for you!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 26th

      Thanks, Kevin! I’ve been working out with her and she’s awesome! I do realize I will be sacrificing what I can carry in order to keep my pack weight down. But, she’s very understanding. 😂

      Reply
  • Sophie : Oct 29th

    Enjoyed reading this so much! I spent an hour in REI with 2 different packs and think I’ve decided on the Lumina but will wait until I have the rest of my gear before purchasing (hiking the AT next year)

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Oct 29th

      Sophie! I’m so glad you found Lulu! I just couldn’t commit to the light weight option. I’m so glad you found one you love!! Happy Trails!

      Reply
  • Mike Carbonneau (Strummystick) : Nov 5th

    Such a fun, well written article! Picking a pack is indeed a daunting experience! I bought my pack online, and although they had a video on how to fit it to myself, I’ve never actually felt that I have that down properly. On the other hand, those store packs are so heavy! I could never consider a 3 lb pack ever again!

    Reply
    • Shannon Quadres : Nov 5th

      Thanks, Strummystick for your kind words! I enjoyed writing the piece. I definitely considered the weight of the pack. I felt most secure with that pack following my spinal fusion surgery. It will most definitely be a great follow up piece post PCT!

      Reply
  • Shannon : Nov 9th

    This post cracks me up so much! Best of luck to you on your thru hike. Will you be vlogging as well? 🙂

    Reply
    • Shannon : Nov 9th

      Hi Shannon! Super cool name! I really hope to vlog, but I don’t know how it will go. I would love to share my experiences as a vlog as well as writing. Thank you!

      Reply

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