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
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.”
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
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
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
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 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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