And Then There Were Two Part II: Pack Selection
The constantly evolving struggles of gear selection…
Oh boy, here we go… gear talk! In this segment of the write-up, I’ll discuss the gear we’re taking along with us, why we chose what we have, how we like everything we’ve chosen thus far, and everyone’s favorite…our base weight.
As backpackers, we’re constantly evolving physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. As we change, our gear changes too. It changes based on where we’re heading, how long we’ll be out for, and in this case, who we will be with. I’m not going to go over each piece of gear and give a rundown of my thoughts on the actual product because there are a gazillion other write-ups for that sort of thing. What I will do, however, is make my best attempts at showing you what we’re taking along with us on the JMT and why we chose these particular items.
Of all of the gear for this journey, selecting a pack is probably the toughest for both of us. With so many different brands, and features available to us, it truly is a painstaking process. So many questions have gone through my mind when helping my partner selecting a pack. As much as I wanted to suggest to her that UL is the best way to go, I know that this may not be the best route. For this trek, it may not be the most suitable for me either. I’ll be toting along a few extra pounds of camera equipment to attempt to capture some of the beauty of the Eastern Sierras, so maybe going with the lightest pack on the market isn’t the best choice. As I mentioned, this is her first thru-hike and, most importantly, I want it to be a most enjoyable one. Remember that old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, no one is?” Well, that’s sort of how I am thinking about this entire thing.
For 200+ miles, over 11 mountain passes and several rivers, safety and comfort are the main focuses for both of us. Sure, I toted around a 25-30 pound pack last year on the Colorado Trail and this year I will have similar weight, but just in a different form. There’s a bear canister to think about and camera equipment. In my opinion, the way that items get packed plays a vital role in the comfort level of your thru-hike. I truly considered carrying the same pack as I did last year…until I shoved that bear canister in there and it gave new shape to my spine. So, for me, that one is out…for now. For her, it’s a close toss up between the Zpacks Arc Haul 62L and the beautifully designed Osprey Aura 50L. The choices are the similar for me too. I’m between the zPacks Arc Haul, a Zpacks Arc Blast, and the super-comfortable Osprey Exos 58L. Let me tell you, this is not an easy decision.
The Osprey’s are super comfortable for both of us. Their hip belts are top notch and I would give anything to have that technology on one of my other packs, but then that probably wouldn’t make them as incredibly ultralight as they currently stand. I am, however, anxiously awaiting the release of Osprey’s Levity line next season to see if they’ve cut some of the bells and whistles off of the Exos to introduce a truly UL pack that I presume will be on the backs of many thru-hikers next year. As with the Zpack’s…well, their hip belts are just there. They are nice and hug nicely, but don’t provide an incredible amount of support like the Osprey’s.
So why even consider the Zpacks if they’re not comfortable? Because they hold our Garcia Bear Canisters horizontally.
Because this is a reservation for two, we are able to split up the load between the two of us, but a bear-resistant canister is a must, so it’s got to fit in our packs just right and attribute to the comfort of the rest of the load. Had it not been for this necessity, then I believe that this would be a hands down win for either Hyperlite Mountain Gear, zPacks, or a different ultralight pack manufacturer. The bear canister fits horizontally in the Exos 58 also, but I’m a bit frustrated with the holes it got in the side pockets after just owning it for two days and using it for thirty miles. The Osprey Aura is an amazing pack. A bit heavy, but super comfortable, and holds a bear canister horizontally…but it’s a pain in the neck trying to get out. In fact, I don’t even want to show you a photo because that means I have to dig it back out.
With the rest of the items on our packing list, we wanted to be sure that we’re both comfortable and safe along our journey. Could we suck it up and use an ultralight pack on this journey? Well duh, but I don’t want this to be her last. I feel that comfortability will lead to embracing this thru-hiking game so that maybe she can join me on several others in years to come. For three weeks, these packs are going to be part of our body. It’s going to move with us, it’s going to climb with us, and it’s going to get wet when we do. Pack selection is vital to this journey and we’ve tested a few, but I think it’s going to be the Aura for her and the zPacks for me. I love that the Exos can pack a hydration bladder in comfortably with the rest of my packing list, which is another must-have for me. For her, if she goes with the Aura, it’ll be SmartWater bottles for the entire trek. I haven’t had a water bladder bust on me (yet), but in case it does, I’ll have room for one or two SmartWater bottles on either pack that I end up going with.
Like with everything else, everything has its place. It takes more than just going to the local outfitter, throwing some bean bags in it and saying, “Okay, this is the one.” We all pack different items and want them to fit as snug as possible in our pack with a little room to spare. Thankfully, we have the every piece of our gear picked out, so we just have to find a home for it.
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