And OK, OK, I’ve also been assessing the fit and feel of each pack. In a recent post , I contended that men and women face different concerns when hiking the Appalachian Trail, and pack fit counts as one of those issues. Some women do just fine using men’s or unisex packs, but manufacturers design women-specific packs for a few reasons. Generally, women have:
- wider hips that benefit from extra cushioning in the hip belt.
- shorter torsos, requiring a squatter pack frame and accommodation in the width of the hip belt. FYI, the conundrum is that we need more cushioning, yet sometimes (especially for Oompa Loompas like me) there is not much space between the bottom of our rib cages and the top of our hip bones.
- over the shoulder boulder holders that can get in the way of sternum straps (the strap that clips into place over the chest), which is alleviated by making those straps adjustable.
- narrower shoulders, which prefer equally narrowly spaced shoulder straps.
When I first began my search, I pretty much ignored all of those factors in favor of exclusively focusing on weight. Since I fear that some of my other gear is on the bulky side – namely my sleeping bag at 3 pounds 2 ounces, the pack’s heft was weighing heavily on my mind (if I were to make bad puns like this constantly, would you still be my friend?).
Then I spoke to the knowledgeable folks at REI, who made me realize that the lighter packs came with pretty significant downsides: lower weight capacities and less cushioning. Now, I’m not planning on carrying 50 pounds of weight, but neither am I planning on packing 10 pounds. I don’t want to forego every creature comfort in favor of an ultralight pack. And once I began trying on the lighter packs, I quickly learned that the lesser cushioning and support would make me miserable. For the record, my goal in thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is to be the opposite of miserable, so I decided against the ultralight packs.
My next stop was the women’s pack section of REI. From there, it wasn’t that cumbersome of a selection process since the array of women’s packs is rather slim. It’s a man’s world, as they say, and only recently have companies recognized that a woman might need a product tailored to her body. At least they’re making in-roads, I suppose.
My initial parameter was that the pack had to be as close to 3 pounds as possible. I was also hoping to get a 55 liter, but funny enough, the lighter weight options were all larger. If I wanted a 55 liter, it would have to be over 4 pounds.
OK, so then I noticed two different styles of back: what appeared to be a foam cushioned rigid back and a suspended mesh back (also known as a “trampoline” back). I tried on a few and decided that the foam cushioned ones would force my back into an uncomfortable arch, whereas the suspended mesh ones both allowed for flow of air and for more flexible back movement.
From there, my choice was clear: the Osprey Aura 65. In my size (small), the pack weighs 3 pounds 6 ounces with a capacity of 62 liters. The only hitch is that REI didn’t have the pack in my size. In fact, the pack in my size (and my color…OK, I’ll admit it. The green is muddy and ugly. I wanted purple.) was backordered and nowhere to be found in any store in the country. But never you fear! I was finally able to order one a couple of weeks ago, and it arrived at my local REI yesterday. My pack is here! My pack is here! La la la la laaaaa la.
After work, I went to REI for a discussion on the best winter hikes in the D.C. area, and while I was there, I picked up my pack. Since I’m a novice, I took it over to the backpacking section and asked Susan, an REI employee that I’d met before, if she’d give me a complete rundown of all the features. There are so many compartments and straps. By the time she instructed me in the proper loading of the pack and I had put it on, I felt like an astronaut ready for lift-off, I was so securely fastened.
I’m excited to take my pack out for a spin this weekend. I’ll load it up with about thirty pounds, as per usual, and see what she can do – or, I guess, what we can do together. Cross fingers that I haven’t spoken too soon.
There are a couple last things I wanted to do discuss. They’re kind of big deals, and I’m hoping you can help me. First of all, is my pack a boy or a girl? I never really understood how that works. I mean I know that men refer to cars as “women,” but does that mean women refer to cars as “women” too? In the same light, how does one decide on pack gender?
Once we resolve the first issue, the second – follow up – bit is what to name my pack. My pack and I will be spending many long days with each other, and I think it’s only fair that the pack have a name. All (rated PGish) suggestions welcome.
Alright! I have a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and now a pack! What a huge load off (on?) my shoulders.