Curbing my (trekking) pack-a-day (shopping) habit

REVISION (12/18/2012): I spoke too soon. Since originally publishing this post, the Aura and I had a major disagreement. The Aura was like, “Your hips are how wide?” And I was like, “Did you call me fat?” And it deteriorated from there. Back to the drawing board.

For weeks now I’ve been on the cusp of eeny meeny miney mowing my way into the pack of my dreams. I’ve been using a strictly scientific method, which includes examining the colors and complimentary features of each pack available at REI. Does it bring out my eyes? Will it sallow my complexion? Can it create the illusion that I have a waist? Ya know, all the important factors.

Ah! Wrong kind of pack. I need a women's pack.

Ah! Wrong kind of pack. I said a women’s pack.

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.

Suspended mesh backs are better because they double as trampolines for when you're bored. I did a back flip off this one.

Suspended mesh backs are better because they double as trampolines for when you’re bored. I did a back flip off this one.

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.

I love you, pack, sooo much.

I love you, pack, sooo much – almost as much as I love taking naps.

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.

Features worth noting on my new toy. Yay for new toys!

Fun new features on my new toy. Yay for new toys!

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.

Meandering on,



24 thoughts on “Curbing my (trekking) pack-a-day (shopping) habit

  1. Suggested by the picture of you hugging the pack like it’s a teddy bear: “Huggy Bear” (If you can get past the Starsky and Hutch thing), or maybe just “Huggy”? Non-gender specific too-problem solved! Love your blog, hope to meet you this year on the trail, fellow 13’r hopeful and repeat offender (someone who hikes the trail more than once, not what you were thinking). Tim

    • I do love the bear theme. If you refer back to my Thanksgiving post, you’ll note we already have a Yogi Bear and Teddy Bear in the family (dogs). I’ll take the suggestion under advisement.

      Thanks for the blog compliment (blogliment?). Repeat offender, huh? It sounds like you’re crazier than I am. It would be my honor to meet you and shake your hand, sir.

  2. Pack Name: The Pit. Chances are, after several months, the item you want WILL fall to the bottom. of. the. PIT. Bottomless. Can carry everything.

  3. Hahaha:D In the same boat only I need my pack to go to and from with me daily, carry my computer, tablet at least two cameras, lenses and gear that I can get to in a moments notice, look presentable for business situations, be right at home in the woods and be the right color. Color is the most important consideration after, naw it is as important as comfort and being able to carry it onto an airplane and down the aisle without killing all aisle passengers in a single swipe. I don’t think that is asking too much. Now, can I have it in turquoise? Please? 😀

  4. Oh, ps, I name all my cameras, I’ve just never had a pack that worked well enough to actually be family, so the words I usually use to describe them are few and rather than be unkind all ten of them are simply, Bag. Most are black. At least none are camo. Actually one of them was grey and blue and I could write a whole blog on my relationship with it and why I gave it to my son, who ended up hating it for all the same reasons I did.

    • I will say that black goes with anything, so that’s not a bad choice. However, calling your bag Bag might offend it, as in “You old bag. You’re just a pile of loose skin” and the like.

      • They don’t seem to care. If they did, they would shape up, instead of sagging there and exposing my papers to the elements. I hope we see a picture of you, smiling, with your awesome purple pak. 😉

  5. Call it Kitty, you can “pack up your troubles in your new Kitty bag…”
    Of course you may never have heard that song so you may well think that I am a raving loony now. I will leave you to select the gender, I think that’s too personal to comment on 😀

    • Haha, if I didn’t think you were a raving loony by now, I’m sure an unfamiliar song reference wouldn’t phase me. ; )

      I didn’t know the song, but YouTube did, and I was treated to a version with World War II video playing in the foreground. Was this a wartime morale song?

      • Absolutely, so when you are trekking and things look bad, you now have a 1940’s earworm to annoy you too 😀

  6. Pingback: Seventh Official Product Review EVER: DivaCup (Ladies only!!) « My Meandering Trail

      • Go try the Gregory Baltaro “Deva”. It weighs about 5 pounds but it has better padding on the hip and shoulder pads and the hip belt will move with your hips (real benefit when going up hills). The shoulder pads will not bind on your chest. Plus you can carry the extra weight in more comfort.

      • Funny you mention because I was just chatting with someone at REI about it last night. She recommended the Deva and was actually saving up to buy it herself. I was surprised because I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure from the thru-hiker crowd (online) to keep pack weight down, and over 5 pounds, ya know…

    • That’s awesome! I hope it works out for you. I have to say, though, that I think we two are in different leagues. I returned the Aura because it didn’t support my lower back well enough, and here you are with a frameless pack. I aspire to go light but don’t have it in me just yet. Maybe once I hit the trail, I’ll be able to ditch a few items.

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