Tuesday, September 25, 2012

AT Gear Reviews: My Pack

These posts will be to review any and everything that I carried with me on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Some things worked for me, some did not. Hopefully this will help someone with questions about what you need to be comfortable and safe on the trail. The things I carried may not work for you, but they just might. Some gear is dirt cheap, some I made myself, some gear is pricey. This is what worked for me.
The Backpack
If there is one piece of gear that every hiker has to carry, it's a pack. You will be wearing your pack for nearly half of your trip. There are a few things your pack does for you. It obviously has to carry all your gear, food and water and do it comfortably. Your pack will also eventually evolve through the length of your hike to serve as a seat, a backrest for a trailside nap, a clothesline and a trash bag.

If there is one company in my experiences that has never done me wrong it would be Granite Gear. I picked up a brand new Crown V.C. 60 right before the trip and NEVER had a single complaint about the pack. The Crown was developed to replace the Vapor Trail series of packs that were a staple on all of the long trails for many years. I switched to the Crown for a few reasons. One was to upgrade from my Nimbus Meridian which weighs in at about 3.5 lbs. I wanted something a little lighter and simpler. The rolltop lid really appealed to me and the stretch pocket on the outside I knew would be great for storing wet gear. Once I saw one in person at my local outfitter (Pack & Paddle in Lafayette Louisiana) I was sold.

The pack itself was perfect for every phase of the trip, from carrying a full 7 day resupply of food and fuel, to slackpacking 21 miles in a day with nothing but water and snacks tucked away inside. The pack was able to contract and expand as the gear and food volume inside was constantly changing. The Granite Gear hipbelts are an excellent design for any long distance hiker. They are interchangeable to accommodate your fluctuating waistline that will no doubt happen during your hike. The stretch pockets on the side were perfect for carrying water bottles, fuel, days worth of snacks, trash, and cameras. I carried anywhere from 20-30 lbs. in this pack for most of the trip with food and water. My only complaint would have to be the weakness of my own body when carrying a full resupply out of a town.

I ended up learning a lot about this pack in the 2200+ miles it was strapped to my back. The pockets on the shoulder straps held my iPhone so I could listen to music headphone free. After a rain day (or week) it's funny to see how peoples packs down the trail end up turning into a drying rack. Shoes, tarps, jackets, all dangling from hikers packs waiting the next break and sunny spot to be let out. I always kept my umbrella, fuel bottle, and tent in the back pocket. I think that is the key feature on any long hauling pack. It allows a lot of quick stash gear to be available or kept seperate from all of the dry gear inside the pack. A large internal pocket with simple stash pockets on the outside is a reoccurring theme in any successful long distance pack. No bells and whistles. Simple functionality.

I could go on for days and days about how excellent this pack is, you'll just have to get one to understand what I mean. Many people switch packs to lighter, simpler packs after a few hundred miles. I am happy to say I started out with the finest one on the market.

Other packs I would use:
ULA Circuit

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

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