Drink the Kool-Aid with Me

12:35 p.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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Have not posted in a while so I thought I would revisit an old debate and stir up some discussion. I recently found a Kelty 50th Anniversary Pack and a Kelty Continental Divide Pack, and I bought both as they were inexpensive, and both looked almost new. The CDT pack actually had the owner's manual still attached. As you may recall the 50th Anniversary pack weighs in at 6'10" and has several components that can be removed to lower the weight to 4'10". The CDT weighs in at about 7'10".

Having purchased the two packs I thought I would do some testing. I loaded up 60' in an old Dana Terraplane and carried it over 3.5 miles on a rolling track near my home. As expected, it carried well, and while not something I would normally do it felt good. Even after all these years the Dana packs still have load carrying capabilites that compare to more modern packs.

Over the next few days I repeated the same test with the two Kelty packs. Both carried the weight well, and for me they subjectively felt better than the Dana; more importantly, they allowed me to stand straighter. Both these packs emulate some of the characteristics of ain internal frame pack so there is minimal load sway.

Well, the above results were fine, but I normally do not lug 60' around; my 7 day pack weight is around 32' using an Osprey Atmos 65. So, I then took my normal pack weight and loaded it into the two external frame packs over the course of the next few days. I then walked the same course and compared the feel of the packs and the comparative completion times. I finished the course faster while walking with the Kelty packs, and each felt better than any of the lightweight packs I have (REI Flash 62, Atmos 65, pre2005 Aether 60).

The course included a combination of on and off trail walking, and 6 short but steep climbs.

Despite the higher overall pack weight due to the extra weight of the Kelty packs the external frame packs were clearly more comfortable, Accordingly, I am coming back to the idea that pack weight is less important than is often asserted. I know that Dan McHale has said the same thing, and based upon my results I am inclined to believe him.

When I hike I usually due between 20 -25 miles each day, and I am fairly spartan, but I am not an ultra-lighter. I have gone down that road and my experiences were fine, but my enjoyment level was lower. I like to use a hammock rather than a tarp, etc., and I like to carry a book or two to read. What really led me away were the times I needed to cary additional weight due to a water need or conditions; the lightweight packs each grew increasingly less comfortable as I added weight.

My premise then is that a beefier pack, loaded with a light load will generally be more comfortable than a lightweight pack loaded with the same load and that this will remain the case as conditions require more weight. Consequently, it seems to make sense that a bettor suspension will normally always trump a poorer one and that it is worth the additional weight.

I was tired of the commentary on Bear Gryllis, so feel free to direct your wrath towar dme.

2:54 p.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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3,218 forum posts


Thanks.  I agree with your observations.  I just gave away my fancy North Face internal pack that has been around the Western Hemisphere.  I replaced it with a used Kelty Tioga from 1973.

3:58 p.m. on November 16, 2012 (EST)
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The Kelty external frame packs allowed me to walk more upright as well. The packs you purchased are an excellent melding of internal and external, probably reducing the sway common to external frame packs when climbing.

8:46 a.m. on November 17, 2012 (EST)
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2,136 forum posts


I also agree with the “walking upright” point. Although, I’ve found that no pack is comfortable with more than 50lbs in it; of course I’m 5’7 and about 155.

My first many years of backpacking were done with a Kelty Trekker exclusively. I had an issue that I wasn’t really aware of until I started using a different pack: the Kelty actually transferred too much weight to the hips. My hips would be painfully sore and tired after long days with the Kelty. Of course in those earlier years for me, even an overnighter would wind up being a 45lb load.

I eventually purchased a Mystery Ranch internal frame pack after much experimentation with other packs and felt like a new man after using it a few times. I was astonished after my first cold weather trip (with a heavier load) that my hips didn’t hurt. I had always assumed that was just the way it was.

I’ve since experimented with both many times and now far prefer the internal frame pack.

Perhaps it’s due to my diminutive stature but the Kelty is very hard to pack and keep the center of gravity at a safe level for me. I can feel how it easy it is to tip over if I lean too far in any direction. When I try to correct for tipping it stresses my lower back. The biggest detractor for me is that I hike in heavily forested areas and that Trekker seems to go out of its way to hit, pull and snag on every branch near me. The big square profile is a more of a problem off-trail or on infrequently maintained trails.

I used that pack so much that I do have a sentimental attachment too it but it mostly just gathers dust now.

Seems like we went somewhat opposite directions huh?

3:39 p.m. on November 17, 2012 (EST)
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848 forum posts

you can get an internal frame that carries well, if you want to drop 800. for the money, nothing beats the old external frame packs. my kelty west coast is one of the last big packs made by kelty, and has stood up well. twelve years later, it still gets me down the trail in comfort.

12:07 p.m. on November 21, 2012 (EST)
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I used externals for years but for the off trail travel that we do now and for any scrambling, I'll take an internal any day.

Externals have a high center of gravity and become unwieldy. For good trails and country that is not so rugged, then the externals are not only great packs but cool looking too.

7:07 p.m. on November 21, 2012 (EST)
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I don't do any bushwacking...strictly on trail for me. the big square profile of many externals makes them branch magnets off trail. also the center of gravity can be high if they're loaded improperly. I have never had this problem, but then I am an on trail hiker. I just believe that for sheer comfort, nothing beats an external frame for the money.

11:16 p.m. on November 21, 2012 (EST)
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That walking upright point you guys were talking about is a catch 22. Its great to walk upright on flat or rolling terrain, nut when it gets steep the same metal frame that lets up walk upright makes you walk upright. I think hills are easier climbed when you can lean forward.

11:30 a.m. on November 22, 2012 (EST)
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3,218 forum posts

The old arguement that internal frame packs are more suited for scrambling, and climbing is probably true.  The problem is I can't remember really ever climbing with a pack for more than a few feet at a time.

11:35 a.m. on November 22, 2012 (EST)
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I dont really do any climbing, but the terrain is steep in nh. It doesnt have to be steep enough to climb for an external to tighten around your waist when you lean forward just a little.

12:56 p.m. on November 24, 2012 (EST)
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170 forum posts

I like the taste of this Kool Aid!  Lately I've been thinking about going back to using my Kelty instead of the two internal frame packs I own.  I train for trips by walking logging roads with the Kelty loaded down with some heavy bags of dog food and it is still a very comfortable pack.  One thing I've noticed is that the hip belt tends to stay right where I want it.  It would also make carrying a bulky bear canister easy, my clothes, bag, tent and other stuff will easily fit in the pack and the bear vault can get strapped right to the frame.

2:05 p.m. on November 24, 2012 (EST)
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97 forum posts

We don’t do technical climbing but there is a lot of boulder scrambling and precarious slopes to climb in the terrain we travel. When leaning around boulders on steep terrain with loose scree, just being there is a bit frightening at times. If your load shifts your center of gravity it could mean serious trouble. Squeezing between boulders is another issue and you want a trim silhouette when navigating the tight slots or squeezes. I have a picture of a friend after we came from far below through boulders and up steep slopes to get up to this mesa. There was even a razor sharp land bridge that freaked out the peripheral vision with the slopes falling away at acute angles.

hmm, it seems I can't embed an image from my online albums...does this change with a certain number of posts or does one have to upload every image to be posted to this website all the time?

Anyway, I know not everyone does this kind of travel when backpacking but I bet some here do. It’s probably not the best place for an external frame no matter what flavor of Kool-Aid one favors.

June 17, 2018
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