User Review: High Sierra Appalachian 75
Design: Top and Front Loading internal
Size: 4589 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 5 plus two mesh side pockets
Max. Load Carried: 47.5 pounds
Height of Owner: 5' 9"
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $100
Background before we begin: I currently own 2 Gregory packs, one large size Jansport pack, and 8-9, day or day and a half packs. One trend I am seeing as of this writing (March of 2010) is that ALL packs are becoming sleek, slim, and "streamlined". Too much so in my opinion!
I tell my friends they have become "glorified and expensive duffle bags" with carrying straps. They seem to have lost all thought of pockets and organization. You would think that these newer packs are "wind tunnel tested" they are becoming so slim lined with NO external pockets. The same analogy could be compared like cars. After a while, they all look the same and "true functionality" is compromised.
In comes High Sierra to the rescue! I have used two high dollar Gregory packs over the last 4 years and got sick of not having pockets on the outside to access my small gear items. If they did have pockets, they make them a big hassle to get anything out! The High Sierra line of backpacks caught my eye after purchasing one of their "Access" line of daypacks (see it reviewed by me as well). I purchased the Appalachian 75 because I needed a pack to fill that capacity range. With those thoughts in mind, let's take a look at it closely.
First, with ALL backpack manufacturers in the world having communist governments manufacture all of their pack lines, it is now an advantage for us as a consumer in one regard. For reasons of seeking cheap labor, maximize profits, and release any manufacture facility headaches, this does one thing for you and I.
ALL of the packs, regardless of price, regardless of manufacturer, all have the same production quality. More likely than not, they are made in the same plants! What separates a good pack from a bad pack now-days is simply the DESIGN of the pack and its FEATURES. With all of them made in the same place now, focus on design and features when picking out a pack. The manufacturer's "shot themselves in the foot" in this regard.
The High Sierra Appalachian's materials and workmanship are top notch and no better or worse than any top dollar pack I have owned from Gregory, Jansport, etc. When you are talking about a $300 pack from Gregory and a $100 pack from High Sierra, there is little to NO difference in quality. Made from material called Grid Weave Duralite, this pack is tough as nails. I hiked 9 miles with it in North Alabama and loaded it with 47 pounds for it's first trip. With some really NICE features such as integrated rain cover on the bottom of the pack and accessed from the bottom, wonderful and easy accessible side pockets, this pack really is tailored for what I was looking for in a pack.
High Sierra is a company to watch closely. They are paying close attention to detail on all of their packs now in terms of design, and I have been impressed. Other features such as a fleece lined pocket in the very top of the pack for sunglasses, expensive electronic items are anything you don't want scratched up.
The Ergo-Fit system was easy to adjust for my 19 inch torso. This torso adjustment system has been around for years. Jansport used to use it as well. It is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you can really "fine tune" the pack to your exact torso length, rather the high dollar packs that fit a torso "range" with their small, medium, and large size packs.
The downfall of the Ergo Fit system on the High Sierra Appalachian 75 is that the pack has a little bit of "slop" at the top of the pack near the shoulders and does not fit real tight to your back. If you do a lot of climbing up mountains at steep angles, or walk up beside steep bluffs and along ridges, a sloppy pack can create a problem with holding your balance at times. The positive side of the adjustable system is that you can really get a very comfortable fit, and because it is not so tight against your back, the pack is a little cooler to wear.
There are wonderful tie points all over the pack and the pockets are very easy to access. If you want your flashlight, it is 15 seconds away with the pockets protruding out and easy to access as opposed to the streamlined flush look most of the other pack designers are doing. The back and waist belt are made of their "Vapel Mesh" material. Some reviews read elsewhere stated this was a rough material and needed to be softer. I personally have no problem with it and it really made the pack vent well.
The inside of the pack is separated in two compartments so you can store your sleeping bag in the bottom. You can also simply unzip that divider and the whole pack is one big compartment if you wish. Here is a slick feature you will not read about in advertising of the product. When the compartment divider is zipped up, they allow about a two inch hole on each corner near the body side to allow for sticking tent poles, Sven saw, or camp stools that might be long. That way, you have the whole length of the pack to carry a few tall items. There are actually two pockets in the top of the pack, one large one as standard in most all internal type packs, and as stated above, a second one fleece lined above the main one. This is sweet! I like this feature.
Another really nice feature that was well thought out in my opinion. On my $300 Gregory packs, they made the inside material of the pack either jet black or a very dark material. You cannot see items good at all. You can have items in the pack that you were not even aware of! The Appalachian 75 pack is sweet in this regard. It has an orange colored liner, so items stand out inside the pack. If you open the pack looking for an item, it is very easy to spot. Again, obviously well thought out.
All High Sierra packs, including the day packs, include a "media pouch" that attaches to one of the shoulder straps. If you have a regular sized small phone, it works great but it is useless for a large sized PDA such as an iPhone or Blackberry. I store a small flashlight in mine. To sum up the Appalachian 75:
- Well thought out, plenty of tie down points, quality as good as any high dollar pack, good fit, extremely tough material, protruding outside pockets if you like this type of pack as opposed to flush mounted sleek pockets on the majority of packs now days.
- Orange liner for easy visibility of items inside the pack, integrated full rain cover that stores in the bottom of the pack and will always be with you.
- Shoulder harness has attachment points for GPS, whistle, etc. H2O pouch handles most all types of hydration bags and tubes. Hip belt padding is good and wide, but suffers a major design flaw (see below).
- The Ergo-Fit system allows for fine adjustment to adjust about any size torso within the packs advertised range.
- The Ergo-Fit adjustment system allows for fine tuning but also allows more slop in the pack while strapped on the back than some people would want. The high dollar packs offer either a small, medium, or large size that fits a "range" of torsos. Positive side is that you will have a tight fit of the pack on the back. Downside, it cannot be fine tuned like the Ergo-Fit offered on the Appalachian.
- The weakest link in this entire pack is apparently inherit in more than one of its models that High Sierra makes. IT IS IN THE HIP BELT ADJUSTMENT. I have a 35 inch waist and it is just barely is enough to tighten the pack down tight. It does tighten up good. If I needed another 2 inches, I could not get it. This leaves what feels like 5 feet of extra webbing (it is really only about 10 inches). I have read of similar complaints on their largest pack. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR WAIST SIZE IF YOU DECIDE TO BUY THIS PACK AND MAKE SURE IT WILL FIT YOUR WAIST. I feel like this is a serious design flaw and hopefully High Sierra will correct this soon. I was lucky enough that is was not an issue for me but this could be a "make or break" issue for you if you don't check this out.
- The two mesh pockets will hold a Nalgene bottle, but just barely. They are a little small. It would be nice if they were canted back for easy access while hiking.
Bottom line: This is one heck of a pack with some very nice features. I think High Sierra will be giving the competition some headaches in the days ahead. With the playing field being level now by hiring China and Vietnam governments to do all the manufacturing process, it is all in the design of packs now. Nobody has anything over anybody in terms of material quality and build now. If you don't mind that you will have a pack that won't have a high dollar figure or a high dollar name associated with it or if you are simply on a budget, you will not be disappointed in this pack, in my opinion.
Everything about this pack (minus the slight design flaw in the hip belt length) puts the pack right dead even with the $300-$400 packs. If you like the traditional "protruding pockets" in a pack verses the "sleek flush pockets" on the majority of other backpacks, then this is the pack for you. It is is about the only manufacturer doing this design anymore. I count my Gregory and Jansport packs "dead even" with this pack, now that I have used it.
Update: January 27, 2012
I recently used this pack on a 17-mile hiking trip on the Pinhoti trail in Talladega National Forest in Alabama. My review of this pack still stands.
My review also still stands. With most every single pack being made out of the same plants in China and North Vietnam, they ALL have about the same quality. It only boils down to design and fit. With the adjustments that come on it comes a mixed bag of blessing and curse. Because it is fully and totally adjustable, it has some amount of slack to it on the back compared to a high end pack that comes only in 3 sizes.
On the other hand, by being adjustable, you can work on this pack until it feels downright comfortable. It's all in taking the time to fine tweak it.
I think High Sierra is an up and coming company that will soon be rated with the big boys of Gregory, Lowe, and others. For now, they are regarded mainly as manufacturers of beginner backpacks. I disagree with this analogy. They are well designed packs!
They have some very good designs and still conform to the old school way of making packs that way I love. That is square pockets and a square pack! With the current fad now, you would think that the packs have been "wind tunnel tested" they are streamlined so much.