backpacks - what to look for? (does brand matter)

6:58 p.m. on May 10, 2018 (EDT)
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so at the expense of starting a brand loyal war - my question is - does brand really matter?  What is the big differences to look for in comparing packs of the same size by the big brand names vs the middle of the road brand names (I know you generally get what you pay for in quality and cheap will not last) but what other sort of "extras" are you looking for?  what makes a pack better than another?

Dicks has field and stream bags obviously a lot cheaper than the big brand names - for someone like me who is not going to be thru hiking the AT anytime - (think a dozen nights a year max) will something like that last me more than long enough?

thanks!

9:16 p.m. on May 10, 2018 (EDT)
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The backpack is usually one of, if not ,the very last things that I buy as if you get one that is to big for your needs then it does not pack correctly and is unwieldy.  If you get one that is to small then you will not be able to bring all your gear, or you will over stuff it and over weigh it capacity.............Cubic Inches wise.

Then regarding the fit of the pack........................... if you get one that is to big, or to small, it very well might be so uncomfortable to the point of you possibly not ever being able to use it a second time.  I would look for a pack with removable and interchangeable hip/shoulder belts as you may have a large torso, using medium shoulder belts and a large waist belt.

I would figure out want you need/want to bring on each trip.  Are these 12 nights going to be measured in 12 different trips?  Four 3 nighters, two 6 nighters, three 4 nighters?  What is the season/s that you'll be out in, all 4?  The most stuff/gear/equipment will be needed in the 4th season and the least in the 1st season.

The in thing at this time in backpacking seems to be how light each piece of gear is, There are bragging rights attached to how much stuff a guy/gal can bring at the very lowest weight with people even cutting off most of the handle of their toothbrush to save weight.  Generally the more options you have on a pack, the more it weighs, such as zippers, heavy duty material, compression straps, buckles, water bottle holders, extra accessory side/top bags, cell phone holsters, gun holsters, etc.  I know guys that used to pack in cast iron frying pans/Dutch ovens.

For me the most important decision in buying a back pack is comfort and fit.   The only way to find out what is comfortable and fits is to assemble your gear and take it the store in which your going to buy your pack and try on packs with all your assembled gear.  Renting a pack is a really good idea if you do not know gear.............same with sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and tents.  Even when renting a pack, take your stuff in.............have them fit you and pick out the pack that fits your the best in your price rage that has all the accessories that you want.

When buying a new backpack at a retail outlet , for sure................ brand name makes a difference.........as you said, generally you get what you pay for..........but you often pay a very heavy price for that brand name .  When buying used it makes much much less of a difference in price.  I regularly get $300-$500+ packs for around $100+ used.  I would go to Dicks with your gear and try out some packs.  Make sure they have a competent person on hand who knows how to measure you and fit a pack to you.  Then I would take your stuff to REI and compare packs in the price range that your looking at.........at Dicks. 

Also one of the very most important things I look at is the warranty.  I once bought a used Marmot sleeping bag that was rated at about 0 to -10 cause it matched the zipper of my original new Marmot bag  which was not rated near as low.  On a long motorcycle trip I hit a deer that tore the bag open big time, it rained goose down for a long time.  After sending the bag to Marmot and asking if there was any possible way they could fix it, they sent me a brand new $500 bag to replace a used bag that I bought for under $100 with out even talking to me about it.  I have brand loyalty at this point to The North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and a number of other companies.  But I will also not hesitate to buy outside my brand loyalty if what I need is a better fit/deal.  But again I don't buy anything new anymore with the 10's, maybe 100's, of thousands of barely use pieces of gear out there on the market.

Do not be in a hurry to buy gear unless you want to be interchanging that gear at a loss for a very long time.  Research, research, research................and then take the time to find the best prices either new or used.  Be ready to own a number of different pieces of gear for different situations.  A single nighter takes a way smaller pack than a 3-4 nighter, generally.  If you go out with others then much of the gear can be shared, especially tents and cooking gear/fuel to so as to save weight and pack space.

 

 

11:42 p.m. on May 10, 2018 (EDT)
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Not sure where you live in NC so I just started looking around in Raleigh on Craigslist.  I believe you mentioned that you and your wife would be camping.  So, I'm assuming that she would need a back pack.  Here is a highly regarded woman's Osprey  for over half off what REI is charging and no tax.  New, never used.  $150.  A great deal if it fits her and is comfortable.

https://raleigh.craigslist.org/spo/d/osprey-womens-hiking-backpack/6582195881.html

Trailspace reviews for the pack:https://www.trailspace.com/gear/osprey/ariel-65/

Here's a great mans pack, excellent brand for 50% off and no tax.

 https://raleigh.craigslist.org/spo/d/new-gregory-savant-38/6583525759.html

 Trailspace review      https://www.trailspace.com/gear/gregory/jade-38/

 $50  https://raleigh.craigslist.org/spo/d/black-diamond-50l-backpack/6584150049.html

 

There are at least 20 super nice backpacks on Raleigh Craigslist for under $150 and many super nice ones  for under $100.

Here is a super great deal on a 2 person tent for $125.  Heavy by todays standards but easy to carry if split up between two people.  Heck, if you don't buy it I'm going to consider picking this up.  $150........quite the steal

https://raleigh.craigslist.org/spo/d/marine-corps-tent/6585006125.html

If your going to go the mummy bag rout and your wife is a cold sleeper then this woman's once used bag is a really good deal at $80.  https://raleigh.craigslist.org/spo/d/rei-womens-zephyr-sleeping/6568144312.html

 

Anyway, just wanted to show you some of the good deals that can be had out there.

6:16 a.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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You don't have to buy an expensive pack, but finding one that fits you and allows you to carry what you need without hurting you is important. Even a short trip in a bad bag can leave you bleeding and never wanting to go again.

Try the pack on in the store with weight in it. If you have your own gear, bring it, but many shops will have sand bags for this purpose. Bringing your own gear lets you be sure to buy the right size pack so everything will fit though, so works best.

As for your question about whether the cheaper pack will last you "long enough" there is no way to know. Cheaper stuff may be made of materials that fall apart, but it also may be made of really heavy stuff that won't fall apart before it kills you by being so heavy. I had a really crappy pack that lasted for over a decade back in my motorcycle camping days. For me this answer is more based on how deep in you will go and how dangerous/annoying a broken pack would be. In my case a shoulder strap broke in the deepest part of a 5 day wilderness adventure. I learned how to do a field repair that day and bought a new "real" pack soon after getting home.

If cheaper gear won't kill you then there is little harm in trying it other than having to buy something else if it doesn't work out. If you can't afford to buy twice, save up for better. Otherwise, buy what you need to get you out there. Then when you're both sure you are loving it, buy the good stuff! We are an outdoor family so every year budget funds to expand our gear collection.

Apeman's suggestion of used gear is definitely a great way to split the difference, but can be a bit daunting for a novice gearhead. When you know what to look for that becomes good sport though. Online and second hand shops have a wealth of treasures and some broken down old crap to sift though.

As I mentioned in your sleeping bag thread, if this is for the wife you're trying to get hooked on backpacking with you, don't skimp on comfort. From my experience, making sure my wife was able to enjoy being out there was the key. I enjoy a bit of suffering from time to time when I'm backpacking, but for some reason, she prefers to be happy :)

10:33 a.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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I have been carrying packs since 1960.  Used them for working in the field and all kinds of trips in the bush.  Internal, external, day packs, Duluth canoe packs, dry bags, etc. I have found the one pack that works for everything.  It is a ULA Circuit made in Utah.  It is light, comfortable, adjustable, and can carry 35 pounds.  I use it for overnight trips and as a day pack.  For a long trip I would still use a Kelty Tioga which I bought used on the interwebs for $30.  No need to have a quiver of packs, just get yourself a ULA and never look back. 

11:26 a.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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brand matters because they fit differently, and getting one that fits is the most important goal of buying a backpack. put some weight in it at a store, have someone at the store make sure the torso length and other straps are adjusted for you, and walk around with it a little. 

case in point - our son did a weeklong hike about a year and a half ago. he had to carry about 40 pounds. we found a REI backpack, 70-75 liter, that worked great for him, and it was on sale. I tried it on...it's not as comfortable on me. i have a backpack that size, gregory baltoro (purchased on sale) that fits me very well. there are plenty of companies that make good backpacks.  

a friend of mine's son was looking for a backpack for this summer, i gave him the same info i'm giving you. he tried on REI, osprey, and gregory, and the gregory pack (a year old model that was 40% off) fit him best.  

5:13 p.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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just got back from rei - the osprey and rei fit me the best - rei obviously much cheaper - their outlet has a deuter for a good deal - but they didn't have any to try on.  The Baltoro - I didn't like the fit.

6:08 p.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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I also like the osprey fit while I dislike the Baltoro despite hiking with my brother who enjoys his. He is about the same size and shape as me yet we feel totally opposite about it. Packs are really personal :)

Good news about liking the Osprey fit is that from my experience if you like one, you'll like most of their packs. There are a lot to be found on the second hand market. Definitely worth looking around a bit to see if something goes on sale on one of the discount sites too.

8:50 p.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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I sort of skimmed the replies in the thread so I may have missed this if it was mentioned, but properly packing your pack will make more of a difference in comfort than anything else. Ideally, the sleeping bag will go at the very bottom of the pack, with heavier stuff like tent, stove, food, and heavier clothing, on top of that in the middle of the pack. More light stuff that you’ll use often or want easy access to goes at the top. You can fill in empty spaces with small, light items to prevent shifting or balance the load, or just provide padding against your back. Pack tent poles externally behind side compression straps, and use a compression sack for your tent to reduce its volume. The tighter you can get everything, the more balanced it’ll be on less stable footing or steep terrain. 

This is my Osprey Atmos AG 50, packed for a springtime overnight in the mountains with snow still on the ground. Total weight was right around 37lb, IIRC, and even though the snowshoes make it look unbalanced their weight was mostly offset by the weight of my tent poles & water bottle on the left. This pack is an absolute joy to carry when in the 35lb range, the waist belt grips and holds so comfortably that the only thing the shoulder straps do is keep the pack against your back. Almost none of the weight is on your shoulders.

B8274975-4C5D-4CCE-9F20-83A2B78EA103.jpg
Here’s a shot of how...shallow...the pack is, keeping your vertical center of balance as close as possible to where it would be if you didn’t have the pack on. 

92F9F126-9913-4815-81F1-827BD47FED93.jpg

11:31 p.m. on May 11, 2018 (EDT)
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I’ll leave it to the experts and they probably already have mentioned comfortable but let me point out some things I found out on the old fashion hard way plan. I started out with a Kelty Red Hawk 70 and it was a very good and durable pack and still is. But when I switched to the Gregory Palisades 80, the results were astounding.

#1 The fit, lumbar support pad, padded shoulders straps, and adjustable padded hip belt, made the exact same load feel like half and made for a much more enjoyable hike!

#2 The features, access from top bottom or middle can’t be matched. The organization pockets and attachments are everywhere but not obtrusive and the pull forward hip belt tightening straps with angled hydration pocket were just what I needed ( I and a majority of those I hike with are very stocky making it very difficult to access the water bottle without getting them for each other or dropping the pack for a drink)

#3 They stress you less and make for a more enjoyable experience ( at least in my opinion)

I own 4 Gregory packs i verious sizes and love them, worth every penny along with a North Face and a 50$ knock off and they fit the bill also just not up to the level that the better brands do.

So yes brand/ make/ cost did make a difference. 

Hope that helps and good luck in your search and definitely listen to the folks who have posted they take it seriously.

11:51 a.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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Thanks alL. Lots of good info. I appreciate it  So along this line. The lady at Reu was very helpful but she said she recommends a 65 - even for short weekend and overnight trips. I get that you take most of the same stuff for a overnight as you do for a 4 or 5 day. Just more food. But everything else I read contradicts this.  I know I won’t know for sure until I have my kit and trt packing it. I likely plan on carrying more than my wife (I am a lot bigger and want to make it as enjoyable as possible for her). We will have down sleeping bags. A 4 person tent (for now. Already have it). Inflatable sleeping pads. A jetboil and bv450 along with clothes and food. I plan on having her get  something in the 30 to 40 l range. What do you think I will need?  We will probably want some sort of pillow as well 

12:09 p.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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If you are shelling out for an Osprey you'll find they have lots of built in compression. That allows you to strap down the pack when carrying less, but expand to hold larger loads. 60-65 L is a nice size for casual backpackers who aren't carrying tiny, ultra light gear and worried about a few grams of excess pack. You don't have to fill it up, but when you want to throw in an extra blanket or a watermelon, you have room.

I'd find a similar sized pack for your wife, again because of insulation. She will likely want to carry more clothes to keep warm and some women like to be clean too :) Maybe make a pile of the stuff she thinks she'd bring and see just how big that is. It will give you a better idea of how much you really need.

12:40 p.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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That does answer my next question. If you dont fill it up. How do the different bags perform as far as cinching fine tight

1:26 p.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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You probably noticed lots of straps on the packs you were looking at the other day. Most all larger packs will come with built in compression of some sort, even mid range and cheaper ones. Different brands will use different types, but it all works pretty much the same.

1:39 p.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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correct I did. the rei was lighter but Probably not as tough even thou I am sure it will outlast most of anything I will do.  I see some piam ok put a lot of stuff attached to the outside (I wonder if either pack is better for those items such as axe, trowel, tent Poles, or sleeping pad. 

3:51 p.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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The folks with a lot of stuff attached on the outside didn't get a big enough pack :p

Personally, I prefer as much as possible is inside the pack. Less shifting, less rattling, less stuff lost on the trail. Winter packs are different where you need shoes, spikes, ax and other items handy.

I see a lot of thru hikers who got a tiny pack because that is what they were told to get and then have most of their gear bouncing around on the outside. It gives me something to laugh about as they go flying past me while I'm trying not to stroke out on a climb.

Oh and unless you are planning on building a cabin leave the ax at home. Burn only small wood you can break easily by hand and you'll save yourself a lot of work carrying the ax and using it. Keeps fire size under control too so your fire won't keep burning hours after you've fallen asleep.

3:59 p.m. on May 12, 2018 (EDT)
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Thanks again good points. I still have the car camping mentality with the axe and Fire ring 

9:44 a.m. on May 13, 2018 (EDT)
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I run into through hikers often within about 40 minutes of my house.  They have small packs because they are going somewhere and quickly figure out that weight matters, especially if you are traveling 25 miles a day, every day.  I learned about ULA packs from through hikers.  It is not a fad, or something someone told them to carry.  They are the best pack for the job. 

A surprising artifact of having a light, comfortable pack is that it is perfect for day hikes and everything in between. 

11:10 a.m. on May 15, 2018 (EDT)
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It makes no sense that people that backpack on weekends or one week a year are trying to tell through hikers what the best pack is. 

2:58 p.m. on May 15, 2018 (EDT)
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Around 60 L is a good standard size for all around backpacking (as the op states he is interested in) though in some seasons you may go a bit bigger depending on how well your gear stuffs as long as all your gear does indeed fit inside and not tied on outside. You don’t need to stuff them full and a good pack will have compression straps to adjust your load which may change from trip to trip. Volume is not the only concern though, how well the suspension carries the weight you need is very important. There are times I have to carry 24 lbs of water on top of the rest of my gear. Someone’s little toy pack that weighs in at 14oz will feel like a bag of cement in a jute bag with that kind of weight. I’ve seen this first hand time and again. So exactly what you do matters far more than anything else.

Getting in store fit is the best advice. Osprey fits me like a glove but not Gregory. The exact opposite is true for my girlfriend.

7:38 p.m. on May 15, 2018 (EDT)
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If I am carrying 24 pounds of water, an elk quarter or an outboard motor I would use an external frame pack, but that was not the question. 

8:02 p.m. on May 15, 2018 (EDT)
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The question is “Backpacks-what to look for”

and I quote him...

Scotttyd said:

- for someone like me who is not going to be thru hiking the AT anytime - (think a dozen nights a year max) will something like that last me more than long enough?

thanks!

 so what to look for and exactly why for 12 nights/ year was indeed the question...

 

6:38 a.m. on May 16, 2018 (EDT)
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I think ppine has made two things pretty clear here; Everyone should use the ULA backpack that he has because that is best and folks who don't spent much time camping shouldn't tell others what is best.

Once you break it down like that it becomes clear that there is no reason to respond to him. Foolishly, I started to a few days ago and then realized that and so didn't post at all. To me, there is no "best". Everyone is different and doing different things in different places. I never talk about "best" or tell folks what to do. Instead I talk about what works for me and why I choose to use it. That leaves the choice up to them and I avoid any liability if it doesn't work out :p

Back on topic...that ability to carry extra stuff as you describe ghostdog, like water in the desert or a 10 day food bag, is another reason why I like to have a roomier bag on my pack. Using the compression straps to keep the load close to your back when the bag is emptier lets even an 80L bag ride like one half the size.

10:25 a.m. on May 16, 2018 (EDT)
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what makes a pack better than another?

What makes a pack "better" is fit, meets your needs for size and features, and quality. And fit. Did I mention fit?

Does brand matter? Yes and no. No, it does not matter in that labels are logos are meaningless, if a "great" brand doesn't fit you then it isn't so great. But yes brand does matter to the extent that some brands tend to fit a certain way and are known for high quality, so brand name could be a good indicator if a pack holds good promise for you.

I wouldn't divide brands into "big" vs. "middle of the road", that sounds like trying to put company size vs. product quality on one scale. Some of the "best" packs are from cottage manufacturers that are the exact opposite of "big" brands.

Here in Georgia where I get to watch the vast majority of intended AT thru-hikers set off, it seems that Osprey is the most popular brand. But personally I lean to the smaller and cottage shops. ULA is among them, it's a very good brand but not the only one -- there also is Zpacks, HMG, Elemental Horizons, Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs, Granite Gear, My Trail, McHale, Zimmerbuilt, and quite a few others.

10:30 a.m. on May 16, 2018 (EDT)
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LoneStranger, 

Experienced people often have strong opinions.  That is why I like this forum. 

Do not make the mistake of attacking the messenger because you do not like the message. 

3:42 p.m. on May 16, 2018 (EDT)
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ppine said:

Experienced people often have strong opinions.  That is why I like this forum. 

Do not make the mistake of attacking the messenger because you do not like the message. 

 

Used to, your opinion was the old ways are always the best and that Kelty frame pack was so much better than anyone’s choice of internal frame…until you got that ULA. You do say on this thread, for heavy loads the Kelty is still your choice with no further discussion in that familiar vague way. Some like a few more specifics with some easy back and forth discussion on subjects.

While that pack can be a viable solution in some terrain it can be a hazard in rough and off trail terrain and deadly in mountainous escarpments and the canyon country of my haunts. The high, tippy center of gravity and/or the frame parts protruding, banging and catching boulders and branches can easily facilitate trashing you out with a minor fall or worse turning you into a human projectile doing a header off into the void. They saw a rapid decline in popularity out here decades ago for those reasons. You are still pushing it as if there are no issues. The Montana elk hunter I know uses a large internal frame.

My main point originally was the suspension system of any pack matters as to the intended load. Someone with a base weight of six lbs does not need a beefy suspension while those with a more standard load might need to consider the equation when searching for their first pack or their 31st pack.

8:04 p.m. on May 16, 2018 (EDT)
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Scotttyd 

you mentioned that you are large and that reminded me about another mistake I made. 

The chest strap should be adjustable vertically not just horizontal. My 1st packs didn’t have the slides so since I’m barrel chested they always seemed to be around my upper chest instead of across my sternum. Kinda makes you feel like you’re choking or some one is sitting on your chest. A very important often over looked feature.

11:06 p.m. on May 17, 2018 (EDT)
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"DOES BRAND MATTER?" 

Well yes if you buy WallyMart gear it DOES matter. Some WaMart gear like Sea to Summit is great B/C it's a known US brand name but avoid their packs.

I have come to prefer Osprey packs for their good quality and in backpacks I love their ultralight EXOS 58 pack. Most comfortable pack I've owned including a Dana Terralane.

Osprey, REI, Gregory and the old Dana Designs packs I've owned all had great customer service and guarantees.

Eric B.

9:57 a.m. on May 18, 2018 (EDT)
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Yes.  For heavy loads in the brush or in the rock formations of the Colorado Plateau an internal frame pack would be best. 

2:51 p.m. on May 18, 2018 (EDT)
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