Camp Trails Ponderosa
Camp Trails is no longer in business, and the Ponderosa has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best external frame backpacks for 2020.
Reviewers Paid: $50.00
I bought my Ponderosa while in the army in Germany and later did my first PCT hike back in 1978 with it and held on to that pack until the very early '90s when the waterproofing started breaking down inside.
- Tough and bulletproof
- For its time, it was highly rated.
- Zero failures
- Great exterior pockets
- It was deep, and sometimes annoying to find things
- Heavy... but everything was
It was a great pack and I beat the heck out of that thing in the Sierras for over 10 years after the big trip. It was a different time back then and you needed a big pack to carry the load between the too few resupply points. Heavy boots to deal with the load too.
That's all ancient history now with the lightweight gear and shoes, but like most of us, I have a lot of fond memories of that old gear. No Internet, GPS, or phones back then and had to carry printed maps and a compass for any navigating. All the route planning was done in just a few books that covered the trail (yes, I carried a book).
Outside of the rubber/plastic interior coating breaking down over the years, I think the only other issue I ever had with the pack was losing a few of the metal clips that held the pack to the frame, but always an easy fix. I just ran across this review on Google and had some flashbacks so I thought I'd share. Good times.
I've used interior or no-frame packs ever since. I'd be hard-pressed to want to carry such a big, heavy pack again.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: Don't remember. Cheap by today's standards
Camp Trails Ponderosa is the best pack I have ever used and I have had a more than a handful of other packs to compare with. I chucked away my first one after many years use when one of the zippers failed and regretted it afterwards and have this week bought two more on eBay and will never look back on softpacks again.
I cannot wait to finally get them. Top weave, robust frame, light and roomy. I have used it around the world from Lappland, Nova Scotia, Rockies, and New Zealand and it has worked everywhere.
- Space and organization
- Extendible frame
- Camp Trails is no longer producing them
It is easy to adjust the frame and shape with the extra plugholes at the straps.
The straps could be a little wider, but I have carried 35 kg over a two-week period and had no problems and the hip belt is more nimble then the oversized ones that comes with the newer packs.
The 65+ liter capacity is just right for long weekends and even up to two-week long walks with two extra bags for the tent and sleeping bag. If it is any bigger you end up lugging things you do not need and definitely do not want to carry.
The frame provides superb structural support and the pack open up really well to enable good distribution and law and order when you pack which helps getting a well balanced pack.
The weave on my first one lastad 20 years without a scratch, but eventually one of the zippers failed and the frame is the strongest I have experienced.
I used the first bag for well over 20 years in normal to rough terrain. I just bought two used ones this week and they will be good for the next 40 years :-))
Camp Trails has stopped producing them but I found a similar looking frame pack with around 65 liters from Kelty that might be worth testing out. I have a Kelty 110 and they make good packs too. I missed being able to fit skis and an ice axe, but will add these features manually to the bags once I get the new ones.
Once in a while you come across a top product that no other does better and Camp Trails Ponderosa or Haute Route are among those.
Source: bought it used
Price Paid: $50
- Doesn't wear out
I have an old Camptrails pack too. Not sure of the model but it is one of the larger ones. Purchased April 9, 1974 -- I still have the receipt. With a few trips to the shoemaker to sew in some Cordura, it is still usable.
These packs are made of iron. To stay in shape, I put 50 lbs of free weights in it, raise my treadmill to 15 degrees, put a 5 lb weight on each ankle and cover a mile in about 18 minutes. The divide between the top and bottom compartments is still holding up.
Source: bought it new