Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
How to choose a backpack
Before you shop
When you are ready to buy
After you buy
Primary pack characteristics
The "perfect" pack is only perfect if it fits you well, is comfortable, and performs to the level you need. As such, a pack perfect for one person, may not be perfect for another. Keep this in mind when you use others' reviews and recommendations.
Buying your backpack
My personal history with backpacks
I was a traveler before a hiker. My first pack was a Caribou Travel Pack with detachable day pack. I used it for all sorts of travel through Europe. It had a full internal frame so was fairly comfortable and with the panel covering the straps, looked like a soft-sided suitcase.
I then started hiking and used a small daypack until I got into winter hiking. Then, I bought a large EMS day pack. It had straps appropriate for attaching both snowshoes and crampons.
Eventually when I wanted to go further than I could as a dayhiker, I started backpacking. Rather than buying a backpack, I started with my travel pack. Only when I decided I liked backpacking and intended to do a lot more of it, did I start looking for a backpack.
After spending months to get all of the part options to fit properly, I eventually bought a Dana Designs Terraplane. It fit like a custom pack and carried heavy loads easily. I used it for years, including a 10 week trip to China and Nepal, a number of trips to the western United States, more weekend trips to the White Mountains of new Hampshire than I can count. Those included winter hikes as well wehn I needed to carry much heavier loads. To cap it off, I used the pack for a six month thruhike of the Appalachian Trail.
During my thruhike, I realized how going lightweight really could make a difference. So, I eventually bought a Kelty Vapor (later known as the Cloud) on a very steep sale. It was a lightweight pack made with Spectra cloth. I stripped that down and saved pounds off just my pack weight.
After getting involved with gear testing through backpackgeartest.org, I started using a frameless ULA P-1 for those hikes when I could keep my overall packweight under 20 pounds (eventually 25 pounds). When my P-1 got lost in the mail after a repair by the manufacturer, I bought a ULA P-2, the version with a frame, and still use either that or the Kelty today, depending on situation.
The torso on the Kelty is much too long for me but with a light load, there's so much less pressure on my shoulders and hips that it just doesn't matter. My P-1 (which was a custom short torso pack) had a soft strap system so as long as I kept my total pack weight in the 20 pound range, I was a happy camper.
For what it is worth, I don't think the Kelty Spectra cloth packs are worth it for full price, assuming you can find a new one. The added expense for the Spectra cloth just isn't worthwhile. Buying one used could be a good value or get a used one if you think this is the pack for you.
While I may own no packs made since 2005 or so, the method I would choose information here is still relevant for researching packs, but to find current packs, research will be necessary.
Last updated, July 1, 2010.
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