When I first came upon the idea of doing the thru-hike of the CDT, I didn’t know much about the logistics or reality of it. It was kind of like sailing. I had an idea in my head and then started reading and researching.
The first things I knew I needed were some sort of shelter (tent), sleeping bag (or similar), and a backpack that would fit properly and allow me to wear it for extended periods of time without cutting into my shoulders.
For me, the most important of these three were the backpack.
Up until about a year ago, I had the Buell Blast motorcycle and that was my mode of transportation rain or dry, hot or cold, nice or miserable. I rode it pretty much all the time in all conditions. I was that guy you saw on the road on a motorcycle when it was raining and 40 degrees out.
The bike is still alive and well and our son-in-law has it as backup transportation.
I got a Thule Stir 35L to carry my laptop and other stuff (rain gear, coat, gloves, lunch, etc.). It was not a researched decision. My old backpack had blown out. We had some Amex points and I didn’t feel like spending real money on a pack. It was within my points range and available. It was larger than my previous pack, so of course I packed in more stuff. I didn’t really know how to adjust or wear it and carrying 20+ pounds on the bike in cold weather would make my shoulders, which were already tensed up trying to stay warm, absolutely sear with pain after 30 minutes or so. I found myself constantly adjusting the load and my posture while riding to try to reduce the discomfort. Made me miss the small backpack in which I couldn’t fit as much. Though, what really happened was stuff that I lashed to the back of the bike now just wound up in the pack.
I knew that I did not want to put up with that for 8 to 12 hours and maybe more a day. 1 hour was just about all I was willing to tolerate.
I started looking at the different backpacks available. Good heavens. It’s sort of overwhelming. Torso length, sizing, pack weight, weight distribution, hip belts, volume and weight carrying capacity, waterproof/resistant or not, frameless, internal frame, external frame, materials, and then all the “options”. And I just knew it would be EXACTLY like a pair of shoes. It might feel OK in the store, but get out and actually use it and it might be the most excruciating thing ever.
First thing was first: I desired simple. No zippers on the main body, not a whole lot of pockets for me to lose stuff in, I didn’t care about water resistance or proofness (I learned to wrap everything in my Thule pack in garbage bags to keep it all dry. A lesson learned the hard way.), I didn’t really want to spend more than a couple hundred dollars, and, finally, I was looking for a manufacturer here in the US. Not that I have anything against Chinese folks. A lot of them are very nice people.
There are some simple backpacks out there. Not many and most of them tend to be pretty pricey, which I found really odd. And then again, maybe it’s not odd at all. Most people love gadgets and complexity. Which leads me to the following . . .
I looked at the offerings at REI and did some reading on the reviews. We stopped by the local REI and it was a quick trip: this one, no, that one, no, over here, no, over there, no. They all had so many bells and whistles and pockets and zippers and straps and buckles and features. I believe one manufacturer even had an oven installed in the store, right there in the backpack section, that allowed you to heat up the rigid plastic of the pack hip belt and then mold it to your hips. Sheesh. I desired a bag with a roll top closure, a hip belt, some shoulder straps, and maybe some hip belt pockets. Pretty much my Thule Stir, but one designed for carrying roughly 30 pounds and a larger volume for days at a time.
So I went back to the Interwebs and did some more reading on backpacks.
I found this website, which helped a bit: Camping and Hiking Gear Made in America
Here was my short list, though they all didn’t meet all of my requirements. As with anything and everything in life, there are always tradeoffs.
ULA Equipment Circuit
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
Granite Gear Crown2 60
Hyperlite 3400 Southwest
After much deliberation, I finally settled on the ULA Equipment Circuit.
It seemed to be very well reviewed by many hikers, was in my price range, and had the features (or lack thereof) that I desired.
Plus, I found this nifty video on their website showing how to measure your torso for proper backpack sizing.
I’ll pull the trigger on ordering this in the next few days.