Thursday, June 20, 2013

Help Me Pick A PCT Pack!

Okay, so this is a first world problem, but I find myself paralyzed with indecision  on which backpack to bring on my 282 mile section hike of the PCT  (starting in six weeks!). Granted, I've backpacked all my life, starting with a shapeless rucksack from REI that saw me through many desert and mountain adventures, a behemoth Gregory weighing 7 pounds empty, and many packs in between. But a good pack can make or break the adventure. My hiking companions on the JMT last summer struggled with nerve impingement and shoulder issues for nineteen days, having made the wrong choice.  Once we had to stop fairly early because of this (although perhaps they just were sick of me urging them to make more miles).

I don't want to look like this!

I have three choices. My goals are to be able to keep up a moderate pace unburdened by too much weight, be comfortable, and to be able to organize my gear so I don't have to dump out the whole pack to find something (most likely, we will be in rain a lot of the time).

Exhibit A, The Heavy Hauler.

It's a Deuter ACT 65 Lite, the heaviest of the bunch. 3 lbs, 14 oz. 3900 cubic inches.

Pros: Comfortable. Sleeping bag compartment and two top pockets to keep gear separate. Tested on JMT so I know it works. The old style of pack, made for backpacking in all situations.

Cons: May be overkill for this hike, since I'm not carrying a bear canister--kind of big and difficult to carry as a day pack should the occasion arise to do some wandering from camp. Heavier than the others by far. If full, the top part can hit annoyingly on my head, forcing it down and causing neck strain. No external pocket for wet gear.

Exhibit B,  the Ultralight Pack. 3100 cubic inches. 1 pound 7 oz.

This is a Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Full Suspension.

Pros: So lightweight! Love the mesh outside pocket for wet gear. The time I've taken it out, with the same gear I will be taking minus extra food, toiletries and first aid, my entire load weighed 20 pounds. Has an inflatable sit pad that acts as a frame, which can be used as a pillow, sit pad at camp, etc. Good design, seems comfortable.

Cons: Largely untested on a long trip. Possible volume concerns with a week's worth of food. Unsure of comfort if going over 25 lbs. Probably will have stuff lashed to it, which isn't always a good thing. Sleeping bag in with rest of gear.

Exhibit C, the Medium Pack. Granite Gear Vapor Ki, 3600 cubic inches, 2 lbs 5 oz.

Pros: Moderately light; lighter than A.  Like the two side pockets for sorting gear. Have used it and know it works, though not on a long trip. Short and compact.

Cons:  Not as comfortable as A. Side pockets can be difficult to fill if the rest of the pack is full. Not sure about volume for seven days of food, but probably more volume than B. No external mesh pocket for wet gear. Sleeping bag in with rest of gear.

We will be hiking about 15 miles a day, sometimes more, and there really are very few bail-out points. I hope to have base weight (full pack without food and water) around 12 pounds, but it may be up to 15. On our longest leg without resupply, 100 miles, we will have about a week's worth of food.

The weight of the universe rests upon your answer! Vote now!


  1. Definitely not #3 if you already know it won't be comfortable.

    I would go for #2, but do a test pack with your max amount of food first.

    I have a comfortable, trusty big pack like #1 too, but if I were doing anything over 100 miles, I wouldn't hesitate to go out and get an ultralight pack instead.

  2. Thanks Ingunn! That's a good idea--to load it up. The food is what scares me; I eat A LOT.

  3. I would go with #2 also, but only if you have frequent water sources along the trail. That first day of the 7-day haul is going to be tight and heavy (10-12 lbs of food?), but it will be progressively easier after that. My frameless bag (similar to this one) is good for 5 days of food and fuel for one person. It's a dream at 20-25 pounds; I can feel the 30 pounds. It's 3900 cu in.

    I would load her up with the 7-day / 100-mile carry and go out for a night or two. I would get as close to the real thing as you can to see how it all packs in. Take photos and show us!

    #3 has better carrying capacity and will shrink as the bulk shrinks; too bad that you know it's not comfortable.

  4. #3 is comfortable enough, just not as much as the other two. If your pack, Allison, is 3900 CI and it is only good for 5 days, that makes me think #2 is too small? AAARGH

  5. Your #2 pack looks a lot like my Go Lite jam 50L that I've been testing out with dead weight, usually around 15-20 lb, on day trips recently. I'm hoping to test it for real in the Sierras next month. I applied for a permit on the High Sierra Trail, hoping to make a 3- or 4-day trip going out and back as far as I can (all the way to Whitney? One can dream. That would be 120 miles total.) So real backpacking. After that I'll have a better opinion on how I feel about using a frameless pack for fully self-supported overnight stuff.

    So far I think light and frameless is the way to go for any sort of running (or, more realistically, hiking/jogging combo.) It just feels more adjustable and well-fitted for bouncy movements. In a pinch the sleeping pad can be wedged around the back to provide more support. It will be interesting to see how I feel about it with a tent and a bear barrel; I'm pretty sure I can fit everything, but 30+ pounds is likely. I'm actually going to try to minimize food weight so I can pack a few more creature comforts (like the tent, and rain gear unless the forecast is superb.)

    Anyway, fun stuff. I'm excited now that I've finally committed to a solo backpacking trip this summer. It's not the JMT but it's a good first taste, and the trailhead permits were still available for the date I wanted. Just have to avoid Whitney Portal, but out-and-back will save me the headache.

  6. How fun, Jill! Where do you start from, Toulumne? (sp) I know you can easily do 120 miles in 4 days although that sounds hellish to me! Lots of people who hike the Sierras don't carry tents. We would not have needed them last year for the first ten days. After that it rained, but a tarp might have been sufficient. Don't minimize your food!!!!

  7. You start in Sequoia NP at Crescent Meadows. There's a good description here: Most people hike one way and exit at Whitney Portal, but the shuttle is monstrous, about seven hours one way. I'm still in the planning phases but I'm guessing the terrain and elevation will make a daily 50K pretty tough. Also, I'm not terribly excited about the prospect of a four-day solo trip. I'd prefer it to be two or three, but I would love to make it all the way to Whitney.

    Anyway, I guess this is my official vote for pack #2 since it so closely resembles my pack. I look forward to the feedback. :-)

  8. It depends on how smooshy your gear is. If it's bulky - forget it. You'll have stuff hanging off you like an Okie. (No offense to pioneers, nor people from Oklahoma.)

    My frameless pack is an Ohm and requires me "free stuffing" my sleeping bag in the bottom. It doesn't work if it's in a stuff sack. So I usually put it in a trash bag and smoosh it in there. I carry my tent on the outside mesh pocket and get all the other gear inside. Sometimes I take plattys (they go in the side pockets); sometimes I take a sucky tube bag. It works better with the plattys. The food bag is my beast. I am a good eater. I haven't tried it with a bear can yet.

    You can probably get 7 days into the bag, but it would be heavy; I would have to lighten my base weight to get there. I have room to spare with the collar extension. You might be ok with the smaller volume. There's only one way to know... :)

  9. I have a Granite Gear pack very similar to the Ki and I don't really like it over 25 lbs. I'm sure I wouldn't like the ultra-light bag over that weight either but if it would only be for a day or two that heavy it would probably be okay.

    I actually prefer to take my heavier pack (Osprey but looks similar to your pack #1) if I'm carrying a tent and/or doing lots of climbing.

    I don't think the pockets will be a big deal - at least they don't seem to make much of a difference to me.

    Of course if you have the time the best thing would be to do a practice session with the lighter packs and as close to the max weight you will have as you can.

    Did your pack #1 feel too heavy when you went last year? I would lean toward the tried and true.

    1. This is all something to consider. I know both 2 and 3 would not be as comfortable over 25,lb. 2 is, but the extra weight did slow me down and I need to preserve my much abused body. still thinking. maybe there is time to do a test with all three...darn the need to eat.

  10. I vote for #2 though I have a Gregory Jade that weighs about 3 pounds (50L) that I love and have been using recently. Yeah, if you're going to have to be a junk show lashing stuff to the outside of #2 it might be better to just get a larger volume pack.

  11. I'm all about comfort - even if the pack is one pound heavier. For me, the discomfort would magnify and be harder than the extra weight of the pack. So I'd go with your most comfortable pack. Depending upon how we figure out logistics at Steven's Pass, you could also have the pack you don't pick be with our food drop off there. That way you'd have a back-up pack to switch out if needed. Just a thought. Carol

    1. Good idea carol. I am going to load up 2 and 3 next weekend with gear I will be taking and see how that goes. isn't your pack a frameless?


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