Monday, January 24, 2011

The Work Horse-A Look At Backpacks

A backpack is just the means used to transport gear down the trail.

Ranging upwards of $400 to refurbished thrift store finds, many people mistakenly view this theoretically simple device as a status symbol.

Brand names, whether they function well, are preferred over simple home made items for the image it projects. One guy, having looked over my packless system, and remarked,"Well you don't have to worry about anybody steeling it cause it doesn't look like its worth anything."

Which does bring up an important subject, Theft, or Vandalism.

Here's the gist of pages Icould write:

Horror stories abound: pack left near fence, guy in pick up truck loads it up driving away with it.Hiker buys all new gear to replace it.

Pack left on trail while hiker goes for water down steep embankment, bears rifle through it.

Left full of stuff leaning against the wall in an Appalachian Trail shelter, by morning overrun with newborn mice.

Pack flies off back of truck while hiker rides in cab, unawares.

My Pack less system utilizes the external frame, my ruck sack utilizes no frame, and my internal frame has been stripped of all non essentials to produce a sub two pound pack.Your pack is the closet where your lifeline is kept.

I always make a pack in natural, or stealth colors. Being able to blend into your environment is a safety as well as aesthetic issue.

The External Frame
Based on a rigid aluminum rack with shoulder pads and hip belt, the external frame is used by Sherpas heading up to Everest, mountain climbers, and old timers. Youth groups often utilize the external frame because they last forever and can be adjusted for fit via the attachment pins and holes bored into the frame for that purpose.
If you can find a frame at a thrift store that fits you, strip off the heavy or worn out pack material, use it for a pattern and make a new ultralight back to fit the frame. Or else, follow the YouTube video embedded above and configure what I refer to as a packless system.
To read more about it, visit my

home page where a link and photos will tell all, including review after months on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Internal Frame

These are very popular, easy to use, colorful. Campmor, REI, Walmart, and hundreds of gear shops will keep you busy checking out all the features. Generally, you'll carry one pound of pack for every 1,000 cubic inches available. Fit is all important here. You still want the weight carried primarily on your hips. Even the strongest of guys, toting a weeks worth of food and water through the desert will find the shoulders just aren't designed for that kind of weight.
Look for reinforcements and careful stitching, especially where the stays are embedded into the pack. I repaired a friends pack when one stay ripped through the top fabric, collapsing one half of the pack's support. A heavy duty needle and dental floss, super glue for sealing edges will aid in this procedure. You can also harvest reinforcement web strapping from the end of the shoulder strap, heat sealing to prevent fraying.

We plan to do a whole week of blogs on gear repairs in February. Stay tuned.

Don't be in a rush to buy an expensive pack. If you're ordering online, check the return policy, check the self measuring advice, assess how much space you really need. Visit a store just to look around before you drop serious cash.

The Ruck Sack (No Frame)

You can make a no frame ruck sack backpack with just basic sewing skills.

This pack weighs nine ounces, and it was the first one I ever made. It successfully handled all my gear for my Thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. The basic concept is two concentric stuff sacks, one fitted inside the other, stitched sides and bottom to form external pockets.
There are plenty of patterns online for making your own pack as well.
Again, needle and thread, super glue and electrical tape make trail side repairs possible.
Depending on your trail, there will be times you'll need the capacity for 12- 15 pounds of food, up to 6 quarts of water, or cold weather gear. You can cinch on various stuff sacks, or expand the top to accommodate this. When shopping for a pack, look for built in anchor points for these sacks.
In my travels I've met long distance hikers who used an ultralight backpack without a hip belt. They adopted the fanny pack as a way to support the seriously loaded pack. My experience with that showed me to be sure the fanny pack was fully loaded so that in essence it provided a "shelf" upon which the main backpack would rest, thus taking a lot of the weight burden off the shoulders. A word to the wise: be prepared and you will enjoy your trail.

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