Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Perfect Pack Size Struggle

A pair of 35L packs
If you’re like me, then you are always on the lookout for another new pack; one that is the perfect size for your style of backpacking. Granted, your pack requirements change a bit from season to season; but, I always seem to want a lighter pack, that is still rugged, and can hold my gear with no room to spare.

For years, I always tried to force myself to go lighter and pack less by using a 30-35 L backpack. That sort of worked - I packed less stuff (at least inside my pack); but the pack would end up loaded to the gills, with accessories strapped all over the outside. The pack was less comfortable due to the overpacking, and I always seemed to want just a little more space.

Next came a 40L pack, which didn’t change too much - maybe a little more gear in the pack and less strapped outside. It carried better though. But not quite enough space to do 4-5 days of hiking with ease.

Osprey Talon 44
When I got my Talon 44, I felt like I was close to nailing the compromise between lightweight pack with sufficient carrying capacity. Everything fit inside nicely (including bear canister), with only my sleeping pad strapped below it. It was
n’t stuffed to the bursting point, and carried well up to 40 lbs (with food, fuel, and full water bladder). Over time, I have learned to travel with less gear, too, which has helped. But, for winter camping I sometimes think about how nice a 50L pack would be.

Then something unexpected happened…I decided to assemble a bug-out-bag (BOB). The interesting thing was that I had a different mindset from the start - this was not going to be a backpacking gear list, it would be more for survival. However, I figured that I could prepare the bag with some of my extra camping gear, and plan for more than just the bare minimum of 72-hr bug-out gear.

SnugPak Sleeka Force 35
So, I went back to a 35L pack to start with. I threw in a small 45-degree sleeping bag, plus a reflective bivvy; and added a small one-man tent (maybe overkill for a BOB). Strapped an spare Z-lite pad on the bottom. Included a small first aid kit, survival kit and minimal tool sack. A Sawyer mini-Squeeze filter and a 1.5L reservoir were added for water, along with a Stanley Mountain Vacuum Cook System with an Esbit cooker (or there’s room for my usual alcohol stove). That still left room for some toiletries, a poncho, and emergency wind-up radio. After adding a gallon-size zip-lock with three days food supply, I stood back and scratched my head.

That was basically my typical three-four day camping gear…in a 35L pack…with a little room to spare…WTF?

In essence, by thinking of survival only, I was able to strip some additional non-essential gear from my normal packing list - I re-prioritized things and easily dropped my pack weight and size. Okay, with a winter sleeping bag and my bear canister, the 35L pack would be maxed out again; but, my 44L pack would be more than enough. Where did I put that 40L bag?

I guess the question is: will I slowly return to adding more unnecessary gear to my pack over time, or will I maintain the minimalist pack? Only time will tell…but, I’ve stopped dreaming about 50L packs altogether…now it’s 40L packs with molle attachments for winter gear.

I guess that I’m never satisfied with the status quo.

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