With my first time backpacking, I had a choice: rent or borrow a pack that may or may not fit me well, or buy one that REI fitted to me with the option to return if I hated backpacking. It seemed like an easy choice!
Off to REI I went. As I mentioned in my post about my daypack, research will only go so far if you try a top-rated pack on and the fit is wonky. However, a few brands are often touted as the best for quality, so I had an idea of what to look for. Trying on a few off the rack, I noticed they all rubbed against the back of my head. Is it supposed to be like this? I thought. It was not comfortable, to say the least. Luckily, an employee arrived on the scene to help.
I informed her as I was only ever likely going to be backpacking for one night at a time, I’d likely need a small overnight pack, maybe 45 liters in size. She politely suggested I get a 50L pack or larger–turns out many new backpackers make this same mistake, but when you’re new, most of your equipment isn’t going to be the expensive-but-lightweight compact stuff, so even for shorter trips, you need more room compared to experienced through- hikers on a week long trip (spoiler alert–she was right!). She also got out a tool to measure my torso and informed me that despite being 5’6, I needed an XS-S height pack (my hips come up *high*). The ones I had been trying on were a ‘medium’ height, which explains the high back!
Sadly, the gorgeous turquoise Osprey pack I had my eye on was only in store in medium or large lengths–while I could have purchased it easily online in the right size, I really wanted to buy one in person to know the fit and feel. With my smaller torso, the employee grabbed the Deuter women’s ACT Lite 60+ 10L pack. These German packs are made in one adjustable size for all torso lengths. At first, I thought that seemed a bit janky, but Deuter is known for their quality, and I bet especially for couples with a baby carrier, changing the torso height needed is a godsend. The REI associate told me they’ve been making this same pack nearly identical for years, only occasionally changing the color, meaning they did it right the first time and haven’t needed to change any features.
REI has sandbags to mimic the feel of a pack when fully loaded. The employee loaded 35 pounds of sand into the pack, adjusted my straps, and told me to hit the store. I felt overwhelmed. I’m doing nine miles of THIS?, I thought as I trudged in inappropriate footwear up and down the massive store. After the initial shock wore off, I felt confident enough to make a purchase, convincing myself I’d be packing way less than 35 pounds (and not wearing Toms). The associate also taught me how to hoist my fully-loaded pack up–apparently it is very easy to hurt yourself if done improperly.
Once at home, I got a chance to check out the features. Unlike daypacks, most overnight packs don’t have a ton of bells and whistles–they are there to store as much of your stuff as possible as comfortably as possible. This typically translates to not a lot of compartments (packing cubes like these are a godsend for keeping things together), but the top and bottom compartments of the pack are well done. The bottom compartment can be zippered so it is cordoned off from the rest of the pack and accessed separately–handy if you know you need to find some gear quickly. Typically you want lighter weight items on the bottom (the pack also came with a guide on how to pack it properly), so I tried to stuff my definitely-not-compressible-or-lightweight sleeping bag in this compartment–it didn’t quite fit, but the bottom zipper allowed me to get in and shove my sleeping pad and pillow in next to my sleeping bag as tightly as possible.
The lid of the pack has the option to expand (hence the ‘+10L’ size). When backpacking for just one night at Cape Alava, I had my pack filled to the top and needed that extra 10 liters of space. However, on the way back I was able to consolidate a lot and no longer needed that space, so could just fold that part down and tighten the straps around it (another huge pro–the straps are all very easy to adjust). Regardless if using the ‘lip’ or not, the lid also has two different zipper compartments. I loved how flat they were–I used them for my NPS passport and wallet as well as other items (keys, sunscreen) I thought I’d be using more frequently during the journey.
There were other handy pockets and compartments–a mesh one on the outside to shove in extra layers was handy, and a space to slip in my 3L water bladder and connect the hose outside meant I could use the side bottle mesh pockets for a crowler of beer and fuel for our stove, respectively. You do need the bladder to be the very first thing loaded, and if refilling while hiking will need to empty the pack to do so, but that would be the case with most packs.
If there had to be a con, I’d say it’s the color. Yes, it’s stupid and stereotypical to want a pretty pack, but…I want a pretty pack. Deuter makes a different pack in a beautiful eggplant color, why not this one? They make it in the green/yellow or a light blue/dark blue combo. They only had green in the store, so I went with it as I knew it was already all adjusted for me. Even though I like the blue better, I’m glad I got the green–my other pack is green too, and I make it a point to not buy green tops so I don’t blend in or clash with my pack. The flower hair tie on a strap does help make it a little prettier.
Having only used the pack once, there’s still tons for me to learn about its features (and proper packing technique–no way it should have been filled for one night!). I let the boyfriendo carry the tent, but I’d bet lashing it to the bottom of the pack would be an easy way to free up space in the pack. I also have some room for improvement when it comes to adjusting–I will admit my shoulders were hurting by day two when the pack really should have most weight on the hips, so I need to use it more to get the hang of it (twist my arm). I’ll repeat it again–what pack worked for me might not work for you, so check out packs in person before you take my word that this is an excellent pack. I know it’s tempting when a gently used pack is a bargain in a Facebook used gear group, or there’s a killer online sale, but knowing in advance at least what your torso size needs to be is more vital than any deal. Luckily I loved backpacking, so this purchase should be worth every penny in the long run.
The pack retails for around $209 and can be found at REI, Amazon, and other outdoor retailers.
So, fellow backpackers–what pack do you use? What do you like about it most?