For winter hiking, you need to bring more layers (and more food!) compared to a summer hike. I’m an over-preparer and in addition to an extra jacket, I like to have an extra hat, gloves, and socks as well. There’s no way my 18L hydration daypack would hold all of that–it’s recommended to have a minimum of a 25L-sized pack for winter hiking. So to REI’s sale section I went!
Normally, I prefer to buy a pack in person at REI and have them fit it to me in store. But when you have a 25% off coupon for their online Garage…you jump. I narrowed it down to two packs and purchased both for testing. First up was the Gregory Maya 32L pack.
Like many packs, this pack came with its own rain cover. While you can easily use any cover (including a garbage bag!), having one come with the pack guarantees fit (and in this case, it’s also a color coordinated cover!)–nothing like panicked checking every quarter-mile to make sure the cover is still on. Rain covers are especially important in winter to ensure your stuff stays dry from melting snowfall.
I also loved how this pack had side pockets for water bottles. During cold winter hikes, hydration tubes can freeze, so it’s important to have water in something with a greater surface area like a Nalgene. The bottle pockets in this pack were so big, I was able to fit two cans of cider in one pocket! There are still pockets in place for a hydration bladder if needed. Another feature of this pack I loved was the side zipper for easier access to the body of the pack. Besides a small top pocket for valuables, the water bottle pockets, and a large mesh outside pocket, this pack has the one giant compartment for most of your things (common for packs this size), making it easy for the one thing you need to end up buried at the bottom of the pack. But the side pocket circumvents that issue and lets you easily get in and find what you need. Even with my rain cover on, I was able to just pull the cover up a little bit and easily get to my gaiters and microspikes via the side pocket, instead of dealing with the (super) cumbersome top of the pack. With that…
A few features of the pack made me hesitate on declaring it the winner just yet. The biggest drawback to me had to be the opening of the pack. The main compartment is accessed from the top. However, the closure is unusual. Instead of a buckle closure that snaps, it is this big metal hook that you have to jam into the tight fabric eye closure. While I am sure with more use the hook will fit in easier, it was not a peach to deal with on first use. Also, when the latch is not closed (like when filling the pack, carrying it around when not closed, etc.) you have this big, heavy metal clip dangling around and bumping into everything. Not a fan!
Another con is hopefully easier to work around. The hipbelt is somewhat static–you clip it and then adjust on only one side. However, where the hipbelt pocket is located was inconvenient–I kept bumping my arm on it and snagged my favorite shirt a good five times on it. Even after I closed the zipper I still was snagging my shirt on it and had to spend the rest of the hike with my arm bent like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz to not cause further damage. Obviously that won’t bother everyone, as the pack will fit everyone differently, but if I keep this pack, I’m going to have to find some solution for this.
One last feature I couldn’t tell if it was a pro or a con. The pack has no internal frame. It was annoying in that the pack won’t stand up straight on its own, and without knowing for certain my straps were perfectly adjusted, I wasn’t sure if I had all of my weight distributed right or not–a frame might have helped with that. They claim their BioSync suspension automatically shifts weight of the gear carried as the pack is worn, flexing and moving for comfort, so maybe I just need my straps adjusted. The no frame thing could be a plus–my hydration daypack with a frame is very narrow at the bottom, making it hard to ‘stuff’–this pack was perfectly round at the bottom, making fitting in everything and having room to spare be a breeze. Having a pack directly on your back isn’t terrible in the winter, where retaining heat is a plus.
The jury is still out on this pack–I’ll be trying out candidate #2 soon. The Gregory Maya 32 retails for around $149 full price, but right now is on sale in REI’s Garage for $111.