Monday, 4 April 2011

Gear Review: Choosing a Backpack

There’s a few things to consider when choosing a pack for your backpacking trip which often boils down to personal choice. Will you be moving around a lot? Will you be forgoing camping for staying in inns and hostels? Are you willing to do without some luxuries in the name of mobility? If you answered yes to all these questions you will want to get the smallest bag possible for your trip. You may have an instinct to go with a rolly suitcase to save your back from all that weight. Resist the temptation! Europe does not have the same accesibility standards as North America. The time you arrive at a hotel without an elevator (or with only a two-person closet elevator) you will be cursing your rolly suitcase all the way up five flights of stairs!

MEC Brio 70

I have two choices of bags. My first is my 70L Brio Pack from MEC. At only $109 this pack is great value for money. I took it on a 3 week Arctic tour last summer and it worked great for lugging my steel-toed rubber boots, winter jacket, sleeping bag and winter clothes. In this case a large pack was necessary because of all the field gear I needed for the Arctic. The internal frame and padded hipbelt in this pack make carrying a heavy load easier as it transfers weight to your hips. If I had to hike with this pack for any signficant distance I would opt for a more expensive and lightweight pack. The internal frame also makes it harder to stuff under a bus seat though.

Old MEC Alpine Crag

My second choice is my 30L Alpine pack from MEC. At only $30 this was a steal when I bought it three years ago. They have since re-designed the Crag pack lineup so if I were making the purchase now I would go with the pimped-out version for $65 - the floating lid and extra padding on the hip belt are great improvements on the bag. Alas I can’t justify buying the improved version when I still have the old one. This pack does not have an internal frame which means a lot of weight is carried on your shoulders however it’s easier to jump on and off the subway or stuff it under your bus seat.

MEC Pika Plus

I’m also bringing the 17L Pika Plus as a day pack / camera bag that I bought for $12 (!!). Initially I was going to bring a Lowepro camera bag but I feel like this will draw too much attention to potential camera theives. The Lowepro bag I have is a shoulder bag which also puts me off-balance when hiking. 

The common thread between these three bags is their simplicity. The simple design - as few zippers and seams as possible and thick sturdy fabric - both makes the packs cheap and durable (fewer zippers  = fewer zippers failing)! The top loading design makes them easy to stuff large amounts of gear and cinch it down without worrying about splitting a zipper.

I have about a week to decide if I should take my massive 70L bag or my mobile 30L bag. Can I fit everything I need for four weeks into a 30L pack?

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