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M Light Packs for Heavy Loads: State of the Market Report

by Chris Townsend

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Article Summary:

Back in 2000, I was looking for a pack for along the Arizona Trail that would handle up to 65 pounds (30 kilograms) reasonably comfortably, as I would be carrying three gallons of water and a weeks food at times. Lightweight packs available back then couldn't carry that amount of weight without hurting, and after trying several, I ended up taking my old Gregory Shasta, despite the weight of 6.9 pounds (3.15 kilograms), knowing that it would be comfortable with heavy loads. Fast forward four years, and I was planning a 500 mile hike in the High Sierra on which I would carry ten days food at one point. With bear canister and camera gear as well, that meant a maximum load of 45-50 pounds (20-23 kilograms), though mostly I would be carrying 30-35 pounds (14-16 kilograms). Large volume lightweight packs had appeared by then, and I chose one of these - a GoLite Trek weighing an ultralight 34 ounces (970 grams) with a basic capacity of 4088 cubic inches (67 liters) and a maximum capacity of 5614 cubic inches (92 liters). The Trek was easily big enough for the ten day load, but the simple lightweight back system - an unpadded hipbelt and a soft, thin padded back - was inadequate for the weight, and I had the choice of crushing my shoulders or my hips. I partly solved the problem by cutting the corners off my foam pad and duct taping them to the hipbelt for extra cushioning. What this somewhat painful experiment showed me was that for heavy loads, a pack with a substantial supportive was still needed. I'd have been much more comfortable with the Shasta, despite it weighing over three times as much as the Trek. As lightweight backpacking has grown in popularity, the challenge for pack makers has been whether they could reduce the weight of packs for big loads from the 5.5 to 6.5 pounds (2.5-3 kilograms) average, to something that could be called lightweight. Happily, several have done so, and in this feature I look at what's currently available.

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