JanSport are part of the VF Outdoor, Inc. This in turn would seem to be a subsidiary of VF Europe B.V.B.A. which has its head office in Belgium. This seems to be an acquired collection of outdoors companies which includes The North Face. Comparing JanSport with The North Face suggests that JanSport is very much more 'consumer-oriented' than The North Face.
Testing the JanSport pack did not go smoothly at first. We were sent an early prototype unit somehow (lying around the warehouse?), and found that the webbing slipped through the buckles at a truly alarming rate when under load. Also the measured volume was far below the claimed volume. We reported this to the company with some concern, and the company was very apologetic and replaced the pack quickly. Unfortunately the replacement was another early prototype with the same problems! Eventually we were able to contact the 'right' manager in the company to discuss this. The conversation was interesting at first, as he was looking at much later versions of the design than we had in front of us. Eventually we managed to sort all this out, and he sent us a 'latest' version. Yes, it had many significant differences and was much improved! The weight had gone up above the initial claim, the measured volume now matched the claimed value, and the buckles worked properly. I think the manager then went off the clean out all the failed prototypes from the warehouse to prevent future problems.
This problem is why the left hand photo (below) is not the one on the JanSport website. That photo (at the time of writing) illustrated the first pack we were sent: quite different from the final version which is shown here. In due course I imagine they will update their website.
JanSport Big Bear 63 Pack
|Big Bear 63||Average||Rugged and low cost|
The main bag easily held all of the Test Gear and could hold more - a far cry from the first version which only held about 47 L. Some of the extra volume is due to a distinct widening at the base, where 'Sleeping Bag' is written on the zip cover at the left hand side. I found that it paid to tighten up the side compression straps after I had packed the main bag, and this was best done with the pack lying down. The tighter packing this gave seemed to improve the 'carry' a bit.
JanSport Big Bear 63, 1.63 kg (3.60 lb), 64 L (3900 cuin).
While the lid pocket is not that large - maybe 2 - 3 L when the pack is full, the back pocket manages to have a serious volume of about 4 L even when the main bag is full, and is included in the measured volume. Using the back pocket for something heavy would be a very bad idea of course, but you could put light things in there. There's a small mesh pocket outside the back pocket at the top with a zip closure: what you are meant to store here I have no idea. There's also a zig-zag of bungee cord across the back. The side pockets are very tough mesh but only of medium height. I wouldn't store anything tall in them, unless it was tall enough to be restrained by one of the side compression straps. They would be fine for holding tent poles.
The fabric feels quite tough, seeming like a good packcloth - 600 denier polyester for the most part. The seams have tape sewn over them in the usual way. The mesh side pockets are very tough stuff. The padding on the back and shoulder straps is not thick but feels quite adequate. The lid is sewn on but the zip on the lid pocket does not have a cover flap. You'll need a pack cover I think - but so do most packs. One negative is that the throat is only just long enough to close over the main bag, without any extension. However, the lid does cover that very well. The other negative is that there is no compression strap under the lid. If you want to tie a (wet) tent or something under the lid, no luck. On the other hand, the lid design is good and it should retain a tent stored under it anyhow. Perhaps tie a safety cord between the tent and the pack?
Where this packs really scores is in the harness design. It has a fully adjustable sliding harness of the old variety: two aluminium stays which carry the shoulder straps on sliders. The stays are just hidden by the load lifter straps in the middle photo. By unlatching the lumbar pad, you access an adjustment buckle, and with that you adjust the shoulder strap position by up to 80 mm (3+ in). This means you can adjust the torso length (shoulder strap anchor position) on this pack to match your needs. However, I doubt that a really tall person would find the torso length adequate: it seems designed for short to middle height people. This could include a lot of teenagers of course. (The original pack actually had a long torso length, which was better.) I will forgive a lot of minor deficiencies for this adjustability. Oh - and the sternum strap is long enough and does not include that stupid whistle.
That does not mean everything is immediately perfect however. The harness is adjustable and needs to be adjusted to suit the wearer. Doing so is not hard but may take a couple of cycles, and maybe a bit of understanding. What that means is that, despite the mass-market nature of the company, this is not a pack which should be left to a novice to adjust. That may not be a problem if you buy this pack in a good gear shop with a properly trained assistant who can properly do all the adjustments - and show you how to manage them all. So this pack, while more adjustable than most, seemed to also require a bit more careful adjustment than most.
The hip belt feels stiff, but I suspect this is deliberate to make it ride on your hips properly. It does this quite well. There are no hip belt pockets, which is fine. The lumbar pad can be folded away from the pack, but that is only to allow access to the torso-length adjustment. The hip belt is fixed - sewn in place. That's fine.
It's not a fancy pack, but it is not expensive either, and it is tough. An obvious target market would be novice young walkers just getting into the game.
This is a mini-review in the 2010 Lightweight Internal Frame Pack State of the Market Report. The articles in this series are as follows (mini-reviews can be found in Part 2), and a subscription to our site is needed to read them.