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JanSport Big Bear 63 Pack

Mini-review for the 2010 State of the Market Report on Internal Frame Backpacks.

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by Roger Caffin | 2010-09-28 00:00:00-06

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

Pack Rating Qualifications
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 Pack - 1
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.

  • Part 1A covers the very basics and lists all the packs in the survey.
  • Part 1B covers the frame and harness which carry the pack itself.
  • Part 1C covers the main bag and all the other pockets, plus the all-important question of comfort.
  • Part 2 in this series covers the individual packs tested.

Citation

"JanSport Big Bear 63 Pack," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/jansport_big_bear_63.html, 2010-09-28 00:00:00-06.

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Lightweight Internal Frame Packs: a State of the Market Report - Part 2: The Packs
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Coin Page
(Page0018) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern USA
External Frame Packs? on 10/18/2010 20:47:02 MDT Print View

Thanks for a nice review Roger.

Perhaps outside the scope of this review, but since the subject of external frame packs has come up: do you have any recommendations for lightweight, commercially available, external frame packs that capture your "H - frame" idea?

Back in the old days, my external frame pack and hip belt could shift almost all the weight onto my iliac crests, or alternatively, onto the greater trochanters.

I find now, with increasing age, a decreased tolerance for prolonged heavy loading of the L5-S1 disk, and the SI joints. Anything much over 20 lbs all day, no matter how it's distributed over the shoulders or the lumbar area, starts to hurt.

Some of the individual pack reviews and comments above suggest some of these packs come close, but it sounds like you think the external frame is better at overall comfort - issues of durability, fragility and standing up to heavy brush aside.

Am I on the right track here? Any advice. How can I get most of the load back on the sides of my hips - the iliac crests - and still go lightweight?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: External Frame Packs? on 10/20/2010 23:43:42 MDT Print View

Hi Coin

Sorry, but I don't have a simple answer for you. I think I noted somewhere in the review that my hips are rather narrow, such that many hip belts do not work very well on me. For this reason I have always preferred to carry the load on my back. This does *not* mean 'on my shoulders'.

With my design I find the load does go through the mesh on the back of the pack to the full area of my back. Frankly, I am not really sure why this works so well, but it does work for me.

I am sure that it won't work for many other people, and that a solid hip belt will work better for them. In this sense, fitting a pack to a person is very much like fitting a pair of shoes. I sigh (for the same reason) when I see someone ask 'what shoes should I buy' and then read a reply that they should buy SuperDucksMultiWeb shoes.

However ... I will offer the following advice - which is also in the Review somewhere. Try to buy a pack which matches your torso length, but do not buy a pack with a torso length which is too short. Better to have a pack torso length slightly longer than your torso length: that will throw the load onto your hips more effectively.

Even better: pick a pack in the right size with an adjustable torso length. Then fine tune over several trips how it fits you. Yes, I definitely give brownie points to packs with an adjustable torso length.

I also give brownie points to packs with a solid stiff harness or frame. Frameless packs are all very well if my total load is under 6 -8 kg. Over that the weight of the harness is far outweighed by the added comfort it brings. Now, I know this comment will attract numerous responses contradicting me and saying how wonderful a frameless pack is. Well, as with shoes ...

Can an external frame pack (like mine) stand up the 'heavy brush'? Chuckle. Trust me, the scrub in the Australian Blue Mountains (and in SW Tasmania) is definitely world class.

A commercial equivalent? Sorry - at this stage I cannot make a recommendation, because I don't know.

Cheers

Cameron Semple
(camS) - F

Locale: Brisbane, Australia
Shadow on 10/21/2010 06:43:52 MDT Print View

I had a look at a Shadow this evening at a local distributor. I liked the clean, no frills look. Didn't have time to load it up though. You mentioned the thick webbing used on the hip belt. I found it virtually impossible to tighten the belt once fitted. The webbing was so rough that it wouldn't pull through easily. Combined with the older style of pulling the straps out rather than into the middle.

Any ideas when the 2011 line of packs will be available? The Umbra looks interesting.

Edited by camS on 10/21/2010 06:45:49 MDT.

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
small manufacturers / osprey atmos on 10/21/2010 15:46:43 MDT Print View

Roger (Caffin):
Would any of the ultralight small manufacturers be interested in making your external frame sacks.

The osprey atmos 50/65 has a kind of all back mesh (for ventilation) but I think the gap between back and pack is bigger. I didnt like the shooulder straps.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: small manufacturers / osprey atmos on 10/21/2010 20:58:46 MDT Print View

> Would any of the ultralight small manufacturers be interested in
> making your external frame sacks.

I would be delighted if someone did want to.

Cheers

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
osprey exos possible equiv to Roger (Caffins) MYOG external frame on 10/22/2010 04:55:27 MDT Print View

Roger (Caffin):

Actually, from reviews, the osprey exos 46/58 looks better than the atmos, as still has kind of all back mesh (for ventilation) but the gap between back and pack seems smaller, and the rucsac storage looks less curved.

Perhaps you could borrow one and compare it (not using waist belt) against your external frame pack.

Coin Page
(Page0018) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern USA
External Frame Packs? on 10/24/2010 09:12:13 MDT Print View

Thanks Roger.

Yes, like finding well fitting shoes. But I did find those (wider), so I keep my optimism for finding the perfect pack for heavier loads. Thanks for the reminder/emphasis on torso length (longer for me).

The Aarn packs, and LuxerLite pack seem hopeful. Discussions of these packs over the last 5 years give lots of opinions both ways. I would love to hear from owners/users of these packs what they still think of them now.

Any other packs in this general class - lightweight with enough frame to transfer all the weight to my hips if I want to - that anyone thinks I should also consider? Any packs in the review above come close for a long torso?

Thanks.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: osprey exos possible equiv to Roger (Caffins) MYOG external frame on 10/24/2010 15:35:08 MDT Print View

Hi Alan

The survey covered both the Exos 46 and the Exos 58. Nice packs.

Cheers

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: External Frame Packs? on 10/24/2010 15:38:09 MDT Print View

Hi Coin

The survey lists the available pack sizes. I was testing Medium in just about everything, but many of them have a Large model available.

Which one to choose? Ahhh... Very personal. 'Every body is subtly different ...' as they say on the planes.

Cheers

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: External Frame Packs? on 10/25/2010 12:46:16 MDT Print View

"The Aarn packs, and LuxerLite pack seem hopeful. Discussions of these packs over the last 5 years give lots of opinions both ways. I would love to hear from owners/users of these packs what they still think of them now."

I have used both of these, and in both cases they are nice packs, but I ended up using them without the front pockets. They just didn't work for me. however, if you like front pockets, I find the LuxuryLite pocket (and frame) to be more functional and cooler. I also ditched the LuxuryLite cylinders and modifies a GoLite Gust to attach to the frame. Excellent volume and comfortable carrying. Note: the LuxuryLite pocket restricts you vision more than the Aarn. Also note, I have both of these for sale. If you are interested, shoot me a PM and we can negotiate a price.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
frogs ... on 10/26/2010 06:24:59 MDT Print View

just a note for others that the french site i-trekkings has done a similar test with packs in roughly the same weight and volume range

note how the Decathlon Forclaz 50 Ultralight scored very high in comfort and on score/price while being the cheapest and lightest pack

just shows you what can be done ..

just use google translater on the links below



http://www.i-trekkings.net/bibliotheque/articles/tests/sacados/Test-sacados_comparatif.pdf


http://www.i-trekkings.net/Xdossiers/dossiers.php?val=29_comparatif+sac+dos+30++50+litres

Edited by bearbreeder on 10/26/2010 06:28:48 MDT.

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
exos 58 usage with no load thru hip belt on 10/27/2010 15:08:48 MDT Print View

Roger (Caffin):

I checked the articles 1A-C,2 butt did not find a mention of testing the exos 58 with no load bearing via the hip belt i.e. a comparison against the way your your external frame myog pack is used.

Do you still have one for a hip-beltless comparison against your external frame pack.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: exos 58 usage with no load thru hip belt on 12/16/2010 20:22:34 MST Print View

Hi Alan

Sorry, this dropped off the radar for a while.
Unfortunately no: the Exos packs were farmed out to Australian readers.

Cheers

Eric Botshon
(Ebotshon) - F
Exos 46 on 07/12/2011 10:36:03 MDT Print View

The review mentioned that the osprey pack was closer to 40 than 46 liters.

Any chance this test was done with a size small pack instead of the medium? The smal torso length pack is smaller than the stated 46.

Willem knopper
(willem65) - MLife
Exos Frame on 09/08/2011 15:41:10 MDT Print View

I have tried the Exos and I find them to be to very ridged, the pack does not move with you (back) at all. I personally think they are really just a fancy external frame pack. I did like the idea of the air flow but was just very disappointed how it restricted your movement especially if you were to use it doing any walking other than on the flat.

Regards

Phillip Damiano
(Phillipsart)

Locale: Australia
Jansport Big Bear on 03/22/2012 21:42:44 MDT Print View

Roger mentioned in one of his comments here:
(Yes, we kept a few, for specific functions. The rest have been passed on to Australian & NZ BPL members (kept the postage down) for further field testing. I expect that they will provide some Reader Reviews in due course).

I'm one of those Australian BPL member, I've recently acquired one of the Jansport Big Bear 63 prototype packs of Roger.
The pack has only been in my possession for a few weeks now, tested on day hikes including some rock climbing.
The Harness is very comfortable and the material is very durable. I've tested this on a Off-track hike recently with very thick vegetation. I got scratches over me, the pack survived with no scratches.

I'm yet to test it out as a Overnight hike, but I can't see it causing any problems there. It's a nice pack. I do like the colour that the prototype pack was supplied in with the orange trims.

This is an on going review, I will keep you's updated on my findings on my next overnight hike, which is not for another 3 weeks from today. In a couple days, I've got a day hike I'm planning on, I will pack all my overnight hiking gear into the pack for a test to see how the pack feels with some weight in it. My base weight is just under the 8Kg. I'll add a few litres of water to that, making a total weight of 11kg.

So far, I like the pack. It's not exactly on the ultra light weight at just under 1.5kg but it does have a good frame and harness.Jansport Big Bear Prototype Pack

Edited by Phillipsart on 03/22/2012 21:51:42 MDT.

Phillip Damiano
(Phillipsart)

Locale: Australia
Re: Jansport Big Bear on 03/24/2012 19:33:34 MDT Print View

Packed my hiking gear into the Jansport Big Bear pack yesterday and went for a walk around the block with apx 12kg load. Pack is comfortable, enough room for 5 or 6 days of food. No complaints.

Will be continuing wearing the pack with my gear on daily hikes for the next couple of weeks as training for an upcoming 3 day overnight hike in some steep terrain.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
"Pocket Man" on 06/14/2012 21:41:39 MDT Print View

I own an older - and IMHO better - version of the REI Flash 60. It's the REI Cruise UL 60 (2nd model). That pack absolutely NEEDED side pockets. Fortunately REI had "aftermarket" pockets at that time, but no longer.

I like side pockets because they store stuff I may need quickly like 1st aid kit, water treatment kit, toilet kit, potty kit, and things I don't want inside my pack
Like stove stuff including fuel. (For ex., ESBIT tabs smell fishy -like two other things I know of. ;O)

My REI pockets add 400 cu. in. each and make the pack "complete" in my dinosaur mind. Yeah, I'm a geezer and like exterior pockets. As another poster said of the Ospey EXOS that front "shovel" pocket is nice and can hold that wet tent, etc. Same goes for my Cruise UL 60 - which should really be called the "UL 50" - sorta like many post-recession 401-K funds should really be called "201-K" funds.

SPIRIDON Papapetroy
(spotlight) - F
Osprey Exos on 09/09/2012 21:15:47 MDT Print View

Has anyone had pain in the part of the body where the lower part of the frame touches it. I am a bit worried because it doesn't have any padding.