Backpacks--A Buyer's Guide
by Paul Richins
(updated 8/4/02)

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Not many years ago the industry standard was the Kelty external frame backpack. Today, the external frame pack is still used but the internal frame pack is superior and is preferred for off-trail hiking, climbing and backcountry skiing. An internal frame pack holds the load close to the back. This reduces the tendency for the pack to shift on uneven or steep terrain thereby throwing the backcountry skier/hiker/climber off balance.

Today’s internal frame packs are superior to the packs of yesteryear. However, improvements with lightweight materials and designs are sorely needed. Today’s internal frame packs are so overbuilt and heavy, one wonders what the designers and marketers have been smoking. Packs weighing 6, 7 and 8 pounds don’t merit your consideration. Find a pack that weighs less than 5 pounds, preferably 4 pounds. A 4-5 pound pack with a 3 pound sleeping bag weighs less than many of the vastly overbuilt packs on the market today.

The situation is even worse for packs marketed for women. Women’s packs weigh nearly as much as the packs for men (some brands only about 4 ounces less) even though a woman typically weighs considerably less than a man. A woman’s pack weighs a whopping 5.6 % of a typical woman’s weight, whereas, a man’s pack weighs only about 4 % of an average man’s weight. For a woman’s pack to be comparable to a man’s pack relative to body weight, her pack should weigh about 2 pounds less, not 4 ounces less.

The challenge for the designers and manufacturers is to get the lead out! Utilize currently available lighter and stronger fabrics and materials to reduce the pack’s over-all weight. Develop new designs and methods. The designers should set a goal of reducing the weight of their backpacks by 25%!!! Secondly they should establish the goal of bring to market a light 4,500 to 5,000 cubic inch backpack that weights 4 pounds or less. I believe that this is a highly attainable goal as it has been accomplished by Cold, Cold World (see discussion below). The manufacturer that accomplishes this will be rewarded with a sizable market share for their product.

Randy Rackliff, the owner of Cold, Cold World Packs makes well designed, beautifully constructed single-day packs and multi-day packs. His are some of the best and lightest day packs available on the market. The Chernobyl is a 3000 cubic inch (50 liter) day pack that weighs less than 3 pounds. This pack is large enough and sturdy enough to handle a 3-4 day backpack trip or ski mountaineering trip with skis strapped to the pack for the approach. The Chaos is a 4,300 cubic inch (70 liter) pack that weighs about 4 pounds. Randy will customize one of his packs for your individual needs. Phone him at 603-383-9021. Cold,Cold World Packs, (Cold, Cold World, Carter Notch Road, Jackson, NH 03846) can also be purchased from Mountain Gear, phone 800-829-2009.

There are two other packs weighing less than 5 pounds that can be used for backpacker--the Mountainsmith Mountainlight and the Gregory Makalu Pro. See the review of these two packs by Dennis Roscetti.

Backcountry_Resource_Center--Paul Richins,Jr.

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