View Full Version : pack dilema - light vs heavy pack

11-13-2013, 14:36
Has anyone found that despite trying a whole bunch of packs over the years, the one you find most comfortable and want to take is the heaviest?
A little background. I'm 6'6" and skinny and have a 22 to 23 inches torso which is on the edge of many pack manufacturers. I backpack monthly anywhere from 15 to 70 miles. My baseweight with a 5 lbs backpack is still usually less that 20lbs except in winter. I carry a 2lb tarptent and overall light gear. I'm going in the next 3 to 4 years to try a AT thru hike.
When I first got into backpacking and didn't know what I was doing I got an aether 85. I used that for a long time but as I learned and lightened up it is too big.
I tried a gregory z55 on one trip and that was aweful. Something about the pack was making part of my leg go to sleep and hurting my lower back. I sold that pack.
I then tried a ula cataylst. I used that for a year but it never liked it and got rid of it recently. I found the hipbelt and pronounced lumbar pad focused the weight on your lower back and was just not comfortable especially recently.
The ula circuit but that had the same problem. I tried a couple lighter weight osprey packs (atmos65, exos 58) but returned them after walking about the neightborhood; the exos was a little too short and the atmos once again was uncomfortable on my lumbar.
This year I tried the new 2013 model osprey aether 70 that they make in xl. This is by far and away the most comfortable pack I have used. I probably have 150 miles on it so far. It just flat out fits and the hipbelt is so comfortable, it does not irritate my back and the way the shoulder straps fit is perfect.
I also tried a crown vc 60 this year and that is the only other pack besides the aether that I have found I can stand to wear. I've used it about 55 miles and am keeping it but I still like the aether better. I'm considering the aether 60 as well for summer when the 70 is too much space.
Anybody else go through lots of packs only to come back to the fact that the big heavy one is the one that works for you?

Tipi Walter
11-13-2013, 14:39
The pack is the most personal individual piece of gear for a backpacker cuz it is worn as much or more than boots and has to transport serious weight for weeks at a time. If you find a pack you like and it's big enough to carry what you need and can haul weight w/o discomfort, well, you've answered your own question.

11-13-2013, 14:43
You are in a great position by having all that experience with different packs. I think you know the answer to question of weight vs comfort. The answer is comfort.

I am fortunate that I found a very light pack that was comfortable as well, the ZPacks Arc Blast. My Osprey pack only serves as a loaner. I never wear it anymore. I have a ULA Catalyst that I use for trip where I need more capacity but it just doesn't ride as well as my ZPacks.

Just like shoes, everyone has a different fit.

11-13-2013, 16:14
I agree with Chin and Tipi. Choosing the right pack is a very personal choice. All I will add to it is that what you put in your pack also plays a role. A pack might be comfortable at a certain weight but become very un-comfortable at a higher weight. I love my golite Jam but I'm an ultralighter who has to carry an extra 20 pounds of food for my family when hiking. At 30 pounds the Jam becomes much, much less comfortable than it is at even 25 pounds and it's a dream (for me) at 20 pounds or less. If I had the money, the kids carried their own food and knowing what my pack contents weigh I would try to get a zpacks frame pack as I believe that's more comfortable than my frameless Jam.

Bottom line: do what's comfortable for you - don't worry about the weight as much.

11-13-2013, 16:37
I completely understand where you are coming from. I tried really hard to go to a UL frameless pack. I tried a few different ones, but just never found one that I found as comfortable as my Osprey framed pack. I'd dropped weight on most of my gear, but continue to take a frame pack because I feel less fatigue at the end of the day by carrying an extra pound or so frame in my pack.
But, this is a very personal preference. Everyone has a different idea of comfort and what works for them.
btw....I love the Aether packs. So...very...comfy.

11-13-2013, 17:07
yeah, sometimes I feel the way some die hard ultralighters talk they make it sound like you will fly or something if you have a lightweight pack. 20 or 25 lbs is still like carry 4 bricks on your back. I guess I've reached a point where obsessing over 2 or 3 pounds in the instrument that has to carry those 4 bricks it is not worth it. I'm all for lightening everthing else but at the end of the day I like a good hipbelt and frame and the aether has both.

11-13-2013, 17:13
IMO, a comfortable pack is much more important than being light. My first pack was also a Gregory, don't know how anyone can wear them, killed my back. I now have a Deuter ACT 65+10 lite, REI Flash 65 & 50 and a Granite Gear Crown 60. I'm okay using any of these for a few days but the GG Crown 60 is by far and away my favorite, have about 1200 miles on it now and it's still in good shape.

Odd Man Out
11-13-2013, 19:02
Can I ask a follow-up related Q? If comfort is so critical, how does one assess the comfort of all these highly regarded packs (ULA, ZPacks, etc) that are not available to try out in person at a retail store (at least not where I live)?

11-13-2013, 19:14
Can I ask a follow-up related Q? If comfort is so critical, how does one assess the comfort of all these highly regarded packs (ULA, ZPacks, etc) that are not available to try out in person at a retail store (at least not where I live)?

It's really tough. IMO just trying them on at the store is only minimally helpful. Heck, hiking a day in one might not give you the whole picture. The expert at the store might get the fit perfect but it might kill you on the trail. It's kinda a crapshoot.

Again, the analogy to footwear is solid. It takes time to know if you got the right one.

11-13-2013, 19:37
If I were you I would modify a light pack to make it fit rather than use a 5 pound pack to carry 15 pounds.

11-13-2013, 20:51
I find how much I put in the pack has a lot more to do with comfort than the pack itself.
Of course my heavy pack weighs about 2 lbs.

11-13-2013, 20:58
I have the same problem being 6'4" and a 24" torso. I couldn't find anything comfortable. So I made my own pack, about 50 L but thats too big. I am modifying it down to 32L or so with more in the roll top closure. I used a Osprey hip belt and 2 aluminum stays to carry up to 35 lbs so far. I weighs just about 2 lbs.

11-13-2013, 20:59
I then tried a ula cataylst. I used that for a year but it never liked it and got rid of it recently. I found the hipbelt and pronounced lumbar pad focused the weight on your lower back and was just not comfortable especially recently.
The ula circuit but that had the same problem.

These packs dont have a pronounced lumbar pad, they have virtually no pad.
I suspect that you, like many other heavy pack users, tried them but did not not bend the stays to match your back shape closely.

Pack choice is personal. If you like something, use it. Pretty simple. Heavier packs make heavier loads feel lighter. Nothing wrong with it.
At the end of the day, get all your other gear as light as you can, and it will make little difference if you are carrying 23 lbs in a 2 lb pack, or 25 lbs in a 4 lb pack.

But if you keep the same philosophy of a heavier object being better for everything, pretty soon you have a 40 lb pack while others are toting 25 around. Nothing wrong with that either, you will just be slower. There isnt any race.

11-13-2013, 23:10
I have to disagree. The catalyst has two stays sewn into a foam back panel and another thick piece of foam. The stays come together at the bottom and this unit tapers to about 5 inches wide and 1.5 to 2 inches thick at the bottom right in your lumbar area. True, it is not a separate lumbar pad, just part of the frame but it is a stiff piece of material in the small of your back none the less. I really wanted to like that pack but it was just never comfortable for me.

I'm not saying heavier is better for everything. God knows I've tried quite a few packs, as many as my wife will put up with. I wish there was super comfy 2 pound pack for my body at 25 to 30 lbs but I haven't found it yet. If I find it I would use it. The GG crown is the closest I have come but the heavier pack still just fits and carries better.

11-14-2013, 09:41
I feel your pain, mankind117. I'm a tall (5'10) female and have tried on countless packs, men's and women's, looking for something that fit right and it has been very frustrating. What I have is a 5 lb. 10 oz. Gregory Deva, which fits and carries better than everything else I have tried--so far. It's still not perfect but the best as of yet. I made a lot of gear mods to make up for it and its been fine for my weekend trips, but I'm planning to be out 1-2 weeks on the AT in June and would love something that works better and yes, is lighter.

11-14-2013, 11:43
I feel your pain,...... What I have is a 5 lb. 10 oz. Gregory Deva

Oh my, my big 4 weighs less than your pack.

11-14-2013, 12:14
Oh my, my big 4 weighs less than your pack.

I hate you! ;)

Another Kevin
11-14-2013, 12:20
Oh my, my big 4 weighs less than your pack.

Showoff. Or rather, going that light is both expensive and demanding. I've made a few concessions for the sake of both price and comfort. My tent is pretty fair, it's my newest piece of gear. (TarpTent Notch - 26 oz.) I use a 20į bag for three seasons.It's just 650 down. I couldn't afford the fancy 850+ stuff when I got it. If I did long-distance hiking, I'd get a dedicated summer bag and trim off about a pound there. I use a full-length ThermARest ProLite. My old joints thank me for it. A hip-length pad would save a few ounces, but a good night's sleep is totally worth the ounces.

My pack isn't the lightest by any means: it's an old ALPS Orizaba (64 litre). It carries well on me, but everyone's body is different. Since it has an adjustable torso length, my daughter tried it once, shortening it to fit her. She absolutely hated it, and went back to her Gregory Deva, which is two pounds heavier (!) but carries well on her. In the summer I could make do with a smaller pack, but I figure that in cooler weather I can really use the room. I don't like lashing stuff to the outside of the pack. About the only thing that rides outside for me is my blue foam pad (which goes under my ThermARest in cold weather.), and my traction gear and snow shovel when I'm carrying them. Part of the reason for not liking to hang stuff outside is that I do some amount of bushwhacking and things that are outside tend to turn into confetti. That's another point in favor of the Orizaba, too: it's tall, deep and narrow, so it doesn't tend to overhang on either side, and doesn't get caught on things nearly as easily.

The result is that my Big Four are about 9.5 pounds, probably twice yours. (That includes pack cover, pack liner, and the stuff sacks for sleeping bag, sleeping pad and tent.) It works for me for weekends. Hardly ultralight, but not crazy heavy for my style of hiking.

Disclaimer: I probably have less than 500 miles on the Orizaba. As opposed to my daypack, which I'd guess has at least 1500-2000 miles on it, and which is also heavier than people would advise. But IT FITS ME.

So I'm with the people who are telling you: if a pack holds all your gear and is comfortable enough that you can carry it all day, it's a winner. Whatever it weighs.

11-14-2013, 12:46
You want to go with the lightest pack that holds all your gear AND FITS YOU. That last bit is important. If the heavier pack works best for your body, the heavier pack is what you should use. Lightness is a means to an end (comfortable hiking), not an end in itself.

11-14-2013, 13:47
Oh my, my big 4 weighs less than your pack. No doubt, Chin! I'll actually be looking at some other packs this weekend on my trek to the closest REI: 2.5 hours away. Wish me luck! Maybe I should take AnotherKevin's daughter with me.. ;) Seriously, I think there is a hole in the women's lighter pack market.

Just Bill
11-15-2013, 09:52
The baseweight you describe ( 20lbs) isnít low enough for many lightweight packs, although to be fair five pounds of it is your pack as you mention. A goal I tell folks is 15lbs FSO. A quart of water (2.2lbs), fuel(8oz) , and food (6 days x 2lbs) brings you to the magical 30lb number. That number is the limit of a frameless pack, and often the comfort limit of lightweight internal frame packs. This problem is confounded for folks like yourself outside the ďaverageĒ body type. Even though the Osprey is an internal frame pack- these days there are really two classes- UL internal frames (Zpack, ULA, etc.) and traditional internal frames (Osprey, Gregory, etc).
If you look at your preferred pack- the Aether 70- you can see that even staying within the series and trying to drop weight by switching to the 60L- saves you zero. Fabric isnít what makes it heavy. An UL internal frame has fewer bells and whistles and a lighter build, a traditional has a serious frame/pad system and all the heavy bells and whistles. Clips, straps, pockets and zippers outweigh the fabric.

Option 1-
Do nothing. Comfort is king, itís not a race, as long as you are happy and on the trail who cares how you do it. Do not underestimate option 1.

Option 2-
Keep the gear you like, stick with the frame system that works (Osprey Aether). Trim off the bells and whistles. Your gear is UL minded? Most UL packs can be in the 30L range, easily 50L. What are you doing with all the extra space? Remove the hood (could be a pound+ right there especially when you see the dreaded ďlumbar packĒ), all the straps to hold on the magical hood, all the compression straps and other features you donít need. Apply UL thinking to the frame you like and remove the rest. Likely you can get that pack to the low 3 lb range- now you are only paying a 1lb penalty for comfort vs. a 2 pound UL internal frame. After that experiment heavily with how you load your pack.

Option 3- (what you donít want to hear or may not care about)-
Re-access if you really are UL, and if you want to be. 10lb base load, 15lb FSO. Those magic numbers are the gateway to making an UL pack work- frame or not. You have time to figure it out- the only reason to pick a camp is so that you donít have to feel bad about your final choice. Tipi, AK, and others have made a conscious choice to carry more, so they donít feel bad about it. Sounds like youíre still on the fence?

Option 4- (What nobody wants to hear)-
The best internal frame is your internal frame. You donít need to have a six pack, but being Joe Six-Pack is half the problem. I have a bad back, and had to do lots of PT to correct it. Along the way I found Pilates, yoga, and other exercises that have dramatically increased the strength of my internal frame pack. 90% of pack fit issues can be corrected before you even select a pack. When your core muscles provide the support, you can use an 8 ounce pack. I donít look like a fitness model- but I do have acceptable core strength. Itís not fun by any means- but moving the frame from your pack to your body is really the key to making a frameless internal frame pack work. A frame is required no matter what- the only difference between the packs is where you choose to carry that frame.

Best of luck.

11-21-2013, 12:30
You are right the damn lid on the aether 70 weight 9 ounces by itself. That is one thing that annoys me. They could easily make the pack probably a pound lighter and keep the suspension pretty much the way it is. Get rid of the extra zippers, who actually uses the bottom zipper, they could probably use a little lighter fabric and make the straps smaller, oh well, one can keep dreaming.

Another Kevin
11-21-2013, 19:08
Tipi, AK, and others have made a conscious choice to carry more, so they don’t feel bad about it.

Unlike TW, I'm not totally bullheaded about being a traditionalist. But I surely don't have a goal to get down to a specific number on pack weight. My hiking style doesn't suit ultralight. So I guess I agree with option 3. (I definitely agree with Option 1!) I'm a short-sectioner, peak-bagger, bushwhacker, not a long-distance trail hiker. I carry a hardshell jacket, nylon hiking pants, and over-the-calf gaiters - because on about a third of my hikes, anything less robust would turn to trail confetti. I carry much more water than an UL'er, because while water sources are plentiful where I go, they always seem to be a thousand feet of elevation below me - I'd rather carry an extra liter or two than hike down and up again to refill. And some of my gear is heavier than it might be just because I couldn't afford better when I got it. (It's not insanely heavy, but think REI or EMS store brand rather than Western Mountaineering or Zpaks.)

I agree with TW that in cold weather, nobody sane is ultralight. Winter gear is heavy, and there are a lot of things you simply must have. My traction gear outweighs some UL hikers' Big Four. And there ain't no way it's staying home if I have to deal with serious ice and snow.

And - Option 4 is right. Not only is your internal pack frame important, but it'll perform better if you're carrying less FSI (From Skin In) weight. The single thing that's affected my hiking performance most has been getting out to hike... and making at least a half-hearted attempt to train. I don't have time for much, but I make it a point to carry a 15-20 pound pack for a couple of miles every gosh-darned day, come snow, wind, rain, heat, bugs, whatever. (It sure gets me some weird looks when I walk to work in an ice storm, wearing microspikes and using poles.) Even that little bit makes a huge difference. And for Option 4, it doesn't matter whether your pack is 25 litres or 120, or whether your baseweight is 15 pounds or 50. Any pack carries better on a stronger and lighter frame - and this rule extends to the internal frame of the backpacker.

Others have observed that Option 4 is the cheapest of the options, at least financially. (In terms of level of effort, it's far and away the most expensive!) I'm not sure I agree with that. I've had to replace my entire wardrobe twice in the 2-3 years since I really got back into hiking. That hasn't been exactly cheap.

I might have to learn MYOG for my ideal pack.Some of the stuff on my current one is ridiculous. I would love one without the two zippers that make it a front-loader, or the zippered separator between the "main compartment" and the "sleeping bag compartment." They're worse than useless. They're heavy, they leak, and I never unzip the one nor zip the other. Is there any hiker who actually front-loads a front-loading pack?

But I do want a traditionalist frame - because I do carry heavy at times - and when I'm carrying heavy, I also want the lash points and jacobs-ladder. I even want the outside pockets, which carry things that I don't want in the pack. My fuel bottle, my wet pack towel or bandana, any wet clothing, and Aquamira all go out there, because they're all things that I don't want leaking or dripping on my gear.

The lid of the pack is a 'meh' - I do want a small bag in case I want to hang my pack and go for a summit with just the bare essentials: water bottle, first aid kit, and my pocket stuff - but it doesn't have to be part of my main pack.

I'm not comfortable with much less than a 20-inch torso length. I'm both tallish and long-waisted, and have a neck problem that appears to be exacerbated if I don't have load lifters adjusted properly, which I can't do on a too-short frame.

Just Bill
11-22-2013, 00:59
I still have high hopes for you Kevin. One of these days when I get my gear a bit more dialed in I think you'd make a fantastic tester- I might have something right up your alley. If I can make Harriman you can see for yourself.

11-22-2013, 13:45
Is there any hiker who actually front-loads a front-loading pack?

I do! I love being able to get into my pack from the front or top. My Deuter pack is heavier than what many people carry, but it has the features I want.

11-28-2013, 00:09
Don't let the web forum chatter make you think that everybody is going ultralight. I hiked north from Springer a few years ago, going quite light, and repeatedly noticed that almost all the packs hanging in shelters thru the Smokies were really pretty heavy, but very comfortable. There were a lot of Ospreys and Gregorys in evidence, being used by thru hikers and long distance section hikers. So there's nothing wrong with your decision. They are really nice packs (although I still choose to use a Six Moons Designs pack).

The web is stilted by the opinions of wannabes who really don't hike much, IMO.