Oh yes…. backpacks. I really love backpacks. Kelty, Osprey, Granite Gear, ZPacks, Gregory, backspacks are for some reason my favorite piece of gear. I can do an entire blog just on backpacks…. I have owned a ton.
Couple requirements for me on backpacks are:
1.) They have to be comfortable…. duh. That is kind of silly to say but, in my experience if it does not feel awesome the first time you try it on it’s not going to get any better. Especially after a 20 miler when even the best pack starts to dig into your shoulder. This also means it must be the correct size for your body.
2.) They must must must have side pockets that I can easily pull a water bottle from without taking my pack off or stopping my pace on a hike. This means large angled meshy stretchy side pockets. Not a big fan of water bladders. You might be and that’s awesome. I just forget to clean them out and it’s easier to buy 4 – 700 ml smart waters for a hike.
3.) Water Resistant. While no pack is waterproof in a day long downpour but some packs, ones with top zippers can soak all your stuff in a 30 minute light shower. Having to clean and dry out all your gear when you get home from the trail bites…. Rolltops are the best.
4.) Light Weight. It’s a really bad idea for your pack to weigh nearly as much as the stuff inside it. Violates rule number 1 above too,
5.) Size. For day hiking on the AZT, you don’t need a ton of space but you can’t survive with a normal day pack or water pack. 3 liters of water will weight about 7 pounds. Add snacks, lunch, rain jacket, ditty bag, hat, medical kit and a couple other odds and ends…. bear spray for instance. Talk about bears later… and you’ll need a decent size day pack.
After all my love of backpacks, it comes down to two recommendations. The Osprey 34 liter Stratos or the ZPacks Nero. Two completely different packs that only share size and side pockets in common. They both are awesome for the AZT in their own ways based upon the hiker.
The Osprey Stratos 34 is a very nice smaller pack that really hugs your back. It has nice stretch side pockets which is actually unique for Osprey. Most of their packs suck when it comes to rule number 2. This one also has many zipper pockets and compartments. Nice thing is they have rain flaps over the zippers. Unlike ZPack Nero, the Osprey has a continuous mesh back panel that pulls the pack off your back for ventilation and is one piece with its hipbelt. This panel is also a light weight frame giving the pack stability that the Nero does not have. The Osprey even has little pockets on the belt for easy access to smaller items like chapstick and snacks. The hip belt can take pack weight off your shoulders and back, not something common in the smaller packs.
The ZPacks Zero, now called a Nero, is my favorite pack though. It’s a wide mouth, one compartment 30 liter that only weights about 15 ounces. Although, with no weight bearing hip belt other than a hip strap it can’t really help you with the shoulder weight. The reason I prefer it is simple; it is waterproof, a rolltop, has nice huge easy to reach side pockets and a large mesh pocket on the back. At loads of 15 pounds or less it’s quite comfortable and main pocket opening makes for easy organization with smaller pouches or sub-bags… food bags…ditty bags…etc. and the most important thing not on the list above… it just looks cool. Where the Osprey makes me look like I have a small red animal attached to my back hugging on me. The ZPack makes me feel like I am an early 20th century adventurer like Zane Grey. I just feel good wearing it.
There is one add on that I would highly recommend purchasing if you decide to order any of the ZPack bags. You need to order the optional hip belt pockets.
They come in a set of two and have water resistant zippers. These little guys are simply awesome and a must with the best thing, you can slide them back and forth on your hip belt locking them in different places on the belt as you hike. In other words, if I don’t need anything out of the pouch, I slide it toward my back and out of my way. When I need something I grab it slide it to my front like a fannypack, open it, grab what I need and slide it back. I can’t imagine this was by design but dam it’s handy for me while keeping a hiking pace. With the Osprey and with other packs that have belt pockets they are stationary and will force you to twist your body to grab something as well as pulling your eyes off trail. Which as you know…. will make you stub your toe on the next rock.
My pictures here are of the ZPacks Nero and the ZPacks Arch Blast 60 liter multiday pack. The Arch is not a day pack but I do hike with it sometimes just to feel the fully loaded thru hiker weight of 30 plus pounds. Sometimes I also use it on the all too rare over night backpacking trip.
UPDATE 11-03-2018. We designed our own BACKPACK !!!!! See the link below for more details on the PACKBACK Designs PBD Ultralight 3-1 Trailpack.