My Backpacks (1995-2021)

To All the Packs I’ve Loved Before…

OK, I must admit to owning a large number of backpacks over the years. But I have VERY good excuses for . . . nearly . . . all of them. Some were necessary for the greater good. Some (most, actually) were packs I only bought to try out and returned when they did not work out. Some were free or close enough. And, well . . . sigh . . . Some I just liked OK???

1995-2018: The Early Years

I got into backpacking in the mid-90’s right after buying a pack (High Sierra – probably 50L) for the requisite post-college Europe trip. Incredibly, I still have the High Sierra and it’s not in bad shape at all.

After Europe, my best friend and I started buying proper backpacking gear with every paycheck until we were ready for our first adventure. I found the Europe pack to be a bit too small, and so picked up a real backpacking backpack (the Lowe-Alpine Contour IV 90+15L). It hydrolyzed after years stored in a hot, humid attic and had to be retired.

That pack came with a sweet, bright orange daypack that I eventually wore out or lost. It was replaced with a Deuter Act Trail 24. This pack went with me and my kids everywhere for over ten years.

2019 – Camino Backpack Odyssey

Toward the end of 2018, I heard the Camino de Santiago calling my name. Plans were made for 2020, I started a blog and YouTube channel to record my preparations, and started buying backpacks. Many backpacks, in fact.

It started an Osprey Exos 38 which I had put on my Amazon Wish List and was actually gifted to me as a thank you for some consulting work I had done. I loved it! t went with me on my first big training hike to Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite. Unfortunately, I had not chosen a size when I put it on the Wish List and the default size was incorrect, so I had to sell it.

Doing so freed me up to start obsessively shopping packs again, so I didn’t mind too much. By now my channel “Camino MMXX” had started to focus on backpacking in general and so i renamed it “Backcountry Pilgrim” and started getting packs to check out. I got a Gregory Optic 48, a Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor, a Massdrop Granite Gear Crown X60, a Osprey Stratos 36, and a Zpacks Arc Blast. For various reasons, none of them suited me and I returned them. Then I was handed an Osprey Atmos 50, and there was much rejoicing – I had found my Camino pack!

When some friends from the east coast decided to come out to see Yosemite for a few days, I decided it was time for a lighter weight day pack with a few extra features so I gave my Deuter Act Trail 24 to my oldest kid (who still uses it), and bought an Osprey Talon 22 to match my Atmos 50.

Oh, and I also got a cheap little Tactical Day Pack because why not?

2020 – Refocusing

Just when I thought I’d found my Camino backpack, I realized I had a problem: I didn’t want to check it at the airport. I’d heard too many horror stories about luggage getting lost on the way to Spain, and I knew I wouldn’t have time for that. I found the Mountainsmith Zerk 40 in an online gear market and thought maybe it could be my Camino pack. it turned out to be very comfortable at daypack weights, but not for backpacking, so once I knew my camino was over I sold it.

Speaking of online gear market s, I also found a Jansport Carson 80 for $5! I was becoming fascinated with vintage backpacking gear (my dad being a vintage backpacker himself), and thought why not? (My daughter’s reaction to dad getting another backpack: “Oh dad….”).

I still had a pretty big credit on Drop.com from returning my Granite Gear pack, and found a Geigerrig Rig 700 hydration pack for the price of just the reservoir (which I needed anyway), so I bought, used, reviewed, and sold it in short order.

Selling the Zerk 40 left a hole in my collection – I wanted something in the 30+L range for single overnights and maybe winter day hikes. I had been eyeing the Durston Drop 40 for some time and needed something else to spend the rest of my Drop.com credit on, so I got one. Loved everything about it except the shoulder straps were mounted so far apart they laid on my shoulders instead of my shest. I even asked Dan Durston himself about it, and he agreed it simply wasn’t going to be a good fit and there was (despite many suggestions from folks online) no way to adjust for it. So I had to return it and continue my quest.

2021 – Still Refining

After watching my video on 40L packs that did not work out for me, a subscriber suggested the Montane Trailblazer 30L. I had never heard of that brand and I found out why when I tried to order one – it’s a British company! I found a supplier and . . . LOVED IT!!! It was like the features of a typical pack with the suspension of the Zerk 40 (plus a hip belt). Incredibly it weighed about the same as my Osprey Talon 22 even though it had more features and capacity. it quickly became my new daypack.

But what to do about that Drop.com credit? Well…I bought the Massdrop Granite Gear Crown X60 again! it was selling for a great deal ($90)! Maybe it was my increased hiking experience or the first one was just a bad day, but I had zero heat issues with this one – even on a 3-day trip.

Remember that thing I said about vintage backpacking? Well, I had decided to do a vintage backpacking trip and got into some great conversations with folks on a gear page (which resulted in my making my own: ). One of them had a Wilderness Experience Top Opening ‘S’ Frame – an old school external pack that my dad said looked very much like the one he used back in his hiking days. I was excited because for months I’d been trying to figure out what his pack was – but he didn’t remember the brand, and I had only dim memories of it hanging in the garage when I was a kid. The guy who had the pack sold it to me and after swapping the hip belt (which was too small and not in good shape) with the Jansport Carson 80’s, I had my vintage backpack!

A fellow YouTuber sent me a Waymark Mile 28L pack for review. I loved it, took it on another 3-day slackpacking trip, and it is now my go-to Ultralight pack. I had another pack for review too: the First Tactical Tactix 38L. I am using it as an emergency “Go Bag” but it’s a bit much (nearly 5 pounds) for long hikes and isn’t set up well for traditional backpacking.

Current Collection (August 2021)

About this time I sold a bunch of gear online and at a yard sale. Had a guy who was just getting started hiking come by the yard sale and basically buy up all my outdoor gear. He said he was looking for a backpack too, and I made a snap decision to bring my Osprey Atmos 50 out. He liked it and bought it too. I admit it kind of hurt – that was supposed to be my Camino pack, the one I had spent months searching for and now it was gone. But it made sense given what I currently owned and used.

So, here’s where I stand today:

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