A Summery of My Many Backpacks

Since 2008 I’ve used a ton of different packs, I’ve bought packs, made packs and paid to have packs made for me.   My packs have changed as I have learned more.  They have also changed as I have done different types of trips.


My first “Ultralight” packs were all frameless.  At that point I thought they were the best thing for someone trying to go light.  The Jam2 pictured above is actually my second pack, I started with a used Golite Trek.  However it illustrates a problem both packs had.  The torso is too short.  Notice how the strap attachment is below my shoulder level.  Also the fact that I’m leaning forward is a pretty good hint that the pack is too short.  When a pack is short it puts weight on your shoulders.  To counteract this you loosen the straps, but then you have to lean forward or the pack will put pack from you.

Colorado (18)a

I was able to get away with poorly fitting packs for a while because my load was usually very light.  Weekend loads were between 14-18 pounds starting out.  I finally realized the problem when I packed 5 days worth of food into the pack above.  I got sick and we bailed early but not before I realized how uncomfortable this homemade pack was.


I rebuilt essentially the same pack but with a longer torso.  Notice in this picture that the shoulder straps are closer to the leel of my shoulders.  I’m still leaning forward a bit so this pack probably was still a bit short but it was a big improvement.  The pack worked well enough for a trip in the Gila Wilderness.  At that point I thought I’d nailed MYOG frameless packs.


In summer of 2011 I began planning a August/September thru-hike on the Colorado Trail.  The Backpackinlight.com Absaroka pack was on sale and I grabbed one.  I actually wanted to make a new frameless pack with more room to take on the trip.  But I didn’t have time so it was a choice between the Jam2 and the Absaroka.  The Absaorka was heavier but it fit better.  I knew there would be some long sections between resupply so I went with the Absaroka.  It worked great on until I hurt my ankle and ended the trip at Molas Pass.


I still thought I could make a frameless pack work if I found one that fit.  So when a size Large Jam 2 was on sale I grabbed it.  It seemed to work okay on a 2012 hike in the Adirondacks.


In the fall of 2012 I went back to Colorado to finish the last section of trail that I had missed.  I loaded up my frameless Golite which was at least half a pounder lighter then my old Absaroka pack and headed out. But it just wasn’t comfortable.  After 2 or 3 miles my mind was made up that it wasn’t going to work.  So I hiked BACK to the car, threw my gear in the old pack and happily finished the trail.  My conclusion was that for weights over 15 pounds a pack with a frame was more comfortable even if it was heavier.


With the Absaroka pack wearing out I commissioned Chris Zimmer to make a new pack for me.  It worked well for a number of short trips but the hipbelt had a bad shape (my fault not Chris’s).   This limited its weight bearing ability.


The next pack I tried was a Exped Lighting 60.  The wrap around hipbelt was way better.  And the longer torso made it more comfortable then the Absaroka (which was on the edge of being too small)ON a test hike I carried about 55 pounds in it. I used it for the summer of 2013.


The secret of the Lighting is that it combines a very good hipbelt with a single stay down the center of the pack.  This gives you flexibility while still supporting weight.  Also the hipbelt attached directly to the frame which is something few ultralight packs do.

Bob  (34)

In 2014 I took up packrafting.  The lighting was a bit small for a packraft so  ibought the HMG Porter 440It was bigger and semi waterproof which made it a nice pack for rafting.  The HMG packs are better then most ultralight packs at load bearing but inferior to the Lighting.

I spent the fall and winter thinking about a better pack for rafting.


Inspired by Dave Chenault I bought a Seek Outside Unaweep frame and hipbelt.   I made my own pack bag and sewed the shoulder straps onto that.  I expected there would be some kinks to work out so I made a smaller pack for desert hiking.  Version 1 worked well at Big Bend but the torso height was higher then necessary and the lack of side pockets was annoying.


I finished version 2 in time for a trip to the Guadalupe Mountains.  Major changes were a shortened frame and side pockets.

My current plan is to built a 70-80 liter pack on the Unaweep frame with waterproof fabric such as Xpac.  For big loads like a packraft with 10 days of food I think the Unaweep is currently the best suspension system out there.  The only downside is the width of the frame.  Not a big deal with a pack that is already going to be big, but annoying for a smaller pack.  At some point in the future I’ll probably build something different for small loads.


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