The Race Pack examined (backpacks for the woods part 4)

A perhaps illustrative case study.

I built the race pack specifically for wilderness racing, the Classic next year in particular.  As explicated before, the Golite Jam I used last year didn’t fit and was too big.  I also wanted to make a pack as light as possible without compromising functionality or durability (or spending money, thus no cuben).  Max load perhaps 25 pounds, a close, stable and slim fit for bushwacking essential.

100% VX-21 fabric.  Shoulder straps and lumbar mesh from my old 2011 Jam (the straps fit me absolutely flawlessly).  21 oz.  20 inches exactly from the bottom of the pack to the straps.  Back and front panels are 7 inches wide, side panels are 9 inch wide, bottom cut on a curve, pack depth is 30 inches (to fit the 27 inch long mid sections of my Werner Shuna).

Top is a simple drawcord cinch, with some 1.9 oz/yard silnylon.  It can let water in, but is easy to make and use.  Compression straps are 1/2″ webbing to save weight, top buckles are quick release for fast use with skis, and can clip together for full wrap cinch.  Not pictured here is the daisy chain on the back, which will work for trying stuff on, but will see use most often for tying the pack to the packraft.  There’s provision for a top strap, and a hole for a hydration hose.  Full length pad sleeve with 1/4″ foam pad.

A pack this small does just fine without load lifters.

One of the crucial features is the contour cut into the side panels.  The very bottom by the belt and the bit by the straps stick out further, which facilitates a back hugging fit.  Even with a frameless pack such things make a big difference.

Subtle details add up.  Note the method strap attachment to the bottom corners, which double as abrasion protection.  Unlike just about every other pack I’ve made, this one does not have a doubled bottom (we’ll see how long that lasts).

I still can’t get compression straps dead even.

The tow strap hip belt is attached only in the center and corners, which balances stability with the capacity to absorb dynamic movement.  One crucial feature is the long, triangular panels along the outside of the lumbar panel.  The back pad sleeve does not extend into wings, which then flex and wrap when the belt is cinched.  Very effective.

I haven’t used the pack a ton, and will update as it proves itself.  Based on past experience I’m pretty confident the suspension and harness will work out well.  The real experiment here is the lack of side pockets (or pockets of any kind other than the pack itself).  Pockets are heavy, and executing them well is a pretty substantial design challenge.  I’ve nailed them with the North Fork pack, but none of the other packs I’ve made.  This pack is to see if I actually need them.

10 responses to “The Race Pack examined (backpacks for the woods part 4)”

  1. Just a quick thanks for posting this series… I’m not commenting much (yet) but I’m reading every word. GREAT stuff! -DM

  2. Thanks for the great series of posts Dave!

    I’m relatively happy with my Golite Pinnacle. Well, not exactly but happy enough not to take the hassle of building a pack of my own (yet?). Though these posts made me remember some of it’s shortcomings and I think that at some point next year I’ll try to make it better (i.e. heavier). I think I’ll be adding: beefier compression straps and buckles (the stock ones break), V-strap on top (the stock one doesn’t hold things too well), draining grommets (why these aren’t a stock feature?), PE-HD sheet for better load transfer (carrying sruff for a week+ packrafting trip sucks) and modify the waist belt a bit. I might also modify the side pockets and the collar a bit… And I’d really like to have it made from Xpac instead… Hmm. Should I MYOG anyway? ;)

    1. It might be simplest from a construction standpoint to cut the back panel out, and build a new pack bag onto the existing harness. You could integrate a pad sleeve all the way up to the load lifters.

  3. Awesome looking pack! I think a lot about modifying my gear when I am out hiking but I haven’t tried it. What I have tried is backpacks without pockets. I hate carrying around a bunch of zippers!
    I think that as long as you are able to pack your bag in the same way everyday you won’t need pockets. Once you know where your stuff shifts to when you pack it you’ll be able to find stuff just as quickly as if you had pockets. If not just use little stuff sacks (you could make some that don’t have a roll-top just a short drawstring or velcro or snaps) or ziplocks will keep you organized.

    I live in a very rainy place and I can’t imagine just having the drawstring top on a bag unless it’s tall enough to roll after it’s cinched. Even if it’s not actively raining I’d be worried about water coming off the bushes while you’re bushwhacking and going straight in the pack. Granite Gear makes a super lightweight lid for their Vapor packs (they just have a drawstring top but they roll over) that is just a tiny pocket (link: maybe something like that would work if you decide you need a lid/pocket.

    Can’t wait to hear how this pack works on the trails!

    1. I do usually roll the top at least once. A drawstring closure is still lighter and simpler.

  4. […] been very pleased with the race pack, both generally and for cycling.  The 7″ width and 9″ depth allows lots of weight to […]

  5. […] exercise, including a 3 mile walk home where I quickly realized that the new, beefed up pad in my race pack provided too much structure.  So add gear sussing and the aesthetic pleasure of seeing the river […]

  6. […] packs have gone through, but as of today it numbers at least a dozen.  None of them, save the most recent, still exist.  I’ve learned to go into each new pack, however expensive the fabric, with two […]

  7. […] deliver and others don’t. There is the Backpacks for the woods series with posts 1, 2, 3 and 4, new posts about The black and white pack and The 610 pack and a recent one including some pack […]

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