Pack mods and rain pants

12 months ago I owned no waterproof pants. The Classic last year made me a believer when it showed just how much heat can be lost through soaked legs. Today I have two sets of rain pants, each meant for a rather different use.

Shown above and below are my fully homemade sil/epic pants. The red fabric is bog-standard silnylon, the gray stuff a light Epic-treated nylon ripstop. Testing ponchos and rain chaps last spring taught me that sil is a great fabric for rain wear: it never wets out and due to the slippery surface is a lot more durable bushwacking than any other fabric of a comparable weight (abrasion from rocks is another story). Some people find full sil pants tolerable, but I work up a massive sweat in them, even in cool weather. Hence the fabric placement; sil in the areas which get most wet most often, and breathable epic everywhere else. They’re baggy enough to easily put of over shoes, and the short length facilitates the same and keeps them from dragging during stream crossings.

For most hiking these work amazingly well. I’ve yet to have any noticeable condensation, and it takes some serious weather and especially sustained wet brush to get me wet. If I did them over again I’d make the full front out of sil, as water running down the front of my anorak will soak through the epic on the crotch in severe conditions. The hydrostatic head of the epic fabric is also low enough that it will not keep my butt dry while packrafting.

I thought a wet butt while packrafting was inevitable with anything short of a drysuit, but that was before I got a pair of Kokatat Tropos Deluxe Boater’s pants. The key feature is the high-rise waist and big neoprene waist band, but the thicker taslan face fabric and sophisticated, articulated legs are equally important. They wear well and are waterproof, even when sitting in a puddle.

I bought larges to have plenty of room for insulating layers, and as a result they were a bit long. I also found that the stock neoprene and velcro cuffs did little to keep water out, but did let it pool once inside. I cut them off and sewed on sil cuffs with a drawstring. They’re now just a touch high-water, which keeps them out of the mud.

I tamed the baggy lower legs and found a use for those little Rab hood retainer buckles all at the same time. They take the diameter in by two inches, and unlike snaps and velcro won’t come loose no matter how swift the water you’re wading. Even though these pants are 12 oz and the sil/epic ones are only 3, I’ll be taking these to AK next week for the bomber security.

Part of the fun of making packs is using them, and figuring out what you would have done differently with the hypothetical gift of perfect foresight. In the case of the Black and White pack the answer has been very little. The internal compression strap would probably work a bit better if the front were anchored 4-6 inches lower, and the load lifters needed fiddling.

Yes that is a blatant copy of McHale. Please don’t sue me Dan. With bigger packs I find load lifters handy for adjustment of load distribution (less so if the torso size is correct), and invaluable for load stabilization. I can’t explain the virtue of this system better than Mr. McHale himself, so go read about it on his site. It works incredibly well. Bravo sir.

Last week I became a bit obsessed with making the smaller pack, right, work for the Classic this year. It’s taller than the too-big Jam I used last year, but much narrower. Problem is that this year I want to bring a foam PFD, more clothing, and maybe a bit more food. At the same time a full Jam can fit inside the B&W pack, and that would encourage me to pack too much. But the first mod was replacing the old shoulder straps, which rubbed both my neck and armpit, with Osprey Talon 11/22/33 straps, whose J shape fits me perfectly.

I love the Osprey design, but under heavier loads the strap stretches quite a bit (several inches total), the gaps between foam bits elongate over the shoulders, and pressure points happen. The Talon 44 straps solve this partly with cut outs which don’t run the full width, but I had a eureka moment: add a daisy chain and the problem is solved. Easy, and very effective.

Next mod was making the upper compression straps removable.

Then I built a beavertail compression panel out of piece of old pack. This will hold my PFD and rain gear at the beginning of the Classic when my food bag is full, and give me a good place to put crampons for the rest of the mountaineering trips this summer.

Since I replaced the shoulder straps the functionality of the 610 pack has just been awesome. The shape is perfect for scrambling and bushwacking, the lumbar pad is fantastic, and when combined with the simple 1.5″ webbing belt carries far better than I ever thought such a small belt could. I’m confident it will deal with the 20+ pound load at the start of the Classic just fine.

One addition feature not mentioned in the original post has exceeded expectation; the way I cut the side panels. In the B&W pack the taper from the base to above the shoulder gradually gains two inches over the whole length. On the little pack I made most of the cut straight, just tapering the side panel out starting 3 inches below the shoulder strap attachments, and continuing 3 inches past before straightening out. It’s hard to explain this and harder to photograph it on the completed pack, but the result is that the pack contours to the shoulders extraordinarily well, even if overstuffed. Subtle things of inestimable value.

As always, comments and questions welcome.

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3 thoughts on “Pack mods and rain pants

  1. The stock cuffs on those pants seem to be pretty hit or miss – they work great for me and don’t leak noticeably, but I several folks I know say they leak like made. Great pants besides the cuffs, I have gotten a lot of mileage out of mine.

  2. It’s more that once submerged, pressure forces water up into the pants, where it then stays. Definitely a bargin.

    I was thinking more about the side panel design issue mentioned last, and I really think the key is have the sections below the shoulder blades and then above be parallel, with the curve in between. Looks like I’ll tearing seams out of the big pack tomorrow to make it that way.

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