Outdoor retailer is upon us, and as usual a modest array of interesting things have come bubbling to the surface of the internet. One emerging trend I find more interesting than most is the rise of larger vestpacks.

Years ago I had a first-gen Nathan HPL020, which was an impressively stable and accessible way to carry a days worth of stuff.  I maxed it out doing a Grand Canyon double crossing, mainly because the tap on the North Kaibab was turned off and I had to carry lots of water.  I got out of running shortly thereafter and sold the pack.  Since then, copycats of comparable capacity have multiplied.

Such small packs don’t interest me much, but there are two features intrinsic to such vests which will hopefully make their way onto and improve larger packs suitable for multi-day wilderness adventures: improved wearer/pack interface and stable front storage.  For 2013 there are two larger packs which promise to bring both, the Mountain Hardwear Summitrocket 20 and the Ultimate Direction Adventure vest.


Photo via OutdoorTest.  See a bit more at GearJunkie.


Photo via Trailspace.  See more on the whole line at said link.

The adventure vest is similar to (though perhaps a bit lighter than) extent offerings from Salomon and Camp, while to my knowledge the SR 20 is unique.  The smaller Aarn packs are perhaps analogous, though as always they are heavy and complex enough to be off-putting.  On the one hand these packs could be a tool for self-supported, multi-day, very fast and light adventures.  Ideally without the hacking which needs to be done to make existing options workable.  On the other hand this trend might lead to the integration of bottle and pocket space on to shoulder straps of larger packs.  I’ve concluded that this is the ideal place for snacks, map, compass, water treatment, and so forth, as well as a water bottle for those locations with sources abundant enough to make less than a liter the ideal amount routinely carried.  The needs of ultrarunners and fast backpackers, for water which can be drunk and refilled without removing the pack, are here the same.  My current system of voile-strapping a bike bottle to a shoulder strap works pretty well, but I’d love a system which is both more stable and with easier (one-handed) access.

In summary, I look forward to seeing what these packs have to offer.  And since the two highlighted here won’t be available for a while, and because the genre is quite expensive, will of course be experimenting with my own creations.  Talking with Meghan (author of the above Inov8 review) on our backpack a few weeks ago has me interested in fast/light trail stuff again, maybe even (surprise) in running.  Time to get ready.