I’ve been doing the pack thing for a while now. After owning and especially building so many none of them can retain nostalgia for long, with any and every little detail subject to scrutiny, revision, and destruction. That said, the novelty of cutting and sewing has also waned significantly in the last year, and it’s my intention in 2016 to only act on my best ideas and hopefully let a few of the packs discussed below live for more than 8 months.
These six are the ones currently in my closet, smallest to largest, good points and bad, along with an estimation of whether I’d buy it again and in the case of home made stuff speculation on commercial alternatives.
HPG Tarahumara. I’ve had this for a few years, and the elegant simplicity and functionality continues to impress. The contours of the back and side panels make it both streamlined and large for it’s size, and it’s built of bomber materials to absolutely impeccable standards.
I know just how good the stitching is because earlier this year I tore the top and most of the side panel seams out to add different shoulder straps and buckles which would interface with the Unaweep. I’ve torn out a lot of seams, factory stuff and my own, and these were far and away the most difficult. In this case at least the added quality of domestic manufacturing, and the associated surcharge, is no joke. That said, the stock shoulder harness just didn’t work, especially for cycling, and the Patagonia Endurance pack straps have made it a solid little number for short ski and bike outings. The back panel is still sweaty and holds moisture for a while, but I can’t yet find this objectionable enough to mess with it.
Overall I like this pack a lot, though I’m not I would buy it again. The Osprey Talon 11 I used to have is in many respects a more functional option, though not nearly as stout or stylish.
Gossamer Gear Type 2. A fantastic daypack which has gotten a ton of use this year; the Type 2 is just the right size and has just enough pockets for just about anything. My shoulder strap replacement is nice, and makes the pack feel custom fit for me, but is far from obligatory.
I’d buy it again without hesitation, and recommend it to others.
610 Diaper pack. The newest pack in the lineup, and the one with the most and widest variety of iterations behind it. Based on the last 10 days of hunting and dayhiking, I’m optimistic that I’ve finally got things right. The side zip works particularly well with the current dimensions, as setting the pack down on the side keeps it stable, gives good access, and keeps the harness out of the mud, all at the same time. Being able to use or not use the twin aluminum stays is a very nice feature for a pack this size.
It’s hard to think of a good commercial alternative to such a particular pack. If the zip access were not crucial one of the HMG 2400 series packs would work well, or a Cold Cold World Ozone for less money and more abusive use. The smaller Black Diamond Speed packs are a good value, and the Speed 30 in large is actually long enough in the torso, something shockingly difficult to find amongst smaller, “technical” packs.
Stone Glacier Solo. I really enjoyed hunting out of this pack back in September, it was easy to conclude that a pack this size, with a meat shelf and at least partial panel access, is an ideal platform for warmer weather backcountry hunts. It has enough space, but is small enough to force discipline and to fit through brush well, and spotting scope access is quick. Unfortunately the Solo suffers from a few features I find unbearable, mainly the several seams at the top of pack which cause it to leak like mad in the rain, and the excessive strappiness. You don’t want to shortcut compression for a load shelf, but I have a few ideas that should trim thing considerable, which is a way of saying that this is a pack which will be replaced, when the ideas I’ve been tossing around in my head become sufficiently refined. The frame I made for this pack works well, the only flaw is that I didn’t quite make their bottom spacing wide enough, and this slightly impinges belt wrap across the lumbar.
If I were buying commercially I wouldn’t get a Stone Glacier, they’re far too expensive when a Unaweep 3900 (below) is hundreds of dollars less.
Seek Outside Unaweep. I haven’t used this pack much this year, but there have been quite a few occasions when I had something else along and wished I could zoom home and instantly swap packs. Simply put the Unaweep is the reference for how a larger pack should carry and function, and anything I come up with or buy has to equal it in all ways and exceed it in some to be worth keeping. That is not easy to do. As detailed in the previous post I cut a few things off my Unaweep, and I’ve continued to monkey with different Talon panels, but having it in the closet as a dependable option for anything beyond a light overnight it always welcome.
I didn’t buy this pack, but if I lost it I’d buy another as soon as possible and rest easy knowing I was getting a stellar deal. I’d probably go for X50 fabric for better durability than VX42, and step up to the mondo 6300 size for a one pack quiver.
Canyon center-zip. Based on one overnight and one day hunt, I like this pack. 3900 cubic inches is not that big, and the added size will surely come in handy, as will I think the front zipper. At this point far more testing is need to comment substantively, but given the number of previous packs which fed directly into this one I’m confident this will endure. But then again I usually am.