My best, conservative, estimate is that since 2009 I’ve built roughly 30 backpacks, and owned a further ~20, which were either purchased retail or given to me for review or prototyping. This is a large number, especially considering that at the moment we only (!) have eleven packs in house, a mere two of which predate this period of my backpack obsession. There have been a handful of bags that made it to the finished stage but due to flaws in conception or errors in execution never made it into the field, but otherwise all of these approximately fifty packs have seen significant miles, before they meet the inevitable end of sale, modification, or scrappage. On the one hand using all these has been a joyful and educational process. My original pack had a lot of things in common with the ones I’m building today, but it also demonstrates how much I’ve learned about fit, suspension, and features. I used that pack, with its thin shoulder straps and 1.5″ webbing belt for my very first traverse of the Bob, and while I did fine sustainable load carriage was highly dependent upon shoulder strength and a willingness to suffer.
While I have the umpteenth package from Rockywoods arriving shortly for yet another pack modification, I find myself with less time for uninterrupted sewing than ever before, and a marked desire to sort out the pack quiver and be done with it, at least for a while, opening up a bit of space in the closet in the process.
I could make due with two packs for everything, especially now that the majority of outings require the added bulk of a diaper bag. The first would be a very large one on the Seek Outside suspension. That end of the quiver is undergoing revision, and will be discussed in an upcoming post.
The second pack would be a tall, slim pack around 30 liters, one that can serve as a daypack for just about any size outing, as well as light duty overnights. This is the pack I’ve built most often, and written about frequently, so imagine my surprise when the most recent version, which was built from scraps and whose dimension were in some ways a matter of accident and circumstance, is the best yet, and might be one I can live with for a few years at least.
Similar things could have been said about the very first pack in the 610 series, the white pack in the first photo series,and had I been smart enough to leave that bag alone once I got a satisfactory pair of shoulder straps on it I likely wouldn’t have enough content to make this the long post that it is. Unfortunately I didn’t bother to write down the precise dimensions of that packs panels, so I can’t be sure what made it so good. The vital ingredients were a thin but not too thin profile, curves that ran in all three dimensions for good aesthetic and definitive snag-proofing, and a gentle increase in circumference from top to bottom, for easy loading. That was also the pack where I discovered curved side panels, a crucial feature which I did not invent (our Cold Cold World Ozone has a mild version) but did publicize, and which a few companies have since adopted.
I eventually revised the futzed that DX 40 pack into oblivion, which was fine as that fabric had a fatal flaw. Several similar packs followed, some of which I have no photos of, as well as a few like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla which were different in size but ended being influential in suspension or features. The Gorilla and the blue and green VX07 and 210 denier gridstop pack both reminded me that burly fabrics and a clean exterior are beneficial for a pack which will get used all the time, as both were fatally shredded in separate outings in Utah slot canyons.
The 2014 version of the 610 was supposed to be my return to the original, with the addition of a few key features like a full side zip and luxury shoulder straps (from the deceased Gorilla). The mix of VX42 and X51 fabrics worked well, but I screwed up the hipbelt attachment and got a little too fancy with the panel shaping, and after a year of solid use the lure of the scrap bin was too great.
All things fabric are subject to change, but the latest version of the 610 is the best yet.
The versatile suspension, discussed here, has proven to be excellent. Without stays or belt the pack is light and flexible, and with them (how I run it the majority of the time) it can carry anything I’m likely to put in it, including 35 pounds of water and fleece jackets for training walks. Most importantly the panel dimensions, discussed in detail here, are perfect.
I did change the main side zip out, replacing the #8 coil with a dual slider #10 aquaguard (taken from the now defunct Stone Glacier Solo). The #8 slipped teeth on a few occasions when closed with force, compelling evidence that it wasn’t going to last. I also switched out the aluminum hook buckle for the top strap for a little plastic triglide/carabiner hybrid, which came with the Kuiu Ultra 1800 I purchased on sale a few months ago. The nice thing about this is that it can be detached with one hand (though not with gloves), but unlike the hook stays put when the top strap is loose. Unless I’m lashing something large on top, I usually just loosen and then slide it to the side when opening to drawcord. Finally, the refinement of attaching the top strap with a three-bar slider has the unexpected benefit of allowing said strap to be shortened and the excess tucked down inside the back panel, thus allowing you to both have a strap long enough for anything you might carry, as well as a strap which doesn’t flap like mad in the breeze when no excess cargo is being carried.
The whole point of making your own packs is to have exactly what you want; it certainly is not a good way to save either time or money. While in the end the benefit to me has been deepening my knowledge, it is nice when years of practice gives you something that works as well as this pack does.