July 23, 2012
The biggest unanswered question about the trek (aside from whether or not the Tibet border will open) is which backpack will ultimately join me on the trail. I’ve been debating this since Day 2 and have researched packs to death. My ancient, beloved CamelBak has been all over the world with me, but ultimately I think it’s a bit too small for a trek of this length and intensity. Although I managed with it just fine in Peru, I would have liked a bit more space and a more comfortable hip belt. Like the old, comfy boots, it’s time for a new pack.
My LowePro Photo Sport 200 turned out to be far too small and much too wimpy. It sagged and bent and twisted after a two hour hike here in Los Angeles, so I can’t imagine it would last more than ten minutes on the EBC Trek.
As a backup plan, I ordered the Clik Elite Obscura. The reviews were great and it seemed like it would solve a key problem – what to do with my camera. To be honest, I’m still debating whether or not I should take my DSLR with the 300mm lens. On the one hand, it’s super heavy and I can’t imagine lugging it up a mountain. On the other hand, it’s NEPAL! I can’t imagine not having it handy when an amazing shot presents itself, like this one I took of a Hadzabe boy in Tanzania. I’m truly torn. In any case, the Obscura arrived and…sat in my living room for a couple of months while I traveled and worked and went to doctors and got distracted by the life of a real girl.
This week, I finally took it out of the bag and tried it on. Have I mentioned that I hate online shopping? Detest it. With a passion. I miss brick and mortar stores where I can touch a backpack and stuff things in it and try it on and walk around with it for a while. This one just doesn’t fit my torso. It’s not comfortable at all. The camera is still really hard to get to, even with the special zippered compartment in the bottom of the pack. Good reviews or not, I can tell immediately that this one is not going to work for me. Of course, I’ve passed the 30 days where I can return it. Anyone want an Obscura? Looks like I have one for sale.
So today I headed out to REI in Huntington Beach, which is just about the only place on the planet left to actually try on backpacks. I can’t believe I didn’t get the name of the employee who helped me because he was FABULOUS! He suggested a few different options, loaded them up with weights, and patiently watched me galumph around the store, moving, twisting, and debating. For over an hour. One problem is that the 28 liter packs are just a *tad* too small, but the next size up in the models that fit me well were 36 liters – a tad too big. Another issue is that, well, how can I put this? I’ve learned that I really need a backpack designed specifically for women. I have, um, parts of my torso that get in the way if the straps aren’t cut just right. So that limited my options too.
With his help, I narrowed it down to the Gregory Jade 28 or the Deuter ACT Trail 28. I left the store with the Gregory Jade (in purple to match my Barney Boots), but I’m still not convinced it’s the right one. It fits like a glove. I hardly feel like I’m carrying any weight. I have never in my life worn such a comfortable backpack. It has one downfall though – it’s top-loading only and because of the fancy suspension in the back, it has sort of a crescent shape. It doesn’t stand up on its own and it’s a bit tricky to pack. There’s no full-length zipper, so you really have to dig for whatever you stash in the very bottom and the crescent shape makes getting to the bottom challenging. It doesn’t stand up – it tilts and rolls and fights you all the way. I can see this being a problem when it comes to my camera. My choices are to either pack it in the bottom and just know that I’ll only be able to use it when we stop at a tea house for the day, or I can ignore every bit of advice about proper weight distribution in a backpack and put it on the very top. It’ll still be hard to get to – I’ll need to at least slide the backpack off one shoulder – but that could work if it doesn’t throw the weight off completely. I decide to take it home, pack it up, and try it out.
On my way out the door, Awesome Employee (dang, I REALLY wish I remembered to ask his name!) reminded me that REI has a generous 100% guarantee policy – the one I used when I returned the Boots of Doom. That made me feel a lot better, as I don’t want to end up in the same situation that I’m in with the brand new, un-returnable Clik Elite bag.
I have a vision of myself collecting “not really used” gear like stray puppies. I suppose I could open a used gear shop, right? Hmm…it’s a thought! 😉