Gear

My second home-made pack, designed and crafted specifically for my hiking style, and, of course, to not fall apart before Maine.

2012, Just for fun

This pack was designed for a very specific (and repetitive) task — hiking from Georgia to Maine. Its design was obsessed upon as only a Thru-Hiker can obsess about gear. It’s dashing purple good looks belie its rugged construction and practical features for living on the trail.

I thoroughly enjoy putting my own spin on things — so when Stephen Eren approached me about hiking the AT, I thought why not stray from the usual path just a bit, and make some of my own gear?

Torn between exploring new harness system designs and building something that would stay together 2200 miles to Maine, I opted for simplicity and durability. However, that concession didn’t need to translate into “boring” or “normal”. I wanted a pack that worked seamlessly with my style of camping and the gear I was bringing. This high level goal would influence the form that my more specific design requirements would dictate, listed below:

Design Requirements:

  • 55 Liter capacity
  • Waterproof enough to resist medium rains
  • Ability to cary varying sizes of loads, as food, water and clothing fluctuate between resupplies
  • quick access to my foam sleeping pad (for frequent comfortable stops)
  • clothes drying system
  • enough pockets to organize gear, but not so many that they become cumbersome
  • Materials and Construction

Suspension

The harness consists of thermoformed shoulder and hip straps salvaged from the Gregory Packs “Response” system, chosen for their comfort and ability to cary medium to heavy loads. The harness structure consists of 1/4” thermoform ABS plastic frame pieces at the lumbar and shoulder regions, united by a single 3/16” x 1” aluminum stay, curved to match the spine. The load transfer to the hipbelts is aided by nylon plastic “arms” that thread into the padded belt to assist in transferring the load to the pelvis. The harness does include one fancy feature, shamelessly copied from Black Diamond’s ActivErgo harness, which are the unified shoulder straps that permit an extension and retraction of up to 2” via a cord linkage between left and right straps that runs in a ‘U’ shape in the lumbar region.

Where possible, the ABS frame components were lightened by boring holes in non-structurally important areas. The whole frame was assembled with large flush washers (to distribute load across the various plastics) and nylon lock nuts. All edges were smoothed to reduce abrasion on the pack.

The final touches to the frame include the attachment of 4 compression strap buckle anchors and load lifters to assist in the fit of the shoulder harness.

Body

The pack itself was sewn with a special attention to durability. Constructed of waterproof 70D diamond ripstop nylon, it is strong, light and resists stretching. All of the seams are bound with waterproof bias tape, with each mated piece of material first sewn into the tape, and then the tape doubled over and sewn with a strong stretch stitch. An elastic cargo rack on the front of the pack easily fits a therm-a-rest Z-Lite foam pad or wet socks.

The pack also incorporates a larger version of the dual framesheet design first tested on my Katahdin ice climbing pack (dubbed the “Pine Marten”). It includes two semi rigid framesheets that sandwich the load between the wearer’s back and the front of the pack. This was included to stabilize dynamic and lumpy loads, and provide a firm anchor point for the hiking pole gear loops. Its rigidity (as an iso-styrene foam, durable, lightweight but accommodatingly flexible) interacts well with the shock cord, allowing socks or rain jackets to lie securely against the pack when drying or being carried, regardless of how filled out the pack is. The hiking pole gear loops are specifically sized as small tapered loops to accept the tips of hiking poles. More general purpose gear loops on other packs consistently annoyed me in their poor performance at securing trekking poles.

The pack and harness are united in a simple system. The pack has a reinforced sleeve into which slips the top of the rigid frame (the frame also slips under an EVA foam back pad located at the shoulder blades). At the bottom, two straps secured to the pack fit into narrow slots in the bottom of the frame to further transfer the load. A small elastic loop at the bottom pulls the pack tight to the frame and eliminates bouncing or swinging of the pack as it hangs from the frame.

The final weight, while not ultralight by other pack standards, is just shy of 4 lbs. The way I figure though, is that the sense of accomplishment if I get to stand on Katahdin with a homemade purple and red pack will literally (or figuratively?) outweigh the difference.

Update

While this pack did not make it to Maine (just Virginia), it did serve me well that same summer as I worked as a Wilderness Ranger in the Pisgah Forest of NC. It effectively hauled moutnains of trash out of the enchanting Linville Gorge (woo hoo!)

Related projects