Let's kick this off with a report on the most basic piece of backpacking gear - the backpack.
For my first non-military backpacking trip, our Yosemite Adventure, I needed a backpack. Maybe it's the anal-organized-military-man in me but I wanted something with lots of pockets, compartments and access points so I could easily find any piece of gear I was looking for. I also wanted a support system that would carry large loads comfortably for a long distance and, given the cost of this essential bit of kit, I wanted something fairly rugged. I was willing to pay a bit of weight penalty to obtain these features.
I considered several military grade packs such as Eberlestock, Mystery Ranch and Kifaru. These are hardcore, bombproof packs but weighed and cost more than I was willing to accept. Most were also missing several features commonly found on backpacker grade backpacks such as Nalgene bottle holders.
I also strongly considered the Kelty Red Cloud 90 and packs by Osprey and REI. But in the end I was sold by the reports of durability, features and, most importantly, fit of the Gregory Baltoro 75. While not quite as bombproof as the military packs it had the pockets and accessibility I was looking for, in a weight I was willing to haul, at a price I was willing to pay.
Capacity 75 liters (4,757 cubic inches)
Weight 2.65 kilograms (5 lbs 14 oz)
Weight 2.65 kilograms (5 lbs 14 oz)
- Pockets and compartments! The bottom compartment holds my sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner and sleeping pad. Yes. Everything I need to sleep is in one place! One side pocket holds my fuel, cook set (stove, bowl, soap, etc.) and utensils. Yes. Everything I need to cook in one place! The second side pocket holds my hat, gloves, bandanna, trowel, SteriPen, etc. Everything I need access to on short notice. The detachable top holds my FAK, PSK and everything I need to take with me on excursions.
- Fit! I have a 46" chest and 32" waist. To find anything that fits my chest, shoulders and waist without resorting to custom takes a small miracle. This pack fit me better than every other.
- Load bearing system! Much of the extra weight on this pack is in the belt and suspension system. That extra weight means that 40 lbs rides like 30 lbs. Even overloaded this pack never pinches, pulls, strains or feels uncomfortable (but my knees notice!).
- Camelbak compatible. Enough said.
- Durable. So far...
- REI's Guarentee! The REI rep said, "Try it. If you don't like it return or exchange it." I said, "So you mean I can wear it around my block?" He replied, "No, wear it for a month or as long as you like. If you ever don't like it then return it." Sold.
- There is not an accessible place to carry electronics/optics/photography gear with the pack on. A shoulder strap mounted pouch would suffice as would larger hip-belt pouches. I could buy the shoulder-strap pouch separately but at this price I shouldn't have to. The hip belt pouches barely hold a Clif bar.
- Removable top pouch. This is supposed to detach for the purpose of wearing as a day pack - either a fanny pack or a sling pack. If this fits your fanny I doubt you're doing any backpacking and a sling pack just isn't that comfortable (How many sling packs are YOU interested in?). It would be really nice if Gregory included some shoulder straps so it could be a realTM day bag.
- Ultra Light (UL)? No. Not even close. You figured this out by looking at the specs. This pack doesn't even qualify as light but I knew this up front. Much of the weigh seems to be in the heavily padded harness and overbuilt zippers - both of which seem worthwhile.
- Rain cover. It doesn't have a built in rain cover. Then again a separate rain cover means I can leave it at home if I know it won't be needed or I can leave it out to dry away from the pack.
- Front loading. This seemed like a good idea. Really. I specifically purchased a pack with front loading access. Unfortunately, I've never used this in the field. It's a feature I specifically sought out but it is useless on a pack this size (especially with this many pockets) because once everything is loaded and cinched down the front access is inaccessible anyway. The zippered front access just adds weight and complexity (a.k.a. something to fail).
- If you are new to backpacking as I am then do not make the mistake of buying your backpack first and then try to find gear that compliments (and fits inside) your pack! Buy your sleeping bag, tent, etc. first then buy the right pack to hold the gear.
- I've found this 75 liter pack will hold everything I need for 5 days worth of winter camping. If you need additional gear (e.g. climbing, snowshoeing, etc.), are traveling solo (e.g. you don't have a partner to split redundant gear) or are out for a seriously long expedition then you may need a larger pack. If that is the case I doubt this blog is of any use to you. If you are in a mild climate, taking shorter excursions, have better/lighter/smaller gear or are willing to give up comfort and capabilities then a smaller, lighter pack may suit you better.