Choosing a Backpack

For many people the terms hiking and backpacking are synonymous and for this reason the first piece of gear that many consider (or perhaps take for granted) is the backpack. When choosing a pack there are so many styles, sizes, price points, and brands to choose from this can be a very overwhelming topic. One piece of advice I read early on when starting to analyze gear and the choices associated with lightening my load was to have your pack be one of the last items you buy. Many of us have a tendency to fill whatever space we have available, often with unneeded items. Also, a full pack will carry more comfortably so the ideal pack is one that fits everything you need with minimal extra space. After analyzing my gear and needs I decided something around the 50L mark would do.

I had no intention of purchasing multiple packs for different types of trips. I wanted something I could take with me on anything from multi-day (or even week) thru-hikes to an afternoon hike in town. I am as frugal as anyone but with an understanding that price isn’t the bottom line and you often get what you pay for I wasn’t looking for the least expensive pack on the market. With all of my larger purchases I have an expectation of an item to last me many years (or even possibly a lifetime depending on use).

For me when there are so many competitive options the first order of business is to refine the field be determining what constraints are important to my individual needs. I knew I wanted to go ultralight so this narrowed down the field of packs based on the load they would carry (not needing as much gear or as much weight carried as some offer) and the weight of the pack itself (the pack itself contributes a great deal to the total ‘base pack weight’). With loads this size a frameless pack is more then sufficient and can save a great deal of weight. I wanted something sub 2 pounds for the pack itself and something that could carry loads up to 20-25 pounds for multi-day hikes where a greater deal of weight in food is carried.

Price wise I set in mind a goal of being around $100. This is on the low end price point with packs such as the GoLite Jam and others fitting the bill but after looking over reviews and recommendations I came across a company called ULA (Ultra Light Adventure) and a pack they make called the CDT. This pack retails for just above my goal of $135 but a feature laden pack, with glowing reviews, and made in America was worth a few extra dollars to me.

I will attempt to not bore you to death with the details of this pack but here are a few of the noteworthy specs on this pack (this isn’t intended to be a review of the pack). The pack weighs 22 ounces (well under my threshold of 32 ounces), carries around 55 L (with all pockets utilized), and is recommended for loads under 25 lbs (and base weights under 12 lbs). This is everything I looked for in the major categories.

This pack has many handy features such as an Internal Pad Holster, Contoured Padded Hipbelt (very comfortable), Hipbelt Pockets, Contoured Shoulder Straps (again extremely comfortable), Front Mesh Pocket (possibly my favorite part of this pack as you can fit quite a bit in it for easy access or store wet gear to dry out while hiking), 210 Ripstop Adjustable Side Pockets, Adjustable/Bellowed Side Pockets, Ice Axe/Pole Retention Loops, Side/Top Compression Straps, and a Drawstring Extension Collar.

With removable accessories such as Hydration Sleeve (~1.4 oz), Internal Mesh Pocket (~1.1 oz), Water Bottle Holsters (~0.8 oz), Handloops (~0.8 oz), and Foam Pad (~1.2 oz) the pack is very versatile and (for you math lovers out there) under 17 ounces if all removed. I supposed if you were ambitious enough you could trim straps and make other alterations and get this pack under a pound!


Joe M.

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