I’m a backpack junky and I always have been. A gear snob of the most fastidiousness. But since my youthful discretionary income halted around 2003, my top-of-the-line gear is now reaching “vintage.”
Of course that makes the snobbery worse. For example, my expedition size pack (yes I have a specialized pack for every size trip) is an Osprey Silhouette. Not the sleek and luxurious Osprey of today, but the “Vector One” model made in 1997: hand assembled by Native Americans in Colorado the first year Osprey grew from making custom order packs as a local outfitter. I believe the company has gone galactic since. (Snarling sigh).
I can remember my first pack. It was an external frame Peak 1, a line made by Coleman for the more adventurous camper. My dad got it for me and it was Cadillac. In those days external frames were it. You could tell how serious a guy was by the amount of gear lashed to rim of his pack. Swinging lanterns and clanging mess kits sounded before you ever saw him. Then you could take note of the choice in tent, pad, and rolled sleeping bag as he passed. Sometimes three feet over his head.
My favorite feature of an external frame pack was the ability to bungee it at shoulder height to a tree. Right beside the tent, like an outdoor wardrobe. An external frame pack held its shape even empty, and that was luxury in the woods.
Then they faded away.
The Lowe brothers claim the feat of inventing the first internal frame pack. They formed Lowe Alpine (in their garage) and performed decently until they were pushed out- but managed to later corner the market for camera bags (another fascination of mine altogether).
The internal frame pack changed everything. All of today’s gear stuffs. Nothing rolls. Backpacking went from “how wide an object can reach outside my shoulders and still feet between trees” to “give me the maximum number of compression straps to isolate this lumpwad of gear between my shoulder blades so that I saturate it with backsweat and jump from boulder to boulder.” I miss the backpacking of leaf cutter ants and my childhood with the Peak 1. I sold it for 50 bucks towards a Kelty Red Cloud (internal) when I was thirteen. They still make that one, too, with way more zippers.
Every dollar of my adolescence and young adulthood went to tents, jackets, packs, climbing gear and gasoline to places outside of Kentucky. I used to visit the outdoor stores and talk specs with the salespersons. Scott Jones and I would educate them from time to time on forthcoming innovations. Or we’d discuss how products had performed for us in the field. In my heyday I could get a pro deal from Patagonia straight from the inside. (Oh yes.) Then one day I remember telling Scott I’d better go ahead and buy the last pair of boots I’d need for a while. I was geting married.
Not so fast. Ashley was destined to need outfitting as well. Today she packs an Osprey Ariel 55 and she has the only sleeping bag she’ll ever need, best boots, a jacket for every occasion, and we have suffered in the woods together on many a trail while I impress her by how light we can shave our packs. That means giving up as many comforts as I can think of. Once in the Kettle Morain we ran out of food and had to eat the “emergency Ramen” I always carry. Then a wind gust blew the boiling pot off of the MSR Pocket Rocket stove and we saw the noodles laying in the dirt. A few bites were saved, but it didn’t matter really. After a hard day on the trail and sharing Ramen, scooping them from the dirt did not make me a hero. The next day we rationed out a pouch of gummy fruit snacks, biting one at a time, in half, once a mile, until we reached the parking lot. She was so impressed.
These are the memories Ashley will forever relish and tell little Tuck as she hides Snickers in his backpack- for when he is taken camping and “tested” by his father. But like I said, I haven’t bought any gear since about 2003.
That was until yesterday.
For Father’s Day I got “us” a new backpack. The Deuter Kid Comfort II. I even took a picture at the store and messaged Scott. Scott is a doctor now and has since done formal research on the chemical composition of Gore -Tex. He messaged me back, “Internal frame or external?”
Ha, both. It has the suspension of an internal frame although built on a metal stand which holds a child upright if you set the pack down. It’s like the perfect internal frame pack, holding it’s own shape. Not some lazy sack of straps that can’t be lashed to a tree like a camping closet.
I love the thing. Me and the little man just went down the street to Fellini Kroger and he reached forward grabbing my shoulder the entire way. The pack held a few groceries too. Added to the weight of him, I’d say it felt like a solid thirty pounds back there. Which is all I’d carry for say, seven to eight weeks (just kidding). No seriously.
By the time we got home, he had bounced himself to sleep. I just stood him in the floor, collapsed in his harness while his mother beamed. I pulled out a cold one from the large compartment under his bottom. A cold Gatorade, people. Geez.
If I were to rate the performance of the pack, I’d have to say priceless. The load was a little wobbly and jerky, made some cooing noises, and was a little off balance and onto the shoulder where it grabbed my t shirt. A couple stern yanks on the compression straps could fix a lot of that. But I’m thinking back to my external frame roots, the little knees swinging back and forth and arms outstretched, grabbing at branches as they pass. Me marching steadily down a flat path in no particular hurry while carrying the world on my back.