Q:

What's the latest in backpack innovation?

Where do you think things are going in terms of backpack innovation? I looking to buy a bag for base-cp-style backpacking, but I don't want one that is outdated or poorly designed. I want cutting edge. It seems everyone focuses on weight, but in my mind accessibility is equally important. Zachary Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Jan 28, 2004
Outside
Outside Magazine

Terraplane LTW

A: Oh dear, an existential reader. Where are we going? How will we know when we get there? And will it matter? Sheesh, I hate these questions.

But, always being up for a challenge, I'll have a go. It's clear that pack makers are focusing on getting their bags as light as physically possible. This also happened about 20 years ago, and then all the packs fell apart. So everybody sort of overcompensated and produced these Sherman tanks that you strapped onto your back. Still, it's clear that reducing bag weight has its limits. A few years ago, a typical good-quality, 5,500-cubic-inch pack weighed in the neighborhood of six or seven pounds. Case in point: the six-pound, nine-ounce Dana Terraplane ($399; www.danadesign.com). New materials and good design can cut that weight still further to four or five pounds. Exhibit A: the Mountainsmith Specter, weighing in at a fighting four pounds, ten ounces ($280; www.mountainsmith.com). But anything below that and you're really going to start losing load support and durability. Pack bag design, from an access standpoint, is another issue. Gear makers all have their own styles, and you can either figure out what makes sense to you, or buy a pack for other reasons and just get used to the layout. In a large pack, I generally prefer a bag that has a sleeping bag compartment and one large, single upper space. On the outside, I like two vertical pockets, a zippered pack hood, and lots of lash-on spaces. That pretty much describes the Terraplane, which has been my number-one pack for many years. I'm used to it, it works, and it doesn't make me think too hard.

Call me a Luddite, but I wouldn't get cutting edge. I'd get a proven, known quantity. Dana Design, Gregory, Lowe Alpine, Osprey, Arc'Teryx, Kelty—they all offer products that have been through a few production cycles and have had a chance to iron out any bugs.

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