In October 2011, Andrew Forsthoefel walked out of his back door in Pennsylvania and started walking west, taking only what he could carry on his back. His project, called “Walking to Listen,” is to see the country at a walking pace, taking in the sights, the sounds and the stories.
We outfitted Andrew with this year’s most promising gear to see if it could hold up to the rigors of month after month on the road. When we last heard from Andrew, he was making his way through Louisiana. When he got around to writing this review, hewas striding through the plains of eastern Texas, where he paused to tell us about Deuter's Aircontact 55+10, which has carried his gear halfway across the United States.
The Aircontact is a heavy-duty pack designed for long-distance treks with big loads. A built-in rain cover and zippers to access the middle and bottom of the pack are just a couple of the features that make it great when you're carrying a lot of stuff. The mid- and low-pack zips let Forsthoefel quickly reach rain gear, even when it was stowed under a stove, food and mandolin.
“Over the course of my walk, those zips have saved me hours, no exaggeration,” he said.
Our cross-country walker said that the pack is solid, but not overbuilt. He praised the fit. He logs 15 to 20 miles on pavement each day and is carrying 40-plus pounds. Over the first 1,500 miles he rarely had a day when his shoulders were sore when it finally came time to lay the pack down. At 5 pounds, 12 ounces, the Aircontact 55+10 is not the lightest pack out there, but it's one of the most comfortable. In addition to cushy shoulders, the thickly padded backpanel has ample airflow channels that kept Forsthoefel comfortable even walking through Texas in the midday sun.
He also reported that the pack is exceptionally fast drying.
“I was walking through Orange Beach, Alabama, when it started pouring,” Forsthoefel said. “I was soaked through within a few miles. By morning, my clothes were still wet, but my pack was dry."
After nearly 2,500 miles of walking, Forsthoefel says that the pack shows “virtually no wear”—a testament to the Aircontact’s rock-solid construction. $239. deuter.com.
—Berne Broudy & Andrew Freeman