Learning Curve

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IN THE STORE Your hauler should complement your hiking style: Check for accessible pockets if you like stopping for pictures or snacks; go minimalist if you calculate your trail speed in decimal places. Anything about the pack you dislike in the shop, you’ll despise on a rainy Sunday morning 12 miles from the trailhead. Buy a pack for the gear you have—not what you wish for—and make sure your sleeping bag fits in the pack’s intended slot.

IN THE FIELD Store heavy items close to the center of your back to stop your load from toppling you off the trail. After heavy use in humid climes, you’ll eventually want to purge backpack grunge. (Those shoulder straps can get pretty nasty.) Remove the aluminum stays and throw the bag in a front-loading washing machine with a technical-gear cleaner such as that made by Nikwax or Granger’s. No matter how weatherproof your pack’s exterior, consider a weightless tie-on rain cover. Companies like Outdoor Research and Arc’teryx sell these separately in various sizes for $24—$56.

IN THE FUTURE Expect packs to continue to shrink—as more gear gets the titanium treatment, and more people take shorter and faster trips. In 2006, look for photovoltaic-cell panels that tap the sun to recharge your GPS, cell phone, and the LED that lights up your tent after dusk.

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