Wednesday, July 7, 2010

PackPack overview

My son Tobias has a backpack his mother picked out in Berlin. It's colorful, well made (a Deuter) and he is crazy about it: he's been known to perform all kinds of unlikely activities in his 'pack pack'. Frankly, I was so jealous I had to go out and get a colorful Deuter pack too ( I chose one of the Guide series, partly because I too liked the color, but largely because it addressed a number of issues encountered over the many years and many packs.

I've had more packs than I can remember, starting with early external frame (think old style Kelty's). The big moment was when I received an early internal frame pack (I think it was a Hine Snowbridge, a great old Boulder CO company from the era of Gerry et al.) It spent about a month in the bottom of my father's closet and whenever I could, I would sneak furtive peeks. This pack took me through my teens, a period of very heavy use, and was only sold when more comfortable mass-produced items like Lowe made became available to replace it.

There are still both mass market and small 'boutique' pack makers, and the top offerings come from both ends of that spectrum. For elite climbers and skiers, Graham Williams' company CiloGear makes an exceptionally light and well-made product ( Similarly Randy Rackliff's brand Cold Cold World ( has long been a coveted item, with a no nonsense offering for dedicated Alpine use. These manufacturers and other domestic ones like Mystery Ranch (, created by the Dana Designs founder.) Especially if you care about made in USA, these companies provide exceptional products, good value, and incomparable features for high-end alpine pursuits ranging from climbing to skiing to hunting.

Next post I'll talk about some excellent packs from larger manufacturers including Black Diamond, Mountain Hardware and others. I'll also get into some individual models, pros/cons and personal tastes.

Introduction to Thom's Gear

This blog was inspired by Jan Baracz ( a very talented artist with a sense of humor about many things, not least of which is my ongoing obsession with gear. I remember very clearly a time when I was in my early teens, in the middle of a two week backcountry hiking trip, the wind changed and I heard a conversation about me being conducted in low voices by my companions. I had spread my equipment out to dry and sort it and was modifying, sorting and just generally obsessing. I can't remember the exact commentary, but I think something like 'he's always been like this...' came up at one point. That same trip (to Glacier National Park in Washington State) had started with a group vote about crampons and ice axes. We were going a long ways, and the team was divided on whether or not to bring these: with the right conditions we could have made the summit with only the leader chopping the occasional step, saving the individual members of the group a pound or few over the course of two weeks. The nays had it, we left the gear, and failed to summit, in part due to the extra time the lack of the proper gear. There are plenty of times when less is in fact more too. This blog is all about what we bring to where, why we bring it, and what seems to work best. It's a highly personal examination of the obsession of many an enthusiast: gear.