Sound the trumpets! Bring in the revelers! Today is the day you’ve all been waiting for (or at least that I’ve been waiting for). It’s time to unveil Jor’s 2013 A.T. Thru-Hike Pack. Get excited, folks!
Back in December, I had an ill-fated experience in which I announced which pack I’d bought and then within a week sheepishly took it back for poor fit. I vowed that I wouldn’t make that error again and would only pull back the curtain if I were positive about my choice.
If I may, let me take you back several months. The first month after I’d decided to thru-hike the A.T. I spent in a whirlwind of research. If you look at my blog posts from this period (August – September), you’ll see that I spoke broadly about my feelings and made small decisions that I would later reverse (Does the stove ring a bell?). By October, I’d gotten enough of a handle on the situation to begin actually looking at gear options.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I’ve been unabashedly contacting companies for support, and I started this in October. At the time, I thought nothing of my pack. “It’s just a backpack. I’m sure any will do.” As such, I contacted several companies and was glad to hear back from more than one for consideration. (Mind you, none had agreed, but neither had all rejected my request.) Gregory Packs was one of these companies.
Now located in Salt Lake City, Utah, Gregory Packs was established in 1977 by Wayne Gregory, who had been designing packs since he was a 14 year old Boy Scout in San Diego, California. According to the website, Gregory was “the first to build backpacks in different frame, harness and waist belt sizes; the first (and still only) pack manufacturer to develop a waistbelt system that adjusts to fit different hip angles, automatically improving load transfer; and developed the center-locking bar tack, a stitch that ends and locks off on the center of a seam instead of the side for increased strength at major stress points,” among other innovations over the years.
Back to my search, I put the companies’ (including Gregory’s) emails on the backburner for a while so that I could focus on actually trying out packs. If you refer back to my post from December 13, you’ll see that, above all else, I had been concerned about my pack weight. All of the “loud” people in the online forums cautioned me to keep base weight (everything but food and water) below 20 pounds, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do that with a 5 pound pack.
So, I limited my search to female packs that were in the three pound range. I had also convinced myself that a pack with a sturdy external spine (as opposed to a “trampoline back”) would create too much pressure on my lower back. These factors dictated my choice, which all but eliminated Gregory as an option in my mind.
After having tried out the initial pack I purchased, I realized that I might actually need a more forgiving pack and that a trampoline back in fact did not provide enough support to my lower back. Here, I thought I knew everything when in reality I needed that sturdy external spine! (Flip flopping on a decision. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.) And yet, I was still stuck on the pack’s weight (“Ounces add up to pounds!” playing on repeat in the back of my head).
I went to return my initial purchase and found myself in line instead to make an exchange for a 4.5 pound pack. When I made it to the Returns counter, I got into a long conversation with the REI employee helping me. She wished me luck with the pack and told me that, if it didn’t work, she’d recommend the Gregory Deva 60. I protested,
“Seriously? But that thing’s five and a half pounds!”
to which she responded,
“Yeah, It’s got all the bells and whistles, though. All of the extra weight is in the cushioning and support. If you experience any weakness or muscular imbalance, that pack features a way to take the pressure off. In fact, not only do I recommend it for women that are hard to fit, but I’m saving up to buy it for myself.”
With that stored away for later, I went on my merry way. Hm, maybe I hadn’t written Gregory Packs off just yet. I thought about it for a few days before I came to the conclusion that I would try out the Gregory Deva 60 too. I kept looking at the calendar and getting worried that I wouldn’t have a pack (not just any pack this time; the right pack) in time so figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have two packs against which to compare.
After a false start when I tried to hike Annapolis Rock under a sheet of ice, I tried out the Deva when I hiked at Ashby Hollow. Very quickly, I fell in love. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do justice to all of its features, but I’ll aim to highlight what I noticed that day.
First, Ashby Hollow is part of the stretch of A.T. called the “Rollercoaster” with a lot of quick, steep changes in elevation. The Deva features a hipbelt with independently rotating load transfer panels. What this means as far as my hiking experience is that the weight of the pack seamlessly shifted between my hips without a feeling of jolting between steps as I’d come to expect. The pack felt like it was a part of me as opposed to something that was sticking off of my back.
Second, both the shoulder straps and hipbelt are extremely well cushioned and perfectly spaced/curved for my smaller frame. (Incidentally, they’re also interchangeable if the default size that comes with your pack doesn’t fit well.) I felt absolutely no pressure on my upper back, shoulders, and neck. And the sturdy spine added an integral level of lumbar support for my lower back.
Third, the Deva most certainly does have all the bells and whistles in terms of its compartments. One can access the main compartment from the top or the front, and there is a sleeping bag compartment toward the bottom. In addition, there are two side compartments for items needed throughout the day and two smaller ones in the hipbelt (for chapstick, etc.) as well as a lid that can be removed to become a messenger bag. And, although it seems like a small detail, it struck me how streamlined the pack’s water bottle pockets are; even when fitted with a water bottle (or, as in my case, cans of chickpeas), the pockets do not stick out in profile.
I finished the hike that day feeling a little sad. “Oh no! I’ve fallen in love with the heavy pack. It wasn’t supposed to be the heavy pack! Dang it! Sigh, let’s try out the lighter one anyway.” I never said it was tidy inside my head.
The next day I tried out the other pack and knew right away that it wasn’t going to work. I compared every single feature I highlighted above, and the Deva bested it on all accounts. The differences really struck me. “Both packs are loaded to 32 pounds. How could the Deva feel five pounds lighter? It’s heavier!”
With the warnings of the “ultralight” folk still echoing in the back of my head, I sent an email to Patrice, who – with her husband Justin – runs the Bears Den Trail Center. When I’d attended the ATC-sponsored thru-hiker workshop there in November, I could’ve sworn I heard Patrice say she used the Deva during her thru-hike. Patrice confirmed that she did and that she loved it. She did recommend a pack cover since the Deva is made of thicker material, which gets even heavier when wet. She also said she saw plenty of Devas along the trail and that (what I’m calculating as) a 24 pound base weight isn’t bad at all (and she gave me some helpful tips on how to keep it down).
Phew! Self doubt undermined! OK, well that decides it. I will not compromise and suffer for the sake of a fairly arbitrary weight limit for my pack.
Knowing that the Gregory Deva 60 would be The One, I followed up with my contact at Gregory Packs to check on the status of my request. To my great surprise, I was told that Gregory would be happy to product sponsor me for my trek! (Seriously? Seriously!) I absolutely cannot believe how fortunate I am to have Gregory’s support! (That pun is a coincidence – a happy, happy coincidence.)
Keeping in mind that I was set on a female pack (better for my hips and frame), I spoke with my contact at Gregory, and he talked through the options with me. The only pack I hadn’t heard of was the Cairn 58, which is a brand new pack for 2013. The Cairn is considered the lightweight version (at about 1.5 pounds lighter) of the Deva (even has similar independent load transfer panels), but it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles (mega cushioning and tons of compartments).
I think it’d be really cool to try a brand new-to-the-market pack, but considering my issues with finding the right fit, I’m not brave enough to be the proverbial guinea pig. If you are, you’ll have to let me know how it goes!
Instead, Gregory Packs graciously agreed to send me a size small Deva 60 as well as a medium rain cover. And for good measure, I was provided the following links to make sure that I better understand pack fit and how to appropriately wear my Deva. I took a look, and the links are really helpful. I encourage you to check them out if you’re interested in learning more about pack fit (either for Gregory Packs specifically or packs generally).
Every day that brings me closer to Springer Mountain in Georgia, I’m feeling more and more confident that I have the right gear, which is one of the foundations for a successful thru-hike. The Gregory Deva 60 is no exception to that boost in confidence. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the pack is the most important piece of gear to consider.
As stressful as the process was, I’m glad that I took my time and found the pack that was right for me, the pack – all five and a half pounds of it – that will ultimately set me up to reach Mount Katahdin in Maine.