Carrying System

Backpack

Sewing details here.

My initial pack was the Golite Breeze, which was a commercial version of Ray Jardine's ultralight pack. This pack had several problems. When used with the standard two-shoulder carrying method, there was no sternum strap, so that the shoulder strap pads tended to slip into the underarm area and pick up perspiration smell, which was difficult to remove, even with laundering with bleach. Perhaps Mirazyme would have removed the smell, but I didn't know about Mirazyme then. I was using the pack in Europe at the time, and stinking was a problem due to how I was constantly coming into towns. So I switched to Jardine's one-shoulder carrying method, both to reduce the smell problem and to allow better ventilation of my back. Unfortunately, the placement of the Breeze straps and their materials was such that the pack tended to slip when carried using the one-shoulder carrying method. Also, the one-shoulder carrying method is only comfortable when the pack is under about 9 kilos (20 pounds), but I often exceeeded this limit due to the need to carry large amounts of water in the dry conditions of southern Europe. In any case, the one-shoulder carrying method couldn't be used when scrambling over rough trail, which is common in Europe, since I needed to keep my hands free.

Jardine says sternum straps interfere with breathing. I find the hip belt is the bigger problem, because mostly I breathe using my diaphragm and stomach muscles rather than with my upper chest muscles. Hip belts also tend to cause my hip muscles to tighten up over time. So now I only use the hip belt to hold the backpack in place when climbing over rocks, so that the backpack doesn't tumble over my head, and never use the hip belt to carry weight. I keep the sternum strap buckled at all times, because I'd rather lose a little lung capacity than stink up my pack straps, as happened to me once when I did not use a sternum strap.

My next pack was the Golite Gust medium, which weighed 500 grams after removing various unneeded features. At 50 liters (not including extension collar), the Gust was considerably larger than the Breeze, which I liked, because my gear is quite bulky. It included a hipbelt, but lacked the external pockets of the Breeze. I added a sternum strap so as to prevent the shoulder strap pads from slipping into the underarm area, and this worked fairly well to keep the pads from stinking when used with the two-shoulder carrying method. With the two-shouler carrying method combined, this pack was comfortable for up to about 16 kilos (35 pounds) which is the most I normally carry. Because of different placement and materials of the shoulder straps, the Gust was also easier to carry than the Breeze using the one-shoulder carrying method. So I experimented extensively with this carrying method, before finally deciding that its main advantage (better ventilation of the back) was not sufficient to offset the two disadvantages (lower weight limit and lack of two free hands for scrambling). Both the Gust and Breeze were made of 6 oz/sqyd Dyneema reinforced ripstop, which is an extremely strong and moderately abrasion-resistant fabric. Due to the lack of abrasion resistance, the bottom of the pack began to show wear after about 3000 trail miles. Also, the fabric's urethane coating was delaminated everywhere after this amount of use. I ran through four of these packs over the years. By the time the fourth pack was worn out, Golite was no longer manufacturing this pack and I didn't much care for the replacement models, so I decided to try making my own pack.

The pack I made is a simplification of the Gust, and reflects my experience as to what I want in a backpack:

Silnylon stuff sacks

Details here. Large sack for quilt and clothing. Silnylon leaks under hydrostatic pressure (such as from backpack pressing against sweaty back), so a plastic liner is required to ensure waterproofness of this large sack. One medium and one small sack for miscellaneous items, with the small sack normally carried inside the medium sack. One medium sack for the polarguard insulated pullover or down vest (which also serves as a pillow), carried outside the large sack. Two more medium sacks for organizing small clothing items inside the large sack. Total of 100 grams.

(optional) Plastic liner for large stuff sack

Details here. It is possible to buy 2mil thick plastic trash compactor bags, but these come in inconvenient sizes and are often heavily perfumed, which is why I made my own liner for the large stuff sack. Top can be twisted shut for better waterproofing. 50 grams. (Nowadays, I arrange to mostly avoid rain. Also, gear is usually kept dry by either poncho covering backpack during heavy rain, or ground pad on sides and waterproof fabric on bottom of backpack during light rain. Finally, a little wetness in sleep quilt is not a disaster.)

Neckpurse

Details here. Can be carried as a shoulder purse while not carrying the backpack. Attached to or inside the neckpurse while hiking would be: flashlight, whistle, compass, GPS, current map or guidebook, waterproof liner/drysack for valuables (wallet, camera, mobile phone, spare maps or guidebooks), possibly clothing items (mittens, insulated hat, headnet).

Waterproof liner for neckpurse

Details here. For keeping books and electronics dry inside neckpurse, since neckpurse is not intended to be waterproof. I experimented with commercially available waterproof stuff sacks and dry sacks, but the waterproof coating tends to wear out and fail unexpectedly. Whereas my liner is two layers, with coated sides facing so there is reduced abrasion, and with no seams between layers so that even if one layer fails, there is still another layer of protection. All this for about the same weight as a commercial drysack. 90 grams.

Coinpocket with neckcord

Modified Eagle Creek Coin Pocket. Modifications: remove see-through cardpocket; add keyring loop to inside of other card pocket, attach cord. Attached to loop on outside of pants and carried in pocket while in the city. Carried in neckpurse while hiking. Contains keys, coins and small amounts of currency. Watch normally attached to the same cord as the coinpocket, so as to be readily available at all times. Empty weight, including cord and keyring but not keys, coins, currency, or attached watch, is 30 grams.

Hanging wallet

By Eagle Creek. Hangs inside pants while in the city. Carried in neckpurse while hiking. Can also hang around neck while sleeping in airports or other locations where security is an issue, and I don't want the wallet inside my pants because that would interfere with side sleeping. Contains large amounts of currency, passport, driver's license, credit cards, list of important numbers. Passport and list of important numbers are protected from moisture by 4"x7" aloksak. Possibly carry two of these hanging wallets, one on each side of body. Put passport, small amount of currency and one ATM card in one wallet and present that wallet to robbers. Put drivers license, remaining ATM and credit cards and large amounts of currency in other wallet. Spare wallet can also be used for carrying smartphone at night or other situations where neck purse not being carried. 30 grams empty.

Aloksaks

By Loksak. For protection from moisture. Much more durable than ordinary zip-lock bags. 12"x12" size (30 grams each) for maps and guidebook, 9"x6" size (13 grams each) for storing and organizing papers, 4"x7" size (7 grams each) for electronics, wallet liner, vitamins and water purification tablets, repair kit. Printed lettering on Aloksaks can be removed using rubbing alcohol. Excess plastic along closure can be trimmed with scissors. Aloksaks will typically last at least 3 months if not heavily abused, assuming no manufacturing defect. The most common defect is for the zip-closure to come detached from the remainder of the envelope. When this happens, the envelope continues to provide partial protection, which often all that is required. For example, insert a guide book inside a 12"x12" envelope with broken zip-closure, then simply fold the top over and place in the neck purse. Water that seeps into the neck purse will not get into the envelope and thus the book will be protected.

Tools Case

Details here. For carrying sharp and abrasive tools inside toiletries sack and/or neckpurse when walking around city. 20g.

(High Sierras only) Bear canister

Wild Ideas Bearikade Expedition size (14.8 liters, 9" outer diameter, 14" outer height, 1050 grams). Wrap with blaze orange tape to make easier to find if bear moves it. Holds about 9 days food. This allows for 10 days of travel (240 miles at 24 miles/day), since the first meal of the first day does not need to be carried, and the last meal of the last day can be eaten at the resupply location.

Silnylon food sack

Details here. Lined with opsak, so as to protect the opsak from damage from items in the pack, and protect the rest of the pack from food smells. In Europe, one of these food sacks is used to hold a 12x12" Aloksak containing books, to protect the Aloksak from damage from items in the pack. Close sack by twisting neck and tying shut. 25 grams each.

Opsak

By Loksak. Odorproof/waterproof plastic food sack. 12.5" wide by 20" long. 45 grams each.

9"x10" opsaks (not shown) for carrying bicycle chain oil bottle, whose oil has a very strong smell. 15g each.

Medium sized plastic bags

For holding trash and organizing foods inside opsak. 3 to 5 bags, 9" x 15" or thereabouts, weighing about 30 grams total.

Carrying system for water

For hiking in the United States, I carry a 1L Nalgene high-density polyethylene bottles plus 6L Dromedary bladder. For bicycle touring in the United States, I carry 2 x 600ml Nalgene ATB bottles in cages in the front triangle of the bike, plus 4 x 6L Dromedary bladders in the panniers. (My first bike tour was without front panniers, so I only carried 3 of these bladders, two in the rear panniers and one in the front triangle, as discussed here here.) For hiking in Europe, I use 2 x 1.5L Nalgene high-density polyethylene bottles plus 2 x 1L generic polyethylene water bottles from the grocery store.

Steripen pre-filter fits opening on all of the Nalgene bottles as well as the MSR dromedary bladders. In practice, I mostly use the pre-filter while hiking in the United States, attaching it to the 1L bottle, then pouring from the bottle into the bladder, since using the pre-filter directly on the bladder is cumbersome.

I also carry an MSR 3-in-1 cap in my toiletries/miscellaneous stuff sack. When hiking, I replace the standard cap on the Nalgene bottle with this 3-in-1 cap when I want to use to bottle to wash up (rinse salt off my face, rinse my toothbrush, wash my hands and bottom after defecating, etc). This cap is also a spare in case the 3-in-1 cap on a bladder fails or gets lost (both of which have happened to me during bicycle tours).

All bladders and water bottles are subject to bacterial growth. This can be controlled by cleaning during town stops. Fill with some water plus either water purifying tablets (chlorine-dioxide or sodium dichloroisocyanurate) or bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Shake, let sit for several hours, shake again, rinse. Some laundry bleaches contain perfumes and other additives, whereas MSR Sweetwater purifier solution is pure sodium hypochlorite. All liquid forms of sodium hypochlorite have the disadvantage that they degrade within 6 months or less of opening the sealed bottle, as the chlorine escapes, whereas tablets sealed in foil pouches are longer-lasting. Before putting bladders into storage, clean as just described then let thoroughly dry.

If temperatures will drop below freezing at night, store the bladder (or one of the bladders if bike touring) under the backpack/rackbag, which is spread out in front of the bugbivy near the head. This works especially well in the desert or high sierras in early autumn, when temps are typically well above freezing during the day and then fall below freezing at night, so that the earth is warm at sundown. The two layers of backpack/rackbag fabric will hold this earth heat, supplemented with heat from the head, to prevent the bladder from freezing. If uncertain if this will work, check the bladder during the night for signs of freezing. If the bladder threatens to freeze, bring it inside the bugbivy and under the quilt. The bottle (or one of the bottles when bike touring) can also be placed under the rackbag, or it can also be brought inside the bugbivy, or it can be emptied into the bladder in the evening and then refilled in the morning or whenever needed to cleanup after defecating.

1L Nalgene bottle

Nalgene HDPE wide-mouth. A bottle is easier to use for washing up and gathering water than a bladder, which is why I carry a bottle in addition to the bladder when hiking in the United States. The bottle also serves as an emergency backup in case the bladder breaks. 115 grams.

1.5L Nalgene bottles

Nalgene HDPE wide-mouth. MSR Dromedary bladders are reliable but still break occasionally, whereas bottles like these are almost indestructible and also easier to fill at water spigots, which is why I replaced the bladder and smaller bottle with these larger bottles for hiking in Europe. I also saved 50g of weight this way. The reduced capacity (3L versus 6.5L) is normally not a problem in Europe. If necessary, I can supplement with generic 1.5L bottles from the grocery store. 150g each.

600ml Nalgene bottles

Nalgene ATB bottles, with spigot cap replaced by MSR 3-in-1 cap (more durable and weighs 10 grams less), carried in bottle cages in front triangle of bike. Made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic like the other Nalgene bottles. However, for some reason those bottles never develop smells whereas these bottles start stinking of plastic after about a day, perhaps because the plastic is softer or perhaps because these bottles are left exposed to the sun rather than protected inside my backpack. I tried removing the smell with various methods (dilute bleach, full-strength bleach, denture cleaning tablets) but it returns almost immediately. It's as though the plastic were dissolving into the water. I only use the water in these bottles for cleaning purposes (toothbrush, washing hands and bottom, cleaning chain, rinsing salt off my face), so the smell is not that big an issue, though I'd prefer not to have such smell. If I were relying on re-usable bottles for drinking water while cycling, I'd probably go with stainless steel or aluminum. Or get an extra-large bottle-carrier and use 1.5L disposable water bottles from the grocery store. 95g each.

Generic 1L bottle

Polyethylene water bottle from grocery store in Spain, originally contained carbonated water. 35g each.

6L bladders

MSR Dromedary (urethane-lined cordura, 235 grams including carrying strap). Though capacity is nominally 6L, in practice I can only fill to about 5.5L under field conditions.

MSR Dromedary bladders are the only water bladders I trust. I absolutely do not trust the Platypus and similar polyethylene bladders. Aside from being prone to cracking and leaking, these polyethylene bladders have sharp edges, which tend to cut other items in the pack, and the clear plastic promotes growth of algae. The weak point of MSR bladders is the seam between hard plastic opening and fabric. This seam is much weaker on the MSR Dromlite than the MSR Dromedary, due to the much lighter fabric on the former. I experienced such a seam breakage on a 4 liter MSR Dromlite after about a month of usage. I also heard reports of other backpackers on the PCT having damage to this seam on their MSR Dromlites. Dromedaries weighs more than Dromlites (or Platypus and similar polyethylene bladders), but I am far more concerned about reliability than a small amount of extra weight where water bladders is concerned. Even if using the stronger Dromedary, I advise inserting a finger in the opening to hold the bladder while filling, rather than using the handle, so as to reduce stress on the opening to fabric seam, since this is the weak point of these bladders.

In addition to failure of the plastic opening to fabric seam, pinhole punctures are also possible with Dromedary bladders. I have been able to fix three such pinhole punctures so far by drying the bladder, then applying a thick coat of McNett seamgrip to the puncture from either outside, inside or both sides of the bladder. Seamgrip is polyurethane, same as what the MSR bladders use to waterproof the cordura nylon shell. Bring along several 1/4 oz tubes of seamgrip in the repair kit, rather than a single large tube, since seamgrip tends to dry up once the seal on the tube is broken, even if the cap is replaced securely. I tried but was unable to fix a slow leak due to seam failure between plastic opening and fabric.

Another failure is the threads on the MSR 3-in-1 cap can go bad, so that there is a slow leak, especially when the bladder is put under pressure. The 3-in-1 cap in my toiletries kit serves as a spare.


Other carrying system ideas

Splash Caddy

By Loksak. Holds 4"x7" Aloksak inside zippered pocket, with straps for securing around lower leg or arm. Thought this might be useful for holding valuables while swimming at the beach. Not needed since I only go swimming in secluded places, where securing my valuables is not necessary. 50 grams.

Lock for securing pack

PacSafe Retractasafe 100, consisting of a combination lock with integrated retractable steel cable, together with a length of steel mesh cable (salvaged from another PacSafe product) passed through a grommet in the side of my pack and sewed into an inner seam. The idea was that I would be able to lock the pack to some sort of post when forced to leave it at the front of grocery stores. This system would not deter determined thieves, first because the pack itself is not lockable and thus the contents can be easily accessed at any time, and second because the steel cable can be easily sliced out of the pack seam using a razor (though this would ruin the pack). However, the system would stop the opportunistic snatch and run type thieves. I used this lock a few times and it worked okay, though I felt a bit foolish locking my pack when everyone else was leaving packages at the front of the grocery store unlocked. The reason I eventually abandoned the lock was worries about it jamming somehow, so that I would be forced to seek out a hacksaw to cut the outside cable or else seam-rip the mesh cable that was sewed inside my pack. The same objection applies to any lock—what if the lock jams? 40 grams for the lock, plus 15 grams for the steel cable.

Dry sack

I used a dry sack initially instead of silnylon food sacks lined with opsaks, which worked well enough to protect food and spare books from moisture. However, the dry sack alone is apparently not odor-proof, since a rodent of some sort chewed through the dry sack on the PCT while I was sleeping, which is why I switched. The dry I used was the size XL (20 liters) Sea to Summit lightweight urethane-coated nylon dry sack with roll-top closure, ordered from Summit Hut or REI. In my experience, these bags will last at least 6 months (3000 miles) of hard backpacking use without any leakage (assuming a rodent doesn't chew through them). Avoid the Sea to Summit silnylon/silcordura sacks, which leak due to hydrostatic pressure. 125 grams.

Waterproof stuff sack for quilt and clothes

Size XXL (30 liters) Sea to Summit seam-sealed stuff sack with drawcord closure, ordered from Summit Hut. Small amounts of moisture can leak in at the top; however, this is unlikely to be a major problem, since I normally cover my pack with a poncho when it is raining heavily and the synthetic quilt is unaffected by small amounts of moisture. Not large enough for my current synthetic quilt, which is why I replaced with the large silnylon sack plus plastic bag liner. 90 grams.

Outdoor Research Hydrolite stuff sacks

Hydrolite is not fully waterproof. The leakage is minor and hence not a concern with clothing or synthetic quilts, but is a definite problem with books and other paper items. After about a month of use (500 miles/800 km) the seam taping came undone on the stuff sack I was using for my clothes and quilt. After about 3 months (1500 miles/2400 km) the hydrolite had delaminated over much of the bottom of this stuff sack, so that my quilt and spare clothes became damp every time it rained or I set my pack down on moist ground. I did not abuse this stuff sack inordinately. The Sea-to-Summit Lightweight stuff sacks are similar in construction and weight to the Outdoor Research Hydrolite stuff sacks, but the seam taping and fabric are much more durable.

Granite Gear stuff sacks

I saw these at REI. The 25 liter size appears very similar in materials and construction to the 20 liter Sea-to-summit sacks that worked successfully for me, except with a flimsier (but also lighterweight) side-release. I will try these Granite Gear sacks if Sea-to-Summit ever stops making theirs. Otherwise, I'll follow the maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Cuben instead of silnylon

Medium cuben stuff sack for holding insulated pullover split after about 1 month, due to the pressure of my head when I used this sack and its contents as a pillow. Medium and small cuben sacks used for holding toiletries and miscellaneous gear showed little wear after 6 months, but the weight savings for cuben versus silnylon is negligible for these size sacks (most of the weight is in the cord-lock and draw cord). Large cuben stuff sack begin splitting in many places after 3 months and barely made it to 6 months. Large cuben sack was 20 grams versus 40 grams for a large silnylon sack, but I don't consider this weight savings to be worth the reduced durability. Cuben is also expensive and a nuisance to sew, because seams must be reinforced with mylar tape.