Posted on: 2012-08-16 22:24:00 -0400

We’re starting our next Iceland adventure with a six-day hike. We're hiking between huts and need to carry all our food, clothes, and sleeping bags but not a tent, sleeping pads, cookware, or stove & fuel. My fantastic ten-year-old Mountainsmith Bugaboo day pack just wasn’t going to cut it this time. Laying out gear indicated that I’d need ~40 liters not counting my sleeping bag and camera tripod. The idea was to find a pack small enough to work as a day pack, rugged enough to last the rest of my life, and with external attachments for overloading (e.g., strap the sleeping bag and camera tripod to the outside).

Looking around online quickly turned up the Kifaru Zulu. Kifaru is run by Patrick Smith, who originally founded Mountainsmith. Kifaru packs continue his pack philosophy with heavy Cordura construction and wide, flat shoulder and hip belts that mold to your shoulders and hips. I’ve never had good luck with thickly padded belts on packs, as they generally don’t conform well and create hot spots. The Kifaru offered plenty of room plus the option to expand capacity via a floating top lid and external pouches. What’s not to like? Problem was, Kifaru couldn’t guarantee delivery in less than six weeks, and I’d be in Iceland by then.

I next looked at Mystery Ranch packs but didn’t see anything that really tickled my fancy. The packs in my size range seemed overly heavy for the capacity or oddly tall and narrow.

Poking around REI didn’t turn up anything exciting. The Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter packs didn’t inspire confidence with the thin materials in many places. They also suffered from some combination of uncomfortable suspension, oddly shaped compartments, lack of external attachment points, or other quirks. One reasonable option was the Mammut Triton Guide¬†45, which¬†offered reasonable expandability, but the load-lifter straps ran straight back from my shoulders and weren't doing much lifting. It also had a side-access zipper for getting at items in the bottom of the pack. Some of the packs that I examined had top access only, and that seems like it could get old without a number of side pockets for items you'd access during the day.

I ended up ordering a Mountainsmith Lookout 45, which REI sadly didn’t stock. It&qsquo;s about 3/4 pound heavier than the packs at REI but had the heavy fabric that I like. Seems like a fair trade. It also offered a sleeping-bag compartment in the bottom, a removable divider, pouch for a water bladder, and plenty of external attachment points. It also featured an extended storm collar and floating lid for additional capacity.

The adjustment system for fitting the shoulder straps wasn&qsquo;t easy, but that&qsquo;s a one-time job. It got its first test last weekend with a 6.2-mile hike and ~1,800 feet of elevation gain around Kennesaw Mountain carrying 1,000 rounds of .223 and a bunch of other odds and ends to get the weight up past 35 lb. It worked out real nice with the suspension and compression straps did a fine job of keeping the weight close to my body and loaded onto my hips. Very auspicious for steep terrain. Access into the pack seems fine, and it has plenty of external pockets for storage as well as lash points for strapping items under the pack or over the lid.

The one downside is that the ventilation seems just okay. It weighs nearly a pound more than some packs with a similar capacity. Some folks might call that a downside, but I&qsquo;d say it&qsquo;s a fair price for the sturdy fabric and frame. The padding on the shoulder straps and hip belts isn&qsquo;t thick fit fits comfortably just like my Bugaboo I'll be able to make a better call on the pack after living out of it in Iceland but anticipate that I'll still be using it ten years from now.