Finding a Fastpack: The Search

If I am going to give this fastpacking thing a go, I am going to need a new pack. Much to my dismay my very favourite hiking pack, the Osprey Tempest 40L, just doesn’t run very well. I need a pack that can hold my gear, and not bounce while running. This means I am on the hunt! This kind of pack is pretty niche, so finding the right one won’t be terribly straight forwards. I started by outlining my anticipated usage, so that I could better narrow down the field.

A few facts that will shape what kind of pack will suit me best:

  • I figure I will likely be running downhills/flats while walking up hills and more technical terrain. This means it will be a mix of walking and running. I hope to move fast for me, a terribly slow runner, so that my dog can do canicross and I can camp, not be out there setting FKTs. This means while it does need to be stable/not bouncy while I run, it still needs to be comfortable the rest of the time too.
  • I have used frameless packs before, and find the one that I have acceptable to run in (ie it doesn’t bounce). Unfortunately the one I have is an old children’s school bag that I used back when I very first started backpacking and it is just too small. At 23L it ALMOST fits my current kit, and could if it had some lash points and a water bottle pocket. It would be a bit of a tight fit with dog gear. With this knowledge, I figure I would like to try something in the 30L range.
  • I am still dialling it in, but my base weight for a solo summer trip in fair weather (with no dog), hovers around 10 lbs. This puts me right at the edge of the frameless pack weights once I add dog food and accessories, food, and water for 3 days. I figure 3 days would be the longest trip I would be looking to do with this pack.
  • I do not typically carry a stove in the summer.
  • This pack won’t need to double as a more general use pack – I have ones I love for non-running use, trips over 3 days, or trips where both dogs and/or my husband comes.
  • I assumed that this will be a pack I will use mostly here in the east. The water situation is typically pretty good here, so I am assuming with the above weights that I will not be carrying more than 2 or so litres of water max.
  • I’m assuming Sei will not be carrying his backpack for a trip that will be largely running. This means I need to carry all of his stuff too.
  • Figuring out what works and what doesn’t for me is going to take some trial and error, as such, I don’t want to spend an enormous amount of money just yet.

I am also a bit picky about packs. For this one, the features I would like my pack to have are:

  • Outside water bottle pocket(s): I don’t plan to use a hydration bladder with this pack, as water is usually abundant where I hike at the moment. I don’t need a pack to be hydration compatible (and I have used a bladder with packs that aren’t before without issue) but I do want my water bottle accessible without taking the pack off. I don’t have any preference between strap mounted or side mounted pockets yet.
  • No zippers for the main compartment! I just don’t love them on my packs. Either a roll top or a cinch collar with a flap over top would be fine.
  • A Stretch Front Pocket: I like having a place on the front of my pack to stuff things like wet tarps or rain gear. Especially because my beloved rain coat is a full 3 layer hardshell (not ultralight in the least!) and it takes up a lot of pack room. I would compromise on a shock cord zig zag if I had to.
  • Lash points: I want a place to attach my sleeping pad and my hiking poles to the outside of the pack. I am flexible on type and placement.
  • A Hip Strap: While a hip belt doesn’t take weight on the kind of pack I am thinking of, it does help stop the bounce when I run. Plain webbing is fine.
  • Exterior Pockets: In addition to the bottle pocket, I would prefer one exterior zippered pocket somewhere for quick access to my food, my knife, dog treats, poop bags, and my phone. This is less of a priority, because I can add a small pouch to a hip belt or shoulder strap if I have to. I just prefer them built in.
  • It must be frameless! So far, running with my frameless pack has been much more successful than a framed one. I’m sure there are lightly framed packs that run great, but I will most likely have to ship the pack to me, so I want to go with what has the highest chance of working for me. They are also easier to fit/alter given that I have a very short torso and won’t be able to try it on first
  • Weight: I’m not a huge stickler here, but under 1 lb would be ideal.

With all that in mind, I have a few categories of pack that I can look into:

The Off-Label-Use Option

There are really two options here: ordering a small frameless pack from one of the cottage companies in the US who make ultralight frameless packs or seeing if I can find something off the rack.

I love the idea of supporting small manufacturers, and they make some really nice packs that can be customized with features and sizing. Unfortunately for me, they are all in the US. Cross border returns are expensive, there is nowhere I can try one on to see if my gear fits and if the pack fits me, and after shipping, taxes, duty, and the exchange rate, the price almost doubles. If I am getting one of these packs, I need to be damn sure its one I am going to love.

The advantage to buying from my local MEC, even online, is that if the pack doesn’t quite fit me or my gear the way I would like, they have a fantastic return policy. I also get to side step the whole ‘shipping from the states’ expense. And, of course, I can drop a price point. Especially when I can look at frameless day packs not designed for running. Having had success with that kind of pack in the past, I think it may just be the best compromise to start with.

The Running Specific Option

Getting a pack specifically designed for long distance running that is ~30L is tricky, but there are a few options I could find out there. They typically come with a vest-style harness, and have been designed specifically to be worn while running. I would love to give one a try and see how much better it is than my off-label-use of day packs! I would hope that this would give me the most comfortable, bounce free carry out of all of the options. None are available in Canada unfortunately, which means all the issues with ordering one from the US or UK.

The Custom Option

From looking around, it looks like that to get exactly what I want, I would have to go custom. There are companies in the states who do this, but it would be extremely expensive between the cost, the exchange, shipping, duty, and taxes. It would also be a little silly, considering I have extensive sewing experience and could do it myself. That would mean I would get a pack exactly the right size, with exactly the right features, that fits me perfectly. The catch? It would still be expensive (technical fabrics are not cheap, especially purchased retail, and I would need quite a bit of prototyping materials, all shipped from the states), and extremely time consuming. I would need to do the pattern drafting, make several prototypes, then go through the iterative process of fit and function testing/re-work, and finally make the pack. Technical fabrics are also somewhat of a pain to work with. Perhaps I will go this route once I have dialled in exactly what I want and need, but for now I’m going to stick with something pre-made by someone else.

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