Boots, backpacks and base layers should be prioritized when budgeting for our outdoor gear. If we have joint or back pain, inappropriate boots or packs are the usual suspects. Backpacks can be divided into three basic categories, day packs, external frame packs and internal frame packs. External frame packs have excellent ventilation and are ideal for hauling heavy loads outdoors. Day packs' comfort and balance are suitable for broader roles but lack the rigidity to support heavy loads. Internal frame packs are somewhere in between. Capacity can be measured in cubic inches or liters. Liters are easier to visualise, being the metric equivalent of one U.S. quart.
Every guy needs a quality day pack for the typical tasks of vacations, college, commuting, day trips, hiking, hunting and overnight camping. Black is the most versatile color choice but solid green is also workable. Day packs usually have no frame and are suitable for loads up to 30 lbs. Modern designs have a foam back pad for rigidity and stability. This also prevents prevents objects poking us in the back. Two basic patterns are available, clamshell and top loader. The top loading medium ALICE and clamshell T.H.E. are proven designs popular with military and civilian users. They are durable, simple and expandable. Both packs also have an optional frame to increase comfort with heavy loads.
1) Medium ALICE: The original multi purpose pack.
If funds are stretched or you expect limited use, then pick up a medium ALICE pack from a military surplus store. It's one of the few day packs compatible with an external frame, which assists sweat evaporation. Like a 'T.H.E.' pack, ALICE capacity may be expanded by attaching sustainment pouches on each side and a MSS carrier pouch on the bottom. It requires a few modifications to enhance durability and comfort. Re-enforce the bag's shoulder strap attachment points with some webbing. Insert a 24"x48" section of sleep pad closed cell foam into the main compartment for comfortable use without a frame. Drill out the frame's rivets and replace with stainless steel bolts. Loctite the nuts. Replace the metal buckles on the main compression straps with quick release ITW fastex buckles.
The original ALICE frame was designed to sit on top of soldier's webbing. Consequently, it can be too short for
torsos longer than 20". The weight hangs on the shoulders rather than sits on the hips. The new one piece DEI 1606AC
polymer frame is slightly longer, quieter and more robust but has less ventilation and rigidity. Maximum load before
deformation is 60 lbs. It accepts original ALICE shoulder straps but not the original hip belt. MOLLE II hip belts
are more comfortable and are compatible with original and DEI frames. MOLLE II shoulder straps adjust for shorter
torsos and are compatible with original and DEI frames. If you find cammo too loud, spray paint is superior to Rit dye.
Apply to exterior side only. Don't confuse DEI's MOLLE frame with their 1606AC frame, only the latter is ALICE Compatible.
2) T.H.E. : Ultimate Day Pack.
Consider the Tactical Holds Everything Pack an update to the 1960's era ALICE pack. It's built without compromise for ultimate durability. Originally designed for private purchase by military troops, the material, hardware and construction exceed stringent military specifications. The black variant has developed a strong following in the civilian market. Construction is from 1000D Dupont Cordura nylon with a 200D internal lining. The heavy duty shoulder straps are a good example of how this pack is put put together. One piece of material is sewn into itself to reduce strain on stitching. The straps travel down into the pack rather than just sewn onto the seem. This quality of stitching just isn't available from Asian suppliers. Poor stitching will continue to fray and rip throughout the life of the pack, requiring constant repair. The attention to detail in both design and execution can only be found in custom backpacks.
The strap padding is thick to distribute pressure comfortably. A sternum strap prevents the shoulder straps slipping under rapid movement. D-rings support the routing of hydration tubes. Vertical web loops enable adjustment of the sternum strap position and attachment of carabiners, knives, flashlights, pace beads, thermometers or compasses. Each shoulder strap has a fastex quick release buckle, which enables the pack to be ditched without removing weapon slings or other appendages like bandoleers or lanyards. They are superior to the metal quick release buckles found on military issue pack harnesses, which have a tendency to inadvertently pop open.
Pack layout is very simple, one main compartment and two external pockets at the rear. Pulling the huge YKK #10 zippers apart, splits the main clamshell for rapid access to all contents. The partial clamshells in the rear pockets and compression strap on the main compartment, eliminate the typical zip failure of clamshell designs. The inside features a zippered mesh pocket and hydration sleeve with two tabbed ports above. The packs lining is yellow to support low light use. Labeling yellow stuff sacks with a sharpie also helps organization. To maximize capacity, integral organizers have been omitted. Spec Ops offers a large organizer pouch which fits the bottom rear pocket. The smaller Maxpedition organizer featured in the accessories section, is compatible with more packs.
Expand the pack's capacity up to 80 liters by attaching a few large pouches. The Pouch Attachment Ladder System is the current military standard for connecting pouches and equipment to backpacks. The outdoor industry has adopted it but refers to it as daisy chain. The design uses horizontal strips of 1" nylon webbing, sewn onto the pack at 1.5" intervals, forming attachment loops. Each strip of webbing is vertically spaced 1" apart, forming a grid. PALS is compatible with ALICE and MOLLE pouches. Attaching military canteen pouches on the rear, sustainment pouches on the side and a sleeping bag carrier on the bottom, is is a matter of interweaving a strap or clip through the pack's PALS loops. Route 1" lashing straps through PALS to attach bulky equipment such as knives, tools, blanket rolls, sleeping bags or roll mats.
Add the optional frame to enhance comfort with loads heavier than 25 lbs. The frame shifts the weight from the shoulders and spine to the hips. Installation is simple, remove the two aluminum stays, place the plastic insert into the hydration sleeve, reinstall each stay through the hydration tube ports. Internal frames have a maximum rating of 60 lbs. They deform under heavier loads, placing all of the weight pack on the shoulders and spine. Heavy items should be packed in the main pocket as close to our back as possible. Use the two compression straps to form the packs contents into a stable load. Light bulky items such as jackets, ponchos and tarps should be loaded into the attached pouches.
There is only one possible negatives with a T.H.E. pack.
It sits tight against the back, the blocked ventilation can lead
to sweaty clothing under heavy activity. This is true of all day packs and internal frame packs. It's a necessary compromise for
multi-purpose function. Some designs use mesh to help air flow, this is an area where a T.H.E. pack could be upgraded. However,
the way people experience the outdoors has changed. We are going out for shorter periods and adopting a casual pace to wind down
from the rat race. A T.H.E. pack is ideal for these circumstances but can be expanded to match the capacity of a large ALICE pack
to support the occasional adventure.
3) Kelty Cache Hauler: Heavy Duty Workhorse.
Ultimately, the goal of external framed packs is to make heavy load carriage comfortable by shifting up to 90% of the weight from the shoulders to the hips. The design of metal external framed backpacks hasn't changed much since the 1950's, when Dick Kelty invented them. In reality, most adventurers would be better off with an external frame model. Admittedly, the higher ride hight of the pack bag isn't as sleek looking as internal frame layouts. However, this feature provides a high center of gravity, permitting the wearer to remain erect with heavy loads. This maximises weight transfer to the hips. The fact that most consumers buy an internal frame design is largely down to marketing. Internal frames are useful when skiing or climbing, where balance is critical.
External frames are typically constructed from welded aluminum tubing. The rigidity of these frames let them cope with heavy loads. Internal frames use aluminum, plastic or fiberglass inserts that deform with loads heavier than 60 lbs. This puts strain on our shoulders and spine. External frames have a gap between the pack and our backs. The back panel's strap indicated above, pushes the load away from our backs. This allows perspiration vapour to escape under activity. Modern internal frame packs have a ventilation channel in the center but still leave us with a sweaty back. This can lead to chills and hypothermia when activity pauses in cold weather. Sweat soaked cloths conduct heat from our bodies 24 times faster than dry clothing.
The late Dick Kelty cultivated an excellent track record of product performance and customer service when he lead the industry from the 1950's to the 1970's. American Recreation Products bought the company in 1979 and have honored his brand ethos ever since. Issues are resolved promptly and with maximum action rather than the belated minimum, which has become all too common. That's why Kelty remains the best selling external framed backpack in the United States.
Kelty's design revolutionized backpacking. Features like aluminum frame, adjustment range, padded hip belt, nylon pack bag and multiple external pockets were unprecedented. All components were connected to the frame by pins and secured with split rings. The frame telescoped in 1" increments to accommodate torso length. Shoulder strap width was adjusted by a connecting pin and a series of holes in the frame cross bar. Adjusting the fit was a matter of placing the pins in the appropriate holes. The design's durability, comfort and ease of use inspired a new generation to get out, explore the outdoors and travel the globe.
Traditional external frame packs are serviceable off trail. They will function as pack boards for hunters hauling their quartered game. However, a dedicated bushwhacking and meat hauling rig does a job better. The Kelty Cache Hauler's folding cargo shelf and wings makes light work of awkward objects on uneven terrain. Elk hunters and adventurers love it. Kelty have tried to cover all the bases with this model. The 900 Denier pack bag is optional. The 56 liter pack bag has its own shoulder straps and functions independently of the frame, if desired. Two pins connect it to the top of the frame with four other Velcro attachments below.
The 56 liter capacity of the pack bag will sustain stays of three to five days in warm weather but may not suit
cold weather activity. Personally, I'd like to see Kelty remove the small side pouches and replace them with a full
panel of PALS webbing, to support the attachment of tools or large pouches. Pairing the Cache Hauler frame with an
expandable day pack and some large pouches is a good way to go, delivering a true do it all system. The beauty of the cache hauler frame
is it's ability to support any bag you want. Lash it to the frame or just place it on the cargo shelf and lash it in place with 1" straps or the
integral cargo wings. The lashed bag's lower ride height won't permit you to stand erect with heavy loads but is more
stable on uneven terrain. It still manages to shift a lot of weight to the hips making it feel light and comfortable.
If you're looking for a durable, comfortable alternative to an ALICE frame, the Cache Hauler is your best bet.
None of the packs featured above have an integral organizer pocket typical of commercial day packs. The Maxpedition EDC is a clamshell organizer for small items like pens, multi-tools and flashlights. Each panel has a slip pocket and a section of wide and narrow elastic loops. Dimensions of 5"x7"x.75" let the organizer fit in most pack pockets including the exterior pockets of the medium ALICE, which have no integral drawcords to secure loose items.
Carabiners are great for temporarily attaching water bags, rope, sandals, towels, clothing and other gear to the outside of backpacks. Most backpacks have some form of connection point, whether D-rings, loops, straps, ALICE webbing or PALS webbing. The cheaper keyring styled carabiners fail, dropping the attached gear. Though it's spring gate isn't ideal for climbing, the Black Diamond oval carabiner is much more reliable for bivouac setup and backpack quick disconnect functionality. Pick up several as you will find them useful for all sorts of tasks.
The Web Dominator is a handy clip that attaches to the end of loose webbing. Roll up the slack and secure it with the shock cord loop. This
is suited to straps that need adjustment. Duct tape is adequate for set and forget straps. Each package contains 4 clips.
The Speedy Stitcher is a handy tool for emergency repairs to packs, boots, tarps, hammocks or tents. The handle
gives more advantage for penetrating thick materials. The waxed thread has enough friction to create loops for lock
stitches, when the needle is partially withdrawn. Please see the detailed instructions below.
Questions & Feedback.
Well, that's about it guys. I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me through the welcome page.
Ian ST John.
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