Gear Nerding: A Day Pack

This is a series for people who want to know what I use and why. For everyday consumers.
I am often asked about my gear. I don’t know why they notice that I put so much thought into my gear… Anyway. I thought I might make a series. 

My choice of day pack is a 2010 Black Diamond Pulse (“unisex” version is Black Diamond Nitro, and they have consolidated the two now under “Nitro”). BUT I do not endorse the current model (see “shoulder/Hip straps). I’ve had mine since 2012.

You might not pick the same pack, but here’s the thought process you could follow in selecting a pack for yourself.

It’s like the legend of Mazda Miyata. There is that one product where someone with whole a lot of experience and exceptional observation skills have put whole a lot of thoughts into it. This is one of them.

This clip was helpful while I was shopping. According to this, it was also voted the most comfortable pack by backpackers.com.

So, why did I choose this pack?

My top priorities were:

  • It fits my body shape and proportion.
  • I can adjust it to let 90 % of the weight sit on my hip (due to my chronic shoulder pain).
  • hence padded hip strap.
  • chest strap.
  • metal frame.
  • doesn’t move around in scramble.
  • can carry two extra layers and emergency supplies (because Canada).

My other wish-list items that came with the pack:

  • Hip belt pocket.
  • hydration compatible (3 L).
  • aerated back.
  • external straps, clips, elastic for gear, helmet, boot, etc.

My other wish-list items that didn’t come with the pack:

  • bright unnatural colour (“can be found from a helicopter”)
  • waterproof
  • bear-spray compatible (P.S. I worked deep in the woods by myself for years, and, between a shotgun and a bear spray, I’d pick bear spray every day)
  • On the shoulder strap, a way to clip a radio.
  • Two small pockets. (It came with two, but not the two I was thinking about.

My Personal Experience with this pack:

Fit:

The fit is the most important thing in a piece of equipment. I tried on quite literally every pack available – including at the Outdoor gear show in Utah, and this was the only one that made me feel “Oh it fits.”

So that was actually enough to make up my mind. You can stop reading it now.

Though, in case you’re interested in more, I’m going to continue.

Colour:

In a dark forest on a dark day, I should be able to spot my gear from a few feet away. I have flagging tape or spray paint on everything that’s not a bright colour.

Also it helps people to find you too. Even though I never needed to be rescued, that was purely based on luck. They should be able to spot you from a helicopter, ideally. For sunny days, I’d have aluminum foil – you know, the kind that’s sold as emergency blanket? For cloudy days, you really only have a bright colour to rely on. Black Diamond Pulse was only available in gray or lime, so I went with lime, which blends in the forest in the spring time. Orange or red would have been ideal. The classic Black Diamond’s purple have been great too.

Shoulder/Hip Straps:

Say no to perforated straps!

This is the one thing that eliminated Ospray with their perforated padding. My philosophy in packs, helmet, and footwear is “Added weight is worth the support it provides.” If you talk to store clerks, they all swear that those perforated straps are great and do not bunch up. But then when you’re hiking, you see them crinkled up. That’s the last thing you need in a pack.

Be wary of those perforations. Those holes may save you half a pound total. And if you’re doing a hike where half a pound is important, you wouldn’t be in a daypack.

And this is the reason I made it clear in the beginning that I’m not recommending the current Nitro (photo below). nitro.PNG

So, the Pulse.

dsc_1325

Even on a daypack, straps are very important to me. I carry at least 3 litres (sometimes up to 5 litres) of water as well as emergency supplies and food, two extra layers for top and one for bottom whenever I hike beyond well-traveled trails. Anything as minor as a sprained ankle could easily lead to having to protect yourself overnight.

The straps on this pack are sturdy. If you grip the shoulder straps to steady your hands, they are solid enough to keep their shape. And it’s important for a strap to stay wide to spread the load.

They are comfortable, and they are contoured and do not cut into my traps or my neck. Even when you’re reaching over your head, jamming the strap between your shoulder and your neck, that specific surface has a nice soft fabric that stretches and moves, preventing friction burns. The sliding mechanism of the chest strap is wonderful, allowing me to clip it three inches below my collarbone, where I prefer so as not to crush my breasts.

Hip straps are genius on the Pulse. I tried on many other packs out there in the last decade with “a pack that moves with you” hinges and pivots. The concept is to allow the pack to move independently of the hip strap. If you raise one leg, causing your one to raise over the other, the angle of the hip straps would to make the pack tilt even though your torso is vertical. I hated everything I tried before Pulse because they also make the pack move independent from your body, causing you to have to keep your shoulder straps incredibly tight to prevent the pack from wildly swinging on your back precisely at the most vulnerable moment, like while raising your other leg while taking large enough steps to need these hinges.

The Pulse’s hip strap has the bottom half cut out with the strap sliding through, which is a brilliant mechanism. It allows enough flexibility for the pack to “move with your body,” but enough stiffness to restrict movements. When my shoulders are in pain, I can relax the shoulders straps enough to carry 100 % of the weight on the hip straps and just let the shoulder straps help keep it on my back. The hips straps are certainly not as padded as my 70-L pack, and they don’t need to be, but they are considerate and sufficient.

Shortcomings:
I’d definitely want a spot on my straps somewhere for a bear spray holster and radio to clip in. The elastic loop on the shoulder isn’t good for clipping in and out, and there really isn’t another spot.

Chest strap:

I think it’s important enough to deserve its own mention because there are SO few packs (of any size) that let you slide the chest strap up high enough to clip it above, not over, your breasts. Seriously, don’t they let females test out shorter/smaller/women’s packs? I don’t think I have to tell you in detail why clipping it over the breasts is not a good idea: If you have breasts, you’d know it yourself, and if you don’t have breasts, you wouldn’t understand my explanations. Two brands that pretty consistently let you clip above is Black Diamond and Arc’teryx (the atrocity of their chest strap system is a whole another post. but they do let you go above).

Metal frame:

dsc_1332I love my metal frame! It is worth every ounce of extra weight. The best way I can explain it is the difference between carrying a sleeping toddler and carrying an awake toddler. A metal frame makes it an awake toddler. If you’re concerned about weight, nowadays, you can pay more and more to get lighter and lighter metal frames.

A metal frame is also an important part of keeping my back dry.

In a scramble:

Very pleased.

In a scramble, this pack is short enough for you to tilt your head all the way back and look ahead even with a climbing helmet on (this may be very individual – depending on your proportion and the size of the pack).

The straps are sturdy enough to keep it from swinging, and they also help prevent the pack from sliding forward, smashing into the back of your head.

Carrying equipment:

This is an area that leaves me wishing for more. WAY more. I definitely plan on attaching a daisy chain to it. I haven’t done it because I have a 35-L with daisy chains.

Daisy chains are awesome because you can carry equipment on equipment carabiners or use elastic strings to make a webbed pocket.

The ice pick loop on the Pulse is useful for anything long with a thing on the end. Or to dangle disgustingly soggy things from (gloves, socks, crampons). The shovel pocket is useful for most anything. I don’t carry my showshoes in it, though. The angle of the pack doesn’t work for it. But there are many other ways to carry showshoes on this pack. Two that I use:

1. dsc_1340(This works without the added orange strap)

2. dsc_1339

Size:

I’m a very small person (5’2, 133 lb), so do keep in mind for this part.

Yesterday, in my Pulse, I carried two lunches, one heavy fleece layer, one thin down layer, one pair of waterproof pants, two emergency foil, one plastic poncho, two plastic “sleeping bag” (In Vancouver, keeping dry is very important), emergency food (about 5 large snack bars and a few power gels), 5 L of water (4 for me and 1 for the dog), a first aid kit and fire maker, a waterproof pack cover, extra toque, headlamp, a small camera, a couple of foam pads to sit on, two pairs of gloves, extra thick socks, my friend’s gloves, fleece shirt, toque, and water bottle, and an extra cell phone battery pack. As well as a cell phone, wallet, and car keys.

On the outside of the pack, I carried a pair of MSR snowshoes, waterproof jacket, a thin fleece shirt, compass, map, and a pair of gloves.

Hip pocket:

This would easily fit an average point-and-shoot camera. It wouldn’t fit some of today’s biggest cell phones without risking bending it, though. The small pocket at the top is also not big enough for today’s biggest phones (though the newer model Nitro has a much bigger pocket – though I’m not endorsing this pack).

I personally end up not really using it, and I think I’ll mod it into a bear spray holster clip.

 

Hydration compatible:

dsc_1331

It has a pocket big enough for my 3-L bladder, a velcro to hang it on (so it doesn’t fold over and restrict flow), and a port. The pocket seems sturdy, but when I’m carrying sharp-ish equipment in the pack, I also place a piece of foam in between the bladder pocket and the rest. I carry a piece of foam to sit on anyway.

There is an elastic loop on the shoulder strap. dsc_1337

My choice for hydration, hydrapak, comes with a magnet, which i clipped onto the chest strap.

Ideally, I’d like the line to run inside the shoulder strap to keep the line from freezing in winter, but I think I’m wrong. No matter how frequently you suck on it, it freezes pretty quickly below, say, -5 C, which isn’t that cold. But this contradicts with my wish to have a sturdy shoulder strap, and I’m rather glad they didn’t design it that way. I can cover the line in neoprene. There are a several techniques people use to keep the line from freezing, e.g. replacing the water with air in the tube after drinking by raising the line and opening the valve. I haven’t found any to be completely freeze-proof though.

I have a Hydrapak, so I might try this: http://hydrapak.com/shop/arcticfusion-tube Though, keep in mind, insulation doesn’t help raise the temperature. Eventually, the insulation foam itself will be freezing temperature and will do little to keep it from freezing.

Aerated back:

Sweaty shirt makes you cold as soon as you stop and take the pack off. In the summer, this may be welcome. Fall and winter, it could make you very miserable or even endanger your life. When I was a kid, all students on school hiking trips had to have a towel hanging from our neck to the back. Oh, good old days.

The back of this pack is a good balance between air flow and creating instability by lifting the centre of the weight off of your back. Sure, you still get sweat sitting there compared to, say the one with a mesh back and arched metal frame style, but I’d rather have the weight connected with my torso. I won’t bore you again with a long story, but please picture me hugging a cliff and walking sideways to get from here to there. Pretty comfortably and safely without a pack. Very carefully with a pack directly on your back. Lifting the pack off your back and pulling the weight back could change a walk to a legit climb not to be attempted without proper safety equipment. If you don’t plan on doing these types of hikes and if a dry back is important for your health, I’d say go try a mesh back with arched metal frame types by all means.

Bear Spray compatibility:

While the side pockets are nice and snag, keeping everything I’ve ever put into it inside, it’s useless for a bear spray because I can’t reach the bear spray and pull it out of the pocket without taking the pack off due to it’s length.

Taking your pack off is the last thing you want to do when you have encountered wildlife. The act of taking the pack off engages both hands, preventing you from raising it above your head (or the opposite), making noises (or the opposite!) etc. that you should be doing.  Backpacks protect your back if you do get rolled around by a bear while playing dead.

Because of its hip strap, I can’t carry the holster on my belt like I would if I were wearing a cruiser’s vest or not carrying a pack at all.

So, currently, I carabiner it off the strap between the hip strap and the pack, which is awkward. I plan on morphing the hip pocket into a clip where I can hang a bear spray holster.

Conclusion:

Overall, I am extremely happy with this pack. It’s a joy to wear it. I sometimes make a hike longer or shorter just so I can wear this pack. I sometimes pile extra weight into it just for fun.

I hope you find a pack of your life.

 

 

 

 

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