I have friends who are always struggling to find the right shoes in the right size and width fittings (and I am so lucky to have found the Hoka Speedgoats) but for me it seems packs have always been an issue. It could be that I am tall, with a short back and broad shoulders tensed by typing for a living, plus the fact that my back is very curved and prone to lower back pain. In fact, I can’t go for a day’s walk without a pack either, because the pack acts like a supportive brace to keep my back straight. And my Pacerpoles make sure I don’t slump or slouch when I get tired. So finding the right pack is important … and there are a lot to choose from, so where do I even start?
Well as it happens, I have a list of requirements in addition to ‘comfortable’:
I want a pack that is not so tall that I can’t look up or ahead when I walk uphill without knocking my head on it;
I want it to be hand luggage size when cinched up, but have room for more;
I want a top lid where I can keep my poncho so I can get it out and put it on myself, without taking the pack off;
I want a mesh covered ridged back panel, not a trampoline airflow one, they always end up creaking;
I want load lifters so I can take the pressure off my shoulders;
I want shoulder straps that don’t go too far under my arm so the clip scratches my skin;
I want top compression straps and no straps to interfere with the side pockets;
I want side mesh pockets I can reach so I can get my own water bottle and put it back again;
I want some sort of dual opening so the thing I need is not always at the bottom;
I want a big stretchy kangaroo stuff-it pocket at the front for wet layers, bananas etc;
and I want it to be lightweight, cheap, and aesthetically pleasing.
What could go wrong?
I have gone through this process before and found some cracking packs that really work for me, but they are all on the small side. I have a trip to Germany coming up, and possibly Norway, which both require carrying more food and warm clothes. And after brexit (#!§*!!) I can no longer send my beloved Pacerpoles easily and cheaply ahead to my first accommodation, so I will need a pack that is large enough to pack all my kit and the poles inside, to be checked in. I packed some stuff in my Osprey Talon 44, which I haven’t used for years, and instantly remembered why: Those metal stays dig into my duck bottom and leave bruises. Ouch! Time to put it in the For Sale bag and start looking for something else – something bigger than the Osprey Escapist 25 and a bit easier to pack than the Talon 33, preferably with a panel opening.
Long story short: Meet Carrie!
Formally named Caracola, female version of snail in Spanish – or Carrie, which so far she does admirably, she is a Gregory Maya 40, and she fits me like a glove. She is a bit dull and grey, poor thing (they don’t make them with the pink details anymore), though they do have them in a dark teal too. She has a short back at 53 cm, making her hand luggage friendly; she has the top poncho pocket, the load lifters, the mesh covered back panel, the comfortable adjustable harness and long hip belt fins, she has the side pockets with compression straps under the mesh and the stretchy kangaroo pocket – and though she is a top loader, she has a massive U-shaped zip on the front so she opens up almost like a suitcase! The 40 litre claim looked a bit short at first but it is incredible how much I can get in there, including my poles for the flight. And nothing will ever be at the bottom again!!
Now all I have to do is spruce her up with a few camino patches, a reflective pendant and a colourful clothesline bungee for drying socks, and Carrie and I are ready.