My first pack was an old red external-frame backpack that my dad cut down to fit me. I remember playing outside his shop while he was working on it, and telling a neighbour kid that we were going hiking. It was my first trip and I was so excited. That red frame pack would hold everything I needed for the weekend: sleeping bag, air mattress, clothes, poncho, water bottle, mess kit, gorp, and at least one meal. Dad insisted that we all carry enough so that if we got lost by ourselves, we’d have enough to keep warm and fed.
I liked the pack because it had lots of pockets. There was a flat pocket on the front for my poncho, and four pockets on the sides where I stashed my gorp, water bottle, mess kit, and Koala Bear. When it was sunny, I zipped Koala Bear into the pocket with his head poking out; if it rained, then he got tucked into the pocket. So it was that he saw Mount Robson several times, the Cadomin-Miette trail, Ram Range, and other places.
When we decided to hike the North Boundary trail in 1998, my red pack was too small. I needed more room to carry enough gear for ten days. So the pack got passed on to my younger brother, and I inherited another of my dad’s old packs: a blue internal frame pack. This one had less pockets, so Koala Bear, in sunny weather, wore the strap for the ice axe around his waist like a belt. From there, he saw Jacques Lake, Jonas Pass, Mount Robson again, Cadomin under snow, and more trails.
With that pack, I learned the skill of packing lightly. If it didn’t fit, I didn’t need it. Even when Mom and I finally hiked the North Boundary trail in 2002, I only carried 30 lbs in that pack. We carried just enough food (and walked out of Kinney Lake on the last day with no food left) and only one change of clothes.
When I moved out, it was time to stop borrowing Dad’s packs and get my own. My husband and I looked a couple of times, but didn’t get anything. I felt slightly frustrated by the pressure riding on the decision: I’d have this pack for the next twenty or thirty years, and if it didn’t fit I’d have a miserable trip. So did I prefer the features of this pack to those of that pack, or did this other one feel more comfortable on my back?
Last week, we stopped to browse at a new camping store. I pulled a khaki green Jansport off the rack and tried it on. It felt good. It had lots of pockets. It was a nice colour. I bought it. Now I can’t wait to see where I’ll go with it.