Sunday, October 01, 2006

I’m a daypack diva!

This spring I decided, after much stubborn procrastination, that I really need a proper daypack for one-day hikes. For years I’ve been using the zip-off pack from my travelling backpack. It’s quite small (maybe 15 litres) and has no hip belt or structural support, so if you put anything heavy in it, it’s quite uncomfortable to carry after a while. A water bladder, rain gear and lunch may not sound heavy, but after the first couple of hours, you start to feel it. So a bigger, better daypack was in order, and my ever-generous partner G offered to buy me one (a bit early) for my birthday.

I quickly proceeded to try on pretty much every daypack between 30 and 40 litres available in Wellington. While we don’t have the range of some bigger cities, this was still a substantial amount of pack-trying. First to be struck off the list were those with a hip belt that was just a strap. A wide belt is much more comfy and distributes the weight better.

I found out that a lot of the packs in this size range were meant for people who do ‘adventure racing’. It’s a fast-growing sport where travelling light is essential, so special lightweight packs are one key element to going fast and having the essentials with you. The packs are very comfortable because they’re so light, but the drawback is that the lighter materials are not as tough. Being the clumsy person I am, I didn’t think it was a good idea to risk a pack that might rip if I caught it on a branch, or dragged it along a rock.

This still left me with a goodly number of packs to choose from, but there was one thing that separated the winner from the other contenders – a women’s harness! Just one model in that size range was available (at the local stores in Wellington, at least) with a harness designed to fit a woman. The straps didn’t start right at the top of the pack, but about a third of the way down. So my short torso was the same length as the distance between the top of the straps and the hip belt. The straps were also shaped differently from the other packs I tried on. They started closer together, for a woman’s narrower shoulders, and then quickly curved away. This left room for (to borrow a romance novel expression) my ample breasts. Other packs had straps that squished them together, which again is not so comfortable after a few hours.

The pack is a Marmot Diva 36. Surprisingly, the colours available to me were black and blue – not exactly traditional ‘diva’ shades but I went with the blue.

I am so glad that gear manufacturers have finally realised that men and women have different needs and body shapes. In my book, I write about all kinds of things that are different for men and women. Backpacks are one of the biggest deals as far as I’m concerned. It’s so easy to be uncomfortable while you’re backpacking, and it makes such a difference to have a pack that fits properly. If you’re buying a new pack, I can’t stress enough how important it is to put something heavy inside when you try it on. Everything is comfortable when it’s empty! I figure if your backpack and your boots are comfortable, you’re well on your way to having a great trip. Otherwise, there’s no end to the misery!

I haven’t had the chance to take my new daypack for a test run yet. Next weekend we’re planning an overnight trip, so the daypack will have to wait. But I’m looking forward to my first hike as a wilderness diva!