I went into the summer of 2015 saying I was going to try my hand – or my back – at backpacking. I had the ambitious goal of tackling the entire Coastal Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park this summer. That’s a grueling 65 kilometre trail, which on average, takes experienced hikers five to seven days to complete. Yup, like I said, ambitious. Luckily for me, I have a very reasonable husband who managed to talk some sense into me, and convinced me to scale down my unrealistic goal to avoid disappointment. Instead of completing the entire Coastal Trail, I would work on seasoning my back and legs to backpacking, and complete sections of the Coastal Trail. And that in itself was hard enough.
Since I had never done backpacking before, I had to purchase some equipment before I could set out on my first overnight excursion in July. The two items of equipment I couldn’t survive without were a backpack and hiking shoes (yes, somehow I’ve managed to survive 25 years of hiking and outdoor adventures without hiking shoes). Now that I’ve had amble time breaking in both pieces of equipment, I give you, my first official gear review. Stay tuned for more.
But before I get right into the nitty gritty, let me preface this review and future reviews with this note: these aren’t going to be your typical gear reviews. Yes, I’ll give you the breakdown on the gear and my overall impression, but for the most part, these reviews are geared for people like me, who are budget conscious and are interested in breaking into the sport and activity. They’re essentially novices like me and are interested in trying their hand at something new, and therefore, don’t want to break the bank. For all of my expert hiker readers, please feel free to leave your feedback in the comment section and suggest your personal favourite equipment so I can try in the future.
My first-ever backpack comes from Canadian Tire. Before you begin criticising my choice in pack, I should start by saying, I am a newlywed and a new homeowner, so my budget is tight and my options limited. I had a very strict budget in mind for my pack, and knew I could be shelling out over $300.00 for a decent pack. However, my finances wouldn’t stretch that far for the time being. Plus, not knowing at the time whether or not I would enjoy the adventure, I didn’t want to splurge just yet.
Anyways, at the time, I spent $85.00 on my pack. I ended up getting the Outbound Expedition Backpack on sale from its regular price of $139.99. I’m a sucker for a good deal. The Expedition Backpack is a very large pack – it can hold 75 litres. At the time, I thought that was a good thing; however, I know now that it’s a little bigger than needed for a one- or two-night camping trip. For a longer trek, like the entire Coastal Trail, it is much more appropriate and suitable.
The pack is sturdy, durable, and water resistant. Everything you want, right? Plus it’s red, which for me, is a bonus (it’s one of my favourite colours). The pack comes with a large dry cell component with drawstring enclosure, big enough to fit a heavy insulated sleeping bag and then some. When gearing up for a trip, I can fit my -20 degree Celsius sleeping bag, two small dog blankets, a change of clothing plus rain gear, and a pair of Crocs to change into. And trust me, it can fit plenty more since it has two zippers that unzip to allow for an additional eight inches of expansion.
In addition to the dry cell compartment, the pack consists of two side zippered compartments, two side pockets, a top compartment – or lid or brain – with three zippered pouches, and a bottom sleeping bag compartment that I prefer to use for heavy duty items like a pot and water. Underneath that bottom compartment is a small section which holds a rain hood to cover the entire contents of the bag. My husband was jealous of this feature since his older pack doesn’t have this necessary feature. The zippers on all of the compartments are thick and strong and can definitely handle some weight.
Aside from holding everything but the kitchen sink, the pack does have great shoulder straps and back support coupled with extensive padding for added comfort. The shoulder straps and load lifters are heavily reinforced and stitched to the pack well to ensure they will not rip or fray from the pack and fit comfortably around the shoulders and under the armpits. Metal bars are found within the back panel underneath padding, allowing hikers to mould the bars to the contour of their back – a bonus for lumbar support and comfort. The hip belt stabilizer was a bonus for me, since it adjusts to fit someone with wider hips and extra weight around the midsection. The hip belt stabilizer is also heavily padded. The smaller sternum straps fit properly across the chest. However, for someone with a larger chest, the straps don’t expand that much. Someone with a C cup and more than 40 inches around would struggle to fit in the sternum straps comfortably.
The pack also comes equipped with two daisy chains and two ice pick loops.
What’s the biggest flaw of this bag? It’s the clips. There are upwards of 20 clips on this pack and other than the clips found on the hip stabilizer strap, the rest are very poorly made and are not meant to support excessive weight or to be pulled extremely tight. They’re constantly moving and never stay completely locked. While I have yet to have one break on me, I know it will only be a matter of time. Had the makers put more heavy duty clips on this pack, I would definitely be giving this pack a five-star rating for its price.
In addition to the poor make of the clips, the clip system and compression straps found at the bottom of the bag which is often used to attach a sleeping mattress or sleeping pad, does not expand enough to fit most sleeping pads. I always dread packing up in the mornings when backpacking since I know I can never successfully clip my sleeping pad into my pack on the first try. I always have to unroll and try again (sometimes three times). Had the makers given an extra two inches on each strap, this would solve this problem.
As I’ve already mentioned, this pack is massive, holding an impressive 75 litres. Due to its size, there is some considerable weight to the pack. In fact, it weighs just under 15 pounds when completely empty. Considering that backpacking is all about carrying the weight on your back, carrying 15 pounds just in material is a little silly. However, you get what you pay for – the more money you put into a pack, the lighter weight the material.
Lastly, this pack is long. The more I got into backpacking this year, the more I noticed the length of this pack. I’m 5 feet 8 inches tall and found this pack slightly too long for me. Anyone shorter than me would struggle with this pack since it would stick either too high above the shoulders and head or hang too low below the waist.
Overall grade: B/B+
Would I recommend: Yes
Ideal for beginners? Yes