I consider myself a lightweight hiker (certainly not ultralight). I through-hiked the PCT a while back with an 18lb baseweight. SInce then my baseweight has creeped up mainly because I have gotten into photography and carry more camera gear, so it is now in the low 20s. I have hikes with a ULA P2 pack since 2003 and loved it but I think it is finally breaking down as it doesn't seem to hold the weight the way it used to (or maybe I'm just getting old!). Anyway, I am thinking about buying a new pack that can handle up to 35 lbs to account for food and water on a long trip. I am always one that has subscribed to having the lightest system that works for you, but I have always wondered whether this is the case with packs in particular. So here is my question: Is it better to carry a lighter pack with less suspension or something heavier with more. In my case I am either looking for some similar to my 2.5 lb P2 (perhaps Granite Gears BlazeAC (just under 3lbs) but have considered the Osprey Kestrel 68 (4lbs) and even the Osrey Aether 70 (5lbs) thinking that it might be worth carrying 37 lbs on a really strong support system than 35 on not as strong). What are people's thoughts?
I think you've hit the nail on the head: it's not a question of whether a heavier pack is better, but instead a question of whether the pack's suspension is suitable to your load. (Generally, the more weight you carry, the sturdier your suspension - particularly the hipbelt - needs to be.)
In the end, it's a question you can only answer by taking all the gear you carry on a typical (for you) trip, including food and water, down to the outfitter's. Load up the various packs you're interested in, and carry them around the store for a bit. (Try to choose a slow day at the store, so you aren't spreading out gear and interfering with their other customers.) If you don't have a nearby store, order the packs you're interested in from an online retailer, do the load tests, and send back the ones you don't want. (You shouldn't take them on a hike if you intend to send them back.)
I believe you should get the lightest pack that works with your load. For example, if the Blaze works, the Aether will work, too - but you'd want the Blaze. (I haven't seen a Blaze; I did take one trip with an Escape AC 60, but the suspension was about an inch short, and the top of the molded frame sheet kept digging into my shoulders. Other than that, it was a great pack.)
I've gotten my weekend weight down to just under 18 pounds, and find that an Osprey Talon 44 carries it nicely - but I've also got a Kestrel 48 for those trips where I want or need to carry a bit more. The main differences between the two are the number of features (outside pockets, mostly) and the stiffness of the hipbelt. The Talon hipbelt is very thin - comfortable for those 18 pound weekends, but it begins to double over at about 25; the Kestrel's hipbelt is stiffer (but still pretty light); I've loaded it with 30 with no noticeable effect.
Also, your build will affect how the pack carries. I'm older, and losing a bit of strength in my shoulders; if you're young and beefy, you may find that the pack that gives me problems at a specific weight will be a really comfortable carry for you. Again, the only wya to know is to go to the store.
Loc: Maine/New Jersey
Glenn and yourself nailed it on the head
I too have the Osprey Kestrel 48 for the longer trips, and a Kelty Redtail 1800 for overnighters and day hikes - and school books for that matter. The Kestrel is an excellent pack, and can take a heavier load. Though recently I have been a light backpacker with a base weight around 18 - 20 including everything excluding water for a few overnighters. So the pack performs very well.
"To me, hammocking is relaxing, laying, swaying. A steady slow morphine drip without the risk of renal failure." - Dale Gribbel
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Packs do wear out, which may be part of your problem. The big issue when we age is that we have to go to an inflatable pad (I just got a custom insulated air pad from Kooka Bay that's 3 1/2 inches thick), which doesn't add the load-carrying structure to a frameless pack that a closed cell foam pad does.
There are excellent framed packs of about 2 lbs. or less that will carry a load of 30 lbs. or a bit more. These come from "cottage" manufacturers, not from the mainline companies, and most are not carried in stores. You'll have to be prepared to pay return shipping if the pack doesn't work. These include ULA packs (I'm thinking especially of the Circuit), Six Moon Designs Starlite. Mountain Laurel Designs is planning to produce their Exodus in a framed version. The new Elemental Designs Aquilo has good reviews, and has been tested satisfactorily with up to a 30 lb. load. If my current pack falls apart, I'll definitely be looking at the Aquilo and the ULA Circuit first.
My current pack (the discontinued Six Moon Designs Comet) has carried up to 37 lbs. fairly comfortably, with the "optional" (mandatory, IMHO) stays. To be exact: my shoulders, back and hips were fine, but my knees and feet were screaming! No buckling (collapse of the torso) of the pack (good sign it's overloaded); the only thing that buckled were my knees, lol! The SMD Starlite is almost identical in design, but larger capacity.
The most important thing is how the pack fits you--with the load you plan to carry in it. Pack fit is almost as individual as shoe fit, so you'll need to do a lot of trying on, with your gear inside. When you get one home, hike around the house for several hours with fully loaded pack (your gear, equivalent in weight and bulk of a week's food, a couple liters of water). A very boring "hike," but this step allows you to test the pack while you can still return it.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
My current G4 weighs about a pound. I have modified it with a padded aluminum stay back support. This pack is sweet with under 25 to 28 pounds total weight. Hard to hit on a 4 day trip in the smokies in early spring. I had about 32 in it and it was decent. I too have my eye on the Blaze AC 60. The reveiws in Backpacker are very excellent even up to 50 pounds. My big worry is if I have a pack that will carry the load will I start to utilise it? I would already be uping my base weight bye switching to a Blaze AC 60. Would a better support system make it less noticable? I carried a 50 pounder years ago, I dont want to go there again! What to Do? PS.I am talking over all weight with cold weather gear and all folks,not baseweight.
"...talking overall weight..." - and that's the only way to approach the issue of how much pack you need. All the talk about 12 or 10 or 15 pound base weights is fine for comparing gear loads, but when you're talking about packs, it's the total load that matters - and the base weight doesn't include that!
Another thing not yet mentioned is the way you load the pack. An interesting experiment is to try different methods of loading and see how they feel. I find that strapping things on the outside, especially on the back, makes the pack a lot more uncomfortable (not to mention the chance of it falling off while bushwhaking). Anything thing that dangles and swings around is not good. Food is usually the heaviest item- it needs to be close to your back (center of gravity). I find that the smallest adjustment to how I pack the food makes a big difference. And, on long trips, I will start out with the food located differently than near the end when it weighs less. I find the tent awkward to pack. Sometimes it works better to pack the tent and poles separately. Water is another heavy item. You may not want to just put it in outside pockets. The whole concept of the CamelBack is to keep the water close into your back.
I use a blue foam pad and like the method of putting the pad in first like a cylinder. Once its all loaded up the gear becomes the pack, the pad, and the gear inside all become part of the suspension system. The only downside is the shape can be a bit clumsy, but it seems to work ok for me with a Jam2 large, up to about 30 pounds. Better at 20 pounds but what isn't. I think a good rule of thumb is a well designed pack should weigh about 1 oz per pound of gear carried.
lol. Jack- you are the mathemetician! You have figured a forumla for every backpacking problem. It is probably a good rule of thumb for mid weights as long as the pack actually fits you. I suspect it may break down at the ends of the distribution. I use my external frame Kelty for heavy weights. It seems to carry 70 pounds as comfortably as 50 pounds. I definitely feel more weight on my legs with 70 pounds but pack comfort is about the same.
I think packs are like hiking shoes. The three most important things are fit, fit and fit.
Loc: Washington State, King County
Since someone brought this zombie thread back from the dead, let me reply to the original question by saying that I have a P2 that I still use; don't have a ton of miles on it, less than a thousand, and it's holding up great. Rather than thinking of some other brand of pack, why not get another ULA? Circuit, or if you think you might want extra (excess?) capacity, a Catalyst. My Circuit does pretty much everything for me for three-season backpacking.
Wandering Daisy commented that the three important things about packs are "fit, fit, fit". For me, the three things are "Comfort, features, and weight" (with 'fit' being part of 'comfort'). I might toss durability in there too, but only for those contemplating a lot of miles with a really ultralight pack.
For me, and clearly for many others, ULA hits a sweet spot in between the really really light packs and heavier packs with more (often too many) features.