Monday, February 20, 2012

GEAR - backpacks

I've used quite a few backpacks and bags in the short time I've been busy outdoors, so I thought I'd give you a rundown on them, with my experiences in using them.
Keep in mind that I'm a relatively small guy; 1,71 meters tall (short), between 75 and 78kg and with a 1 meter chest.

I'll start with my oldest backpack; The Corin Trail 60L, made of synthetics.
I bought this pack back in 1997, when out motorcyclevacation in Sweden turned into a hikingvacation, because the motorcycle broke down. I was completely inexperienced in hiking or carrying large backpacks, yet this pack performed very good and never was a burden. It remained comfortable all through the vacation. No backpains or exhaustion from carrying it.
It had 2 attached sidepockets, a pocket in the topflap, several straps for attaching sleepingbags, foammats, etc. It's maincompartment is closed by a string, over which the top is closed with plastic clips. It's main drawback was it's limited size back than. And I never liked it's colours, but that is just nitpicking. All in all it was a good backpack and it served us well for many years, where it also got used and abused on airports and such. Nothing broke and even the colours didn't fade!

Than there was my biggest backpack; the Berghaus Vulcan II, made of synthetics, with foam padding in the back.

I used one just like it, when I was in the army and it was and still is a huge pack! Complete with 2 daypacks it comes to 100L. Given the fact that in those days we used a sleepingbag that was large enoug to fill the main compartment up to 80% just by itself, I understand why they opted for this backpack. The newer M90-sleepingbag is even bigger, filling the pack almost completely!
It is however a very versatile pack; loads of straps and attachmentpossibilities and the detachable sidepacks, which can be zipped together and used as a daypack, increase its capabilities even more! These daypacks had separate shoulder straps, one to each pack. I didn't find them to be really comfortable, though and are easily lost. The Main compartment can be accesed from both top and bottom and is closed with drawstrings and a zipper in the bottom and a string on top with the flap and clips over that.
On BCUK I read that British troops even enlarged this pack even more by adding a third daypack to the front! I tried this too, but found it to be just too much. When ever would I need, or even want to, haul a fully poaded 110L-pack. It'd ruin my back!..... And the fun in hiking...
It is a comfortable backpack to wear, but the size makes it easy for the user to overload it, which will wear you down. I humped this pack fully loaded through marches in the Ardennes, the Eifel and across several Dutch military traininggrounds, ruining my knees and ankles in the proces..... They simply were too heavy!
The pack is semi-indestructible. It's only let down would be the closingzippers of the daypacks and topcompartment.

Because I found the Berghaus to be too big and I passed the Corin over to my wife, I needed an new larger, multiday backpack. I opted for the British DPM-version, which is smaller and not as long as the Berghaus, which covers you from your butt up to your ears. This way I had the additional benefit of carrying a belt with smal pouches and even had access to a canteen. It is also made of synthetic fibres and has a padded back, yet not as comfortable as the Berghaus. The padding feels harder.
I liked the setup of this pack; it too had the external, detachable side/daypacks, but you needed a yoke to carry them as such. An additional bonus was the smaller pocket on the front of the pack, making it even easier to get to those small, essential pieces of stuff you always need first. It has quite a lot of possibilities to attach sleepingmats, bags etc. same as the Berghaus. The top is closed with strings and clips. Total capacity was 80L.
When fully loaded I noticed that this pack pushed kind of hard into my kidneyarea and I found it difficult to get rid of that problem. Also my pack had been used heavily and was very faded, making it more of a dark sandy yellow pack with coloured blotches on it. Furthermore it had a very mouldy smell about it and I could not get rtid of that either, despite chucking the whole thing into the washingmachine. Which incidentally was quite easy, because you simply can take out the backframe. Getting it back in was less easy. Also I was already in my transitionfase into the natural/traditional section of the outdoorhobby, so it too had to go.

These days I've given up on those very large backpacks. The biggest pack I have now, is an old ex-Bundeswehr (German army) backpack. For me this one is large enough and fits almost perfectly in my non-synthetic filosophy of life.
It has a capacity of about 50L, if I'm informed correctly, and that is large enough. Apart from the main compartment it has three external pockets; 2 longer ones on the sides and one broad on the front. No zippers, clips or other stuff like that. Just simple straps with simple, yet effective clasps. The main compartment is closed with a string over with the top folds down and is secured with said clasps and straps. This pack has the additional benefit of webbing loops on top and sides, thus enabling you to carry a blanket or, as I do, an old canvas shelterhalf. On the top there are more webbing loops, to which I attached my firstaidkit; easy access and increased visibility in case of an emergency.

When I bought this pack, some previous owner has simply rivetted a couply of webbingbelts to it, but in the meantime I managed to get hold of some original carrying straps. The best part, apart from being all canvas and metal, is that this whole bag came to me dirtcheap. Bag + straps cost me a grand total of.... €10!
How I will like the original straps remains to be seen. An advantage, if you will, is that with the help of some special clasps, you can hook it up onto your belt or just unhook the backpack and use the straps with belt alone. A bit like the German Wehrmacht y-strapsystem, which is not surprising, when you realise these packs were made and used from the early '50's onward....
Not my pack, but a picture I found on the net, with the original y-strap.

I even strapped a 4,5kg winter bedroll on top of it!
 Than there were/are the smaller backpacks; the daypacks.
Apart from the Berghaus sidepacks, which I quickly replaced by one piece packs, I used the small Dutch army daypack. It's made of synthetics and has a capacity of 20L. It comes in a very bright camouflagepattern, which I absolutely do not like. So it was quickly replaced by the Dutch airforce-version, being in green.

Here it is, strapped to a dummy
This is a great little pack. It has the main compartment and 2 external pockets. What makes it so great are the belts attached to it. These are capable of holding both equipment with aliceclips, but also the old Dutch/British webbingsystem with the hooks! You can strap all sort of pouches to its exterior, greatly increasing its versatility. It has foampadded shoulderstraps and a foampad in the back. this is easily removed so your butt stays warm and dry, when using this pad as a seat.
The main drawback is its size. It really is small! I found that it just fits me comfortably, but only if I do not clip the cheststrap together! Doing that makes me feel claustrofobic!

I also have a Swedish M39 backpack; canvas with a steel frame and leather straps.
On my first walk with it, I was not overly impressed by it and its wearingcomfort. The steelframe really takes some getting used too and your backdimensions should not exceed mine or it will cause you some serious discomfort, I think!
The pack is a simple non-nonsence pack; one large compartment, closed off with a leather strap, which is a bit of a hassle to use. There are some leather fasteningstraps on one side. I guess for ski's or something. The thing that puzzled me the most in this pack are the 2 hooks on the frame, both left and right at wastelevel. After a while I figured these must be used for towing the Swedish army sled in winter, since these have 2 loops on the end on the towing poles.
There are also two carryingstraps at the bottom of the pack. These could hold a shelterhalf or a blankett, but not much more. I tried and had to struggle....

Picture from the internet

with a larger bedroll

Another backpack I have, is one I bought out of nostalgia, but also because it represents my no-manmade-material-filosophy.
It is my 1944 Swiss army backpack, affectionately know by the troops back then as "Affe", monkey....
Basically a sort of wooden box, covered with horseskin+hair and leather straps. The interior is canvas and the soppurt holding the pack and the straps together is nothing but a small wooden pole! Apart from a small amount of steel fastenings, there wouldn't be a trace left, when left in the woods for a couple of years!
I haven't fully figured out what the purpose is of every straps and loop, but looking at a picture from the relevant era doesn't quite help either...

I tried this pack for real too, but found it too small, to rigid and a bit uncomfortable, too, with the pads pressing down into my kidneyarea quite hard!
It'll be great for small summerwalks, but nothing too heavy!

And finally there's my backup pack; a Fjällräven.
I do not know the exact name for it nor do I have any other specifications. It's synthetic, it's blue, I guess about 30-40L and I found it to be not too comfortable. Hauling it one whole day made my back and shoulders age and feel very tired. I probably didn't adjust it properly and my one day tryout doesn't do it too much justice, I believe. It is an older backpack, given to me for my daughter, but it turned out to be too large for her right now.
It has padded shoulderstraps, a metal frame and some sheet of netting, where it rests against the back.
If anyone recognises the type of bag, please let me know!


  1. That's quite an array of backpacks!

    Good to see you settled on a non-monster pack. ;) I like your taste in vintage bags as well.

    I used a 30 L pack and a shoulder bag to hold everything (except my bedroll and tent, which were strapped to the outside) on my 1-week trip to Lapland and that worked just fine. If I were doing some kind of specialized activity I might want to bring a bigger pack.


  2. Hej Matt,
    Apart from the Corin, this list is made up from items within a 3 year-span.
    The bigger the pack, the bigger the load... Learned that the hard way. And most of that load actually is not needed!
    My love of canvas/leather and my disliking for synthetics are the main reasons for the change. The lower costs of the previous materials did the rest....

  3. I see I'm not the only one who has a fetish for packs;) I live and explore in the Southwestern American desert and also love to try out different combinations of packs and gear.

    After trying packs from around the world I've settled on the good old large ALICE pack - tried and true!

    Great article and pictures!



  4. Thanks ML!
    It's not really a fetish for backpacks, but more of a trail and error-process, going from large and synthetic to smaller and natural.

  5. Before i have the guts to put in any comments i have to ask about this :

    "My pictures, my thoughts and opinions, my experiences and my way of dealing with things. If you can not deal with that, please feel free to leave."

    Does it mean that i can/have to only like and agree and "press THANKS / Likes button" or can i suggest anything to improve anything, or tell a different opinion ?

    Ive seen people getting banned in few sites, after they just told that they would do something in adifferent way, but they had not insulted anyone, so i gotta ask,man :),sorry.

    Personally i think that criticism is interesting and wellcomed and different opinions are nice to read.

  6. Hej Perkunas,
    No, it by no means you are not just to click the "like"-button.
    if you have comments, other points of view or experiences, please do share them!

    My statement was and is aimed at those, who have nothing valid to add and seem to feel the need to disagree with my hobby as such, ridicule it or think that I should stop playing soldier, grow up and be a responsible adult.... whatever that means.

    I'll change the statement right away!

  7. Nice and interesting site. I only have experience of the Swedish M39 pack but agree the metal frame is uncomfortable as is, perhaps i may try to alter it somewhat and increase its comfort.

    1. Yeah somtimes the M39 frame can get damaged or bent over the years. You can bend it back or fix it really easily. My frame broke at one point and had someone weld it back together with no issues. I've also done some modifications to mine like frame removal, waterproofing etc. This is a good resource for the M39 aftermarket improvements.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Hey, do you know what the model of your 50l backpack is? It looks really good and I was wondering where to get it.

  9. Hi Matt,
    it is a German army backpack. Mine's from the 50's, but they were made up to the 80's I believe.
    Beware of cheap knock offs! And make sure that you get the carrying system too, if you buy one online. These are easily detached and often the pack is sold without them.

  10. Those metal hooks on the M39 Swedish Rucksack are for the waist strap to hook onto so it doesn't slip down while hiking. Here is a link to a good resource for the M39. It has instructions for aftermarket improvements etc.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Hi Jeff, thanks for dropping in and commenting.
    The hooks I meant are the ones on the lower sides of the frames; 2 L-shaped hooks welded to it and of the same material, not the ones on the front of the carrying straps. Those were easy to figure out.
    I deleted your double posts btw.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Sounds a lot like a sales talk to me, mr. Carter.