From left to right, the Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone, the Granite Gear Vapor Trail, and the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus
The most important piece of equipment for a major backpacking trip is, of course, the backpack. Over the years I’ve gone through several packs for various trips. From the behemoth 7000 cubic inch pack on my semester at NOLS to my 1800 cubic inch daypack that I used for a few one night trips in summer, there’s a lot of variety.
My current lineup of packs for comfortable backpacking trips has seen extensive testing for the most part. My Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone came with me for the entire Appalachian Trail in 2007, and several hundred miles of hikes since. My newer Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus has a good 700 miles on it, mostly on the New England Trail in October 2009. I just got a lightly used Granite Gear Vapor Trail, which I’ve barely touched but will likely be my pack of choice for the Pacific Crest Trail this summer.
The weight and volume of each pack are:
-3 lbs, 3800 cubic inches (Nimbus Ozone)
-2 lbs 5 oz, 3600 cubic inches (Vapor Trail)
-14.7 oz, 2400 cubic inches in main body, 700 cubic inches in pockets (Exodus)
Looking at the the three of them lined up in the photo above, I find the volume specifications to be suspect. Each of the packs above is filled with a sleeping bag to fill the space and show off the shape. It’s not a perfect way of measuring, but you get the idea. I’m surprised to find that the Vapor Trail seems noticeably smaller than the Exodus, but its frame may be the deciding factor for the PCT.
The Nimbus Ozone is clearly the winner for heavier trips with large volume. I’ve used it on work trips for volunteer trail crews, carrying a spare day pack and several days’ worth of base camp supplies inside. The nylon body isn’t exceptionally durable, but it’s light. The main weight of the pack comes from the frame, which carries loads of up to 40-45 pounds pretty comfortably. The main downside, aside from the weight, is the compression system. I discovered on this pack’s maiden voyage that it becomes significantly less comfortable when nearly empty. The side compression straps help, but the lower ones go over the side pockets, blocking use of the pockets if tightened at all.
The Vapor Trail is basically a slightly smaller version of the Nimbus Ozone with a non-solid frame. This newer version solves the compression strap problem with a nifty set of holes in the sides of the pockets. There are a few other small upgrades, but this is probably the most significant. Simple, effective, brilliant. The smaller volume of the Vapor Trail also means that, hopefully, it will not be underpacked very often on the PCT.
The Exodus is my favorite pack so far, and would have been the most fantastic pack choice for the Appalachian Trail. It is hand-made, and the materials are much more durable than the nylon of the Granite Gear packs. Since the Exodus has no frame, opting instead for a sleeping pad to provide stability, it is nice and light, but has a lower comfortable load limit than the Vapor Trail or Nimbus Ozone. The higher volume, as well as a better set of features, make it a tempting candidate for the Pacific Crest. Alas, I hear the PCT’s longer stretches between resupplies make for heavier loads most of the time.
When I say the Exodus has a better feature set, I basically mean it has better outer pockets. All of these packs are very simple: a big sack with shoulder straps, and two side pockets. The Granite Gear packs have compression straps on the back which are ideal for holding a rolled foam pad. The Exodus, with the pad as a frame inside, has a big mesh pocket on the back, which is a fabulous idea (courtesy of lightweight backpacking guru, Ray Jardine). Don’t want to open the bag several times a day to get snacks? Throw them in the big pocket. Tent wet in the morning? Stuff it in the big pocket so it can drain. Need to carry big maps without crushing them in your pants pockets? Put them in the big pocket! There’s nothing it CAN’T DO!
I figure I’ll carry the Vapor Trail for most of the PCT so I can carry heavy loads of water through the Mojave, then a bear canister and large supplies of food through the Sierras. Once I’m through with that, I might switch to the Exodus. Or not. That’s so far in the future.
Thus concludes (hopefully) my decision making process for pack on the PCT.