Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: BACKPACKS

The wide range of backpacks/rucksacks available can be a bit daunting for inexperienced trekkers.  The best advice I can give is do some research online before you step into a camping shop otherwise you will be at the mercy of the sales staff who might want to push a particular brand – and probably an expensive one at that – rather than satisfy your needs for a trek across the rugged and remote Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea.

My first backpack for Kokoda had an external frame – I still have welts in my back to prove it.  Never again!

If you intend to continue your adventures off the beaten track after Kokoda you should outlaying a bit of extra money and look at brands such as Osprey, One Planet, Deuter, Macpac or Wilderness Equipment. You can check them out by clicking on each link. You need to be prepared to spend $250 plus on these top of the range backpacks.

I have been using an Osprey pack for the past few years and cannot think how it can be improved. It is light, strong and well-balanced. I believe the other brands are of equal quality but I can only report on what I carry.

If you are looking for a good quality reliable backpack I would recommend a Caribee 65 or 80 litre. These range in price from $130 upwards and you won’t get better value than that for the price. We purchased a few hundred of an earlier model around four years ago and they have been used by our PNG guides and carriers on a continuous basis ever since.  They have lasted at least a year more than I expected so I have no hesitation in recommending them.

You might like to keep the following hints in mind when you venture into your nearest camping store to purchase your backpack:

Fit

This is a very important consideration. Most backpacks have adjustable hip belts, shoulder harness, and stabilizer straps but even then, the basic shape of the hip belt and shoulder harness might not be compatible with your body. In particular, women might want to look for backpacks that are developed for the female body.

Frame Comfort

The Frame comfort category determines how well the frame transfers the load from the pack into the waist belt and to a lesser extent onto your shoulder straps. You should also ensure your pack has good quality adjustment buckles.  There is nothing more frustration than cheap buckles that allow pack adjustments to ‘slip’.  This will inevitably result in your shoulders carrying the bulk of your load and can result in a great deal of discomfort for the neck muscles. That’s my experience anyway.

Weight

The weight of your backpack is an important consideration for a trek across Kokoda.  Higher end backpacks are usually more expensive because they use lighter and stronger material in their construction.

Adjustablity

The higher end backpacks usually offer more flexibility in catering to your body size. You can therefore swap the shoulder harness  and waist belts to ensure you have a good fit before you leave the store. However I have found that even most basic packs now provide the ability to fit well by allowing adjustments for the height of your body frame and then allowing you to personalise your adjustments.  I always tighten my waist strap to the max, then bend forward slightly to pull my shoulder harness in until it is snug. I then straighten up and adjust my two shoulder straps then connect my chest strap.

If the plastic buckles are good quality it will retain the adjustment however the cheaper ones don’t and you therefore need to constantly adjust them. This can lead to bad thoughts about what you are going to say/do to the sales assistant who gave you an assurance they would not slip as he asked you whether you would like to enter a Pin number or sign!

I often had to adjust my Caribee but I have never had to adjust my Osprey.  I guess it reflect the old adage about getting what you pay for!

The following links might help with your research:

1. Backpack Features

2. Caribee Backpack Review

We welcome any hints you might have in regard to backpacks – or any links you think might be of assistance to trekkers preparing for their Kokoda experience.

Comments

  1. Day packs

    I’ve worn out two Berghaus 35 litre day packs, getting about 1600 kms of jungle use out of each. All the stitching remains intact but the mesh covering on the waist harness eventually wears through. I’ve also had one top pocket zip fail. I prefer the day pack with a mesh ventilation panel against your back. The mesh back panel makes the base of a comfortable pillow at night with a 300 x 300mm piece of sleeping mat over it.

    The latest day pack I’ve used on Kokoda is a Deuter Futura 32 which is even better than the Berghaus, as it has as stronger partition panel separating the top and bottom of the pack, and a larger water bladder holder. The Deuter pack comes in a men’s or women’s fitting and is cheap enough but faultless in construction, materials and design, except for the rain cover.

    The first thing I do with a new day pack is chuck the rain cover supplied and replace it with a silicon impregnated cordura one such as made by Ultra-sil.

    As with boots, careful fitting and plenty of practice with the pack beforehand is essential.

  2. It is true that back packs today have reached a high level of sophistication.

    My only comment concerning PNG conditions – hot, wet and humid – is that a ventilation gap between the pack and your back is very useful. some people are more prone to back rashes and similar such complaints than others. It’s too late to discover this when you are half way across the Kokoda Trail.

  3. Chad Sherrin says:

    My first comment is that for a trek like Kokoda you need a ‘hiking’ pack, not a ‘backpacker’s’ pack. A ‘backpacker’s’ pack is just a suitcase with harness and totally unsuited to trekking, so ask for a hiking pack specifically.

    If you are looking for comfort in a backpack then you can’t go past One Planet or Osprey. I am a One Planet convert, but both have what One Planet describe as an ‘exact fit harness system’ which allows individual adjustment for positioning of the shoulder straps to ensure a balanced load that is tailored to your body shape – see this photo. http://www.oneplanet.com.au/images/gallery/sidetrack/sidetrack-harness.jpg?tmpl=component&print=1&page=

    The two yellow straps, just above the waistbelt provide this adjustment; cheaper packs have the shoulder straps joined. The fact that One Planet packs are endorsed by the Chiropractors’ Association says it all!
    If you want comfort and don’t want to bugger your back, don’t skimp.

  4. A most favourable aspect of One Planet is the fact that it is Australian owned and operated. Their philosophy is simple: make it good, make it work, make it last. You can check their story at http://www.oneplanet.com.au/one-planet-history.html

  5. Russell Norman says:

    Thanks for all the great information. I’m reading a lot of great reviews on packs and boots for my treck. I was just wondering if anybody has tried/used military style packs and if so what are the pros and cons, any advice would be appreciated thx

  6. Bushwalker says:

    Military packs are built tough for heavy load caarying and not for comfort. One planet make strong reliable packs that you can carry all day. Choose your pack last so that you can get the right size. Take all your gear with you when buying to test the capacity and walk around the store to make sure it is right for your back.

  7. So far my favourite pack is an Osprey Volt 60 (60L and 1.61kg) women’s versions available. Used for a 26 day 520km solo hike with up to 20kg in it. 3L water and 6 days food etc. It was always comfortable and had no failures. I have used a One Planet 85L canvas pack (way too heavy at 4.2kg) and an Osprey 85L Aether at 2.3kg. I think Osprey have a good balance between weight, load carrying abilities, features, durability and cost. If you carry your pack along the Kokoda track 60L capacity should be heaps even with slightly bulky less expensive gear as porters will carry food (except snacks), cooking gear and tents. Also you don’t need masses of extra clothing, 1 set to walk in plus 1 spare jocks/socks and one dry set for camp. Yep your walking set might still be damp in the morning but dry gear will be wet with sweat in 30mins of walking anyway. You will be surprised at how little you need. Sea to Summit have good light Ultra-sil pack covers and Ultra-sil dry bags, to keep your camp clothing and sleeping bag dry in the tropical rains. Look after your feet! Anti fungal cream in the morning before walking and tinea type powder at night to absorb moisture.
    Walked the Kokoda Track with Adventure Kokoda in 2007 with a mate. We took the Self guided walk option and carried our packs as did 8 out of 11 in our group. Awesome trip and I highly recommend Adventure Kokoda.

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