Kay and I have been hiking more in the past few years and the more we hike, the more I learn about myself and what I can handle. We learned pretty quickly that I cannot handle carrying a lot, especially when we climb steep uphill. As soon as the incline hits, my speed drops to a snail’s pace.
On our first few major hikes together, I was always carrying too much and would inevitably give my camera or even my whole pack to Kay when it got tough, which made the hike more difficult for him. With this in mind, we stripped down what I’m allowed to carry (if anything) to the essentials.
For day trips, we often head out with with 1-2 packs. Kay takes his small Camelbak (on the left above) that carries water, our jackets, snacks, sunglasses cases and wallets. If it’s a long hike, I take the even smaller Camelbak hydration pack (on the right above) that carries a bladder, but not much else. I can fit my debit card and a pack of tissues in and that’s about it, but it’s great because I don’t have to chase after Kay to give me a sip of water when I’m dying. I only have to chase him if I want some dextrose.
On more intense day trips, Kay upgrades to his Mystery Ranch backpack to carry cooking gear and I borrow his Camelbak to carry my jacket and things.
The problem is that when we go on city trips we often both would like a small pack to carry our cameras and jackets. So I’m looking for a pack that I can use for hiking as well as city trips and as a carryon when flying.
1. Meru Active 24 (79CHF)
( Image via Sportler)
This Meru pack was pretty light weight and comfortable, which would definitely be a plus for carryon weight restrictions. It fit my camera, even in it’s Kata Access-18 PL bag, and it had a handy mesh pocket on the outside that would be good for storing a jacket quickly. The main compartment had zipper entry divided in two for organization and space for a hydration system. The pack was a bright blue and there were no other options for colors at the store.
It did not have compression straps that I could use to attach my hiking poles to the bag, nor did it have a rain cover (what about my camera!?) and it did not have a spacer mesh to separate the pack from your back and keep your back from heating up your water… (Bleagh!) But for 79CHF, the pack is relatively affordable.
2. Crea Element from Mammut (120CHF)
(Image via Mammut)
The version I saw at the store was such a lovely colour. Light grey with teal blue accents for the logo. Very girly in my opinion. There was also another raspberry option that I thought was a bit ugly.
The Crea Element has a very sturdy hip belt and I really liked the mesh suspension system. Normally when we walk, the Camelback is in the backpack against your back and it heats up. Usually your first sip of water is cold because it’s the water left in the hose, but then you get a mouthful of warm water thereafter. It’s kinda gross in the summer.
This pack also had a wonderful built-in detachable rain cover. I love the rain cover built into my Lowepro camera bag because it is really handy, but on this pack I also loved that it is detachable so that if you needed to take it out to store some extra things when you are flying for example, you can detach the rain cover and store it separately, or remove it to dry if needed. Genius!
In addition to the rain cover, the Crea Element comes with a waste bag and a “women’s necessity bag”. With the top lid pockets, this gives you a fair amount of options for organizing things.
Unfortunately though, this pack is only about 20L and it did not fit my Kata bag with the camera. I could try to use Kay’s small crumpler bag which really only houses the camera and one lens, but I worried that maybe 20L is really too small to fit much, especially when flying.
3. Creon Element from Mammut (120CHF)
(Image via Mammut.com)
The Creon Element is a bigger 25L version of the Crea Element (oddly for the same price…), but unfortunately it does not come in the pretty grey/blue that the smaller pack does. It’s pretty obvious that the smaller pack is for women and the larger pack is for men. This pack comes in a putrid green, blue that wasn’t at the store or black with a horrid red Mammut logo. In my opinion, the red is really screaming, “Hey, I’m an expensive brand, look at me!” It looks worse in real life than it does in the photo.
When it comes down to it, I will choose my pack based mainly on functionality, but obviously I don’t want to walk around with a really ugly pack. This pack also had the suspension system, removable rain cover and it also had just enough room for my Kata bag. Both Mammut bags also have dedicated trekking pole straps that look pretty sturdy. (They are also for ice picks apparently…)
It is questionable if I could fit the Kata camera pack and the Camelbak hydration system in at the same time. Another flaw about the Mammut bags is that they are both drawstring, which is not quite as easy to get in and out of as zippered packs. The Creon Element does not come with the women’s necessity bag and it had less pockets in the top compartment, so overall it seemed a bit more primitive than the Crea Element.
4. Sirrus 24 from Osprey ($99)
(Image via Osprey)
While I was trying to find the Mammut backpacks for sale in the States, I came across Osprey packs for women. I went back to Transa and it turns out they only have the Stratos series for men in supply, but the men’s packs have many of the same features as the women’s. I spent about 45 minutes trying them out, so I think it gave me a pretty good idea about what the Sirrus series would be like.
The Sirrus series all have mesh suspension systems, although it looks like the pack is held a little closer to the back than the Mammut bags, especially at the top and bottom of the pack where they attach. I’m not sure how that would affect airflow, considering that Mammut boasts some “chimney effect” with theirs. This is a 24L zippered pack with easy access, but only one small pocket on the front that houses the detachable rain cover. Small point – the rain covers on the Sirrus/Stratos packs attach with velcro and the Mammut ones have a clip. I feel like the clips are sturdier and the velcro seems a bit cheaper, even though the Osprey packs cost more money in Swiss francs.
The Osprey bags also have compression straps on the side, but Osprey also has a system for storing your trekking poles on the go that looks really cool. I almost always hike with poles (Grandma!) so I’m really interested in this part, but I’ve read some reviews that in the summer the poles rub against your arm when you store them this way, so I’m not sure how effective the system actually is.
Sirrus packs come in turquoise and purple, but again, I’m not a big fan of this shade of purple.
5. Sirrus 36 from Osprey ($139)
(Image via Osprey)
Kay had me convinced that the 20L Mammut pack was way too small, especially for air travel, so I started looking at some of Osprey’s larger 36L packs.
Osprey also designed the Sirrus packs with hip belts made for women so they fit better around a woman’s curves. They also have special shoulder straps so that the backpack doesn’t dig into your breasts when you are walking. I noticed when I tried on the Mammut Creon Element, I had to put the chest strap all the way at the top and the bag still felt a bit like it wasn’t designed for me.
Both the 24L and the 36L Osprey packs have hipbelt pockets that are absent on the Mammut packs. I’ve been jealous that Kay has hipbelt pockets his Mystery Ranch backpack that are not on my Mystery Ranch pack. They would be so helpful for storing tissues, lip balm and lens cleaning clothes on hikes. I blow my nose ALL the time! There is even a little pocket on one of the shoulder straps. I’m sure if Kay had one, he would love to store his GPS in it.
In addition, this pack has a drawstring opening with a pack lid that has two zippered compartments. It also has a second front pocket in addition to a much roomier rain cover pocket than the 24L.
It seems like it’s always a big question of how the camera fits in the pack and whether I have the camera in a camera bag (for protection) and whether that fits as well. If I go for a smaller 24L size, I may run into issues with getting things to fit when I fly, but at the same time, most 34-36L packs exceed carryon requirements so I’m sort of stuck.
I’m also still not the biggest fan of drawstring bags because you really have to take them completely off to dig around in them, but can I really survive flying with only 24L? Maybe I should just follow Kay’s example and buy two day packs. Hah!
Do you have a laundry list of requirements for your backpack?