Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Time to pack it up and move on

G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe, hiking fool from head to toe...
Never actually got this pack.
If you spend anytime travelling - even if your biggest adventure involves a trip to a museum -
chances are, you've probably used a backpack of some kind.

Many of us have owned and used many different sizes and styles of backpacks over the years.

If you spend much time in the out of doors, you might be what consider to be a back pack expert.

I wouldn't call myself an expert, I feel a bit uncomfortable accepting that kind of term. I do know what works for me, and I can say what good and bad experiences I've had throughout the decades.

But thinking back to all the backpacks I've used over the years also brings back memories of the trips I've taken with them. And those memories are all pretty fond ones.

I first desired a backpack - or knapsack as we called it then - when I first went to Camp Richildaca near Kettleby, Ontario. We were going on a nature hike, and I wanted a pack to carry my lunch in, along with any other supplies I might need (which really weren't much, since it was only a two or three hour hiking adventure.)

I didn't get one that first summer. But the following summer I did, although not without some grief from my dad.

We'd visited relatives in Detroit for a week before I went to camp that year and spent one day getting a toy for me. My dad knew I wanted a knapsack for camp, and in the toy store, you could get an official "G.I. Joe knapsack and (plastic) entrenching shovel," it was part of the line of life-sized toys that complemented the popular boys' soldier-doll. (PC people like to call it "action figure," but hey, we knew it was a doll. Our answer to girls' Barbie. And he could kick Ken's ass. But I digress).

Anyway, he urged me to get that, but I chose the toy M-1 carbine instead (Hey, why get a knapsack when I can get another gun for my growing arsenal, eh?).

So, when I went to camp, at the end of the first week, I was bugging my dad for a knapsack. Even had one picked out that I liked. It was green, had "Trailblazer" written on the back. But my dad said, "You should have gotten the GI Joe pack!"
My official Boy Scout backpack.

It took a bit of cajoling, but eventually I got my pack. Looking back, it wasn't much, didn't even fasten with buckles, just a tie like a shoelace. But I loved it.

It did me up until the time I was ready to go to scout camp.

Then it was time to move up to a better model. And again I had a bit of a tussle with my dad over this issue. He thought to go to camp it would be much better if I just had some kind of big duffel bag, kind of like a hockey bag for all my clothing and gear.

But my dad was not that much of an outdoorsman; I knew there were going to be overnight canoe trips and overnight backpacking trips at this camp, and a duffel bag was not going to be very good for hauling gear through  the woods on my back, so again I cajoled him and eventually got the pack I wanted.

It was a gray knapsack, an "official" Scouts Canada pack purchased at the local Jack Fraser store (the official supplier of Scouts Canada back then) It did not have any kind of frame with it, it was really more of a larger day pack rather than a multi-day pack, but it had one mean compartment, two side pockets, and a smaller outside pocket on the back ... it was just exactly what I wanted and it worked great on the canoe trip - my very first overnight canoe trip, to Drag Lake in the Haliburton Highlands! - and then on my very first overnight backpacking camping trip as well.

That particular backpack did me for several more years until I hit 18 and was planning my very first "no-adults" overnight canoe trip in Algonquin Park.

Now this was a big thing for me, because every other canoe trip I never been on was supervised by someone older - a scoutmaster, a junior forest ranger foreman - so this was a special rite of passage trip.

Time for a Taymor!
Mine was blue not red, but same style.
I had my eye on a backpacking frame in Canadian Tire where I worked that summer. It was really cool, because it was essentially red with a white flap to cover everything - and it had a red maple leaf in the middle ... essentially it was a giant Canadian flag.

I bought it, and I loved that pack, using that for the next several years. For a few years, I stopped taking overnight camping trips just because I was in university and was often working and didn't have time to plan or carry out such trips.

Eventually I graduated moved out west and when it was time for me to go on a new outdoor adventure, it was time for a new backpack because the "flag-pack" had seen better days, it was 16 years old and hadn't been in any shape to take out west.

So off I went to my neighborhood sporting goods store and got a Taymor pack. My first trip with that was a three-day solo backpacking trip in Jasper National Park, to Jacques Lake.  It did me for several more trips after that, canoeing the Bowron Lake circuit twice, and on some other camping trips. But as with all backpacks, when your travel style changes, often your pack has to change as well.

For my first international trip to Belize - a two-week trip that involved sea-kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, caving, and all kinds of great outdoor stuff - I needed a suitcase. But I also needed some kind of small day pack.

A friend of mine lent me a catalog from Mountain Equipment Co-op, which I'd never heard of at that point in time. But they had something which was perfect: a very rugged cross between a suitcase and a duffel bag but which also had a smaller day pack that fastened to the main bag with straps and became part of the whole unit.

The suitcase itself could be turned into a backpack for longer trips as it had an internal pack frame. The detachable day pack was great, because it could carry food, a change of clothes, a camera, water bottle, and any number of things you might need to access when you're kayaking in the Caribbean or hiking through the Central American jungle.

Still use my MEC pack today, 25 years later.
This one is lasted a long time - in fact, I still use it today for some travel, which means it's pretty darn durable.  Since I bought it 1991,that means I've had it for almost 25 years in it still works. Yeah, here it comes... "They don't make much stuff like that any more."

Once I started doing freelance photography, which involved a lot of hiking in the mountains and other outdoor areas in and around Calgary and southern Alberta, I needed something sturdy and functional in which to carry my camera gear, since I wasn't using just a point-and-shoot any more.

So I bought a LowePro in 2000.

It's still my favourite backpack for carrying camera gear. It's been vary durable, although I have had replaced the zippers on the one I currently use on a couple of occasion . But it's 15 years old, so it doesn't owe me anything.

It's helped me photograph parrots in the Caribbean, orangutans in Malaysia, temples in Thailand and the vista of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Let's see, did I bring my cards?

Everybody who knows me knows I love to paddle and when you're canoeing or kayaking it's always nice to have something to keep you clothing and gear dry.

I used to just pack the frames and backpacks into the canoe, but there was no guarantee, they would stay dry unless we put a tarp over them. And once we started kayaking, well, you can't fit a pack frame into a kayak storage compartment.

So we evolved to dry bags. They're very handy for paddling, even canoeing, if you don't have any long portages, but they are meant more for kayaking than canoeing. Some come with straps and some bags even have an apparatus that turns them into backpacks.

However they do not become the kind of backpacks you would take with you on a camping trip into the mountains.

Guaranteed to keep stuff dry.
I think back fondly to all the backpacks I've used...As we go forward in life, we of course have to make room in our lives by letting go of certain things, we can't keep every single thing (although sometimes I wish we could.)

But I get wistful every now and then when I think back to all those first trips I took - my first nature hike, first overnight canoe trip, first overnight camping trip, first overnight canoe trip planned on my own, and my first international trip. Most of the backpacks I took on most of those trips are long gone.

Some wore out, some were donated ... but they're all so old, they've probably all bitten the dust, I doubt if any of them are even around, never mind in use any more.

Although today's modern day, super light, multi-purpose materials may make lighter and more waterproof and more functional backpacks, there's no taking the place of the memories associated with those old packs.

R.I.P., old backpack friends.

Some tips on choosing a backpack.

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