Golite Pinnacle Backpack
Being restricted to only 35 pounds on your back — and actually having much less most of the time — is one of the best things you can do you for yourself. The evolution of backpacks went hand in hand with the evolution of other lightweight gear, as it's obvious that 20-30 years ago it would have been pretty impossible to take a week's worth gear in a frameless pack (and now I'm not talking about the fanatic ultra-ultra-light people, though all my respect to them, too).
I never laid hands on Golite pack before buying ours. First seeing a mention about them in a forum, I looked up the brand, read many reviews, and after finding a great bargain for both Em's and mine type and size, I "blindly" bought both.
Deciding which one to choose was relatively simple, the framed, somewhat heavier versions they used to make was out of the question, and we wanted something that can accommodate multi-day trips, eventually even weeklong ones.
We got Em the older version, with no 3D mesh in the back, no pockets on the hip belt, and no emergency whistle on the collarbone strap. The absence of the mesh is not a very big deal for her, as she's not sweating nearly as much as I do, and without all these extras, this version of the pack was much lighter at around 1 pound 8 ounces than mine at almost 2 pounds.
We knew we were in for a learning curve, but that did not matter. The first trip we took them on was to the Joshua Tree NP for a one-night backpacking foray to the Pine City area in June 2011. The walk from the trailhead is a whopping 2.5 miles with practically no elevation gain, but that was the whole point — we had quite a few new pieces of gear we wanted to try so it was ideal. We also had to carry all our water so the total load was actually not that light.
Packing the Pinnacle is a different process then packing a regular back, that's sure. It's very easy to end up with something skewing the whole load to one side or poking too much against the back. I think we needed several trips, some of them multi-day, before we really got the hang of it how to arrange everything and how to adjust the straps to distribute the load correctly.
Since then, we each have our routine and know what goes where, packing them is almost automatic and can be done without much effort.
The hydration bladder sleeves are done very well, with a hook for the bladder and hose output holes on either side (on the older version, the hook is a bit too small and tight our the two-liter Platypus and it takes a bit of jiggling to take it off). Even re-inserting a new filled-up bladder with most of the gear still in the pack is not impossible after some practice.
Most bear canisters will not fit lengthwise in these packs, only upright. I don't find this a problem, we have carry a Bearikade each on longer trips, and they fit very well with all the other stuff, nicely compressing clothing items beneath them. We always put them almost at the top, only keeping a windbreaker and the water filtration system above.
The dual compression straps on each side are positioned perfectly, using them is a must, if fully open, it feels like somebody hid an additional 4-5 pounds somewhere inside.
On your back
Having weight on your back is never fun per se, but if everything is dialed in properly, these packs make it as bearable as possible. First of all, there's the load limit of 35 pounds, so no matter what, that's the max anyway. However, it is possible to go on a weeklong trip with a much smaller load, especially if it's not solo and there's shared gear (like the vast majority of trips Em and I are doing). At the beginning of the weeklong tip, mine usually weighs around 30-32 pounds, including the Bearikade full of food, 2-3 pounds of water, a 3-pound DSLR and the inReach. Em's most weighs below 25 pounds.
The hip belt is wide and comfortable, and I always make sure it's as tight as possible. The shoulder straps are padded very well, and I'm not saying I never got an odd bruise after a particularly heavy first-day grind, but it does not happen regularly. They also have a nice big loop with the Golite logo for hanging stuff, I lead the Platypus' hose under one and I hang the inReach from the other.
In the side pockets, we mostly carry our water shoes (with rain ponchos and other items stuffed into them), and sometimes I keep my phone there to be able to check the map if needed. Usually, I can get the phone out by reaching back without a problem.
At the time of writing this, we've have these packs for over four years now. They have way over 1,000 miles and dozens of overnight trips in them. We've been in rain, snow, hail, dust and mud with them, but we're always very careful not to get them unnecessarily wet or dirty.
They both show signs of wear, that's true, but neither has any serious damage. No tears or holes anywhere, only a few minor abrasions, and all the buckles are still the originals, we only added stops to prevent slippage. On Em's pack, one of the ice axe loops came undone a long time ago. We could have sewn it back a million times, but I'm afraid we always forget about it. We never use it anyway.
For people used to huge framed packs, these are weird beasts, that's sure, but after a learning period they can become your best friends.
As we all know, Golite went bankrupt in fall 2014, and we're still mourning the loss. If we'd have to buy new packs now, I'd have some ideas, but first I'd try to get Golites again. This goes for some other items, too, especially their hardshell jackets and their ponchos.