If you could design the ultimate backpack, or even better, YOUR ultimate backpack, what would it look like? How big would it be? How many compartments would it have? What colours, what fabrics? Myrthe finds out the pros (and cons?) of designing your own backpack.
This is my backpack. Or at least, it was.
My mum bought it for me in 2011, in preparation for my surf trip to South Africa.
Since then, it has been on many, many adventures with me (including more than 75 overnight hikes in New Zealand).
I love this pack, it has been so good to me for so long. It’s endured long hikes, bush bashing, river crossings, and snowy peaks.
I think it’s a very comfortable pack (but maybe I just got used to it?), and the size (50+10L) and pockets work great for me.
I’ve got such a good system with what lives where in this bag, I can pretty much tell what I forgot to pack based on which pocket still has space.
There are also things I don’t like about this pack. The first one being that the pack itself is heavy. The empty pack already weighs 2.3kg, not ideal when you’re going on a long hike with a full backpack.
The other thing is that as soon as I have this pack on my back, I can’t reach any of the pockets, which means things like water, snacks and my phone are instantly out of reach.
So when I won a competition and received the grand prize of a custom-made pack from Fiordland Packs, I was stoked!
This was my chance to design my ultimate pack, without the flaws I had noticed with my own pack. Apart from the size (35L), I was allowed to make every design decision myself.
The Design Process
I got connected with David, the owner, designer and sewer of Fiordland Packs, who showed me which decisions I had to make. And that’s when I realised just how many choices I actually had to make around this pack.
You see, it’s not just about which pockets you want. It’s about pocket sizes, where you want straps, what type of straps you want, making choices about whether you want a sternum strap, a waist belt or alpine tool attachments. And to top it all up, you then have to choose a specific fabric and colour for each component of your pack.
It’s one thing if you know what all the options mean, but if half of it goes straight over your head in the first place, it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed with decision fatigue.
Luckily, David is a patient guy, and after a few nights of research and a number of emails back and forth to get answers to my (many) questions, I was able to supply him with my build-a-pack wishlist.
I also asked David if he was ok with me writing about the experience here — as this is by no means sponsored by anyone, not least him — and his classic Southlander response was, ‘That’s all good, no need to ask my permission, say whatever you like or nothing at all. It’s your business not mine, I just make packs and use them.’
There’s definitely something about being heavily involved with designing something so personal (to us hikers at least) as a hiking pack. It was great to build a rapport with David and feel a connection with this pack before ever actually taking it for a hike.
In fact, David actually emailed me asking to take my time with this article, as he was planning on being out tramping for most of spring, and even though he would like a bit more business, he doesn’t want too much business!
I was lucky that David wasn’t too busy when it came to my pack though, and it only took a week to receive it in the mail!
Seeing the pack in real life, I instantly loved the look of it. I was stoked with the size, as it looked bigger than I thought it would be. I was also very happy with the colour I chose, combining red and black instead of the colour blue I usually go for in gear. And above all, it was extremely light, coming in at just under 600g.
But of course looks are not the most important thing, and I was keen to find out how this pack would perform in the wild. I had the perfect hike coming up to put it to the test, as I was about to hike the Copland Track.
This track is 18km one way, and has a nice flash hut to stay in, making it the ideal opportunity to pack light while carrying the backpack for a significant amount of time.
The First Pack
I was a bit nervous to pack my new backpack for the first time. Would everything that I wanted to bring actually fit in the bag? Would it be comfortable while fully loaded? Would the pockets work the way I wanted them to?
But it turned out I had nothing to worry about, as everything fitted fine and I even had space for a few unnecessary luxuries.
Putting the pack on my back, it felt unusual to not have a padded waist belt distributing some of the weight across my hips, but instead feeling most of it on my shoulders. I guess I was about to find out how that would feel after a six-hour hike!
The First Hike
Regardless of what pack you’re using, 18km is long! I was definitely feeling my back by the end of day one, but I’m guessing that would have been the case with my old pack as well.
Looking at the other backpacks in the group, the Fiordland pack definitely looked smaller and felt lighter than the rest. Turns out working with limited space is a good thing when packing for your hike!
I loved being able to reach my Nalgene bottle without taking my pack off, and the strap pockets turned out to be perfect to keep both my phone and a snack handy.
Since there is no padding in the back of the pack, I had to reshuffle the contents to make sure nothing sharp was poking in my back (David recommends folding your mat and using that as padding in the back of the pack).
We had booked two nights at Welcome Flat Hut so we could explore a little bit further up the valley and visit Douglas Rocks Hut. This meant that for our second day of hiking, we left most of our things at the hut and carried much lighter packs. A good opportunity to experience the pack as a daypack, and I quickly realised it was a lot more comfortable with a lighter load!
On day three, it was back to a full pack and another 18km to the car. I felt like a seasoned pro, packing my bag just so, ensuring nothing would poke uncomfortably in my back. We had a bit of drizzle on the way, but the pack’s waterproofness turned out to be good enough to withstand a bit of rain. By the end of the day, my body felt pretty sore, but with 53km done in three days, I’m not sure whether this can be blamed on the pack!
I’m really happy with how the pack performed on this first trip.
It’s easy to pack, with just enough small pockets to keep a few things outside of the main pack so that they’re easy to find.
The pack is a little bit more work to open and close, but I reckon it’s worth it for the waterproofness you get in return.
I really like the big side pockets as they fit quite a bit of stuff and are easy to reach while the pack is on your back (I’m pretty sure they’re big enough to fit my tent on the side of the pack).
Based on our middle day, I would say it’s the perfect daypack, but it can definitely be used for overnight trips if you know how to pack light.
I’m keen to do another trip to see if I would like to add a padded waist belt after all (which is something David can add after the pack is already made), or maybe I just need a bit more time to get used to a different style of carrying the weight.
All up, I’m stoked with this new addition to my outdoor gear, and I can’t wait to take it on just as many adventures as my old, trusty backpack!