The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

A New Backpack - Part 1

Disclaimer: Backpacks are very personal things. I fully appreciate that something that I don’t like is someone else’s ideal. So, please don’t take any of my dislikes to be a generalised negative comment – another person may find my dislikes to be fantastic features.

Although I really like the design of the Osprey Aura 50 that I’ve been using since the end of 2006, I’ve been having an increasing problem with the front of the hip-belt shifting from its proper position. It’s not enough movement to make the pack unusable, but it’s enough to be annoying.

So, rather belatedly I decided that I’d rather like to find out if there was a different pack out there that I would find more comfortable. Hours of internet based research ensued and the two packs that caught my attention were the Go-Lite Pursuit (Women’s) and the Gregory Jade 50 (which is a women’s model).

Handily, sell both and after a very quick chat-ette with Bob & Rose at the Outdoor Show I had a very detailed telephone conversation with them which led to them sending to me a:
- Go-Lite Pursuit
- Gregory Jade 60
- OMM Villain MSC 45+10

It had been the Gregory Jade 50 that I wanted, but with the launch of the 2008 model imminent there wasn’t one to be had. However, they able to get hold of the Jade 60, which isn’t being launched until later this year. Just for the purposes of testing the harness, I opted to try the larger model.

The OMM Villain wasn’t a sack that I’d ever considered. I think that my mind thought ‘OMM’ = Mountain Marathons = very minimalist rushing about over hills = not what I do. Rose first described the Villain to me, and between us we nearly discounted it. Then Bob requested the phone and talked me into giving it a go. With hindsight, I’m very glad that he did.

So, two days later the packs arrived (no, not a slip in their usual next day service – I specifically requested that they arrive on Maundy Thursday, and arrive on time they did).

Go-Lite Pursuit
The Go-Lite was immediately taken out of consideration. Even empty it wasn’t comfortable and loading it served to confirm that (admittedly the back length was too big, but even in the right size I couldn’t see that it could possibly be comfortable on me).

Ignoring the back system, the design was okay (i.e. if it had fitted, I would have lived with it), but not my ideal. The ‘front’ pocket was vast and eminently useable, but personally I would prefer a pouch pocket and an extra pocket somewhere. The side pockets were rather on the small side which made me think that I would like them bigger. The hip-belt pockets were also a wee-bit smaller than I thought they could have been (I’m a big fan of substantial hip-belt pockets).

Gregory Jade 60
Next to be tried was the Gregory Jade 60, the design of which I found disappointing when comparing it with the spec of last year’s Jade 50. The big front pouch had been replaced by a small zipped pocket and a big main-section access zip. My method of packing leaves no call for the big access zip, so for me it represented unnecessary extra weight. The side pockets on this pack were generous, as was the lid pocket, but it really fell down on the hip-belt pockets, which would be useful for putting your lipsyl and mobile phone in but would fit little else. I certainly couldn’t cram our camera in and our camera is small. Loaded the verdict was that it was comfortable, but bigger than I needed and without the number of decent-sized pockets that I would like.

OMM Villain MSC
Then came the OMM Villain, which had only been thrown into contention at the last minute and of which I didn’t have great hopes. Well, what a surprise it turned out to be!

The side pockets are not only generous and useable, but also have shock cord & lock closures so you can cinch your little things in there. The hip belt pockets, although not as big as on the Osprey are big enough to be useful (the camera gets swallowed happily and the compass and phone would fit nicely in the other, together with the lipsyl and other odds and ends). Added to that there is the MSC – the Multi Sport Compressor, which itself sports a small pocket (I’m not going to explain the MSC in detail – go to the OMM website if you want to know more). My waterproofs fit there nicely and although it’s not a fully enclosed pouch, I wasn’t concerned that my waterproofs would fall out (of course, the open design does mean that smaller items couldn’t go in there).

The real surprise with the Villain came with how comfortable it was. Being somewhat on the bony side, I’ve come to accept that bruised collar bones come hand-in-hand with carrying a pack (and the weight in the pack has little to do with the bruising). Despite its low weight, the Villain has remarkably padded shoulder straps – and softly padded (because as I’ve found, firm padding bruises me more than scant-padding).

Things remained promising when I loaded the Villain with most of my kit and took it for a walk down the road; it was still comfortable.

The (almost) Verdict
The other thing that the Villain offered that neither of the other packs offered was a hip belt that fits. Being skinny, I really have a problem getting hip belts that have more than an inch of leeway in them. It seems that if you have 60 inch hips you’ll be fine, but if you have a more modest 31 inch girth, you’re less well catered for.

Even on the Osprey I’m usually right at the ends of the adjustment. The same problem presented itself with the Go-Lite and with the Gregory. Even ignoring the design of the rest of the pack, both would have been discounted on that criterion alone. A pack that is close to the stops of the hip-belt is unlikely to fit me after a couple of months of continuous walking.

So, the outcome was unexpected and that’s why I was so pleased that Bob convinced me to give the OMM a go.

That isn’t the end of the story, though. You see the OMM is only 45 litres (plus 10, but when you fill that extra 10 it pushes the lid to a strange angle that makes the lid-pocket less useable). For the kit that I’m going to be carrying for the first three weeks, 45 litres is a bit on the snug side.

I’d decided to buy the OMM anyway. I liked it so much that I was sure that it would get lots of use and moreover it seems to fit me well (the proof of the pudding will be in the eating). However, following the discussion that ensued with Rose, another potential contender was suggested and the trip to Malvern yesterday involved trying on a number of other packs.

To be continued…


  1. I've got a Kimmlite Mountain Mover (predecessor of OMM) but I think it's 55+10. I love it; it replaced a Golite Breeze. I'm pretty bony and I get on with it really well.

  2. Must admit I could never use the Osprey Atmos for backpackng - the OMM pack hasalways looked interesting.