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FIELD REPORT: Equinox Katahdin Pack -- Ken

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  • ken bennett
    Greetings: I m back from the hike. Being a hardcore tester, I tried very hard to get rained on, but all we got was a distant rumbling of thunder and big,
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 1, 2004
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      Greetings:

      I'm back from the hike. Being a hardcore tester, I tried very hard to get
      rained on, but all we got was a distant rumbling of thunder and big, ominous
      clouds. So here's my report on the Equinox Katahdin backpack, and I might
      even have it up on time <grin>.

      You can view the html version in the TESTS folder:

      http://www.backpackgeartest.org/reviews/test/TESTS/Equinox%20Katahdin%20FR%2
      0--%20Ken/


      Cheers,

      Ken B





      ---------------------------------------------------------------------

      Field Report: Equinox Katahdin Pack
      August 3, 2004

      Biographical Information:

      Name: Ken Bennett

      Age: 42

      Gender: Male

      Height: 6¹ 2²(190 cm)

      Weight: 215 lbs (98 kg)

      Email: bennettk at wfu dot edu

      Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina


      Backpacking Background:

      I have been backpacking for twelve years, all of it in the Southern
      Appalachians. I am fortunate to live within a two-hour drive of the Mt.
      Rogers National Recreation Area, and I try to hike in that area at least
      once a month year-round. I have completed several hundred miles of the
      Appalachian Trail in two-day to two-week sections, and along with my family
      have set a goal of completing the entire trail over the next decade or so.
      Like many backpackers, I started out carrying far too much gear, but over
      the years I have pared down my pack weight to a more reasonable level.


      Product Information:

      Manufacturer: Equinox Ltd.

      Model: Katahdin Pack

      URL: http://www.equinoxltd.com

      Listed Weight: 22 ounces (624 g)

      Weight as Delivered: 23 ounces (652 g)

      Size: 1 size, 3350 ci (55 L)

      MSRP: U.S. $120

      Field Information:
      Location Where Tests Were Conducted:
      The tests were conducted in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in
      southwest Virginia in May, June, and August, with moderate weather and
      temperatures from 50-F (10 C) to about 90-F (32 C). Elevations ranged from
      4000 to 5700 ft (1220 - 1740 m). This is a beautiful and relatively rugged
      area, covered with open, rocky balds, and it receives heavy use from hikers,
      equestrians, and mountain bikers.

      Test Information:
      I used the Equinox Katahdin pack on several 10-12 mile (16-19 km) day hikes,
      and two long weekend hikes. On every hike, including the day hikes, I
      carried a full load of lightweight backpacking gear. This included a 40-F (4
      C) down sleeping bag, various kinds of sleeping pads [see below for
      descriptions], a Tarptent or a hammock, an alcohol-stove camp kitchen, a
      change of clothing, my Waldies camp clogs, my personal items, a jacket,
      water, 3 days of food, and a water filter. The loads ranged from 16 to 22
      pounds (7 to 10 kg).

      Using the Katahdin: Convenience.
      The Katahdin is basically a giant silnylon stuff sack with a suspension
      system grafted to one side. There is one large main compartment, which
      closes at the top with a drawstring and a cord lock, just like any common
      stuff sack. There are two mesh water bottle pockets and two very small
      zippered pockets on the sides of the pack, but the pack is otherwise
      undifferentiated. When I first received the pack, I was worried about
      several things: being able to find my gear when I needed it, segregating my
      wet tarp and camp shoes, and keeping all my gear dry. I also noticed the
      lack of a pocket for my water bladder, and the lack of any easily-accessible
      pockets for small items.

      I have several other packs that have just one main compartment, but all of
      them have at least a lid pocket to carry small items that I need during the
      day. I was concerned enough on the first day hike that I attached an outside
      pocket to the Katahdin to carry my water filter, toilet gear, and rain
      cover. For the rest of the test period, however, I worked out a packing
      system that put everything inside the pack, and it worked much better than I
      expected.

      The Katahdin has the easiest access to the interior of any pack I have ever
      used. The top of the pack opens quickly, and the pack body is short and
      wide, making everything inside available. I used a small silnylon stuff sack
      to carry everything I would normally put in a lid pocket, and I kept it in
      the very top of the pack, along with a rain shell and my snacks for the day.
      As I wrote in my journal, 'using the stuff sack as a lid pocket worked out
      fine -- I was expecting to be annoyed, but I wasn't.'

      Keeping all my gear dry was more challenging. While the Katahdin looks at
      first glance like a silnylon stuff sack, one whole side is made of stiff,
      open mesh where the suspension is attached. In addition, the standard
      drawstring closure leaves a small hole in the top of the pack, no matter how
      tightly it is closed. In even light rain, water gets inside the pack, and
      starts to fill the bottom of the pack body. My solution was to line the
      inside of the pack with a heavy plastic trash-compactor bag, which I
      purchased at a local supermarket. This bag weighs 2 ounces (57 g), is large
      enough to fit the inside of the Katahdin, and is amazingly
      puncture-resistant (I have been using these bags for years in my other
      packs). On top of that, I put a silnylon rain cover over the outside of the
      pack to keep water from entering the hole in the top opening. Together,
      these keep my gear dry, though water can still enter the pack through the
      mesh side.

      Unlike some other ultralight packs, the Katahdin lacks any large mesh
      pockets on the outside of the pack body. I was concerned about this, because
      I don't like putting a wet tarp or muddy camp shoes inside the pack body
      with my nice, dry gear. I solved this problem by closing the plastic liner
      bag down inside the pack, leaving enough room inside the top of the pack
      body to carry my Tarptent and my Waldies, along with any other wet gear.
      Again, this worked out better than I expected based on my prior experience
      with lightweight packs.

      Finally, I had to relearn how to use a water bottle. I had become very
      dependent on my water bladder with a drinking tube, since it makes it very
      easy to drink while hiking. There's no pocket or compartment on the Katahdin
      for a bladder, but it does have two mesh water bottle pockets that are large
      enough to swallow a 1-qt (1 L) Nalgene bottle each. The good news is that I
      can remove and replace both water bottles while wearing the pack. The bad
      news is that I still haven't figured out a way to do this without stopping
      for a minute or two. On my last hike, I started to get dehydrated because I
      wasn't remembering to stop for water breaks. (This is, of course, not the
      fault of the Katahdin, but one more sign of your tester's advancing age.)

      Also, the Katahdin lacks any small, easily-accessible pockets for things
      that I need while hiking. I was able to attach a small pouch for my camera,
      but there's no place for snacks, maps, compass, hiking guide, etc. I solved
      this by wearing a small waist pack on the front of my waist to carry those
      items. (Which had several unexpected advantages, letting me carry small
      items around camp at night, and giving me a useful purse in town.)

      Wearing the Katahdin: Comfort.
      The Katahdin is a lightweight, frameless rucksack, with an innovative
      compression system that attempts to stiffen the load enough to transfer
      weight to the hip belt. When I first received the pack, I was impressed by
      the suspension system: the hip belt is one of the best I have ever worn, and
      the shoulder straps are very well-designed and comfortable. I am happy to
      report that the compression system does work the way it was designed, though
      it took me a lot of time and effort to figure out the best way to load the
      pack. However, my experience with the Katahdin leads me to conclude that,
      like any ultralight rucksack, it has a maximum comfortable load of around
      20-25 pounds (9 to 11.5 kg).

      The first trip was, frankly, a disaster. The Katahdin was comfortable to
      start, but as the day wore on, it became more and more painful on my
      shoulders. The pack has load lifters, which are designed to take the weight
      off the shoulders while keeping the pack close to the body, but lifters
      don't work at all when the whole pack is sagging downward like a sack of
      potatoes. I kept tightening the compression straps to try to stiffen the
      load, but nothing seemed to work. Every time I tried to loosen the shoulder
      straps and tighten the lifters, the pack just sank lower and lower on my
      back. All 22 pounds (10 kg) was on my shoulders, and it left me in serious
      pain for several days after the hike.

      I spent some time after that hike trying to figure out the best way to load
      and use the Katahdin. I tried different sleeping pads for support, and
      several different ways of loading the pack to get the load lifters to work
      properly. What worked the best for me was to keep the load as tall and
      narrow as possible, and then to tighten the compression straps as much as
      possible. Having a tall, stiff pack put the load lifters up above the
      shoulder straps, where they needed to be in order to work properly. However,
      the body shape of the Katahdin, which is short and wide, made it harder for
      me to create the required tall, narrow shape. For one thing, I found that I
      was unable to use my 3/4 Ridgerest sleeping pad as a 'frame' inside the
      pack, because it accentuated the short, wide shape of the finished pack.
      This was unfortunate, because lining the pack with the Ridgerest made it
      very easy to handle and load.

      Here's what I found the be the most comfortable way to load the Katahdin:
      First, I lined the inside of the pack with a trash compactor bag. Then, I
      folded my Thermarest Prolite 4 mattress in quarters, and slid it inside the
      trash bag, down to the bottom of the pack. My clothing bag then went
      sideways in the very bottom. Then I put my sleeping bag and my food bag (an
      Ursack TKO) next to each other vertically on top of the clothing bag. Then I
      put my small ditty bag of personal items on top of that, and stuffed my
      windshirt down in front of the stuff sacks. Then I rolled the trash bag
      closed over all the gear I wanted to keep dry. On top of the closed trash
      bag went my camp shoes, my hammock or tarp, my rain shell, and my small
      silnylon bag with all the little stuff I would want during the day (see
      above). I slid a very small piece of closed-cell-foam pad down the inside
      front of the pack, between the pack body and the trash bag, to spread out
      the pressure of the three compression straps (I used this as a sit-pad
      during the day). I put my toilet gear in one small outside pocket, and my
      alcohol fuel in the other. Two plastic soda bottles went in the mesh water
      bottle pockets.

      After I loaded the pack, I had to cinch down the compression straps to make
      the pack body as stiff as possible. At the same time, I was trying to force
      the load into as tall and narrow a shape as possible.

      So, does it work? Does the compression system transfer the weight to the hip
      belt, and make the pack more comfortable to wear? As comfortable as a pack
      with a frame? The short answer is: yes and no. I found that the compression
      system does work to shift some of the pack weight to the hip belt, as long
      as I am careful to load and compress the pack properly. However, this system
      has its limits. Whenever I was carrying more than about 22 pounds (10 kg) in
      the Katahdin, I found that the area where the hip belt is attached to the
      pack started to collapse under the weight, which then put most of the weight
      back on my shoulders. Also, like many ultralight packs, the Katahdin needs
      to be full or close to full in order to function properly. As my food bag
      got smaller during a hike, it was more difficult to make the weight transfer
      to my hips (though as the weight decreased, this became more and more
      unneccesary). I think my personal weight limit with the Katahdin would be
      about 20 pounds (9 kg), at which weight it is more comfortable than other
      ultralight packs that I have tried.

      Minor Annoyances:
      The 2-inch (5 cm) nylon straps on the hip belts don't have anything on the
      ends to keep the quick-release buckle from sliding off. As a result, when I
      loosen the buckle without paying attention, it slides right off the webbing.
      Two minutes with a sewing machine will fix this, of course, but it's still
      annoying.

      The top compression strap is shorter than the other two. This makes it hard
      to tighten when the pack is full, since there's not a piece of webbing to
      grab. (At least it has a little sewn-down tab on the end, unlike the hip
      belt webbing. Had they made this tab an inch longer, this wouldn't be an
      issue.)

      The flat zippered pockets on the sides of the Katahdin are impossible to
      load once the compression straps are tightened, because they are pulled
      completely flat and taut. I have to remember to re-load these pockets before
      I compress the pack.

      Testing with Various Sleeping Pads:
      The Katahdin requires the use of a sleeping pad inside the pack to support
      the load and keep sharp objects from hitting the back. I tested the pack
      with every type of pad in my gear closet:

      Z-Rest 3/4: This pad fit well inside the pack, and provided a fair amount of
      support as the 'frame'.

      Z-Rest (full length): This pad took up a lot of room inside the Katahdin.
      It's probably not usable with this pack. Also, both Z-Rest pads are commonly
      folded up then opened in half to make a support that is two panels wide.
      This is much narrower than the Katahdin interior, and it was difficult to
      keep it centered.

      Ridgerest (full length): This pad took up most of the room inside the pack.

      Ridgerest 25x77-inch pad (64x196 cm): There wasn't room for much of anything
      inside the pack once this huge pad was unrolled inside. However, the 25-inch
      (64 cm) width did a better job of supporting the full height of the pack. If
      I were willing to cut it into a torso-length pad, it might work well.

      Ridgerest 3/4: This pad unrolled nicely inside the pack, and made it much
      easier to load and unload. But see above for how well it worked as the
      internal support system.

      Thermarest 3/4 (older style): Folded into thirds, this 20-inch wide (51 cm)
      pad covered the entire width of the pack, and with a little air blown inside
      it provided the best support of any pad.

      Thermarest Prolite 4 (standard length): Folded in fourths to cover the
      entire width, this pad also worked well to support the load and provide some
      padding for the back. It wasn't quite as supportive as the Thermarest 3/4,
      probably due to all the cutouts in the foam making it less stiff.

      Further Testing:
      I will continue to use the Katahdin for day hikes and backpacking trips
      until the weather gets too cold for me to keep my total load under 20 pounds
      (9 kg). I am very interested in the overall durability of the lightweight
      materials in this pack.

      Conclusions:

      Things I liked:

      The hip belt and shoulder straps are well-designed and comfortable.
      Access to the inside of the pack is very easy.
      Construction is excellent.
      The pack is very light at 23 ounces (652 g).

      Things I didn't Like:

      The pack requires very careful and fussy loading for comfortable wear.
      The mesh back panel and the drawstring top allow rain to enter the pack.
      There is no external pocket for wet gear; nor any small, accessible pockets
      for small items.

      Thanks again to Equinox and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the
      Katahdin.
    • Cora
      Hi Ken, This is a marvelously detailed and complete report. It sounds like you have really taken the time to form a system to use and waterproof the design.
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 2, 2004
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        Hi Ken,

        This is a marvelously detailed and complete report. It
        sounds like you have really taken the time to form a
        system to use and waterproof the design. Great work.
        I have my suggested changes below.

        > Size: 1 size,
        > 3350 ci (55 L)

        Suggestion: I have no problem with you spelling out
        your units, but for 'ci' might I suggest the standard
        in^3 ...?

        > temperatures from 50-F (10 C) to about 90-F (32 C).

        Comment: You use dashes for F units, and no dashes
        for C units. Perhaps one or the other? This also
        occurs a few times below in your report, so if you
        change it you'll probably want to search-and-replace
        the whole report.

        > change of clothing, my Waldies camp clogs, my
        > personal items, a jacket,

        Suggestion: I seem to remember you have a good
        Waldies description in your IR. You could refer your
        reader to it here if you like. :)

        > enough to swallow a 1-qt (1 L) Nalgene bottle each.
        > The good news is that I

        Comment: Well, 1 qt is not quite 1 L, but enough folks
        will know what you mean, perhaps.

        > became more and more
        > unneccesary). I think my personal weight limit with

        Edit: ...unnecessary...

        > Thermarest Prolite 4 (standard length): Folded in
        > fourths to cover the
        > entire width, this pad also worked well to support
        > the load and provide some
        > padding for the back. It wasn't quite as supportive
        > as the Thermarest 3/4,
        > probably due to all the cutouts in the foam making
        > it less stiff.

        Comment: Above, when you were talking about how you
        packed your pack, you specifically said that you
        shoved the Prolite to the bottom, and then seemed to
        load things on top. I thought that was odd, since I
        thought you needed your pad covering at least some of
        the gear to support it. Here, you seem to fold it and
        place it somehow along the length of the pack.
        Perhaps some clarification in one of these two spots?

        An excellent report. Thank you, Ken. Take whatever
        you wish to change, and upload at will.

        Cora
      • ken bennett
        Cora-- Thanks for the edits. I will incorporate your suggestions and upload this evening. Also, I added a couple of photos to the report. Cheers, Ken
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 2, 2004
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          Cora--

          Thanks for the edits. I will incorporate your suggestions and upload this
          evening. Also, I added a couple of photos to the report.

          Cheers,

          Ken
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