The struggle is real.
As I wrote about in My Pack, my Camino gear journey began with the gift of the Osprey Exos 38. On paper, this was the perfect Camino pack – it seemed to work just fine on my first test hike, and held my gear perfectly on my first pack test. The only problem was that it didn’t actually fit.
Back to the Drawing Board
When I finally gave up and sold my pack, I resolved to dedicate some serious time to choosing my Camino pack. I scoured the internet, chased down numerous reviews from top hikers, and came up with a short list of packs for consideration.
A close competitor to the Osprey Exos (especially the previous model with the hip belt pockets!) was the Gregory Optic – a 48 liter pack extolled by many hikers. Then I discovered some interesting packs that compressed to practically zero volume and expanded up to 60 liters. These were the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor and the Granite Gear Massdrop X60 – an improved version of the company’s famous Crown2 60. (I got it for only $100 with this discount!)
You can see my YouTube channel for reviews of these packs (all of which are excellent), but in the end none were right for me. The Gregory and the Sierra Designs weren’t very comfortable and the Granite Gear’s non-vented back panel was just too hot.
I was getting frustrated so I finally decided to do what I should have done first . . .
. . . I spent half a day at REI with expert backpackers.
Fit Before Features
I started off by telling the REI expert what I was looking for – but before I could get very far into it, she gave me an excellent piece of backpack shopping strategy: get fitted first and worry about features later.
While this seems obvious now, it was a game changer for me. When you research online, reviewers can tell you a LOT about a pack – except the one thing that matters more than anything else: how it fits you. This is not something you can find out from someone else’s experience or a simple measurement.
No pack feature is worth pack discomfort – so why even bother considering them until you know what you can actually carry?
An Unexpected Suggestion
The REI pack expert and I tried the usual suspects: the Osprey Stratos 36, the REI Flash 45, the Osprey Exos 48, the Gregory Optic 48, plus one from Deuter. None were the right fit. My in-between-sizes torso length of 19″ was making it very difficult to find one that wasn’t too short or too long. None of them seemed to be “right” once I knew what to look (feel) for.
We were starting to give up hope when she made (what seemed to me as) a strange suggestion. She picked a pack off the wall that I had heard a lot about,* but had not even considered due to its weight and price: the Osprey Atmos AG 50. Inwardly rolling my eyes I reluctantly put it on and . . .
It. Was. Amazing.
The suspension was like nothing I’d ever experienced with a backpack. The mesh stretches across the back and into the hip belt creating this “net” that surrounds and is supported by your entire torso. It’s like getting hugged by a pillow! The Atmos 50 was a couple pounds heavier (4.2 lbs) than most of the packs I’d been testing (which typically came in at a little over 2 pounds) – but that weight disappeared once the pack settled on me. After nearly two hours of stuffing, fitting, and testing backpacks, it seemed I had found “the one!”
I did not buy the backpack at that time – for three reasons.
First, I found out it came in red – but they did not have it in stock. I don’t like flashy clothes or cars, but for some reason I like colorful backpacks haha. Plus it seems right to get the pack in “Camino” red.
Second, as another REI expert pointed out, REI’s member sale was coming up in a couple weeks. I didn’t want to impulse buy anyway, and with the Atmos 50’s retail price of $240, I needed all the help I could get.
Third, I am still uncomfortable with the idea of bringing such a large pack on the Camino. The volume alone is not an issue, but when that is combined with weight gain it’s a more critical consideration. While ultimately comfortable, those extra pounds can turn into squashed feet, joint pain, and less energy over time.
Is the Atmos 50 going to be my (final) Camino backpack?
I still need to test it out in the real world. With REI’s excellent return policy, it will be worth doing so. I am still not sure I want a pack that big, so I want to try the Osprey Stratos 36 on real hike as well. But in all honesty, now that I have experienced Osprey’s Anti-Gravity suspension system, I don’t know if I can go back!
* This is the pack line that YouTube celebrity thru hikers Darwin and Dixie both started off with before they went ultralight. It’s also one of Luke’s favorites. I believe it was also the pack that Patrick wore in the excellent book, “I’ll Push You” (watch the movie!).