So the plan was to find the perfect backpack for my pilgrimmage in Spain that hopefully will take place in the summer of 2022. This turned out to be quite the challenge!
When choosing a backpack, it is highly relevant what kind of body type you are. I am not built like a skinny runner, I am more of a swimmer’s type with wide shoulders. This can sometimes cause problems for me when choosing outdoor garment, I have often found that gear made for women are not suitable for me. If you have narrow shoulders, maybe you should look at other reviews. Regarding upper body size, I need at least L or even XL for women’s clothes in order to get sleeves that are not too short. I am 168 cm tall.
Requirements on the backpack
- Front pockets for water bottles
- Volume around 10 – 20 litres (the gear weighs around 2.5 kilos)
- As light as possible: Below 500 grams but preferably around 200 grams
- The backpack should fit snugly and feel like an extension of my own body
1. The OMM Phantom 12
This was the first backpack that I tested. I had high expectations of the fit, after watching several reviews on Youtube. I also liked the low weight of only 250 grams. The size of this backpack was perfect for my needs, but I had to remove the thick pad in the back of the pack to be able to pack everything in it.
Unfortunately, when I tested it fully packed, all weight of the pack rested on my neck muscles. This was not comfortable at all! I suspect that many hours of hiking with this pack would cause neck pain for me. Maybe this backpack would fit a person with more narrow shoulders than I have. I also didn’t like the way that the backpack rotated when moving. The backpack is designed for running, so maybe a runner would feel differently about the rotation feature.
2. Camelbak Octane 18
This is a lovely backpack. I used it for a three day hike in the Swedish mountains (sleeping in mountain cabins). It had a perfect size for that trip, and the fit is perfect for me. This is a perfect backpack for day hikes with a lot of gear, or for commute running. I love the big mesh pockets, they can hold water bottles, a thermos and/or some rain clothes.
So why am I not completely satisfied with this backpack? The material in the back of the pack is slightly warm. In really warm climates (like Spain), I think that this pack would get too warm for me. Also, the size is a bit too large for my pilgrimmage.
3. Osprey Skarab 30
Everywhere, in all Facebook groups and on all Camino forums, everybody keeps talking about Osprey. I wanted to test this pack just to see what I was missing. I bought it in a physical store and tested it at home. It doesn’t have front pockets for bottles, since it’s more of an every day backpack that you can use for work. The pack volume was way too large for my gear, and the pack felt very heavy when loaded. I returned it to the store the next day.
4. Salomon Active Skin 8
I ordered this because I was curious of the fit. However, the pack size was too small and the fit was really strange on me. Also, I suspect that this pack would get too warm for Spanish climate. I returned it to the store.
5. Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0
Realising that the weather probably will be hot in Spain in june-july, I started to look at the Ultimate Direction backpacks. I ordered this Race Vest, tempted by the low weight of only 141 grams. As I suspected, this vest was too small to hold the items I need to carry. Fortunately, I could send the backpack back to the shop again.
6. Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 5.0
This vest weighs only 180 grams, but unfortunately it was also too small in pack size.
7. Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.0
This backpack weighs 230 grams, and is exactly the right size for my equipment. It has some great features, such as a really good trekking pole attachment. The fit is snug, and the material in the backpack is thin and cool in warm weather.
What I didn’t like was the strange height adjustment, there are some threads in the back that you should pull to rise the backpack higher on your back. I found this construction a bit strange, and ended up removing it completely and sewing the shoulder straps to the backpack without these adjustment straps. Also, only one front pocket had a zipper. Stuff will fall out of the pocket without any zipper, so I put a velcro there.
In the end, I found that when the pack was loaded with all my gear, the fit was not 100% perfect for me. It will be perfect for commute runs and similar, but it’s not good enough for weeks and weeks of hiking.
8. Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20
This backpack has got some awesome pockets on the shoulder straps. It is designed for fastpacking, and I think it’s probably perfect for people doing that. Unfortunately, I ended up sending this back to the shop because of the heavy weight (590 grams) and because the fit was a bit strange on me. The straps didn’t fit me at all, the back was too long and stiff and the pack felt really heavy when loaded with my gear. Also, the pack is a bit overdesigned for my needs, I don’t need a long zipper for quick access. Maybe the women’s version of this pack would fit me better, if I start do fastpacking I would probably consider testing the Fastpackher 20 or 30.
9. Salomon XT 10
Phew, starting to get tired of testing all these backpacks! I wanted to test this backpack because I thought it looked like a good size, and made of cooler materials. However, when trying it on, it turned out to be the opposite. The materials were not cool and the pack had a strangely long back. And what are you supposed to do with those tiny mesh pockets on the sides? I sent it back to the store…
10. Salomon XA 15
And finally, I found her! The perfect backpack for me. I’ve named her Sally. Okay, so it might seem a bit silly to name a backpack, but after all these months of testing I am really happy now to finally have found the perfect pack. The materials feel cool and the size is perfect. But most of all, the fit is perfect for me! I have even tried it when running, and it doesn’t bounce or disturb movement. The backpack feels like a body part when wearing it. I love the elastic cords in the front, the fact that it is elastic allows for breathing freely. There are no strange rotation functions or weird straps to adjust the height of the pack. The rolltop closure is innovative, and the elastic pouch will be perfect for my rain poncho. It is easy to adjust the fit, the shoulder straps can easily be moved closer or further apart. Even the price of this pack was okay. The pack weighs 379 grams on my scale, so it is not the lightest pack on the market. However, the materials feel sturdy and I think it will be able to cope with 4 weeks of hiking in warm weather.
Well done, Salomon!