I’ve never had a nice backpack. The last real backpack that I had was a teal external-frame from the ’80s, which looked like it came straight out of a faded Boy Scout catalogue. It literally broke in half on my first day hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness last summer, so I’ve been eyeballing a new pack for a while.
I’m gearing up for an ultralight backpacking trip to Arizona soon, and on the short list of dream packs, the Superior Wilderness Designs packs were right on top. I got the Superior 35 bare-bones model and trucked it down to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico to try it out.
The first thing that you’ll notice about this pack is that it’s light. Without any custom frills (and you can choose from some awesome custom frills), it weighs less than a pound. It doesn’t have a frame, which saves mad weight. It also means that you have to be a little more careful when you’re packing.
Without any extra pockets, it’s important to layer your gear well. The external mesh pockets are huge though, so there’s definitely space for extra stuff. I threw in them a camera tripod, water bottle, and 3 liter water bladder, and had space left over.
If you want to strap gear on to the top or bottom, there are also straps and hooks to do so. I was going tentless on this trip, but otherwise I would have probably strapped one on the outside.
I was initially skeptical that this would be as comfortable as the mega-padded, hip-molded, back-vented models that fill the racks of our friendly sporting goods retailers, but I was proven wrong! In my training hikes to and from the Madison Farmers’ Market, I successfully carried at least 25 pounds of awkwardly shaped winter squash for a few miles, which worked surprisingly well. The strong, thick X-Pac material holds its shape under uneven pressure, which keeps bad packing jobs from creating sore spots on your back.
It has a roll-top opening, which means that if you do a bad packing job in the morning because you didn’t realize that deserts can get well below freezing in November (and you really should have packed a tent and sleeping pad) and your hands are so cold that you just kind of throw everything in the pack and leave the top wide open, it works just as well (as long as you don’t fall over).
The 35 liter capacity might be a little small for serious backpacking, but if you add a few custom pockets or upgrade to the 50 liter pack (WHICH I WOULD LOVE TO REVIEW BTW HINT HINT), you’d be in business.
In my view, simplicity is key in backpacking. This pack can be turned inside out for cleaning and rolled up when not in use. You may miss the bells and whistles of a more complex pack, but that’s nothing that a fanny pack won’t fix for you. Ask Lloyd, apparently he loves hiking with a fanny pack on. What a nerd.