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Friday, May 4, 2018

Backpacking for Trout Part I: Packs

Everything needed for three days of backpacking for trout (Not Shown:  waders/boots and pack)
Note:  This one started to get a little long so I'm breaking it up into multiple parts: 
 
 
Part III:  Clothing, Cooking & Hydration, Survival & Misc.
Part IV:  Fly fishing gear for the backcountry

There are a lot of things I love about fly fishing, but the thing I probably love the most is getting as far off the beaten path as possible and exploring new water.  I've always been drawn to discovering whats around that next bend or seeing what those thing blue lines on a topo map look like in person.   
 
But the thing about going further and further in is the fishing and adventure often gets better and better the further you get from an access, and just when you are about to get where you want to be, you often need to turn around so you can get back to your vehicle at a decent hour.  I could never get as far away from the car as I would have liked.  I could never spend as much time as I wanted at the destination I was going, and I'd feel rushed while I was fishing. 
 
That's when the light bulb went off.  I needed to stop going back to the car and start backpacking in. 
 
Now I've always thought fly anglers were the ultimate gear heads.  No one could love gear and gizmos more than us, right?  Wrong.  Backpackers take being a gear head to a whole new level-- and for the beginner, all the stuff to consider can get pretty confusing.  So I thought I'd share a list of whats currently in my pack for a 3-day fishing trip, why I chose what I did, what I need to upgrade when I get the extra money, etc., and hopefully demystify some of this stuff for the guy who wants to fish backcountry locations but doesn't need to get outfitted to hike the Appalachian Trail. 
 
Before we talk about all of the gear inside my pack, we should talk about one of the most critical pieces of gear a backpacking angler can buy, the pack. 
 
The Exo 5500 in day trip mode
Packs
 
The first pack I bought was from a local department/grocery store.  It was too small, didn't fit right, and all-in-all sucked.  But it was my first pack and I had no idea it sucked so it got me by for a few seasons until I upgraded to an Osprey Atmos Ag 65, an internal frame backpacking pack that was light years more comfortable as I got it fitted when I purchased it.  I was amazed how much weight I could comfortably carry as the weight carried on my hips instead of my shoulders. 
 
Despite being really happy with the Osprey, I upgraded my pack again last year when I decided I was going to start going out west to do some backpack hunting for big game where I'll need an external frame type pack to not only haul camp around on my back, but to also transport large quantities of meat out of the backcountry. 
 
After a lot of homework, I went with an Exo Mountain Gear 5500 on their K2 frame.  I'm not going to lie, I had a little bit of sticker shock when I first saw what some of these external frame hunting packs were going for, but the more I researched, the more the cost made sense. 
 
A good quality pack can make your trip much more enjoyable and allow you to focus on whatever it is you're doing, not nurse sore shoulders or fatigue.  I couldn't imagine the nightmare of being thousands of miles from home, multiple miles from my vehicle or a trailhead, unable to haul several hundred pounds of delicious elk meat out because I wanted to save some money and buy a low end pack that failed or was miserable to carry under heavy loads. 

To help justify the expense-- as I'll only be out west for a week or two per year-- I hung the Osprey on the wall and am now using the Exo for trapping, fishing, hiking/backpacking, hunting locally, etc.  I haven't sold the Osprey yet as it will be a great backup or loaner to my son or friends to use so they can carry their own gear.   

Six Size 330 connibears being carried between the bag and the frame

The Exo is a great pack.  I was surprised that even when it was loaded with more weight than my Osprey can handle, it was just as comfortable as the Osprey.  The frame is insanely strong, it can easily handle more weight than I'll ever be strong enough to carry-- there are videos showing the K2 frame hauling over 150lbs!  The pack design has been really nice for trapping as it allows you to easily carry gear in between the frame and the bag.  This has allowed me to keep traps and beaver separate from whatever is inside my pack.  As far as fishing goes, that's a nice feature as I can do the same thing with wet/muddy waders and more easily keep muddy wading boots separate from my food/gear/clothing.  The hipbelt is customizable, too, so I've usually got a hipbelt pouch, a multi-tool and knife on one side, then my pistol holster and binocular pouch on the other.

Internal or External Frame?
 
All that said, you don't need a high end external frame pack for fishing-- unless you plan to carry heavier loads ( more than 40-50lbs), then an external frame might be worth considering.  Most internal frame packs will more than fit the bill for use on fishing trips.
 
What Size Pack Do I Need for Backcountry Fishing?
 
As far as deciding what size pack to buy, that depends largely on how long you plan to stay out there and how much gear you'll be carrying.   For a 3-day trip, assuming your camping gear packs down somewhat small, you would want to go with a bag that has at least a 3500ci capacity, and even there, you're going to be tight on space-- especially once you add food into the mix.  The Atmos Ag I mentioned above is a 65L pack and gear capacity just over 3,900ci and while it holds everything I need, it requires a little bit of elbow grease to make it all fit. 
 
Which brings up another nice feature of the Exo 5500, and that is that its capable of hauling enough gear and food for 10 days in the backcountry (goes from 5500ci to 9000ci), no problem.  But the 5500 bag compresses down well to day pack size, making it incredibly versatile.   If you wanted, you can take the 5500 bag off and just haul meat on the frame, or go to different bag sizes such as their 3500 or daypack. 
 
I've kind of got a thing for packs...
 
Other Considerations
 
If you've got ultralight or lightweight gear, that makes a huge difference as you can get away with a smaller pack size, not to mention, you'll be carrying less weight.  But don't feel like you have to have a tent that weighs nearly nothing and folds up in your pocket.  You can still have a lot of fun with gear from the army surplus store that is considered heavy by today's standards.  Just be cognizant of the fact that whatever that gear item is, you'll have to both fit it into your pack with all your other stuff and then carry it for extended periods of time. 
 
Whatever pack you do get, try and get one that can be fitted to your body and torso and which has a comfortable hip belt.  The hip belt is critical as the weight of the pack will be transferred through it to your hips, allowing you to carry weight much more comfortably than your standard backpack.  Its crazy how a good fitting pack can make 40lbs feel like only 20. 
 
Both of the packs I have are compatible with hydration bladders w/c is a feature I wouldn't want to go without.  They also both have some pockets and ways to quickly access gear inside.  Exterior straps are really nice to have, too, as you can lash often used items onto the outside so you don't have to dig for them all the time. 
 
The last thing I'll mention is cost.  You can save a lot of money buying used.  A great place to buy used packs is a website called Rokslide.com.  There is a classified section in the forums there where high quality packs pop up on a regular basis.  Of course, there is also ebay and your local craigslists. 
 
 
 

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