A Carry Awakening

by , March 12, 2013

 Pack Hack with Kid Ski hack

Some random thoughts as my approach to versatility with carrying evolves

Our world is becoming increasingly specialised. You can no longer easily win attention by being reasonable at lots of things. You need to pick your area, and shine. To do that you typically narrow your focus and go deep.

So why is this approach no longer working for me with bags?

Maybe a touch of background…

Patagonia is a pretty rad hub for talent. In a world of excess they repeatedly cut through the mess and help us see a better way. Years ago they influenced me to buy a fancy waterproof jacket. It’s not a ski jacket, or an ice-climbing jacket, but rather a versatile shell that can protect you during all sorts of outdoor pursuits. It was designed to be versatile and to replace 4 specialist jackets with the one generalist. And I love it. It’s plain black, lightweight enough to take anywhere and versatile enough to fit in with work or play.

Now doesn’t that sound like a good brief for a bag?

Camelbak Tri-Zip versatility

Let me describe how it currently works with most bags. We’ll start with something fairly specialist like a mountain pack for skis or a snowboard…
If you select a mountain pack purely on its back-country ability, you’ll get these incredible features for ice-axes and snow saws and all sorts of specialist tools that few people ever use. What you’ll miss out on are basics like a spot for your laptop and sunglasses and all those bits that most of us use and carry during our travel to and from the snow.

Then if I’m combining a snow trip with a work or surf trip am I meant to take multiple backpacks on my measly airline luggage allowance, with each backpack only servicing the specialist task it was designed for?

But even more than these missing basic feature sets, if I’ve forked out $200 for a kick-ass backpack why do I leave it in a cupboard for most of the year?
This approach to versatility is hard to get my head around. With mountain packs it’s easy for me to picture being way out atop a remote couloir, stabbing the wind lip and picking my line, needing every bit of specialist awesomeness a pack can deliver. It’s much harder to think of all the days and detours in getting to that moment, and what I’ll need from the pack in those random moments. But I need to try.

So now when I look at a bag I try to think about versatility. How might I use it now, and how on future trips, and how when I’ve got rid of my current laptop and am sporting some tech thing I can’t even imagine yet? Can I use modules with the bag, which get swapped over depending on the activity I’m doing? Can those pig snouts actually hold a lash and do double duty?

There is still totally a place for specialist carry, it’s just I’m slowly figuring out that most of us aren’t actually as specialist as we like to think we are.

  • Anil A.

    This is why I’m a fan of Goruck, which are great all rounder bags. That said, they’ll never beat something specialist, they don’t ventilate the best, they’re not the most flexible etc, but as an all rounder, they’re great. Still not climbing a mountain with my GR2 however.

    • EC

      It seems everyone raves about Goruck, but I found the GR2 extremely uncomfortable at full load. Seems like I am in the minority, I wonder if I was wearing it wrong somehow.

      • Anil A.

        Yeah, me too. The GR1 is a lot more comfortable. I can’t help but feel the GR2 would benefit from being an inch shorter, with a waist belt. It’s extremely weighty.

        You’re supposed to wear the GR2 high, like the rest of their bags, but it’s so long that to get it up high (and off your hips) it smacks into your neck.

        I’m guessing you haven’t have your GR2 long? Or that you borrowed/sold it?
        They do wear in a bit. If you’ve got your GR2 recently, they changed the strap design to be narrower. Used to be insanely wide before, which was just too hard on the shoulders.

        The last point I’d make is use the compression straps. Tighten up the load, it really does help.

        I think if I ever got another suitably large bag (Mystery Ranch 3DAP probably) I’d consider selling it, but it’s an incredible bag alll the same.

        • Anil A.

          Just tried wearing it a little lower and it’s not too bad. The compression straps really do help. Still, it’s not something I’d reach for if I had to carry it for hours at a time.

          Despite that, the organisation blows me away every time and I’d find it really difficult to part with, it’s from a great brand too.

          • EC

            Thanks for your reply! Took the GR2 as my single bag throughout my 5 week Asia hopping trip last year. Loved how much it could pack and the abuse it took. Got rid of it shortly after the trip and probably had the older version.

            Tried using the Porter 46 for a recent trip and the lack of organization made it painful as a single bag solution.

            So far trying to find the perfect combo for airline carry-on, thinking a daypack like the Radio Ruck + Aeronaut would work out well.

          • Anil A.

            I have a porter 46 as well, it is a decent bag, but the shoulder straps are lacking and the organisation makes me want to cry. I’m not a fan of the radio ruck (had one, sold) but would love to know what ends up working for you. I’m thinking middle ground at the moment, something like TAD’s EDC, and no smaller bag. Or at least, a fold away one.

  • oldmanwinter

    Great post and questions. However, as a skier, designer, and climber, I love specialized bags. The phrase “jack of all trades is a master of none” applies well to bags. If it doesn’t do the job well then it isn’t doing the job.

    • ando

      There is definitely a role for specialised bags, I guess it’s the emphasis on them that has got out of kilter (which we at Carryology are totally guilty of as well).

      For instance, it would be great if some more specialised bags made a few tiny concessions to work better as all-round bags; like allowing for work modules to fit or allowing for removal of specialist feature sets when not needed. This would increase the usefulness of these bags, as well as reduce the number of bags we all need to buy (less but better). Think of it like the ‘T’ profile of people, where you have a deep skill, but you then round out the other areas of usefulness.

      If I’m going to climb K2, I’m still going to buy a custom built UHMWPE pack for a couple of grand. It’s just, I’m not really going to climb K2, so perhaps I should shoot for something a little more versatile :)

      • Rawmin

        True if you only own a few bags, but this is why I have many. It’s the same reason I have multiple bikes, skis and kayaks. They each serve a different purpose.

  • Jonathan

    I have to agree with Anil. I use my GR1 for everything under the sun, from a day bag, to a EDC, to a camera bag, etc..etc..etc…The same with my GR2, if it’s too much for the 1, I break out the 2.

  • Bagsy

    Being one of the many bag fanatics who read this blog, I wonder if many you’re just defining “specialist” too narrowly?

    Specialist technical packs aside, I think anyone with a “carry quiver” has already assigned particular roles to the bags they own (i.e. light duty errands bag vs work bag vs grocery shopper) based on the practical features of each bag as they relate to use. I know if I’ve got my toddler in a harness (speaking of specialist carry), I’ll use it with a tote over a backpack because single-strapping a backpack with a toddler on your back is the best way to get none of the format’s utility with all its awkwardness. A tote, on the other hand, is ideal, particularly one with handles long enough to both hang on a shoulder and clip into the sternum strap of my carrier.

    Consumers are generally smart enough to know what they need. So while designing a good bag may be an art, working out whether it will do the job you need it to do is just basic shopping–even if the sole criterion is “I need the coolest-looking bag that’s been blogged about today.” If I’m taking a bag to pull double duty as a travel piece and a daypack for skiing, I’ll go sport-oriented, smaller volume but big enough to take the laptop in a sleeve. It’s not perfect but compromise is fundamental to most practical solutions.

    • ando

      Great points.

      I guess we’re really talking about getting those carry quivers from 30 pieces down to 8 great pieces :)

  • benry

    Forget the carry, which Patagonia coat are you talking about?

    • ando


      I can’t find a model name on it, and being 12 years old, the exact model is not for sale any more. Basically, it’s all black, has a slight stretch, is highly waterproof, hood, pocketing, shell only, the clip-under crotch retainer is removable, and it is still going strong over a decade later.

      Does that help?

      PS: Have you seen their new down treatments? Crazy rad cold weather jacketing, now with better moisture control. Mmmmm, winter tech…

  • Doug

    With respect to all-purposefulness, I know this is going to be well off topic, but the comments made by Anil and Jonathan beg me to ask this question. I have read on this site the rave reviews of the Goruck GR1 and 2. And I can fully appreciate what Jonathan says when he has his GR1 and 2 at his immediate disposal ready to go, the choice depending on the task. In my case I have the 5:11 Rush 12 and 24. A tactical bag of 1050D nylon, amazing pocketing , and from what I can figure, they have a greater carrying capacity than Goruck. Yet the price difference between the two is quite great. I realize Goruk is made in USA, 5:11 in China. Is that the biggest difference. I ask this out of pure curiosity (having not handled a Goruck) and would welcome seeing a Carryology Head-to-Head bout between these two bags.

    • Anil A.

      Doug, I don’t know how much you’d welcome my opinion given that I don’t own a Rush yet own a few GR bags. The only 5.11 product I’ve tried was the MOAB 10 and I detested it. My friend is still using and loving his however.

      I know it’s not fair to compare my experience of the MOAB to GR, but it’s the best I can do. I found that it had way, way too many poorly thought out pockets for my needs. It had small pockets overlapping small pockets in a way that I couldn’t find a function for. I organise my smaller items into pouches, which GR bags seem to just accommodate really well. Pen slots and business card holders are nice, but easy to live without.

      The quality and the design for me is far greater with GR. The quality of the MOAB was okay, but GR blows it out of the water. The customer service is excellent too, I’ve had bags replaced for what other companies would just ignore.

      GR carries quite well (although I’d say my TAD Fast Pack Litespeed is the most comfortable) and it doesn’t draw attention either. Not in the same way MOLLE heavy bags do. I mostly use my GR bags for work/overnighters and I’m not seeking attention for what I carry, my colleague described my litespeed as a “fetish bag” because of all the straps.

      That said, I’m not comparing like for like and very rarely hear bad things about the Rush bags. I’m not pushing any of the bags I own to the limits of construction, just making the best use of function.
      If Rush works for you, carry on. Pun intended.

  • JD


    Interesting points, but skipping to the point – what are the specs for the black, middle-zippered bag in the 2nd picture?

    • Anil A.

      I believe it’s a Mystery Ranch 3 Day Assault Pack

      • Anil A

        Maybe not. Think it’s a Camelbak Trizip

        • Ando

          Haha, yep, confusing…

          But good sleuthing Anil.

          Mystery Ranch worked with Camelbak to design a Trizip pack a couple of years ago, and it’s rad.

          I’ll do a write up one day soon. It’s an epic travel pack.

  • Brian P

    +1 for GR1. Probably the best all “arounder” I’ve owned and I’ve blown through my share of packs. The only thing I don’t use it for is outdoor activities (mountaineering, ski touring, etc). I own an Arcteryx fot that.

    +1 for Patagonia too. I know you can probably live off just one of their shells but I’m such a big fan, I own an unnecessary amount of their outerwear.

  • Steve Skibucks

    I’m lookin’ for a kick-ass backpack for under $200, not just some mumbo jumbo wang dang doodily ding dang back pack. Any ideas?

    • ando

      Ummm, that’s like asking a parent who their best kid is.

      You’ll need to be more specific on use, most demanding need, look, etc.

      Just sayin :)

    • matthew portilla

      I may catch crap for this on this site but I really like the REI Vagabond.

  • Pingback: Road Test :: Arc’teryx Quintic 28 | Carryology

  • Pingback: Road Test :: Arc’teryx Quintic 28 |

  • Pingback: Road Tests :: Arc’teryx Quintic 28 |

Carryology delivered

Your inbox. every two weeks. Only the best stuff, we promise.