“Preserve substance; modify form; know the difference” (Dee Hock)

Many times I have bought camping gear over the internet and waited, with growing anticipation, for the arrival of a piece of kit that I am convinced is going to vastly improve my camping experience.  More often than not, when the piece of equipment does arrive, I find that there are some draw backs, or failings, that I hadn’t foreseen and that initial pleasure is quickly dampened.

mountainsmith_packHowever, after really getting to know a particular piece of kit I usually spot a few simple modifications that will make it do what I, at least, want it to do.  With rucksacks and bags I won’t hesitate to take out the scissors and remove unnecessary or overlong straps, if the knife I bought has a blade profile I don’t like I’ll mercilessly grind it into a shape I do, and the sewing machine is often called upon to add on extra pockets, sleeves or whatever it is that I decide a particular piece of gear is missing.

Not everyone is happy to take this approach (my friend Keong is, I know, horrified at the way I take the scissors to branded rucksacks!) and the obvious drawback is that, should you wish to sell-on that bit of kit, a potential buyer may not approve of your modifications!

In the case of the Mountainsmith lumbar pack in the video, the addition of shoulder straps turned out to be a very necessary modification as, without them, the pack is too uncomfortable to carry loads much above 3 kg.  I’d bought the pack in Malaysia (on line) at a very decent price (RM 140 if I remember correctly) and the model is the older (and, in my view, better) version.  However the shoulder straps aren’t sold here and are quite expensive as well.  The solution was to adapt a yoke system used by the British Armey and the problem was solved (and without much expense).

As someone who is very skinny the other problem I had was getting the waist belt to fit comfortably under load (although this is a problem I have just as equally with most rucksacks) and I sewed in some padding to resolve this.

As the Mountainsmith has only a 14 litre capacity I wanted to get another, larger, lumber pack for longer trips.  I was very tempted by the wildland packs used in the States but the only one available here was the Mystery Ranch pack (sold by Outdoor Gear Malaysia) which was both too heavy and too expensive for me.   I also considered importing a True North pack but the Firefly pack was too heavy and the Fireball pack, although much lighter and with a nice 20 litre capacity, was quite an expensive option after the cost of importation.  The one I ended up with is a non-branded (hand made) bag from Evil Bay and I am very pleased indeed with it.  Ebay in the US has quite a range of these wildland style packs available and, obviously, you can save quite a bit of money if you’re prepared to buy second hand.

So, are these the best packs for the jungle?  The truth is that it depends very much on where you are going and your own personal preference….if you are sticking to well used trails then there isn’t that much call for ducking and weaving through the undergrowth, nor will you have to do that much heavy clearing (so upper body mobility is less of an issue) and a rucksack will serve just as well and better distribute the weight on your back.

…but if you’re going off trail then the these packs really come into their own.