Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pack Scoring System

After reviewing flashlights and folding knives, I thought about expanding the twenty point scale to other items, in particular multitools and packs. Multitools remain a problem as I can't seem to get a scale that covers all multitools, from SAKS to one piece multitools like an Atwood. That is still in the works. But the pack scale is all set. Here are the other two scales:

Folding Knives

The same 0-2 scoring applies with 0=failure, 1=adequate, and 2=excellent.

Here it is:


This is the same as the scale for both lights and knives. The attribute I am examining here is how well the item looks on paper, that is, in theory. Some bags and packs look great on paper and stink in reality for reasons aside from design. Others, like the massive canvas tote my wife loves for some reason, have an awful design, it is essentially a canvas garbage bag with two straps for handles. The pack has to accomplish its intended purpose. If it is a everyday carry pack or a single day trip, the pack should be small and easy to carry. If it is BOB (Bug Out Bag, or emergency bag) it should be big enough to fit all of your essentials. I am not sure what the purpose of the jumbo tote is, so maybe I am missing the appeal of a canvas garbage bag with handles. Also, I have a strong preference for organization, disliking the lack of pockets, zippers, and specialized compartments.

Fit and finish

When it comes to bags and packs, stitching makes a huge difference. Some of the more durable packs and bags I have used, like my Tumi Alpha Briefcase, have immaculate stitching. Other points of interest--padding, lining, and gussets. How the leather or fabric is finished makes a big difference too. I prefer water resistant stuff, but in the right role, I can see a great bag or pack not having any. I just can't think of what I would do with such a bag.


How the bag or pack feels when it is on and loaded with stuff. To me, this is where most bags, even expensive ones, fail. This is so hard to get right--a combination of flexibility and support, lightness and solidity. You don't want a bag to kill your back or shoulder, nor do you want it to induce fits of sweating.


Both the kinds and grades of materials being used. For water resistant stuff I like nylon, but some of the heavier grade (higher denier) stuff is too stiff and uncomfortable to wear/use. Use will dictate the appropriate material and stuff that works in the wilderness may not work in the office, obviously.


How easy it is to get stuff out of the bag once packed, preferably while it is on. This too is a tricky balance because you don't want stuff to fall out, but at the same time you want it to be easy to reach.

Ease of Packing

Some bags, like my aforementioned Tumi, look great, but are hard to pack. In the case of the Tumi, it is because of the built-in accordian file in the bag, which I find super annoying. I have gotten used to it, but still, I hate it. Ideally, you'd be able to open the bag, lay stuff in, and zip or close it up. Many bags have small, one-sided openings, like a messenger bag, that make this difficult. Again, in the right role, though I can see the one-side opening being helpful, but not generally.


For a lot of folks, this is the most important part of a pack/bag. I think it is a big deal too, but if the bag is too uncomfortable to wear, then I don't carry how organized it is, it won't get used. Still, there should be enough pockets and they should be laid out appropriately for the the bag's intended purpose. An overabundance of organization, such as with the accordian file in the Tumi briefcase, is just as bad as not enough. It is a balance. There are certain pockets or organization that seem essential to give bags. A business bag or briefcase MUST have a place for pens/pencils and a cellphone. At minimium, I think there should be some sort of hydration plan for a hiking/day pack.


When your bag breaks, this is where it almost always happens. I am looking for high quality snaps, smooth zippers that start easy, and buckles that work easily and without a lot of focused attention. I love the basic Fastex buckle. It is one of the cleverest, easiest to use designs ever, a true design innovation. But even there the quality of the plastic impacts performance.

Straps and belts

If its not the snaps/buckles/zippers that fail, it is the straps or belts. My Tumi bag has been through three straps, one old style Tumi, one aftermarket brand, and the new ingenious Tumi strap. They should be very durable, easy to get on and off, easy to reposition, and never cut off circulation or wear into your skin.


Among Pack Rats many prefer Kifaru bags as they are super simple with TONS of modularity. I prefer a little more structure in my bags, but I can certainly see the appeal. One cheap way to gain some modularity/expansion is to add MOLLE strips to the bag. Another is through the use of retention clips and carabiners. Still another way is through "shock cords" like those found on the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II. You never know what you will use your bag for, so the ability to change on the fly is really nice.

The overall score, again, is a X out of 20.

I wanted to make a scale that encompassed every kind of pack or bag, so I specifically left on an attribute related to hydration, because, well a water bladder looks weird on a briefcase, but I can see how, on a hiking pack, they are really handy. The hope is that this scale can cover every kind of pack or bag out there--i.e. anything you use to carry things that you carry on your person--from the messenger bag to the fancy business briefcase to the articulated frame backpack. First up: Pygmy Falcon II.


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