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National Geographic Adventure rated the Gregory Triconi 60 number one for long-haul packs in their just-out May summer travel issue (so new I can’t even link to it on the Web site yet). Gregory packs are highly rated industry-wide: Outside, for one, and Backpacker magazine.

But here’s the rub, quite literally – they don’t fit me.

Packs should fit a back like good shoes fit feet. I have funny feet, and I have an unusually flat back. That means the small of my back doesn’t curve as much as the average woman. I sorely wanted a Gregory Deva – until I tried it, and quickly realized I would be just plain sore. The Deva’s comfortably padded back was too much padding for my back, the pack sat too high and pushed in the wrong lower-back places, and it just wasn’t comfortable. So I went with the equally stellar Osprey (see: previous post), which had the ever-important benefit of being comfortable.

All of this is to not to discourage anyone from buying a Gregory pack, but to say that gear rankings aren’t one-size-fits all. It’s good to have an idea of two or three packs you might like, and then try them all. And it’s not just about the money, but about a healthy back and shoulders – the kind that don’t want to give up after the first mile.

I have a new baby. She’s an Osprey, Ariel 75. Oh so pretty.

I hadn’t planned on getting a new pack. Too cost-prohibitive for a grad student researcher salary. But this summer I worked part time at Eastern Mountain Sports. I couldn’t resist.

My old pack, a workhorse Kelty, dates to 1996. My mom bought it for me, in honor of my pending semester in Jerusalem. We went to the only outdoor shop in our little town. The place had a tiny backyard on a major street where a rickety fence tried to hold up a host of kayaks and canoes, which looked like they might topple onto cars at any minute. The shop itself looked like a glorified shack from the outside. Inside, all I remember is my Kelty, a purply-blue and black. It was one of the first packs made to fit a woman. The straps hugged my shoulders, the hip-belt my waist, like the other packs didn’t.

The pack has weathered Patagonia and Lapland, the Alps, the Negev, the Adirondacks, Gibraltar and Machu Picchu, to name a few. The fabric has held up brilliantly. A few years ago I lost a screw thingy that kept a stay in place. Sometime before Peru a couple of plastic brackets fell off, so I had to tie some straps together to keep everything in place. I ditched the chest staps years ago, before I knew what they were for. All those little things added up to big annoyances – and possible safety hazards. In the Adirondacks last summer, the top of my pack refused to stay on straight. In a thunderstorm, on slick rocks, I fell and reinjured my bad shoulder. My fault and the weathers’, but an unbalanced pack didn’t help.

And then I started selling packs. The new versions are so lightweight, they shed pounds from my Kelty. I slipped on an Osprey and knew I had to have it. Could my Kelty have sufficed? Sure. But the Osprey’s high-tech features sang a siren’s song. Like the ventilated back. The differently-size hip belts that can be heated and molded to my frame. The light construction that felt like carrying air.

Working at EMS gave me a mad discount, so here I am – with my my new baby. See the extra thick plastic clasp on the chest strap? That’s an emergency whistle. Clever. Totally freaks out the dog.