Halifax, Nova Scotia
When I first started planning to head to Latin America the biggest question on my mind was what backpack should I get. It is also one of the most frequently asked questions on travel forums and there are so many different opinions it can be very confusing.
But I am lucky enough to live in Canada, where we have Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), a brand that signals a traveler is Canadian almost as much as the flag. While you don’t have to be Canadian to shop there you do need to be a co-op member ($5) of the co-op and you can be assured you’ll be great quality at a fair price.
Over a year and a half ago I went there and a staff member helped me find one. There are always lots of staff in the backpack section because it’s such a big investment.
Turns out the one with the daypack that zips onto the bag wasn’t practical for someone so short and in the end I bought the Ibex 65.
It was a great bag. I didn’t need a rain cover and it held up through people throwing it on and off planes, on and off buses, on and around hostels. The bag has grease all over it but after a year of hard travel it’s still ready to use.
But it is too big.
Everyone tells you to take the smallest bag possible. I thought 65L was a small bag. I have seen much bigger on the road. But I have also seen people with much smaller ones. And after a few days of lugging it around on your back you start to lust for a smaller pack.
Especially the moments where you can’t find your hostel and your bag weighs so much that you sit down on the sidewalk to cry while locals walk by staring at the crazy white girl.
Trust me you do not need 65L.
Talk to anyone who has used 65L for a while and they will tell you it just means they carry around things they don’t need.
I needed a new pack. It was time to pare down.
And when Mountain Equipment Co-op offered a replacement pack I was ecstatic. I would never think to buy anywhere else.
But what backpack should I get?
Once at MEC Andy, a staff member, and I talked about the need for a smaller pack and he agreed while the Ibex 65 was good, it was far too much for fall in Europe.
We looked at the MEC brand backpacks Cragalot 48, Alpinelite 45 and Brio 50.
The first look at the Cragalot wasn’t impressive. Mostly because of the colour, it was called amphibian green, although I thought it looked more like neon snot green. I was wary of the pack until Andy found it in black.
I liked all three bags. I didn’t know what to choose but Andy said we first needed to try them on with weighted bags inside as it was the only way we could see which fit best when it was full.
I highly recommend getting a backpack fitting. Sure it could feel right in the store or at home. But it’s too late once you’re on the road and walking for an hour in the rain, crying, trying to find your hostel.
Seriously it happened to me many times, it will happen to you.
Andy helped fit the pack to my body and showed me where to adjust, which in some cases weren’t so apparent. It was clear that he had fitted bags on many people because he showed me where things were fitting better on some bags that others.
I also learned that all MEC bags are fitted with a whistle, something Jodi from Legal Nomads swears by, and a feature I had never noticed on my Ibex.
He also told me things to look for on all the bags and reminded me that a side zipper on a top loading bag is essential. He’s right, I used the one on my Ibex all the time but I had forgotten.
In the end I picked the Cragalot pack. Andy said it fit me the best, had a side zipper but also not to many openings so I could lock the top and feel safe no one would rifle through it. Plus I liked the colour – yes that is important!
There are also some features that make hiking easier, like places for ice axe loops and crampons, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I hate hiking!
Note: I did promise Andy not to publish any unflattering photos of him, but to be fair he did make this face. I also like it because it showed his personality. I never once felt like I was taking up too much time agonizing over the perfect bag and he didn’t rush me. He was a great guy and if you are ever in the Halifax store I highly recommend asking for him.