When I started university I did what most people do; find a part time job to help pay for the ‘lavish’ student lifestyle. After a failed attempt at working for Woolworth’s (I suffered through 4 shifts before handing in my notice!) I discovered Nomad Travel & Outdoors, a small travel kit store in town where I became a supervisor. It was there that I worked for 3 years, and was trained to know everything there is to know about backpacking and hiking gear from technical fabrics, rucksack fittings, hiking boots and all manner of gadgets and accessories.
Fast forward 6 years and here I am about to embark on the beginning of a journey into the unknown (to me) world of mountaineering and I have to say that I am grateful I have the kit knowledge I do, as this has been one of the most challenging purchases to date.
All I wanted was a rucksack (aka backpack, pack etc). It had to be at least 70 litres (so one I could use for load carries on Aconcagua, my next big target), it had to be sturdy and above all, it had to fit like a glove. In the outdoors world thing change quickly, technologies adapt and I was under no illusions that my previous training would have much of a bearing on what I was to experience.
First problem. I get the impression that not many women are interested in hauling themselves up mountains and as such outdoors stores stock their kit accordingly i.e. they don’t have anything to fit a small framed woman. I travelled almost an hour each way to visit a store in Hampshire, to find that despite a huge range of packs they didn’t have anything in stock that would fit me; all the packs large enough were only stocked in ‘Medium’ or ‘Large’ (my misguided fault for not calling ahead). After speaking with a staff member there and him providing me with some so-so advice that I don’t really trust I left disappointed having wasted an afternoon.
Next I took a visit to my old store, Nomad, knowing that they aren’t mountaineering specialists but at least I could try a few different brands on. It was there I fell in love with Osprey, but again, the sizes started at Medium and when fully tightened the hip belt was loose around my hips – certainly no good for 20kg load bearing. But I had a place to start.
After travelling for 5 hours to my home town of Norwich I took a visit to Cotswolds and was delighted to find that the member of staff was helpful, informative and polite (albeit it in a rough Scottish sense of humour way). They had a good selection of rucksacks in a wide variety of sizes. He actually measured my torso (apparently I am around 18.5 inches – curse my teeny tiny legs) and spent a good amount of time helping me try on the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85 (even when adjusted perfectly it didn’t feel right) and the smaller Osprey Ariel 65 (which after a LOT of fiddling around seemed very comfortable). I explained my concerns about it being only 65l and he showed me the floating lid which probably added an extra 5-7l of space.
I left the shop with a clearer idea of what to go for but still debating whether I should continue my search. The problem was the only other place I could go to find alternatives was London and being an 80 min train journey away during the week, or 120 mins at the weekend (thanks National Rail) I felt demotivated, given my previous experiences. After a few days of thinking, and then one evening of Googling for reviews I took the plunge and ordered the Osprey Ariel 65. It will get its first road test on a two-week backpacking trip to China next week (assuming it arrives on time).