Next year I have an adventure coming up. A long hike in the Japanese mountains. This should be a lot of fun, if for no other reason than a lot of the long days on the track will end with a nude soak in a public bathhouse.
That isn’t the only reason I want my body looking trim, taut, and terrific; I also need to gain a bit of fitness. My best idea of international travel involves sitting at my ease in luxury as the sights roll by for my entertainment while I raise a glass of champagne to my lips.
My days on this supposed holiday will be taken up with ten or fifteen kilometre treks with elevation changes of a thousand metres or more. The instructions recommend a 50-litre pack. I’ll have to live out of that for up to two days at a time, and I’ve got a few cameras I want to take with me. Layered clothes for the cool, rainy, hot, and/or dry conditions I might encounter, toiletries, lunch, first aid kit. And a bear bell, whatever that is.
I am quite sure that my current level of fitness is not going to be able to cope with a week of this. Not without a lot of pain and screaming, anyway, and I want to be the quiet, fit, self-assured one striding ahead to get the photographs of the rest of the group sweating up the mountainside paths.
My intended regimen over the next few months involves increasingly long and steep hikes, preferably two or three times a week when I’m not on the road. I want to lose all the comfy flab I’ve built up, and carry that same weight on my back in the form of my pack and my kit and my cameras.
But first things first. I’m not going to carry a fully laden whopping great pack to start with. Something smallish, a hydration bladder, enough room for another layer and a camera. Osprey, my friends all said. They make great hiking packs.
Having a fit
So I hiked my way along to Paddy Pallin in Bourke Street — where they have the entire range — and innocently asked for advice.
My goodness, but they were thorough! A lovely young man helped me try on and adjust any number of packs before I settled on this red number.
I’m reasonably tall for a woman, but finding the right size, pulling on a few straps and buckles, and clipping a belt across my waist and another across my boobs, was a challenge. There were just so many different models to try on!
Josh had a keen eye for size and shape, and a dab hand at tugging on straps and clipping up buckles.
I tried “underboob” and “overboob” and having the sternum strap up high worked better for me. Osprey has an emergency whistle incorporated into the sternum clip, and it’s also where the mouthpiece for the hydration bladder fastens on. I wanted to be able to reach both without having them down out of sight underneath my bust.
Anyway, Josh and I had a lot of fun trying on the various sizes. He initially pointed me towards a “Tempest 9” pack, which he said was designed for women, but it was just too small for my comfort and taste. Besides, I like the snappy red of the Talon.
Bits and bobs
Both models had essentially the same straps and pockets and loops and zips. It’s all rather complex, so let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.
Waist belt. This clips at the front, and is easily adjusted by pulling out the straps until it cinches in tight. The idea is to have the weight resting on the hips, rather than pulling down over the shoulders. Where the belt rides over the hips is an open mesh, and there is a pocket each side. Not big enough for phones or even a small camera, but good for energy bars, lip balm, or other small items. Nice to have some things within easy reach without having to take the pack off entirely.
At the bottom of the back, there’s a cutout for a blinky light. Good for cycling, or when caught on the trail after dark so nobody spears into you.
Each side has a mesh pocket, and an ingenious compression strap which can go inside or outside the mesh. If I were cycling I might want to compress it down out of the wind, but the pack is already small enough. I can tuck water bottles in here, and maybe use the straps to hold something else on the outside.
A folding umbrella or tripod could go into one of these pockets. A slim water bottle would fit snugly, but I opted to buy a hydration bladder and tube for the added convenience.
There’s a bungee cord arrangement on the back. I can stow a jacket or hat in here and have the cords expand out or tighten down to fit the exact size. There are about 30 centimetres of cord to play with, so it’s reasonably flexible in what can be stowed there.
Just above the fastener for that is a clip to hold a bike helmet or some other item. There’s a nearby loop and clasp intended to hold an ice pick. Or in my case maybe help to hold on a tripod. There’s another loop at the bottom for trekking poles.
The pack itself might only be 11 litres in internal capacity, but there are enough cords and pockets and straps and loops to double that or more with things hanging off the outside.
Near the top is a small zippered pocket with anti-scratch lining. Good for sunglasses or a phone. Or a camera. I can fit my Leica Q in there, and it’s a chunky sort of beast once I screw on the handgrip. It’s a snug fit, but I can secure it inside and have it within easy reach, without having to dig down into the main compartment.
The main cave isn’t what you might call enormous, especially with a full water bladder pushing in the front wall, but it is reasonably roomy and there are two zipper pulls to open it right out, giving reasonable access right down to the bottom of the pack.
There’s an internal zippered organiser pocket. Another camera can go in here, and there is a clasp to hang a keyring off.
This pocket is where you want to put your wallet, your spare change, lipsticks, condoms and other small items, otherwise they will drop down to the dungeon at the bottom of the main compartment and not be available in an urgent moment.
And there’s another compartment ahead of this one. No zip, and extremely snug, but it is where the hydration system goes. This pack doesn’t come with a bladder included, but there’s room for any of Osprey’s bladders, and a tiny strap to keep the thing upright.
“Put the bladder in first,” Josh told me, “and have the tube at the back, otherwise you’ll feel the lump with every step.”
I think he may have had a lump of his own at one point. He was certainly excited about making sure I had everything I needed, and I like that in a salesman.
I bought the 2.5-litre model of the several sizes available. I think I’d be pushing it to fit the 3-litre reservoir into the pocket, but if I really wanted to carry that much water, I could.
The bladder fills from the top and is opened sliding the black clip across and unfolding the wide opening. The red handle provides a secure grip as you lean over to fill it up from some mountain cascade. The clip is attached by a plastic loop so you don’t lose it.
The top opening folds over and seals supertight with the clip. Good system.
The tubing is extremely well thought out. The “lump” at the very bottom ensures you get every last drop out of it. The tube stretches up higher than the opening to a quick-release fastener which closes off the tube entirely.
The mouthpiece tube, which is usually going to be attached to one of the shoulder straps, can remain fastened to the pack while you fill the bladder.
The mouthpiece is held onto the sternum strap by a magnetic clasp. If you want a drink, just pull it away, bite gently on the soft plastic mouthpiece, and suck the water into your parched mouth. The highlight of every hike, for sure. When you are finished, just clip the magnets back together.
The magnet could alternatively clip to one of the “lifter” straps on the shoulders, or the mouthpiece could be slipped into a clever little pocket on the left shoulder strap. There are a few elastic cords to secure the tube. All in all, it’s a clever and flexible system, able to be customised individually for any size person or pack.
How it hangs
And finally, here’s the front of the pack. There is a light plastic tubing frame across the back and a tensioned mesh panel in front of that.
In normal use, this maintains an air pocket between the wearer and the pack. It is snug and flexible enough to bend with the body, but firm enough to keep the gap open, preventing the back of your top from becoming a soggy swamp of sweat.
Correctly adjusted — and many thanks, Josh, for taking the time to get it fitted just right — this pack can hold quite a lot of gear, and yet is barely noticeable as any sort of a burden.
Frankly, I love it. The people at Osprey have put a lot of thought into this design. It can be a superlight holder for a water bladder and a few essentials — keys, phone, wallet — or it can hold trekking poles, umbrella, tripod, helmet, lunch, a rain jacket, and a camera without breaking a sweat.
I’ve now taken it on a few hikes of an hour or two up some fairly steep slopes, and as I say, I barely notice it.
This will not be the pack I will carry in Japan. I’m going to need something bigger, and that should arrive in the next day or so — another Osprey in a vivid colour — but this one will do just fine for hikes of up to several hours. Or for cycling. I’ll eventually switch in my training regime to the bigger pack, but my Osprey Talon 11 and I are going to be spending a lot of fun time together over the next few months.
And maybe, when I regard my unclad body in the mirror, and it looks tight and tanned and terrific, I might go back to the hike shop, hunt up the cute young Josh, and see if he can sell me some more kit. Perhaps he’d like to help with my exercise plan. He told me he did a lot of hiking and had a lot of stamina. I like that in a man.