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Reader question: Is the Flex Capacitor Pack appropriate for a thru-hike?

From Lisa K.:

Why do you say that the Flex Capacitor is best for 3- to 7-day trips? I am preparing for my first thru-hike, and am seriously considering this pack. Can it be used for thru-hiking?

For two reasons I wanted to share my answer to this reader question.

First, I have not yet addressed the appropriateness of the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 Pack for thru-hiking, and I probably should.

Second, it gives me an opportunity to discuss the specific needs of thru-hikers in regards to backpack selection.

Appropriateness for thru-hiking

The Flex Capacitor can most definitely be used on a thru-hike. It’s durable and lightweight; its feature set and its volume are in the sweetspot; and its max comfort weight is adequate, if not excessive.

I think the Flex will perform especially well on long-distance trails with:

  • Heavy food loads, due to infrequent resupply points;
  • Heavy water loads, due to arid conditions;
  • Heavy base weights, due to inclement conditions or multi-use equipment; and,
  • Bear canister requirements.

It would be perfect for the John Muir Trail, for example, because canisters are required along most sections of the JMT and because resupply opportunities are far and few between. It would also be ideal for southern sections of the Appalachian Trail in February and March, when cold-and-wet conditions encourage the carrying of extra clothing, a warmer sleeping bag, and a heavier stove system.

Even when these conditions do not apply, I think many thru-hikers will appreciate its load-carrying capacity and adjustable volume. Most thru-hikers do not start with minimalist loads, and many stick with “ultralight plus” kits because they enjoy having a few luxuries or toys.

For what type of thru-hiker would I not recommend the Flex? Basically, the reverse of the aforementioned scenarios — so frequent resupplies, abundant water, benign conditions, no bear canister requirements, and a streamlined kit.

Pack specs for thru-hiking

What a thru-hiker needs from a backpack is not necessarily any different than what is needed by a non-thru-hiker.

The average thru-hiker probably carries less than the average non-thru-hiker, so thru-hikers generally use smaller and less supportive packs. But, plenty of non-thru-hikers carry loads that are as light as the lightest thru-hiker. And, actually, non-thru-hikers can more easily carry less, because they can cherry-pick the conditions.

Moreover, I don’t think that thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers vary in their expectations of durability, comfort, and features like external pockets, reservoir sleeves, and compression.

A final non-difference is the respective duration of thru-hikes and non-thru-hikes. A thru-hike is simply a connected series of bite-sized trips, each of which start and stop with a resupply.

Just like non-thru-hikers, a thru-hiker normally leaves town with 3 or 5 days of food in their pack, and 7 or 10 days is considered exceptional. This means that thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers both need a pack with about the same amount of volume and load support, assuming their backpacking style and the environmental conditions are similar.

Learn more about the Flex Capacitor Pack

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