Chounard / Black Diamond day pack

BD pack Front BD pack Back BD pack Side I bought a Chounard daypack. It is about 2500 ci. I use it to carry my climbing gear. It is reasonably well made, with somewhat inexpensive materials. The bottom is reinforced with heavier nylon. The shoulder straps have minimal padding, and and the waist strap is unpadded and removable. There are two plastic reinforcing areas sewn onto each side of the pack in order to attach webbing to the pack. Modern packs seem to have generally given up on this idea. I don't use it very much, so nothing has broken on it yet. I did use it on one backpack in Joshua Tree uneventfully.

Kelty noname backpack

I bought a slightly used Kelty large daypack. It looked almost unused, except for a broken zipper slide. I would guess it was around 3200 ci. The internal frame consisted of two aluminum stays, each about 3/4"*1/8" in cross section. I took it on an easy backpack (2 or 3 miles on a fire-road in each direction). I strapped on a backpacking version of a Coleman stove, which was about 1 foot * 2 feet * 4 inches, and weighing about 5 pounds. I strapped it to some daisy chains (aka bartacked webbing) on the outside of the backpack. I made the straps tight enough so the stove wouldn't fall off. After the backpack I noticed that several of the bartacks had failed. This was quite unexpected. It is possible that some seam also blew out. I was unimpressed that the bartacks blew out. Obviously of inferior construction. I sent it back to Kelty for repair, and sold it when I got it back. Not recommended.

The North Face Voyager

TNF Voyager

TNF Voyager Back I bought a The North Face Voyager (large). This is a large daypack, 2700 ci and 2 lbs 3 oz (it is now 2 lbs, 5.8 oz perhaps due to the TNF repair below). The internal frame consists of a sheet of soft foam sewed to the back of the pack. I have used this pack quite a bit. It doesn't have much support, so it is important to pack heavy loads very carefully. It is not very comfortable, but it isn't very uncomfortable either. After a few years of use (including some chimneying climbing) I wore a few holes through the pack. I took it on a backpack, and I noticed that a seam holding the heavy nylon bottom to the lighter main pack material had failed. I could have fixed it myself, but since the pack had a few holes, I decided to send it to TNF for repair. I included a note saying I would pay for the holes to be fixed, but that I considered the seam failing to be a warranty item. They repaired the seam, but did nothing about the holes. Their repair job was unimpressive. I could have done a job at least as good. I sent it back again, and I got the pack (about a month later), with a new panel where the holes were. They didn't charge me any money, which I thought was pretty nice. I was quite surprised to examine the pack and find they had simply sewn a big piece of nylon over the original pack side (still with holes). I could have done this. Not impressive. It has been a few years since, and the pack now has a dozen more holes. I am planning on getting a nice pack, but I haven't done so yet. The zipper on the lid failed, but I was able to fix it, by pinching the zipper slider. A reasonable pack, which is reasonably durable, but not very impressive.

The North Face Polar Circus pack, 1999

TNF Polar_Strap TNF Polar_Top

TNF Polar_Front

TNF Polar_Back

I bought a The North Face Polar Circus pack (large). This is a small daypack, 2400 ci and 1 lbs 15 oz. It is made of spectrum, which is nylon with spectra ripstop. It is not a coated material (likely due to the spectra fabric), so has an inner liner of a coated nylon. This is actually a good idea, because it can reduce abrasion damage to the pack. All the fittings on the pack are of light construction. The plastic clips that hold the top flap down are smaller and lighter than normal packs. The hip belt is unpadded.

The polar circus has a 2 part framesheet. There is a thin piece of foam which goes against your back. There is a very thin piece of more rigid plastic that is between the foam and the rest of the pack. The framesheet does offer some padding against your back. It also helps to keep sharp things from poking you in the back. What it does not do is offer any weight transfer to the hip belt. This is similar to my TNF voyager which just has some foam padding for a framesheet. This design is ok for a technical climbing pack carrying minimal weight. It is not ok for carrying heavier loads.

TNF made two larger versions, the Jetstream 3000/3300ci and the Thin Air 4300/4600 ci. I think the bigger packs had a more substantial suspension.

The first time it was used, the nylon cover to the shoulder strap seam failed at the top of the shoulder strap. It seemed that the fabric 'margin' of that seam was zero. It has been returned for warranty service. The rest of the pack seems serviceable. The poor quality control is a bit of a concern. I used the pack a few more times (well under 50 miles since new) and it has developed two abrasion holes, one in the top compartment and one in the main body. The pack seems to break far too often. Perhaps that is why it was discontinued. The spectrum fabric isn't very abrasion resistant either. I fear it is mainly a marketing ploy.

I sent the pack to TNF to repair it. After waiting a few weeks, I called TNF. It seems that the pack arrived Oct-14, and that I was supposed to have been contacted by Oct-20. Only nobody contacted me, either by phone, letter, or email. I asked why nobody contacted me, and they had no answer. I asked them when I would be getting the repaired pack back. They told me that the pack would be very difficult to repair. They said they didn't have a sewing machine that would handle the fabric. I think that they meant they couldn't fix the hole in the bottom of the pack without taking it apart. But what about the holes in the lid of the pack? Can they fix them? They didn't say either way. When I pressed them, they said that getting two holes in the pack in under 50 miles is considered normal wear and tear. If it is not covered under warranty, they are supposed to let me know how much it would cost to fix. They did offer me a discount on a new pack, but I am told they often do that, independent if the damage is covered under warranty. I told them I really wanted the pack fixed, and they basically said they wouldn't do it. They shipped the pack back to me.

I am quite disappointed by this. TNF has a great reputation both for innovation in backpacking gear for many years, as well as having great customer service, as I know from experience. This pack was a very expensive high-end pack ($145 in 1999 for a 2400 cubic inch pack), which was supposed to be made of very durable, light materials. It has proven to be have very poor durability, and what is worse is that TNF doesn't stand by their product. At worst case, they should have least quoted me a cost to repair the pack.

Needless to say, I won't be buying any TNF products. I considered replacing my pack with a new TNF Prophet pack. It is supposed to be made of several fabrics including dyneema (spectra). On their web page they state "Fabric 210D Cordura Dyneema, 840D Jr Ballistics, 420 HT nylon". What that really means is 210 denier Cordura nylon with 840 denier dyneema ripstop. I had to call their warranty department, and they had to look up exactly what the fabric was, because the description on the web is a bit vague. This fabric is similar to the fabric in the Polar Circus which has proven to be of very poor durability. It is interesting that TNF doesn't mention that the fabric is really ripstop, which is much cheaper than pure dyneema. Also of interest is CiloGear (one of the highest quality lightweight packs companies around) used to use 210 denier Cordura dyneema ripstop and switched to 500 denier Cordura dyneema ripstop to increase durability. They clearly name their fabric and have a paragraph explaining that the dyneema is used in the ripstop part only.

After using it to carry my lunch to work for a few months, the shoulder strap cover material pulled out from the edge of the shoulder strap. This is visible in the first picture, where the white foam of the shoulder strap is visible and the frayed black fabric has pulled out from the seam. This shows that the 'margin', that is the overlap between the two pieces of fabric is much too small. The bigger the margin is, the stronger the seam is. Different seams need different amounts of strength, but if a seam pulls out, clearly the margin is insufficient. This was the same issue that caused the nylon cover to the shoulder strap seam to fail the first time I used it. I could accept sloppiness causing it to happen in one spot, but happening in two spots shows shoddy workmanship. Also visible in the first picture is my glued on nylon patch covering the abrasion hole that formed within the first few uses of the pack. TNF said they couldn't fix this. I am sure my fix isn't ideal, but it works well enough.

The second picture is a close up of the top where another abrasion hole formed within the first few uses of the pack. TNF said they couldn't fix this either. I used clear urethane adhesive tape, designed for patching nylon. The grid of white is the spectra ripstop of the fabric, The white in the middle of the shiny patch is the rip that I repaired. Not shown is the inside patch I made, using yellow nylon tape to match the yellow fabric. It seems that TNF doesn't know about urethane or nylon based adhesive repair tape. It is available at REI, Campmor, and other sources.

I am still in the market for a reasonable durable, light daypack. If anyone has any good ideas, let me know. I think that spectra or one of the dimension polyant fabrics is the way to go for durability. I have thought about the Kelty White Cloud, but the cost and uncertainty about quality are concerns... I heard their spectra packs are much higher quality than the rest of their packs...

TNF Polar_rip_1

TNF Polar_rip_2

I decided to try to fix my pack. The seam grip tape had peeled off of the spectrum fabric, and partially peeled off of the black nylon on the pack. I decided I would return the pack to TNF and hope they would repair it. I removed the framesheet, which is not an easy process, which involved turning the pack inside out. The framesheet is fully enclosed in a pouch with a slit near the bottom to allow it to be removed. As you can see, the yellow nylon on the lower portion of the pouch has completely failed. It is pretty clear that the failure mechanism is insufficient margin (which happened in several other places in the pack). Basically the fabric beyond the sewn seam is too insufficient, and the fabric comes apart due to stress at the sewn seam. The seam itself is intact. This part of the pack should get very little stress. It is interesting that the upper portion of the pack shows no evidence of this failure.

As you can see from the mostly yellow photos the main pack seams are covered with bias tape, which is a thin, long fabric designed to protect the seams. This is a standard practice of seams inside backpacks. The downside is you can't see how big the margin is when the seam is covered. However, the framesheet pouch seams are not covered by bias tape, but rather they are hidden. Since TNF has a lifetime warranty against workmanship defects, I think the shoulder strap fabric failing due to insufficient margin and the framesheet pouch failing due to insufficient margin are clearly workmanship defects. I suspect the park will be very difficult to repair and I hope they replace it with a comparable pack.

About two weeks after the pack arrived at TNF I called them up and asked them the status of the pack. They said they had so many items returned for warranty work that they were about two weeks behind and I could call back in another week. One might question why they have so many returns and why it takes them so long to even open the boxes up... Well, I got an email from TNF. They said they got the pack, and their current turn around time is 6-8 weeks. Hopefully they will either fix or replace the pack...

Another three weeks, and I decided to call TNF. They said the pack was about 10 years old and had normal wear and tear, and they would give me 50% credit towards a new pack. I pointed out that insufficient margin was not normal wear and tear, but rather a manufacturing defect. I also pointed out that the pack had a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects. They said they would reevaluate it. I wonder what TNF's warranty is worth. I also wonder why it took them three weeks to look at the pack, and why they failed to contact me. After all, they do have my email address. A real pack company would have fixed or replaced the pack and shipped it in far less than 5 weeks. I cannot recommend TNF. After 3 more days, I found out that TNF had sent me physical mail about the pack status. They sent me 2 letters, dated one day apart. They said "WE ARE SORRY BUT THE DAMAGE TO YOUR HIKING PACK IS NOT COVERED UNDER WARRANTY. DAMAGE DUE TO WEAR AND TEAR IS NOT A WARRANTY ISSUE. PLEASE CALL THE WARRANTY CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT TO DISCUSS OTHER OPTIONS AT ..." I am not sure why they used all caps. The second letter which was mailed the next day, but arrived the same day as the first was stamped in red "Final Notice".

I called them up and said that two six inch rips inside the pack was nor 'normal wear and tear'. After perhaps 20 minutes on the phone and on hold, they said 'as a one time courtesy' they would send me a replacement pack. So, the pack had several issues with insufficient margin. The end of the shoulder strap failed the first time it was used due to insufficient margin. Shortly after, the side of the shoulder strap failed due to insufficient margin. Some time after that, the framesheet pouch failed due to insufficient margin. Each of these failures indicates a manufacturing defect. I sent the pack back to TNF 3 times. They fixed the first (and easiest to repair) issue. They did nothing the second time, and they denied my warranty claim the third time. Anything manufactured will have some level of manufacturing defects. Having 5 separate seams fail due to insufficient margin is pretty bad. What is worse is how the manufacturing issues are dealt with. It is clear that TNF will only stand behind their lifetime warranty after a great effort is expended. That is not how things are supposed to work. I don't trust then anymore. They used to be the best outdoor gear maker with a great warranty. That was decades ago. I cannot recommend buying any TNF product. Their quality control is poor. Their warranty service is very poor. It is very sad...

Wilderness Experience daypack, 1974

WE pack Front WE pack Back Around 1974 or so, I bought a Wilderness Experience Klettersack from a small company called A-16. A-16 is now a major player in the retail and wholesale outdoor gear world in southern California. This pack is about 2200 ci. It is made of heavy duty nylon. It has leather reinforcing patches on the sides of the pack as well as the top, bottom, and rear of the pack, designed for attaching straps. This was before packs had plastic patches that did the same thing. The shoulder straps have minimal padding, and the hip belt is 1/2 inch wide nylon webbing with absolutely no padding. All of the connectors are metal, as this pack predates fastex. The hip belt strap shows some abrasion as does the straps used to secure the top of the pack, after many years of use with the metal clip.

I used this pack through Jr. High school, High school, and college to carry books. Usually 20 lbs or so. After college, I used it for hiking. The zipper failed, and a small hole developed in one corner (no doubt due to books). I wanted to send it back to Wilderness Experience, but they had gone out of business around that time. They have since reorganized and are back in business. I had these repaired around 1986 or so. Since then, the connection point between the shoulder straps (at the top) and the pack started coming undone. I sewed them back up. I used this pack every day, to carry stuff to and from work. This pack has clearly stood up to the test of time. The steel webbing fasteners are wearing the webbing, and some of the stitching holding on the leather strap tie-downs has failed. The leather is looking pretty worn. Not so bad for a pack around 23 years old. Highly recommended.

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