The Expedition Balance are the front pockets, or more exactly an essential accessory, of the Aarn Peak Aspiration bodypack. I had already reported about the carrying capacity and comfort of those pockets after one year of usage. This other page only contains some extra information about the same pockets that, for several reasons, had not found space in my previous articles.
The reason to publish these notes is that they are information of general interest, as far as bodypacks are concerned. Even if the next paragraphs were written after using one specific model, their content remains valid as is even for the front balance pockets of all the other Aarn bodypacks.
The Expedition Balance pockets allow trekkers to distribute the total weight of their backpacking gear in a way that doesn’t force them to walk pending to the front, as it is unavoidable with traditional packs. The point of the whole system is to reduce, at least with heavy loads, the stress on one’s back, joint and other critical body parts during long hikes. In spite of their volume (7 liters each) these pockets are no obstacle to torso and arms movements, even on difficult terrain. Besides, they don’t limit visibility of the ground of or your own feet in any meaningful way. If there’s one thing that, without making it impossible, the Aarn Expedition pockets do make sensibly more complicated is to carry a big reflex camera right in front of your chest.
Apart from this case, the only moments in which these pockets aren’t comfortable, but only in the sense that they need you to pay attention, are those in which you are not wearing them . I’m talking of when you have to dump the whole bodypack+pockets combo in the trunk of your car, or carry it in some train corridor or other equally cramped and crowded place.
Besides, it is really necessary to devote some time and experiments to find the way to fill these pockets that matches your own backpacking gear and habits. In order to have a balanced load you have to fill these front pockets with your heaviest items. Often, however, such items aren’t those that you’d really need to have, literally, right under your nose while walking. This isn’t necessarily a problem, since the pockets are big!
Oh, and front pockets like these may also have another advantage: they can eliminate (they did for me) all needs for those more or less fancy, complicated and expensive “hydration systems” made of tubes, bite valves and what not. Once you wear big front pockets, any cheap water bottle is just a few centimeters from your mouth and you only need to open one zip to drink, without even stop walking.
So, is it worth it?
From the point of view of total backpack volume, there is no difference between two Expedition Balance pockets and one extra 15 liters backpack carried backwards, that is on your chest and stomach. The difference for the smart backpacker, or more exactly for his or her health, is that the second system will cause pain in the long run, while the first one works! After the first hour I was marching with a bodypack and its two pockets I started to pay as much attention as I could to the status of my back, searching for signals of incoming pain, in order to report them here. After a few minutes I realized that there was nothing to report! No small pains, no extra effort, no excessive pressure points, regardless of whether I was walking uphill or downhill.
Two and a half years after, I can only confirm those first impressions. Of course, bodypacks and front pockets make no miracles and cannot eliminate fatigue: 20 Kg worth of gear remain 20 Kg, but the impact on your back is minimized. What’s important is to always regulate properly the belt at home, when you first get the bodypack, and/or always check it right before the beginning of every hike: forget that, and the points of the pockets back frames may really start to feel uncomfortable.