Back in February 2008 I got an Aarn Peak Aspiration bodypack and a pair of Aarn Expedition balance pockets to test. I have already described in another page the main characteristics of the Peak Aspiration. Here are a few more information after more than one year of usage of this pack.
What did it do?
I’ve not brought the Peak on very long treks yet. I’ve used it in a variety of hikes from one to four days in the central Apennines, from 0 to 2000 meters above sea level, from spring to fall. In almost all occasions, I’ve loaded both the pack and the pockets to full capacity, with loads up to 25 kilograms. This happened either because I was hiking solo, carrying with me tent, sleeping bag, pad, stove and full stocks of food, alcohol and water for the whole trip; or because, for whatever reason, I was carrying food, water and jackets for more people. The two most challenging hikes, four days each, were two sections of the Great Apenninic Excursion (GEA), on the border between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. GEA is one long trek running mostly on the ridge between those two regions. The two sections I chose (very) roughly correspond to the area described in stages 19 to 24 of the page linked above, but I chose an alternative rout which was most of the time between 1600 to 2000 meters. GEA is a great trek which I intend to describe on Strider sometime because, after great popularity in the 80’s, it was basically forgotten, but that’s another story.
After walking a lot with this bodypack, I can confirm what I already wrote last year. The bodypack concept as proposed by Aarn is in general a great way to hike long distances with heavy (or less heavy) loads, and the Peak is a great implementation of the idea. During the two GEA hikes I walked up to 13⁄14 hours a day with 20⁄25 Kg loads, on anything from flat,soft meadows to thick bush and very steep, narrow and rocky trails. During all those days, the weight of the pack or, more exactly, its impact on my back and my neck has never been an issue. It looks like, thanks to the bodypack, I have come to a point where if I stop it’s because either I am very, very, very tired in general, or I have walked so much that my feet hurt enough to not let me continue. In both cases, no back or neck pains worth reporting. There is also another thing which adds to the general confort: you can lay your hands or forearms over the pockets while you walk.
Besides greatly increasing comfort by balancing the load, the Expedition pockets are big. I was able to store in them five liters of water, a mini Trangia stove, a 600 ml alcohol bottle, compass, Swiss Army pocket knife, a small digital camera, lamp, assorted piadine and other snacks, plus a few other things I’ve forgotten. The maps found place in the small external, elastic pockets. The water was contained into a one liter Petzl bottle and three Platipus bags (1 x 2 Lt + 2 x 1 Lt).
I have always felt very stable while wearing the Peak and the two pockets fully loaded. “Always” includes a few very, very steep trails and even two or three places where there was no trail whatsoever but the terrain was so steep and rough that I had to use my hands to keep going.
Breathing and being able to see my feet on difficult tracks with two big, heavy bags was another big concern of mine before getting a bodypack. Unluckily, I haven’t had any possibility yet to do cross-country ski with the pack. However, after one year, I can testify that those two problems don’t exist, as far as walking with a bodypack is concerned.
Quirks and minor inconveniences
After quite some kilometers, I do recommend the Aarn bodypack and want even more to use as long and often as possible. Of course, after one year, there also are several small things that could have gone slightly better, and other ones that you will like to know before adopting a bodypack like this.
My bodypack and pockets still work perfectly, but are starting to show a few little signs of wear. One of the top seams of my left Expedition pocket is getting loose. One of the two sternum straps simply fell away from the shoulder strap somewhere in Emilia Romagna, while loading and unloading the pack from one public bus to another. Those straps don’t do much when the pockets are mounted, because they have another strap which does more or less the same thing, but I’m still disappointed I lost one.
The waist belt buckle still holds, but doesn’t close perfectly now as it did during the first hikes.
The pockets aren’t waterproof by any means (and this is made clear on the Aarn website). However, or maybe just for this reason, they can collect enough water inside their bottom (or in the fabric itself, I don’t really know) to be the very last parts of the pack to dry after enduring a violent summer storm on the trail. During the same storm, of course, everything in the main pack remained perfectly dry thanks to the internal waterproof liner.
I had another little problem with the pockets. They have a metal stick which shifts the weight of the pockets down to the waist belt. For some unknown reason, the upper end of the stick of my left pocket started to slide out of its seat every hour or so during my last GEA trekking. Maybe the velcro strap that should keep it in place is starting to lose grip, or maybe the stick itself was slightly deformed over time, I don’t know. In any case, nothing bad, just the necessity to quickly push it back in place every time it happened.
Finally, with these packs you can’t be careful enough when you adjust them to your body. As I say above, they can keep you safe from back pains, but only if you really take the time to fit them in the best possible way. You have to be equally careful when moving the pack in and out of buses and trains, or in overhead luggage bins. All the straps and the pockets can get tangled with other luggage or in some hook much more likely than with normal packs. That’s probably how I lost my right sternum strap.
Last but not least, do put everything you may need while walking in the front pockets and make sure that you tied your shoues real well. Walking for hours with the Peak Aspiration is a pleasure. Putting the whole “pack-and-pockets-system” on or unloading it, instead, is much more arduous than with a standard pack, especially when the balance pockets are so heavy as mine were. On the other hand, heavy balance pockets are exactly what makes the Aarn bodypacks comfortable, so mine wasn’t a special case by any means.
The conclusion? Be aware of these small issues and prepared to deal with them, and you’ll enjoy long, heavy treks with the Aarn bodypacks as much as I did in this year.