Wednesday, August 15, 2018

meet the new Gregory

I'm still debating as to whether this is a step down, but meet my new backpack, a Gregory Baltoro 75 purchased at REI. This new backpack replaces my old, now-defunct Gregory Whitney 95, which had accompanied me across the world on many adventures before dying last year at the very end of my walk from Seoul to Busan.

The numbers in the backpacks' names signify the internal storage capacity, in liters, of each backpack. I've gone from 95 liters to a mere 75, but knowing what I now know about hiking across South Korea, I'm sure I don't need a huge, high-capacity backpack to spend 26 days hiking along bike paths that connect the dots between frequent centers of civilization.

When I was at REI, I grilled one staffer with a barrage of potentially rude questions regarding changes in Gregory packs since 2008. He didn't seem too comfortable, especially when I was pointing out the backpack's several flaws, which haven't been detected and improved since eight years ago, when I first bought my Whitney. The Baltoro's hip-belt assembly, for example, uses the same nylon belt and plastic buckle that the Whitney used, plunging the stocky hiker into a frustrating cycle of belt-loosening and belt-tightening. Also unchanged is the poorly designed chest strap, which in my experience can easily pop off its mounting, thus necessitating a jury-rigged solution. And once that chest strap pops off, it'll pop off again, even more easily, in the future.

The Baltoro also has no side-access pockets, which caused me to gripe: I missed those pockets. The exasperated staffer explained that the recent trend has been to eliminate side pockets because they make internal-frame backpacks too bulky. I call bullshit on this: I never had trouble with arm swing despite my Whitney's side pockets, and arm swing is about the only factor relevant to "bulk" for an I-frame backpack. How else is a backpack bulky, I ask you? By height? No one designs an unreasonably tall backpack. By depth, i.e., by how the pack projects rearward? That's absurd: no one's going to design a pack that will make you topple backward. So "bulky" basically means "wide," but even with side pockets, I-frame packs aren't wide at all, which was a major selling point in the original concept for such a pack. No, I don't buy it: to me, eliminating side pockets is a big mistake. It reduces storage volume and utility, and it forces the pack designers to make compromises on whatever space remains, all for the sake of supposed streamlining.

Once I got my gripes out of the way, though, I told the staffer that I saw many good qualities in the Baltoro. The new pack had kept the U-shaped all-access zipper on the back, which allows easy access to the pack's main compartment. All of the zippers still had the sleek, waterproof design that my Whitney's zippers had had. Top-loading and bottom-loading were still features, all of which meant I could access the pack's main compartment from multiple angles, which is important when it's dark and a hiker is tired. I was a little dubious about how the pack's top compartment had been divided into two small chambers, but I figured I could get used to that eventually. I cheered the Baltoro's many cleverly designed pockets and straps (except for that damn chest strap), many of which I knew I'd end up using on other long-distance treks.

All in all, I'm happy with my purchase, although I wish the pack could have been a hundred dollars cheaper (the Baltoro set me back almost $350). Part of me would still rather have a Whitney, despite that pack's flaws, but I'm sure I'll come to think of my new Gregory Baltoro 75 as a good and faithful travel companion.

UPDATE: with thanks to commenter John from Daejeon for the suggestion, I'm taking back my Gregory and ordering a black Baltoro 85 from Amazon for over $100 less than what I'd paid for this 75. REI is normally expensive, but overcharging by that amount is simply shameless.


John from Daejeon said...

Amazon sells it for about $100 less and a couple places sell it for about $180 with free shipping. Don't know if you have time to return it, but Amazon can actually deliver the same day in certain markets.

Kevin Kim said...

Taking your advice and returning the pack to REI today. Overcharging by over $100 is criminal.

Oh, and the new pack will be an 85, not a 75. In black.

Charles said...

85 certainly seems like it should be plenty of volume. After all, you're not going to be lugging around all that alcohol that the ajeossis usually take up the mountains.

Although, actually, it's illegal now to either consume or sell alcohol in the mountains. This past spring, before the weather got too hot to hike, HJ were up on Gwanak-san and we passed by a woman selling ice cream and makgeolli. I stopped and said, "Didn't they recently pass a law making it illegal to sell alcohol in the mountains?" She gave a bashful "yes" in reply. So I asked, "So how can you be selling alcohol here?" In Korean, of course, the question is much less straightforward (그러면 술을 이렇게 팔고 계시면 어떻게요?), which gave her room to willfully misinterpret it and reply, "If the cops show up, I have to leg it."

Of course, these laws are mostly pointless. Cops don't go roaming around the mountains looking for people drinking or selling alcohol. And even if someone were to report such activity, I find it hard to believe that the police would send someone to hoof it up the mountain. I mean, good on the government for trying to do something about this, but unenforceable laws don't do anyone any good.

Er, but, anyway, my original point was that I can't see you carrying more than 85 liters in your pack.