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Tech Tip: Question Cheap Canyon Packs

Discussion in 'Tech Tips and Gear' started by Canyon Hopper, Nov 15, 2019.

  1. Canyon Hopper

    Canyon Hopper

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    Hey, long time lurker but first time poster here. I’ve been canyoneering for a couple years but managing to get away with a small crappy bag, so I’m going for a new one. I’m considering buying an Imlay or Rodcle, but the price is convincing me to look elsewhere first. The two that stand out as canyon specific cheap bags are the BEAL Hydro Bag (https://www.canyonzone.com/a-47696709/canyon-packs/beal-hydro-bag/) at Moosejaw for $90 and the Edelrid Canyoneer Guide 50 (https://www.backcountry.com/edelrid-canyoneer-guide-50-backpack-3051cu-in )for $140-20% coupon. I’m thinking the Beal bag looks better, but having not had a canyon specific pack before I was wondering if anyone has experience with these or thoughts on the comparison between these and more expensive bags?
  2. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall

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    Not sure about the others you mentioned since I've never used either, but I do own two of the Imlay Kolob packs and have literally put them through the wringer, both in Southwest canyons and canyons in the southeast. Can't say enough good things about them and how they've held up.
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  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Where do you plan on doing canyons?

    The Rodcle, Beal and Edelrid packs are designed for one kind of canyon.

    The Imlay packs are designed for a different kind of canyon.

    Tom
  4. NateFlet

    NateFlet

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    I've found that the AmazonBasics Internal Frame hiking pack works great for what I need. I know its not canyon specific, but it has gone through a number of canyons without any problems.
  5. Canyon Hopper

    Canyon Hopper

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    I’m currently living in the Southeast (@Jeff Randall I’d love to compare southeast “canyon” locations), but I’m going to be in Zion and the PNW this year and mostly be hopping around areas in the US. I’m not too worried about the bag for the east coast stuff, pretty much anything will work fine for that. @ratagonia I’m intrigued what’s the difference in goals/uses between your packs and the others?
  6. Nordschleife

    Nordschleife

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  7. townsend

    townsend

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    Tom hasn't paid me for my opinion (which is a wise choice, in case my opinion is wonky:)), but his packs have gone through consideration evolutiuon and improvement over the years. That have lots of useful features built in that are unlikely to be mirrored in packs by bigger companies.
    Dave Melton likes this.
  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Thanks Townsend, but that is not really the point, even if true. The Rodcle packs in particular are quite good packs, made by a small company, and seem to be evolving.

    A. Watery Canyon Packs (aka Canyoning Packs, aka Euro-style Canyon packs) are designed for a specific kind of canyon. As we say in the trade, the three most important things are: 1. Performance in Water; 2. Performance in Water; and 3. How they perform in water. By which we mean that the material is non-absorbent and drains well. They start with choosing a plastic laminate material (aka Vinyl, though most are probably not vinyl) which consists of (usually) a mesh of nylon or polyester laminated between two layers of any of several plastics. In the good packs, this material is very durable and totally non-absorbent. Unfortunately, the material is also stiff and quite difficult to sew. Which means it is challenging to make a complex, feature-rich pack, though Rodcle in particular does a pretty good job of making a nice pack despite the limitations of the materials.

    Euro-style canyons tend to have fairly short approaches, and the pack is carried mostly empty when IN the canyon (unless you are the person using the pack to manage the rope out of). They may or may not attempt to make the pack worthy as a pack - ie, comfortable to carry for significant distances. Canyoners are not particularly picky about the comfort of a pack, though everyone appreciates it when they have it, unless the comfort level is really very poor.

    And then there are the cheapo Euro-style packs. Many European companies make packs by taking a nice pack, then revising it to be as cheap as possible, but carry the company name. This seems to be a standard method for European companies: no need to innovate, let's just make one like this (good canyon pack or other item) but make it 25% cheaper (or more). I think you can see that many of the cheapest packs you looked at are actually very "Walmarty".

    B. Imlay Canyon Gear packs (aka dry-canyon packs, aka Utah-type canyons packs) are based on Cordura/nylon pack technology as used in US packs for the last 50 years. I have added some PVC Laminate to the highest wear points as armor. And while these are designed to perform well in water, I start from a base of making pretty good packs... though they cannot be FaNcY because the fancy stuff just gets torn off in any tight canyon. They absorb more water than Euro-packs. They are softer/more flexible, and their shape can be controlled by compression straps, so they can be made smaller. Although, it is mostly that they are softer so they pull through narrow canyons easier.

    I am restricted, for better or worse, to making sure everything I put on the packs is as robust as possible... so I am also constrained to not make the packs particularly feature-rich, or at least, not make anything that is delicate. Thus, the suspension is not the same as your favorite Osprey or *** pack, but given the constraints I think I do pretty well. (For instance, making the Shoulder Strap position adjustable is just not something possible to do and have it be a durable canyon pack).

    Being a small company focused only on canyoneering, I can focus on making packs that work for the canyons that I personally spend about 80 days a year in. Not having much in competition, at least in this specialty, allows me to not change the packs for the sake of changing the packs (the "industry norm") but rather can tweak the current design each production cycle. As a matter of fact, that is my project for the next month; setting up the next round of packs with a few small changes.

    Then again, that does not mean that a Kolob Pack is a good pack to take through the narrow canyons of North Wash. It will get torn up. Many people in my age bracket have half a dozen smallish packs languishing in their garage which would make fine narrow-canyon packs until they get destroyed. Use those first. If you want a "general" canyon pack for everything except narrow canyons, I recommend the Kolob. And it sounds like due to circumstances or inclination, you are a "value shopper". If you want something for less than full price, I have some demos I could probably sell you... drop me an email and maybe we can work something out.

    And then there is a lot of personal taste involved.

    And there is also a fair amount of "tribal identity signalling".

    And some people just hate me, so they hate my gear... ;-)

    Tom
  9. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    If you're going to canyoneer in Southern Utah anywhere but Zion, you need to realize your pack is basically disposable (like your harness, ropes, and even hardwear.) I'm doing well to get two seasons out of a pack. Durability is by far the most important attribute. More important than comfort. More important than features. More important than price.

    The Imlay packs aren't cheap, but at least they last through more than one canyon. Most of are us smearing them in roofing sealant and then using them until our stuff starts falling out the holes in the bottom just to extend their durability a bit. Colorado plateau canyons, especially the tighter ones, are just really, really hard on gear. We wear wetsuit parts over our wetsuits just to protect our wetsuits. You get the idea.

    There's a reason @ratagonia has a very specific warranty on his gear, something like:

    We guarantee that canyons will beat the crap out of your gear. If something is truly screwy, we'll fix it, but don't try to return something you just wore out.

    My climbing gear lasts decades. My canyoneering gear might not last a year.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2019
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  10. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Tom has a pretty great summary.

    I have both Imlay (although much older model) and Rodcle.

    A consideration for me is airline travel. The Rodcle fits easily, with very low volume, in my checked luggage and its weight is minimal.

    No question, if you're doing long approaches or even an overnighter, and/or are carrying a heavy load, Tom's packs carry better than anything out there.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I suspect, Canyonero, that you get a few more days out in the canyons than the O.P. - perhaps you could clarify how many days you get in.

    Tom
  12. GravityWins

    GravityWins

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    I have 2 Euro-style packs, 2 Imlay Kolobs, several retired Granite Gear packs, and a bevy of disposables. One item not mentioned above, packs like the Rodcle that are almost all PVC derivatives are miserably hot to carry in the SW desert. My Euro packs get used only in the cold months. Carrying an all pvc pack on any approach longer than a mile in temps above 60 degrees is a sweat fest. The straps on those packs aren't comfortable enough to carry sufficient water to compensate for the sweat.

    It's only one data point but when group members borrow packs from me they invariably take the kolobs and even the old thrift store specials before the PVC packs.
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  13. Canyon Hopper

    Canyon Hopper

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    Wow, thanks for all the responses! Especially Tom, that was a great expansion upon the Kolob description on your site and @GravityWins for the interesting point I hadn’t considered.

    I’m going to be on the Colorado plateau, but also doing some class C stuff (mostly looking at PNW and Ouray). I’ve seen Tom’s water absorption comparison, but anecdotally how do they compare and how well does say the Kolob work in these areas or just class C in general.
  14. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    My packs work fine in waterfall canyons. But once they are soaking wet, they look untidy. The Rodcle packs look exactly the same wet or dry.

    Tom
  15. Yellow Dart

    Yellow Dart It's only hubris if I fail.

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    FWIW, of the 185 descents under my belt, 150 of them have been with one Heaps pack (Kolob's bigger brother), and it's holding up great.

    That said, The vaaast majority of my descents are in/around Zion, where things generally don't get all that slotty, so I'm not getting as wedged as the @Canyonero 's of the world.
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  16. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Not as many as you, but I'm a lot harder on gear than most canyoneers. I probably do 20-30 canyons a year since 2014. I'll bet I get 50 canyons out of a pack before it goes in the loaner pile where maybe it does another 10. By then I've got a few straps broken and the lid zipper is shot. But usually the death knell is huge holes in the bottom corners. I haven't worn out the sides or back ever.
  17. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    I haven't done a lot of C, but in what I've done as long as it drains it's fine. Who cares if the pack picks up a little weight, most of the extra weight is the stuff inside it soaking up water. Certainly my wetsuit picks up more weight than my pack. If I had to just buy one, I'd get an Imlay.
  18. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    I wouldn't go that far. If I'm doing an overnighter or multi-day backpacking in to canyons I generally take a real backpacking pack and strap a canyon pack on the outside. If the canyon itself requires more than one day I just get up earlier and do it in one day. :)

    I have yet to find a canyoneering pack that carries 50+ lbs well. Sorry Tom, but I don't think you'll find that surprising. One pack just can't do it all.
  19. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I used to carry a 50 lb pack, when Jimmy Carter was President. 35 lbs is now a heavy pack for me.

    I expect even the Heaps tops out at 35-40 lbs, largely because most people cannot 'canyoneer' with more weight than that.

    I concur, Dr. Canyonero!

    T
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  20. Sonny Lawrence

    Sonny Lawrence

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    The sucky thing about Tom's early packs is that they were made for a person with a longer torso than mine. Once he made women's packs, they fit me pretty well.
    Bill and ratagonia like this.
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