For one of the first blog posts on gear, I figure we begin with the basics . . . and a good solid back-pack is an absolute necessity. These days there are lots of choices on backpacks and lots of places to purchase one as well as lots of hype and technological advice on why one expensive model is better than another. Let me first say that I’ve never done anything the traditional way, and so of course, why should the acquisition of a backpack be any different?

imgp0143_web.jpg (Here’s me and my pack on my friend Kate’s kitchen floor last month in Nashville during the Heartland Roadtrip.)

I think I must have priced packs out many years ago at all the typical places . . . REI, A16 and department stores. It’s my belief that things are not manufactured as well as a few decades ago, so I headed down to my local army surplus store when it was time to get a good pack. They had an entire room full of army issue packs with dozens of colors and styles. Some were old and bulky; heavy and clumsy. I kept looking and eventually found exactly what I needed.

There are lots of things to think about when purchasing a backpack for being on the road. Ask yourself some of the following questions: Where am I going? What types of environments? How often will I use this piece of equipment? How much do I want to pay? Is it comfortable? Safe? How well is it made? A lesser question to ask is: Will it fit all my stuff? As a part-time vagabond, this is a lesser question in my opinion because your answer as a part-time vagabond should always be that you want to travel light. Besides, if the pack is made the right way and you’re traveling light enough, this will never be a relevant question.

I actually have two different retro army-issue packs, which I use for different kinds of trips. Today’s topic is the Italian Army backpack. This gem is the lighter and smaller of the two. I use it mostly on shorter trips where I don’t expect buckets of rain. It cost $25.00 when I picked it up five years ago. I’ve used it extensively since in a variety of environments from snow to desert to forest settings and the thing does not show any signs of wear and tear! It was made to last forever and since it’s vintage, it is not made of synthetic materials. As I’ve said before, I’ve never purchased a fancy bag from a sporting goods store, but compared to mine, which is woven and thick – yet still light – the ones at the outdoor stores are cheap and flimsy.

My comfort and safety ratings could not be higher, either. First, it’s ergonomic, fitting solidly against one’s back, as though a part of your back; it doesn’t jostle around. It has adjustable straps and all metal hardware. Metal hardware will always be more durable than consumer-grade plastic and if you are going anywhere fun or doing anything amazing, you will hopefully push the limits of your pack – and the weakest points are the plastic. Once a clip or loop is broken or missing, travel can become annoying, slow and literally open the floodgate for lost items. Or you might have to carry things in your hands. This is bad. You should always be hands-free while on the road.

The pack is constructed of a thick weave, which is helpful for safety. It is not uncommon in a third world country for someone to try to slit your pack with a knife, while you are unaware. Thin synthetic fibers, while advertised as strong, are an easy target for sharp knives and razor blades. I actually once witnessed a backpacker with chicken wire wrapped around her high-tech pack. How uncomfortable/annoying would that be?

And it’s color is helpful, too. Being army green, I mix in with a crowd more. If it were pink, it might be cute and all, but it would tend to make me more of a target. Somehow the army green generally sends out a don’t-fuck-with-me AnnaTude to those I don’t want in my sphere. One more note, however, on color – research where you are going. If you are heading to a place experiencing war, you may not want to take an army-issue pack, unless you’ve gone to measures to make it look civilian-owned.

Other features I like about my Italian Army backpack are the expandable sides – you can cram an amazing amount of stuff in there. The ties are helpful, too. The inside bottom is lined with thick clear plastic to keep the contents dry. The pack has several attachment points, one on the top and two on the bottom. It’s generally not a good idea to have drink cups and things like that dangling off your pack as these items tend to get snagged outdoors on tree limbs and on little old ladies’ head’s in airplanes. Attachment points are good, however, for a raincoat to cover your pack in the rain (top attachment point) or to lash a sleeping bag to (bottom attachment points).

Will it fit all my stuff? There’s the question . . . . I will be blogging about this more in the future. For now, all I’ll say is, I’ll bet you need alot less to get you where you are going than you might think. And you’ll have a better time with less. Some people on the road will try to have contests with one another like how many fingers does it take to hold your pack? Those who can hold their packs with their pinky win it all!!