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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > High Sierra Bobcat 65 External Frame > Test Report by Michael Williams

BOBCAT 65 BACKPACK
TEST SERIES BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - June 02, 2011
FIELD REPORT - August 14, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - November 18, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Michael Williams
EMAIL: mlebwill@yahoo.com
AGE: 37
LOCATION: Milliken, Colorado, United States
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)
TORSO 19 in (48 cm)

I was introduced to backpacking as a teenager through scouts in Colorado Springs, Colorado and fell in love with it. I continued to actively backpack through college and took a break to start a career and family. A few years ago we decided as a family to become very active in hiking, backpacking and camping. Currently my wife, son and I hike and backpack extensively in Colorado and South Dakota as a family. We continually look for the right balance of lightweight, durable, comfortable and safe gear for our family to enhance our outdoor experiences.


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information

Manufacturer: High Sierra Sport Company
Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.hssc.com/index
MSRP: N/A
Listed Weight: 7 lb (3.2 kg)
Measured Weight: 5 lb 7oz (2.5 kg)
Listed Volume: 65 L (3,966 cu in)

Torso Range: Regular 16 - 22 in (41 - 56 cm)
Hight Range: 68 - 72 in (173 - 183 cm)
Waist Range: 30 in (76 cm) and up

Colors Available: Black, Pacific / Nebula, Amazon / Pine
Color Tested: Amazon / Pine

Product Details and Description

The High Sierra Bobcat 65 Backpack is an external frame backpack with a volume of 65 L (3,966 cu in). The frame consists of what looks to be powder coated aluminum tubing that is both welded and secured by a series of linchpins throughout the construction. This includes the two main vertical tubes that have 4 bowed lateral cross members that are welded to the vertical tubes. The vertical tubes are actually two sections that are secured with the linchpins and can be adjusted to accommodate various torso lengths. At the top of the vertical tubes is a 5th ("U" shaped) cross member that inserts into the vertical tubes and is attached with linchpins and can also be adjusted for height.

IMAGE 1
Front and Back


The pack is attached to the frame by 4 linchpins (two on each side) as well as some hook and loop strapping at the bottom. The pack is constructed out of Mini-Diamond Rip-stop nylon (lighter green material) and Mini-Weave Duralite nylon (darker green material) and has 1 mesh side pocket for a water bottle. In addition to the mesh bottle pocket, the pack has three additional zippered pockets, 2 on the left side and 1 on the right side. The bottom of the pack has a zippered sleeping bag compartment that is not accessible from the main pack compartment. Above this compartment is the front gusseted pocket that is rather large and has daisy chain lash points attached to it.

The main compartment, which does have a sleeve for a hydration bladder, actually has a metal rod that attaches to the frame to form a rather boxy compartment. There are hydration exit ports on either side of the compartment and it appears that the hydration sleeve is built with the intention of the bladder being inserted horizontally rather than a more traditional vertical sleeve. The main compartment has a large spindrift collar that is closed by a draw cord. The main compartment is then covered by a lid / flap that has two zippered pockets, one that has the incorporated rain cover and the other with a keychain hook. The top flap has two rows of nylon webbing for lash points at the top and is secured to the bottom of the pack with some nylon webbing and side-release buckles. The nylon webbing is rigged in a manner that it can also be used to attach a sleeping pad. All of the zippers on the pack are fairly robust with some large, easy to grab nylon webbing pull tabs.

IMAGE 3
Lid and Main Opening


What I refer to as the harness of the backpack (the shoulder straps, back panel and waist belt) are independent of the pack (the storage compartments) and attach directly to the frame with linchpins and nylon webbing straps. The contoured shoulder straps are made out of VAPEL mesh padding and are fairly adjustable. They are attached to the frame, on the second welded cross member from the top, by linchpins and can be adjusted for shoulder broadness by moving the pins to one of 4 pre-drilled holes in the frame. In addition, the load lifters attach to the top most welded cross member with linchpins and have corresponding pre-drilled holes to mirror the should strap adjustments. The shoulder straps have a few accessories such as an adjustable sternum strap, a removable media pocket (cell phone / GPS holder), thumb loops on the adjustable webbing and 2 "D" rings (1 on each side).

The AIRFLOW back panel, a stretched mesh material which connects to the frame with 3 nylon webbing straps and ladder lock buckles, is the only component of the pack that does not use linchpins. The panel is stretched horizontally between the vertical frame with 2 webbing straps (a top and a bottom) that wrap around the frame and connect around the back of the frame between the pack. The panel is also stretched vertically with a very wide strap that wraps around the second and third welded cross member of the frame can be adjusted when the frame is adjusted for torso sizing.

IMAGE 2
Right Shoulder and Left Shoulder


The waist belt, which is made out of the same VAPEL mesh padding that the shoulder straps are made from, attaches to the frame with linchpins (one on each side) and two webbing straps very similarly to the strapping of the back panel. The belt, which does not have any pockets, is nicely padded with load stability straps and a heavy duty front buckle. The belt can actually be adjusted vertically, by adjusting the linchpins, for added adjustability.

Initial Impressions

My initial impression, "WOW" it has been a long time since I used or even touched an external frame backpack. The pack did not come with any instructions, tags or documentation that described the features of the pack so I had to re-educate myself with an external frame backpack. With the lack of documentation I can honestly say that I was a little disappointed at first, but this gave me a great opportunity to learn about the pack. So I took the pack completely apart so I could understand how it worked.

What I learned, or rather re-learned about external frame packs, was that this pack is very adjustable, both vertically and horizontally. I have broad shoulders and I usually have a hard time finding a pack that fits comfortably, but with the adjustment options of this pack I was able to dial it in pretty quickly. The shoulder straps and waist belt are padded pretty well so I am hopeful that the pack will carry weight comfortably given the vast sizing options. I have thrown a few items into the pack, but I wouldn't say that I have done a complete test load and I'm interested to see what the carrying capacity is; which isn't listed on the product web site and I didn't get any product information that stated what it was.

My initial thoughts from a volume perspective were to question the 65 L (3,966 cu in) volume rating, but after thinking about it I was comparing it to an internal frame backpack that is shaped differently. This pack is very wide and has some very large side pockets. There is also some space below the pack for gear such as a sleeping pad or tent. I also think that I'm going to have to re-learn how to pack my gear in an external frame pack; I have packing an internal frame pack down, but that is going to have to change since this pack is shaped differently and the main compartment is separated from the sleeping bag compartment.

Testing Strategy

This pack should be able to carry a lot of weight, so I am going to load it up and see what it can do. Over the years I have upgraded a lot of my equipment with light and small gear and because of this the largest internal frame pack I own is 50 L (3,050 cu in). I'm very interested to see what additional "luxury" items I can stow in this pack and see how it goes. For the initial testing I'm going to focus on the following items.

  • How comfortable the pack is

  • How much weight it can carry

  • Do the features make sense, pocket positions and sizes

  • How easy is it to pack

  • With a very rigid frame, how does this pack perform while bouldering

There are a few things that I am concerned about and will be paying special attention to how the back panel and waist belt are attached to the frame. They are dependent on tensioned nylon webbing straps and keeping the tension will have a direct impact on the comfort and ability to carry weight of the pack. This is also a pretty heavy pack compared to what I am used to and I'll need to watch my total pack weight. Just because I have the capacity or ability to carry extra weight doesn't mean that I need to. The pack also sits fairly high and I'm wondering if I will feel top heavy, I'll just have to pack carefully.

Summary

I'm really interested to see how this pack performs. So far it feels pretty solid and I really like how adjustable it is. There are more pockets than I am used to but I wonder if I'll miss some of the features I have grown accustomed to with my internal frame packs such as stretchable stash pockets, gear loops, trekking pole tie downs and most of all flexibility. I have a few trips planned and we'll see how the Bobcat 65 goes. The Field Report, which details the use of the Bobcat has been amended to this report below.


FIELD REPORT

Field Conditions and Performance

IMAGE 1
Leaving the trailhead for the first trip
During the two month Field Report phase of the testing process I was able to use the High Sierra Bobcat 65 Backpack on two weekend trips. Both trips were to the Comanche Peaks Wilderness Area in Northern Colorado with elevations from 7,000 to 12,500 ft (2.1 to 3.8 km), with a total distance of 15 miles (24 km). On both trips the weather was near perfect; there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the high temperatures were in the 80's F (between 26 and 32 C).

My base pack weight for both trips was approximately 32 lb (14.5 kg) which is about 10 - 15 lb (4.5 - 6.8 kg) more than my standard base weight. On both trips I carried 10 lb (4.5 kg) of food and 6 lb (3.2 kg) of water resulting in a total pack weight of 48 lb (22.2 kg). My normal total pack weight is around 30 - 35 (13.6 - 15.9 kg) and this increase was related to the pack itself. First, the pack is twice as heavy as my normal 50 L internal frame pack and it has 30% more volume so I could take more. So on these trips I took some luxury items, such as a real food that wasn't dehydrated, a Backpacker Oven with extra fuel and an extra stove (another item I'm testing), that I normally wouldn't take just because I had the room and the pack could carry the weight.

In my initial report I mentioned that the pack had numerous adjustment positions which I had tinkered with and found a fairly comfortable setting. Once I got on the trail for the first time I found this setting to be "OK; however, as I started to hit the steep sections of the trail I found my settings fairly uncomfortable. The biggest issue was with the load lifters, when I used them I felt like my shoulders were pinned to the rigid frame and my back was strapped to a plank. This was due to the settings not being correct and I think the reason my initial setting felt good was that I used my typical base weight which I exceeded on these trips. I soon found out that adjusting this pack while it is fully loaded is a bit of a challenge and I ended up keeping the settings for another 2 miles (3.2 km) until we reached base camp.

After I made the adjustment (lengthened the torso), the pack was fairly comfortable considering I was hauling nearly 50 lb (22.7 kg), which is way more than I'm used to. The belt and shoulder straps are padded nicely and I was very impressed with them. The load lifters took some time to get adjusted, and re-adjusted, but once that was taken care of they worked when I needed them. I would say that the frame carried the weight well, however I constantly felt top heavy and I was glad that I didn't go on any trips that would have required any bouldering.

The majority of the weight sat at, or above my shoulders with quite a bit of that weight being water. I do think one of the biggest negatives about the design of this pack is with water storage and the horizontal hydration sleeve. First, that location was directly behind my head which put a significant amount of weight up high. Second, because of the location of the sleeve, I had a lot of extra hose which I tried to tuck back into the pack. On each trip my hose got pinched or folded over and my water stopped coming out. The first time this happened I thought that I didn't drink that much water so I must have a leak and I stopped and pulled the pack apart to find I had a kink in my hose.

Other than a poor design for the hydration sleeve, all of the other storage pockets and pouches worked great. The zippers are huge, easy to get to and the pockets hold quite a bit. The large main compartment is shaped rather odd for packing since it is rather boxy. I had a difficult time packing this pack and trying to decide what should go where and how to lower the packs center of gravity. I found it pretty frustrating because the main compartment was separated from the sleeping bag compartment and the separator prohibited me from packing the way that I wanted to. If the separator could be removed, a lot of the weight that I was carrying would have been lower and along my spine rather than at, or above my shoulders.

Summary

IMAGE 2
Time to re-think how I pack this
At this point I think the pack carries well, however the gear that I have doesn't really fit into the pack in the most effective manner. I typically like to pack my tent vertically, however this pack requires that I pack it horizontally and it doesn't quite fit that way. With all of the space that this pack has I shouldn't have a problem getting my light weight gear into this pack, but I managed to do that. I think that could be attributed to user error (or stubbornness) and I can equate that to a round peg in a square hole issue. I think I was focused on packing like I have packed for the last twenty years; I was trying to pack an internal frame mindset into an external frame pack and it frustrated me. I'm going to have to re-think how I pack my gear with this pack and take my tent out of the stuff sack and find another way to use a hydration system.

Overall, the pack has promise; it is durable with very heavy fabric and has loads of storage. It is really nice to see a hip belt that has more substance than nylon webbing and can actually carry weight. If I can get outside of my normal mindset and figure out how to pack this pack I think it will work nicely. One thing that I need to remember is that just because it has the room or can carry the weight, doesn't mean that I need to fill it to the gills. During the next phase of testing I'm going to focus on packing more efficiently and dropping the base weight down to a more typical range.





LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Conditions and Performance

During the long term test phase I used the Bobcat on one weekend long trip in the Rawah Wilderness area in Northern, CO. The trip was in mid-August and the high temperatures were about 75 F (24 C) at an elevation of 11,000 ft (3,350 m). The weather was great and it didn't rain, but it was pretty hot for the mountains and very dry without any wind.

After my previous uses I tried a different packing strategy which was to put everything in one compartment. I did this because the rest of my gear doesn't work well with this type of pack for a weekend trip, which is mostly the type of trips that I take. This was a solo trip so I had food for two days, I carried 3 L of water and my total pack weight was 29 lb (13 kg). My first attempt at packing in this manner was to put everything in the top compartment. I found that this made the pack incredibly top heavy. The lower compartment was too small, so I broke it up a little bit and put some of the heavier gear in the bottom compartment and the lighter gear and water in the top compartment. This created a situation where neither compartment was completely full and I had to cinch it down pretty tight to prevent load shifting. Also using this method I took my tent apart, which I never do, and put the tent body inside the pack and the poles lashed on the outside of the pack. I don't like to pack in that manner (personal preference) and it made me uneasy about bending or damaging my poles.

What I found was that I was able to get the pack loaded in a manner that made sense to me and was actually pretty well balanced and comfortable. But when looking at the pack, it was obvious that I had more pack than I needed on this trip. Since the last time that I had used the pack, I had tweaked the settings on the suspension and found that the shoulder straps and load lifters were much more functional for me after the change. As with my prior experience I found that the hip belt was very comfortable and did a great job supporting the weight.

The one thing that I am having a hard time getting used to is how rigid the frame is. There is no bending or flexing in the frame and sometimes the pack felt like a board was strapped to my back. I think I'm just a little too used to internal frame packs and there was one spot on the trip that highlighted that. This trip was one that I have made before and there is a small area that requires some light but steep bouldering and typically I haven't had an issue on this stretch of the trail. But on this trip I actually took the pack off to get up the section, I just felt more comfortable throwing the pack up the rocks than having it on my back.

Final Conclusion

This is a good pack. It is well made with some heavy duty materials that stood up to me throwing it up and over some boulders without really taking a beating. The thing that I like most about the pack is that it is very adjustable; it took some time, but I think have finally gotten it dialed in. The pack has a good ability to carry heavy loads and the hip belt does a wonderful job of distributing that weight very comfortably. But that ability to carry the load is fully dependant on loading the pack in a sensible manner. This is where I have had a hard time with this pack. I find that the main storage compartments are either too large, or too small for my gear depending on how I load the pack and what gear I choose to take. Also, I find that the main compartment sits just a little too high for my tastes and it is easy for me to get the pack into a top heavy situation (especially using a water bladder).

There are a couple of things that I think would help with my packing issues. It would be nice to see the divider between the two main compartments be optional, so the pack could become one large compartment instead of two medium sized ones. I believe that the largest design flaw with this pack is the horizontal hydration bladder pocket. It doesn't work very well and it spreads the weight on top of my shoulders instead of a more optimal vertically centered position. And with the absence of a good hydration system, there really isn't a good place for water bottle storage. But there are a lot of other smart items for the pack since I really liked such as all of the storage compartments; which is a feature that is lacking from some of my other internal frame packs.

To sum it up; I think my weekend trip style with small, lightweight minimalist gear doesn't fit this pack very well. Either I took too much gear and couldn't get it packed well or I took to little gear and had more pack capacity than I needed. If I were to go on an extended trip, I wouldn't hesitate about selecting this pack from my gear closet, but it just isn't a weekend pack for me.

I'm glad that I had the opportunity to test this pack out. It has been a long time since I have used an external frame pack and I'm glad that I was able to reacquaint myself with them through the High Sierra Bobcat 65. This concludes my test of the High Sierra Bobcat 65 external frame pack. I would like to thank BackpackGearTest.org as well as High Sierra for the opportunity to try this pack out.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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