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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > High Sierra Bobcat 65 External Frame > Test Report by Steven M Kidd

HIGH SIERRA BOBCAT 65 PACK
TEST SERIES BY STEVEN M. KIDD
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - May 31, 2011
FIELD REPORT - August 04, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - October 16, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Steven M. Kidd
EMAIL: ftroop94ATgmailDOTcom
AGE: 39
LOCATION: Franklin, Tennessee, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 220 lb (99.80 kg)

Backpacking Background: I've been a backpacker on and off for over 25 years. I backpacked as a Boy Scout, and then again almost every month in my twenties, while packing an average weight of 50+ lbs (23+ kg). In the last several years I have gained a renewed enthusiasm for the back country. I generally go on one or two night outings and now try to average a 30 lb (14 kg) pack.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Image Courtesy High Sierra




Manufacturer: High Sierra Sport Company
Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.highsierrasport.com
MSRP: N/A
Listed Weight: 7.05 lb (3.20 kg)
Measured Weight: 5 lb 6 oz (2.44 kg)
Capacity: 3966 cu in (65 L)
Colors Available: Black; Pacific/Nebula; Amazon/Pine (tested)
Materials: Mini-Diamond Ripstop; Mini-Weave Duralite®



Description from High Sierra website:

-65-liter, top-load main compartment with gusseted drawstring closure and adjustable top lid.
-Front-load sleeping bag compartment with divider.
-Contoured backpack straps with adjustable load-lifters and VAPEL™ mesh padding.
-Stretched mesh back panel AIRFLOW™ system helps keep your back cool and dry.
-Adjustable waist belt, with VAPEL™ mesh padding, wicks moisture.
-Convenient zippered pockets on the sides of the bag are ideal for quick-reach items.
-Slick die-cut daisy chain details for attaching extra gear.
-Large gusseted front pocket.
-Internal hydration reservoir sleeve and dual exit ports for tube (reservoir not included).
-Removable media pocket is attached to backpack strap.
-Adjustable sternum strap stabilizes pack.
-Mesh side pocket holds 1000ml water bottle.
-Tuck-away rain cover, stored in a top pocket, also protects the pack when checked for air travel.


The High Sierra Bobcat is a 65 L (3966 cu in) external frame backpack. Following are approximate measurements I took upon receiving the pack: It has one main compartment measuring 15x9x12 in (38x23x31 cm) and has a spindrift collar that adds 8 in (20 cm) to the chamber's overall depth. This area opens in a rectangular shape due to a metal bar that feeds through the pack bag and attaches to the external frame by ring and pin on roughly a 45 degree angle. Inside the main compartment is a 15x8 in (38x20 cm) hydration pouch with a port on either side of the pack for tubing to feed through. There is front-loading sleeping bag compartment that opens with a horse shoe shaped enclosure measuring 12x10x9 in (31x25x23 cm).

IMAGE 2
Left Side Pockets
The pack bag also has four other key external pockets. The left side of the Bobcat has two side pockets, the top one measuring 4x9x2 in (10x23x5 cm) and the bottom pocket measuring 5x8x2 in (13x20x5 cm). There is one long pocket on the right side of the pack measuring 5x16x2 in (13x41x5 cm). Attached to it is a second elasticized mesh pocket designed to hold a 1 L (~1 qt) water bottle. It rises 10 inches (25 cm). Finally, there is also a large external pocket just outside the main cavity of the pack bag measuring 12x12x2 in (31x31x5 cm) with daisy chains on both the left and right side.
IMAGE 3
Right Side Pocket


The Bobcat's top lid is 22 in (56 cm) long and tapers from 16 in (41 cm) at the top to 13 in (33 cm) at the bottom. The lid also has two web daisy chains on it, and two more pockets! The smaller is 8x6 in (20x15 cm) and is designed to store the included rain cover. The larger pocket encompasses much of the top flap, measuring 13x13 in (33x33 cm). The pocket is shallow, but could stow considerable gear and it also has a clip designed for securing keys. The lid is secured by two buckles that attach to individual 36 in (91 cm) continuous webbed loops. These webbings can be cinched in a manner to attach a bedroll, sleeping pad or other similar item without having to use shock cord to secure the item to the frame.
IMAGE 4
Continuous loop strap


The pack's frame arrived set at a measurement of 28 in (71 cm) long. There is an additional 2 in (5 cm) curved base at the frame's bottom. There are nine adjustment settings spaced at 1 in (2.5 cm) apart on the frame. After individualizing to size the frame is re-secured with a ring and pin fixture. In addition the frame has a top bar that rises 4 in (10 cm) and can be extended to rise 6 in (15 cm) above the top lid. The Bobcat's frame is 15 in (38 cm) wide and has four similar ring and pin settings for the shoulder strap harnesses that are also set at 1 in (2.5 cm) increments. There is a removable media pocket attached to one of the shoulder straps and both have D-rings for external attachments.

The pack bag attaches to the frame with a combination of rings and pins, as well as hook and loop attachments. The pack has a mesh back panel that attaches to the frame with buckled webbing straps. The waist belt which is 5 in (13 cm) wide also attaches with webbing and buckles.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

IMAGE 5
Notice the tapering lid

The Bobcat arrived in a cartage box marked "OVERSIZED". It was in a plastic bag, but it had no hang tags or any other accompanying information to familiarize me with the product. It did arrive with three additional rings and pins attached to the top lid. I've owned several external frame packs throughout my life, but I haven't acquired one in a nearly a decade so it did take a little reacquainting.

The overall workmanship and quality of the pack appear excellent. The materials seem to be sturdy and lead me to believe it can withstand plenty of trail use and abuse. I was pleasantly surprised at the overall weight of the pack. It weighed in much lighter than I anticipated; in fact it weighed nearly 2 lbs (~1 kg) less than it is listed on the High Sierra website.

There are several modern conveniences I've not been privy too on an external frame pack. These include the internal hydration bladder pocket, the external water bottle pocket, a well padded hip belt and shoulder straps and attached webbing for securing bed rolls or similar items.

The continuous webbing is ingenious in my opinion. It works as a way to secure the top lid and attach bulky items below the pack bag without having to use shock cords. My only question now is...If I don't need cords to attach a sleeping pad, what will I use to hang my pack on a tree in camp? I'm sure I'll improvise!

The plethora of external pockets really excites me! The lack of pockets is one of the many things that tend to disenchant me with an internal frame pack. With these pockets I can easily access all the key items I want both on the trail and once in camp.

The hip belt and shoulder padding is substantial in my opinion and is designed with VAPEL™ mesh padding to wick moisture. If it works as well as it has in other High Sierra products I've used (feel free to check out the High Sierra Sentinel 65 review) I'm sure to be impressed.

Overall the pack appears to be built well and adjusts quite simply and easily. In wearing it around the house I enjoyed the ride and fit. I did feel frame bars touching against my shoulder blades. I don't recall this in other external frame packs, but it has been some time since I've used one. I suspect when I load the pack it will pull away from my torso a bit and hopefully make for a comfortable ride.

I also find it interesting that the hydration pouch will hold the bladder in a horizontal manner versus a vertical one. This is because the pouch is shallow and runs perpendicular to the entire back and not up the spine. My true concern in this doesn't center on how the weight is distributed, but rather if a leak were to occur in the bladder. Any reservoir can leak, but when one is lying on its side it tends to be more vulnerable in my opinion.

I'm almost certain I will pack heavier than I've become accustomed too of late with this backpack. External frame packs naturally lend themselves to allowing me to do this. I'll be interested to see how it performs on the trail and in particular on the ascents in the mountainous regions of Tennessee.

I'm excited to put this pack to the test and address the frame question and the reservoir concern. That being said, I do have one key question with the pack and it concerns the integral rain cover. It measures only 9 in (23 cm) at deepest point and will not completely cover the pack when empty. I don't see it providing true protection against the elements in foul weather. I hope that is only a minor inconvenience in testing this product.

Save the aforementioned questions, I'm ready to hit the trail with the Bobcat 65!
IMAGE 6
Frame Side of Pack

SUMMARY

In summary I'm excited to get this pack out on the trail and see how it rides. In recent years I've acquired a lot of light weight and smaller gear, so now I have to find some items with which to stuff this puppy!

I'm interested in the aspect of a breathable pack that I hope won't leave me drenched in sweat. The VAPEL™ padding and the more breathable nature of an external frame in general will hopefully aide in this. I'm also happy to stow many items with easy access.

I look forward to reporting on how the frame rides against my shoulder blades on the trail and how the horizontal bladder pouch feels.

I'd like to see a more substantial rain cover, but that is my only true concern at this point.







FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1

15 - 18, June, 2011: Big South Fork National River & Recreational Area, Tennessee/Kentucky along the John Muir Trail. Elevations ranging from around 850 ft (259 m) to 1300 ft (396 m). Temperatures ranged from 72 F (22 C) lows in the evening to 94 F (34 C) highs in the day. The weather was dry and hot with no rain.

29 - 31, July 2011: Coalmont, Tennessee. Public and Private Trails. Elevations averaging 1800 - 2000 ft (549 - 610 m) with temperatures ranging from 76 - 103 F (24 - 39 C). Conditions were very dry and hot. Rain-fed mountaintop creek beds were completely dry.




PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

It has been some time since I've used a true external frame pack in the backcountry. I used a hybrid version around a decade ago and up to a few years ago, but I finally submitted to an internal frame pack for a multitude of reasons. One of the key things that kept me from going to the latter was airflow and perspiration. An internal frame pack can cause me to be covered in sweat...even the best designed of them. That is the first positive review I will give the High Sierra Bobcat. I stayed as dry as can be expected, even in temperatures over 100 F (38 C).

That being said, I have both positives and areas of improvement to report on the Bobcat. First I can attest that High Sierra makes a very durable pack. This is the second pack I've tested and the third I've used. Previous packs have been made well and hold up to human abuse and the elements, the Bobcat is no different. Simply put, the materials hold up to the test.

I also am in love with both the access and the 'packability' of the Bobcat. I can stow gear in the plethora of pockets for easy access both on and off the trail. Because I cut my teeth using an external frame pack I have and always will hang my pack on a tree when available in camp. I grew up doing this and still do so with an internal frame pack, but the lack of a rigid frame often frustrates me. The Bobcat secured to a tree smoothly and whenever I needed to grab a luxury item in camp it was easily accessed not only due to the rigid frame hanging to the tree, but also because of the many exterior pockets available for smaller and often needy items.

IMAGE 4
Buldging Hydration Reservoir
The rigidness of the pack was great on plateaus hikes, but it became a hindrance on extreme inclines I dealt with in the gorges of middle Tennessee. The contents of the pack rode higher on my body than have been accustomed to in recent years. In fact, most the weight was distributed well above the small of my back. The earlier mentioned horizontal hydration pouch ended up riding above my shoulders and behind my head. This meant that on an extremely hot weather hike, 3 liters (0.9 gallons) of water weighing in at nearly 8 lbs (3.6 kg) rode relatively high on my body on an up and down hike. I had no problem with this on flat terrain or even on inclines, but on descents it was noticeable.

I am happy to report that minor nuances like load lifters on the shoulder straps and hip belt securing made the pack ride completely different from the external frame packs I recall from my youth. There were minor things that frustrated me like the difficulty in unzipping the lower compartment. It has an almost square configuration versus a horseshoe I've become accustomed to using. On multiple occasions I had to meticulously zip or unzip whatever item was stowed in that compartment due to the angled zippers.

IMAGE 2
Integrated Load Straps
I've always found external frame packs are great for storing my gear and strapping plenty of extra items to the outside frame of the pack. Unfortunately for this test I've acquired quite a bit of lightweight and compressible gear over the last few years. What this meant was that after packing the items I take on an expected trip I rarely have much to put on the outside of the pack. Even when I went above 40 lbs (18 kg) with water I had little to attach externally.

I really wanted to test the strapping that can be used to secure items to the bottom of the pack. Because I had no large items to test this with I used trekking poles and a stuff sack that really didn't need to be stowed externally. The items were held secure. I like this feature. I really could see this pack being a big draw for an entry level packer with bulkier items or even for a hunter. I mention the hunter because I recall hearing three rounds of fire on a very hot July evening in the mountains of Tennessee. I quickly wondered if they were shooting at me, but recalled that I'd seen a cornfield and that in the south black birds are always in season!

IMAGE 3
Integrated Pack Cover
My only other frustration with the Bobcat centers around the integrated pack cover. As I mentioned earlier in the field review I always hang my pack on a tree. Due to this I like to ensure it is properly protected from the elements. I found the included cover doesn't adequately protect the pack in the event of adverse weather. This is something I've found with multiple High Sierra packs and suggested changing in past reviews.

SUMMARY

The High Sierra Bobcat 65 is a versatile pack with many positives. I enjoy the many exterior pockets and how well I can organize my gear on the trail. The virtue of the external pack allows me to stay relatively dry from perspiration even on the hottest of days and it rides quite well on level terrain.

It does have drawbacks on inclines and declines due to the rigid nature and the fact that the majority of the pack weight rides quite high on the back. The integrated pack cover could also be a little more substantial in my opinion.




LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

1 - 5, September 2011: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Tennessee/Kentucky. This was a 5-day and 4-night trip covering 16 mi (26 km) with approximate elevations of 350 - 450 ft (107 - 137 m) and temperatures ranging from 70 - 89 F (21 - 32 C). I backpacked and slept in a hammock. Conditions were dry and warm, but breaks in the humidity made backpacking much more pleasant for me than what I've hike in the better part of the summer.

7 - 8, October 2011: Arrington, Tennessee. This was an overnight outing to a local farm with a fishing pond that I took with my children. We fished and hiked the fields and wooded areas around the water. Elevations were approximately 750 ft (229 m) and temperatures ranged from 52 - 84 F (11 - 29 C). I packed our gear in and out which was a little under a mile (1.5 km) in each direction and my pedometer showed that we hiked an additional 3 mi (4.8 km) during the outing. The three of us managed to sleep snugly in a two man tent.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

During the final test phase I generally used the Bobcat on relatively level terrain, a use for which I have come to believe it is best suited. On the five day trip to Land Between the Lakes it worked out great. My start weight was very heavy for what I typically have packed in recent years, but I wanted to put the load limits to the test and I was carrying more food and water than general. I was near 50 lb (23 kg) at the beginning of the trek, but weighed in at just under 30 lb (14 kg) when I made it home with no food or water.

I was certainly bulkier and heavier than I needed to be for summer, but I was testing a new hammock set up for the ensuing winter that entails a top and bottom quilt. These items, though down, and compressed still took up a good deal of room. I stuck them into a sturdy stuff sack and strapped them to the outside bottom of the pack. Overall the pack felt quite comfortable, though I wasn't used to the amount of weight I was carrying in summer temperatures. I'm used to going a little heavier in the winter, but even then it is typically a full 10 lbs (4.5 kg) lighter than what I was doing. I became fatigued a little on days one and two, but I believe it was as much from the weight I wasn't used to carrying and the heat, not the Bobcat.

The load does sit much higher than I've become accustomed to in an internal frame pack. Even when I adjusted the bag as low as possible with the rings and pins it was considerably higher than other packs I typically use. I can't say it hindered me on the relatively flat terrain I was on, but if I were expecting serious changes in elevation with all that weight it may have made a difference in my opinion.

I also used the pack to take my young children on an overnight to a local farm with a pond. Overall, I only packed in and out less than a total of 3 mi (4.8 km), but I was very heavy. I packed in three sleeping bags, one is a decade old synthetic weighing in at nearly 5 lb (2.3 kg), three air pads, three of everything, pajamas for the tots and plenty of grub to make S 'mores and the like for a daddy date. Somehow, it all weighed in at 61 lb (28 kg). The pack felt fine, but I can attest to two things; a) it was a short jaunt and b) I was ready to drop it when I made it to camp! I had stuff strapped all over the pack. Another thing I find so appealing and nostalgic about an external pack like the Bobcat. I'm devastated I don't have photographs. My wife had the camera in her car and although I had my phone, by the time we set camp the kids were so enthused any photo ops completely slipped my mind.

The key take-aways I established concerning the Bobcat are that it is an excellent external frame pack in my opinion. Modern technology has made it more user friendly to me than the old steel frames and pack bags I grew up on. Particularly I can mention load lifters, hydration pouches (both internal and external) and integrated gear straps so I didn't have to use shock cord as a few things the packs I grew up with never had. The media pocket is nice, but I'd have preferred a pocket on the belt. Another truly nice feature was the VAPEL™ mesh padding. I certainly perspired, but the breathable padding and the frame distance from the pack bag left enough air circulation to keep me comfortable on the trail.

SUMMARY & CONTINUED USE

Overall, I was quite impressed with the High Sierra Bobcat 65. It was comfortable to pack with, handled moderate to heavy loads without shifting weight away from my body and had updated technology I've not seen in older external frame packs.

For those that prefer an external frame pack or have a great deal of gear they need to organize for exterior use, I would certainly recommend this pack. It rode comfortably, albeit high, for me and never really caused me discomfort. I think High Sierra has a win with this product.

I would suggest a few minor changes to the pack. Although, I never had any water leaks, the horizontal hydration system worries me. I understand how it could be difficult to design it with the frame bars, but I've seen vertical sleeves in similar packs. I'd also be excited to see some integrated pockets on the hip belt.

I don't see this pack being my primary 'go-to' pack in the future. I've become quite accustomed to lighter weight gear and the flexibility of an internal frame pack. I certainly see myself keeping it in the Ole gear closet for friends or Scout troop use in the future. I can also see myself using it again for short jaunts with the kids while they are still young enough that I have to haul the majority of the gear. The ability to load gear in and out appeals to me on that level.

I want to thank BackpackGearTest and High Sierra Sport Company for the opportunity to test the Bobcat 65.

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

Read more reviews of High Sierra Sport Company gear
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