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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > R2 Custom Pack > Test Report by Jason Boyle

R2 Packs

Test Series

Initial Report - September 7, 2007
Field Report - November 6, 2007
Long Term Report - January 8, 2008

On the PCT near the Kendall Katwalk

Tester Information:
Name: Jason Boyle
Age: 30
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 6"/ 1.68 m
Weight: 180 lb/ 82 kg
Email address: c4jc "at" hotmail "dot" com
City, State, Country: Snoqualmie, Washington, U. S.

Backpacking Background:
I have been camping and backpacking for about 19 years. My introduction to the outdoors started with the Boy Scouts of America and has continued as an adult. I have hiked mostly in the Southeastern and Northeastern United States. I am generally a lightweight hiker, but will carry extras to keep me comfortable. I currently reside in the Pacific Northwest and spend most of my time hiking and backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but I can be found exploring the other wild areas of Washington!

Product Information:
Manufacturer: R2 Packs
Model: Custom
Year of Manufacture: 2007
URL: www.R2packs.com
Capacity: 3000 cu in/ 49 L estimated
Main Pack Bag Fabric: VX 21
Listed weight: none listed
Measured weight: Total 2 lb 7.1 oz (1.1 kg)
Framesheet 7.9 oz (224 g)
Pack Body 1 lb 15.2 oz (880 g)
Dimensions: 8” deep by 23” tall by 12” wide (20.3 cm deep by 58 cm tall by 30.5 cm wide)

MSRP: Varies, based on features customer chooses. This pack was 337 US dollars
Country of Manufacture: Made in USA

Initial Report – September 7, 2007

Initial Thoughts on a Custom Pack:
I have large mountaineering packs and smaller backpacking/dayhiking packs but I wanted something in the middle that could work as a hybrid between the two. I designed this pack with that in mind. I wanted something I could take on weekend backpacking trips, high mileage dayhikes, and done in a day peak bagging/mountaineering trips. These thoughts drove the fabric and features that I chose.

Product Description:

– Corrugated Plastic Framesheet: I am not planning on carrying more than 30 pounds (13.6 kg) so I didn’t need a herky frame sheet but I wanted something to help transfer weight to my hips. The frame sheet looks like the corrugated plastic used in the mail totes that post offices use to carry and sort mail. It also has 5 small aluminum rods to provide additional stiffness and is removable.

– Padded Shoulder Straps: Nothing out of the ordinary here just wanted shoulder straps with some padding. They have ½” (1.25 cm) closed cell foam for padding. The shoulder strap has ¾” (1.91 cm) webbing attached with a bar tack at top, middle and bottom of the front side of the padded strap. On the right strap there is a small elastic loop to hold my hydration bladder hose. There is also an adjustable sternum strap that can be slid up and down the webbing.

– The hip belt is cantilevered, meaning it is tightened via straps running along the side versus the straps at the center buckle. It has the same closed cell foam padding that the shoulder straps have and all of the padding on the pack has a honey combed backing. The padding doesn’t extend to the center buckle but rather is what R2 packs calls a winglet. The padding stops several inches (centimeters) short of the buckle.

– Top Loading Pack Body: Nothing out of the ordinary here. The body is one large bag with no dividers or internal pockets. It has a drawcord and compression strap closure at the top. There is a 6.5” (16.5 cm) extension collar sewn into the top of the pack.

– Floating Lid with four quick release buckles: I don’t always need a top lid so I wanted to be able to easily remove it. The lid has one #5 waterproof zipper. The main body of the lid is the same VX21 fabric as the pack but the sides of the pack are made of Spandura that allows the sides to stretch some.

Framesheet

– Right and Left Daisy Chains: I wanted to have easy places to attach tools and carabiners when I am mountaineering and to have places to attach wet clothing. It just made sense to have two daisy chains.

– Elastic Cord System: Works like a shove-it pocket for clothing and such and it should allow me to compress the pack when I am carrying a smaller load. It will also allow me to carry bulkier items like a sleeping pad on the outside of the pack.

– Right and Left Cord Tool Loops with Clips: I routinely hike with poles or an ice axe and wanted to have some way to store them. I chose the cord loops with a clip so I can carry poles pointy end down. The clip allows me to make a small loop that will catch on the small basket I use on my trekking poles.

– Canted Right Side elastic pocket and Tall Left Side elastic pocket: I am constantly adjusting my clothing and wanting snacks and I hate taking off my pack every time I want to change my layering. I chose the canted pocket in hopes that I could easily reach the pocket and use it to store snacks and layer clothing like gloves and a warm hat. I chose the tall pocket on the other side for more storage. Both pockets are made of Spandura, a stretchy fabric that feels like elastic compression shorts to me.

– Removable Hipbelt Pockets: When I am trying to cover lots of miles, I don’t want to stop, but I require food every hour or so to keep me going. These pockets will allow me to reach snacks and other sundries that I want to keep at hand.

– VX 21 Fabric: I used the expertise at R2 packs when I chose the fabric. I wanted something that would stand up to the stresses of scrambling and mountaineering. They recommended this fabric. It appears to be a laminate with nylon strand reinforcement. The reinforcement makes a diamond pattern in the fabric. The outer panel colors are grey and black. I chose neutral colors to blend in to the wilderness.

– Hydration Bladder Pocket and Hydration Port: There is a hydration bladder pocket that holds a 100 oz (3 l) bladder and the port is on the right side so that it doesn’t interfere with the floating lid straps.

The Pack Design Process:

Cover of my design packet from R2.


I had never designed a pack before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the process not as complicated as I had first though. The R2 packs website is easy to follow and they have a set of links that walk the user through the design process. Under the "design by feature" link there are pick lists of options and text boxes to write in options not listed. I designed my pack based on the options on this link. I received a phone call from Ron where he asked more probing questions about my intended use of the pack and the type of environmental conditions I expect to experience. Ron spent 45 minutes with me and was very personable on the phone. I felt like he sincerely desired to understand me so he could produce the pack I wanted. After the phone call, Ron designed my pack and sent me a design proposal in an Adobe document. The seven page document went through each of the features of the pack and displayed a view of the front, back, right and left side of the pack and the options I requested. I went through this document and made a few changes via email with Ron. A few days later a second design proposal arrived via email and once I approved it the pack construction process took place. It took a little more than a month for me to receive my pack.

The pack appears to be well constructed. All the seams are straight and there doesn’t appear to be any loose threads. I am concerned about the unfinished edges on the inside and whether they will be an issue. Testing will tell. I loaded the pack up with a little weight to get an idea of initial fit. Everything seems to be ok, but adding a little weight to the pack and actually hiking with it are very different things.

Hiking the PCT near Snoqualmie Pass

Field Report – November 6, 2007

Snow Lake

Summary:
So far it has been a mixed bag, pun intended! The initial pack received was used on a long day hike where I discovered a few issues with the cantilevered hip belt which ultimately resulted in the pack going back to R2 for some changes. R2 sent me a second pack with a standard hip belt and a couple of other modifications and it has worked well thus far.

Field Conditions:
I was able to use each pack once over the last two months. The first pack was used on a 27 mile (43 km) “day hike” of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) near Snoqualmie Pass, where we started at 8:30 pm and hiked through the night until 12:30 pm the next day. The elevation ranged from 3000’ to 6000’ (900 m to 1800 m) and the weather included misty rain to sunshine. The wind was blowing 5-10 mph (8 to 16 kph) at times the trail was rough, rocky and mostly above treeline. Temperatures ranged from 40 F to the mid 60’s F (4 C to 18 C). My second trip, first trip with the new pack, was an overnight to Snow Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Elevation ranged from 3000’ to 4400’ (900 m to 1300 m), with temperatures ranging from 45 F to 30 F (7 C to -1 C), a slight breeze and clear skies.

Report:
Overall I am pleased with the products I have received from R2 packs. During the design process, Ron was very open to my suggestions, including building a cantilevered hip belt. He had never designed one before so I knew going into the process that it might not work properly. Unfortunately, I had to find out the hard way that it didn’t work properly. I used my day hike on the PCT as my initial use of the pack. I had the pack loaded with 20 pounds (9 kg) of gear, which seems like a lot for a day trip, but I had a lot of water, food, a sleeping bag, and some insulated gear in case the weather turned nasty. It became obvious several miles (km) into the trip that the hip belt wasn’t working properly. It felt like all the weight was being transferred to the very bottom edge of the belt and the bruises left on my hips at the end of the trip confirmed this hypothesis. This trip also allowed me to discover a couple of other design issues. The frame sheet has a rectangular shape and came up so high that I couldn’t look above me. This issue came to light while scrambling on Kendall Peak. I couldn’t look above me for hand holds on the class 3 scrambling route. After ascending a 100 foot (30 m) section to gain a ridge I decided not to go any further because I didn’t feel comfortable scrambling and not being able to see the next hand hold.

pack 1 pack 2

However not all was negative on this trip. I liked being able to stash my poles using the gear loops on the back of the pack and the hip belt pockets worked well for stashing my camera, headlamp, and snacks. The pack was subjected to shrubs and bushes while hiking an unmaintained trail to access the PCT and to rough granite during rest sessions and scrambling and came through with no issues. The pack fabric shed misty rain and water without any issues and the short canted right side elastic pocket was the perfect place to stash items I wanted quick access to like my gloves and beanie.

When I returned from the PCT trip, I called Ron and discussed options to fix the hip belt. At that time we also discussed a few other modifications: a head notch in the frame sheet and shortening the shoulder straps a bit. Ron was very open to my suggestions and we decided that a standard hip belt would be the best way to proceed. I sent him back the original pack and he built a brand new pack with a standard hip belt and incorporated the other suggestions I had made.

I received the new pack in about 3 weeks and immediately took it out on an overnight to Snow Lake. I am pleased with the way that revision two has turned out. I loaded the pack with gear for my overnight and the pack weight came to 27 pounds (12 kg). The new hip belt worked great and with the frame, transferred the weight easily to my hips. Though not a serious issue with the original pack, I felt like the shoulder straps were a bit long, the revised straps had been shortened several inches (centimeters) and felt quite a bit better. The pack is fairly roomy for it size. It is just a large open bag. It has made me think more about how I pack and organize my gear. I use stuff sacks to organize gear and then stuff them inside the pack like a big puzzle keeping food and other stuff I might need close to the top or in the upper or side pockets. I was able to easily fit my standard three season gear into the pack and include a few insulating pieces. I was also able to include the Primus ETA power stove I was testing at the time, even though I wouldn’t normally carry such a large stove on a solo trip. The hydration pocket works well and easily swallowed my 100 oz (3 L) hydration bladder. The side port is large enough to fit the hose through the without having to remove the bite valve. The elastic cord system worked well securely holding my rolled up sleeping pad while hiking. My only nit pick at this point is the stiffness of the zippers on the hood and hip belt pockets. They are very stiff and currently require me to use both hands to operate them. I expect that they will loosen up over time. However, I really like the large zipper pulls that can be easily found and operated while wearing gloves.

Based on my two trips, I am happy with the durability of the pack. The Snow Lake trip didn’t have any obstacles to really challenge the durability of the pack, but I didn’t notice any abrasions or problems with the first pack after my PCT trip. I stuffed the Spandura pockets with gear on both trips until they were bulging and did not notice any issues with the seams or fabric.

After using the second pack, I have another recommendation. I really like the hip belt pockets but they only fit on the nylon fabric portion of the hip belt and not the padded part. This makes the area around the buckle crowded and I have to struggle to get the belt cinched down properly. I would like to be able to attach the pockets to the padded section but retain the ability to remove them. This could be accomplished by adding some webbing straps on the padding or a couple of snaps.

On the trail to Snow Lake

I did try to use the pack on a three day backpacking trip where I needed to carry a full winter kit including snowshoes, ice ax and winter tent. I laid out my gear and began packing the R2 and even with the multiple attachment points on the outside it became clear that I couldn’t stuff all my gear into the pack. I switched to a 5500 cu in (90 L) pack and soon had it full. For me this pack won’t work for winter multi-day backpacking use.

We are entering the winter season here in the Pacific Northwest. I hope to get in at least one more overnight backpacking trip before the snow gets too deep and several day trips either snowshoeing or hiking in the Cascades.

Long Term Report – January 8, 2008

Snowshoeing near Ollalie Lake

Summary:
Overall I have been pleased with the performance of the pack. I have had no issues with durability and the pack continues to fit pretty well. I have some small nits with the pack such as the frame sheet being a bit too long to stay in the pocket and the width of the pack is to narrow to fit anything that is really bulky. Based on my experience thus far, I think it is a good lightweight three season pack and has performed well on my recent winter day trips.

Field Locations:
I used the pack 6 more times over the last two months. Two of the trips were day hikes on the Snoqualmie Ridge trail system; a third 26 mile (42 km) day hike was in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in the Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon visiting the famous Eagle Creek trail. I also took two snowshoe trips and a cross country ski trip with the pack. These trips took place in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest. Elevations ranged from sea level to 4400’ (1341 m), temperatures ranged from 45 F to 26 F (7 C to -3 C), and I experienced light rain and light snow while using the pack.

Report:

Overall I am pleased with the pack. Like anything there are always areas to nit pick or things to tweak if I were to do it again, but the pack as delivered has done well. My three main concerns with the pack were – Fit, Durability, and Usefulness and I will explore these three aspects further below.

The pack continues to fit well with and without the frame sheet. The shoulder straps are easy to reach and adjust. The standard hip belt sent with the second pack fits well and has not resulted in any hip bruises. However to achieve a snug fit I have had to remove one of the hip belt pockets. This allows me to fully tighten the hip belt. I offered some suggestions in my Field Report on how to modify the Hip Belt Pockets so that they would not interfere with the webbing and will look into modifying at least one of them now that the test series is over. Another small nit is that the frame sheet doesn’t fit in the frame sheet pocket very well. The frame sheet pocket closes with a hook and loop fastener, but on rest breaks when I have stopped to get things out of the inside of the pack, the frame sheet has usually come out of the pocket. I have not been able to just push the frame sheet back into the pocket, but have to pull everything out including my hydration bladder to get the frame sheet back into the pocket. I think the frame sheet is just about a quarter inch (less than a centimeter) too long for the pocket. This has been more of an annoyance than anything serious. I actually prefer to use the pack without the frame sheet, but like with any frameless pack I have to be careful how I pack so that I don’t have sharp objects poking me in the back. The ½” (1.25 cm) padding in the shoulder straps and hip belt mold nicely around my arms and hips respectively and have provided comfortable support with loads up to 27 pounds (12 kg) with the frame sheet in and to around 20 pounds (9 kg) without the frame sheet.

Snowshoeing near Gold Creek

The durability of the pack has been good. I have not really had any brush bashing trips or any real rock scrambles in the last two months. Most trips have been on maintained trail or snow. That being said I have not busted any seams or broken any part of the pack. I have strapped my snowshoes to the back of the pack using the bungee cord, but I made sure that I had the bottoms facing each other so the teeth did not brush against the pack or the cord. I have not had the chance to use any mountaineering/climbing tools with the pack yet such as an ice ax or crampons. The Spandura pockets have been stretched to overflowing but show no signs of losing their stretchiness or of any abrasion.

Snowshoeing near Ollalie Lake

Based on my experiences over the past four months I think the pack is almost perfect for what I designed it for – three season backpacking, winter day hikes, and done in a day mountaineering trips. I like top loading packs and I like having just one compartment. I already use stuff sacks to segregate my gear and this keeps gear from migrating towards the bottom of the pack. The canted right side elastic pocket has worked out really well. I have kept my gloves, mitts, and beanie in there for quick access while hiking. I have had a little bit harder time getting items in and out of there while wearing a shell jacket. I also like the choice to have a long elastic pocket on the opposite side. This allows me to carry a bottle for electrolyte drinks (I only use water in my hydration bladder) and I usually stuff my food bag and my insulating layer in this pocket as well. The quick release buckles for the floating lid have been very useful as on most my trips over the past two months I have left the floating lid off as I didn’t need it. I have fumbled with removing lids on other packs and I am happy to say that was one thing I didn’t need to worry about on this pack. I do think I would ask for a flap in addition to the floating lid. Most of the time for a day hike I don’t fill the main body of the pack and don’t need the space that the pocket on the floating lid provides, however, I would like the protection from the elements that the floating lid provides. A lid flap would be a good solution for this dilemma.

My only real nitpick with the usefulness of the pack is the depth of the main bag compartment. It is only 8” (20 cm) deep. Anything that is bulky won’t fit in there. I could tell bulky items wouldn't fit by looking at the pack, but undeterred I tried to make gear fit and ended up with a bent frame sheet. Packing for a winter trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I loaded the pack up with my gear and it all seemed to fit until I put it on and I felt a weird point running the full length of my back, the bent frame sheet. As soon as I removed everything the frame sheet went back to its normal shape. I tried a couple of weeks ago to fully pack the R2 and the frame sheet bent in the same place again, this time without anything bulky just an unstuffed sleeping bag taking up a lot space in the bottom of the pack. I think the frame will now be prone to bending in that one spot under heavier loads. I will contact Ron to see if he has any experience with this once the test is over. I have not used the daisy chain as much as I thought I would, but I have not used the pack mountaineering yet. I plan on using the daisy chain to store my carabiners, harness, and helmet.

The bungee cord is a great place to stuff anything, wet gear, sleeping pads, snowshoes, whatever I want quick access to. The zippers on the hip belt pockets and the top lid have become easier to open and close as I have used the zippers more. The hip belt pockets are really nice. They swallow my small digital camera and Clif bar or a package of Clif Shot Bloks in the same pocket. I can easily load up to three or four bars or snacks into one pocket by itself. It makes stopping for a snack easy.

Snowshoes packed on the R2

I am very happy with how my R2 pack has turned out. Nothing is perfect and I have outlined my small changes that I might make in this report, however I can also do that with every pack that is in my closet. The design process was easy to use and the customer service from R2 has been great. The product that they made with my design is very well made and will get used for many years in the future. Thanks to Backpackgeatest.org and R2 packs for allowing me to participate in this test.

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