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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > REI Ridgeline Pack > Test Report by Rebecca Stacy
I got bitten by the backpacking bug in 1994 when I was a volunteer at the Grand Canyon. My first backpacking trip was the same week I arrived, with gear borrowed from trail crew supplies. My husband and I enjoy backpacking (using a double-wall tent), mostly in Michigan. Our trips have run from overnighters to 12 nights on Isle Royale. We've pared down our pack weight a little, and we are continually re-working our gear list to cut weight without giving up the luxury items we enjoy (such as food that involves more than boiling water).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Item Received: March 9, 2007
The REI Ridgeline backpack arrived in good condition, with a hangtag that went over the basic specifications of the pack. No instructions were given on how to adjust the pack for proper fit. Through a little bit of poking and prodding, I've found that I can adjust the hipbelt up and down the frame a little bit, and that the shoulder straps are also adjustable, connecting to the foam back pad via full-surface loop and hook fasteners. The active-motion hipbelt operates by pivoting away from the base of the pack when I bend over. One thing about the setup that is a little confusing is that the lumbar pad is connected to the belt, but there is a 'pocket' behind the lumbar pad that is sealed with a wide band of hook-and loop fastener. There is no apparent reason why this is there (since the lumbar pad is already securely connected to the hipbelt), unless it was put in as an option to 'disengage' the active-motion hipbelt.
The pack has a main compartment that is accessible through the top, or through a J-shaped water resistant zipper. There are two drawstrings on the top opening, allowing for different sized loads. It has a non-removable top storage section that has a map pocket underneath. A large, slightly elastic mesh pocket is on the back, with side water-bottle pockets that are made of the same material. Fully-enclosed (non-water resistant) zippered pockets are beneath the water-bottle pockets. The pulls for these side pockets are made of plastic-tube covered parachute cord, about as long as the width of my palm (see picture below). These combination pockets are attached on the left and right sides of the pocket, but are not attached to the pack at top or bottom.
Two strips of webbing about 18"/46 cm long run from the bottom of the pack to the bottom of the large pocket, to allow me to attach a sleeping pad or tubular stuff sack. Daisy chains (with 5 full and 2 'half' sections) are on either side of the large back pocket. There is a webbing loop at the bottom of each daisy-chain strip. Each side has two compression straps, and another compression strap connects the outside top of the main compartment to the area where the top storage area is connected to the main compartment. There are small loops on either side of the hipbelt, and the shoulder straps both have an elastic band (to tie down the mouthpiece of a hydration bladder, as shown in the photo to the right) with a thick faux-leather strip underneath (possibly to hang glasses off of or something similar). The pack has openings on both the left and right side to allow for the tubing of a water bladder to pass through, and an interior pocket to accommodate a hydration bladder. All of the clips are of a minimalistic design, and apparently use as little plastic as possible to hold the designed tension.
The Ridgeline appears to be a well-designed pack. Although I am used to a pack with
a significantly larger volume, I was able to stuff in most of my typical gear for a
standard overnighter to 6, maybe 7 day trip (depending on how much water I need to carry). Since I always hike with a partner, I stuffed
it full of my typical share of the gear: the tent fabric and rainfly portion of our REI
Halfdome tent, a 1.5 quart/1.4 L cookpot (with canister stove, matches, bowls, and a couple
travel packs of facial tissue all stuffed inside), a MSR Miniworks water filter, our first aide kit
(consisting of a backpacker's first aide booklet and various bandages, blister pads, and other assorted
necessities in a gallon/3.8 L ziptop bag), my rain jacket, rain pants and pack cover, a 1.5L/48 oz
Nalgene bottle, a standard Ursack stuffed about 3/4 of the way full, a microfleece jacket, a spare
set of socks and liners, convertible hiking pants and a shirt, 1 change of undies, my toiletry items,
silk sleeping bag liner, GPS, a ripstop nylon tarp/groundcloth, and a 0.5 gallon/2L MSR water bladder.
In addition, I put a water bottle in each side pocket. I'm one of 'those' hikers, so attached at
various points along the daisy chain are our trowel, hand disinfectant, pack towel, clothesline (a handy
little contraption, line stuffed inside a film canister with a clip on each end of the line), and my
titanium cup. I also usually attach my camp shoes to the outside of my pack, but I couldn't unearth
enough carabineers for that at this time.
Overall, when fully loaded and properly adjusted, the Ridgeline does indeed feel like a comfortable fit. The hip belt doesn't extend as far around my hips as most packs do (see picture above), but it still seems to provide adequate support of the pack weight.
At first I wondered why the enclosed side pockets were set up the way they were, and why the pulls were so long. When I tried the pack on I realized that although it was a little bit of an awkward reach, I could open the zipper and get an item (such as a pack of facial tissue or a small snack) out of the pocket without having to take the pack off.
Since the backpack had water-resistant zippers, I decided to see if the pack was truly designed to be water-resistant (although REI does NOT make any claim to water-resistance). After a couple-minute shower in our bathtub I found out that while the zippers themselves were water-resistant, water will leak in through just about every seam in the pack. So I'm left wondering why they put the water-resistant zippers on a pack that leaks like a sieve. Since I always carry assorted gear clipped to the outside of my pack, I'll forgo trying to seam-seal the pack and just use my normal pack cover when the weather turns rainy.
Overall, I like what I see in the Ridgeline so far. The lighter weight definitely
helps with my goal of trimming some weight off my load without cutting back on niceties,
but still feels comfortable enough to carry a substantial load. The ActivMotion hipbelt
appears to give me a little bit better balance when bending over. I like that the hipbelt is set up
so that I tighten it by pulling the straps forward, which makes it easier for me to adjust than the type where
I need to pull the straps towards my back. I also like the wide variety of places to attach
things, since that's my modus operandi, and having lots of places to attach things came in
VERY handy when an unexpected storm came through after we had done the laundry, rained off
and on all night, and we had to be human clotheslines the next day.
So far, I have had the pack on for a few hours at the local parks to get the feel
of the pack and to make adjustments before the trip, and a Mid-May 2-night trip on
the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail in Southeast Michigan. On this trip, I was carrying
about 30-35 pounds (13.6-15.9 kg). My gear included: the tent and rainfly portion
of a REI half-dome tent, rain jacket and pants, pack cover, a full-length Therm-a-rest
Pro-Lite 3 sleeping pad, a 20 degree (-7 C) down sleeping bag, bag liner and stuffable
pillow case, first aide and personal hygiene supplies, a 1 quart (0.95 L) pot with frypan lid,
a canister stove, 2 steel bowls and titanium mugs, a spare change of clothes,
microfleece jacket, headlamp, water filter, 2 liter (2.1 quart) hydration bladder,
a 32 oz (1 liter) nalgene bottle, a pack towel, a sheet of ripstop nylon that
I use as a tarp or groundcloth on occasion, snacks, camp shoes, and various small
accessories that I attached to the back of my pack (clothesline, sunscreen, lip balm, etc).
Overall, I have enjoyed using the Ridgeline since it is comfortable for me, and has
a decent amount of nifty features. Having the elastic mesh pocket is nice since I
can store my mugs there without them clanging when I hike. The zippered pockets
beneath the mesh side pockets are handy for me to store snacks in, and I'm starting
to adapt to the somewhat awkward reach back to get them. I still have to stretch and
use my fingertips if I've stuffed something too far back, but overall it works out fine.
During the Long Term report phase I took the Ridgeline on a couple of dayhikes and a 3-night trip to North Manitou Island, which is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
For my dayhikes I mainly kept the weight around 35 pounds (16 kg), which would represent my share of weight for a 4-5 night hike with my husband (with a new, lighter sleeping bag and shelter than what I used for the Field Report) where I could get by with carrying about 68 oz (2 L) of water. I had fiddled around with the straps and after a little adjusting, I didn't have any more problems with soreness when I was putting on or taking off the pack.
I wanted to test out how the Ridgeline would carry the weight of a 6-night solo hike so the first day of our North Manitou Island trip I carried all the food (not including Scott's snacks) plus our entire Rainshadow 2 tarptent setup ( including stakes, poles, and groundcloth, which weights 3 lbs 9 oz/ 1.62 kg total), and a 75%+ full 450g/15.9 oz canister of fuel. This is in addition to my regular share of the gear, which consists of: rain jacket and pants, pack cover, a full-length Therm-a-Rest Pro-Lite 3 sleeping pad, a 45 degree (7 C) sleeping bag (1 lb 4 oz / .57 kg), bag liner and stuffable pillow case, first aide and personal hygiene supplies, a 1 quart (0.95 L) pot with frypan lid, a canister stove, 2 steel bowls and titanium mugs, a spare change of clothes, microfleece jacket, headlamp, water filter, 2 liter (2.1 quart) hydration bladder, two 32 oz (1 liter) nalgene bottles, a pack towel, camp shoes, and various small accessories that I attached to the back of my pack (clothesline, lighter, sunscreen, bug repellant, lip balm, etc). Altogether, when fully loaded and full of water I was carrying about 45 pounds/20 kg worth of gear, not including the pack weight itself.
With this setup, I rolled my sleeping pad in the Tyvec groundcloth, and attached that to the outside of the pack using the straps on the bottom of the pack. The stuffsack for the Rainshadow is long and narrow, so I bent it into a sort of "U" shape, and placed my sleeping bag in the center of the "U". The food bag went on top, then my pots/pans, with my spare clothes filling in the gaps and my raingear topping off the inner compartment. There was too much stuff to close the lower drawstring for the main body, but the upper drawstring closed and the top fit over nicely. Toiletries, etc went into the top compartment.
The first day we hiked over 7 miles (11 km), with temperatures in the low 70's F (about 22 C). The terrain was mostly level, with some hills. After about 4 miles (6.4 km) the pack was beginning to feel heavy and I started getting sore. By the next morning I was still a little sore, and I'm sure that I had exceeded the design limits of the pack. We re-distributed the gear so that I just carried the shelter and groundcloth portion of the tarptent, and Scott had the stakes & poles, along with the fuel canister and the majority of the food. Filled up with water, I was back at a more comfy 35 pounds (16 kg) of gear.
The second day we hiked about 8 miles (13 km), with temperatures in the high 70s F (about 25 C). Most of the time we hiked on the beach, with about equal time spent on damp sand and small stones. For about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) we followed an unmaintained trail under heavy deciduous cover. This day I noticed that my back was beginning to sweat a bit, especially on the beach when we were protected from the breeze. My back wasn't overly hot and I wasn't uncomfortable, but I did wish there was better ventilation, since I ended up with a little more acne on my back than I usually do when backpacking.
The going was pretty level the second day, though the unmaintained trail had about 15 locations where I had to go over, under, or around (and into scrub) fallen trees that were too high to easily step over. I think the Ridgeline performed well in this obstacle course of sorts, since overall I felt I had pretty good balance (for having a backpack on) and minimal problems with the pack catching on limbs. I was still a tad sore from the previous day, but overall the pack was very comfortable.
The third day was a relatively easy 3.5 mile (5.6 km) hike to the only established campground on the island, so we could enjoy some afternoon dayhiking and a short hike to the ferry the next morning.
I had forgotten about the need to repair the small hole in the elastic mesh of the outside pocket, but I may not need to since the hole has not grown since it was initially created. I probably will sew it up at some point in time, but it is good to know that the fabric does not 'run' if damaged.
While I don't think I'll attempt a 6-night solo trip with this pack anytime soon, I think the Ridgeline would do nicely for me on trips up to a 3 night solo or 6 night trip with a partner. Switching to a tarptent and a lighter sleeping bag probably helped, but though I have gone lighter (I am still a far cry from ultralight), the Ridgeline offers me enough space for everything I need for the above mentioned trips, and is pretty comfortable to carry. I have not had any problems with the minimalistic belt clasps, and though I do rub my head against the pack when I look straight up, the Ridgeline does not impede my normal head movements.
The Ridgeline met (and in some aspects exceeded) my expectations for a lighter-weight pack. Though minimal, the padding is comfortable for me as long as I keep the load weight reasonable. The only thing I could really see room for improvement on is the ventilation in the back.This concludes my test report. I would like to thank REI and Backpackgeartest for the opportunity to test the Ridgeline.
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