Choosing a pack is a series of trade-offs between utility and weight, with you as the final judge. Below are three important factors to consider as you try on various models.
- Considering that you will carry it for 170 miles during TPU, your pack may be the most consequential decision you make (after deciding to sign up for this crazy adventure!) The lighter your pack is and the more comfortably it fits to your spine, the more you will enjoy the ride.
- How does the pack ride? Frame or frame-less? Weight-transferring hip belt or simple webbing straps? Vest front or padded shoulder straps?
- Size. There is only so small you can go with your pack… you have to be able to carry your sleeping bag, a bare minimum of 14,000 calories of food, incidentals, and water. Past TPU runners have not gone below 20-liter capacity.
Stage racing backpacks: A little more detail…
In a survey of past TPU runners, we found that many packed all the way down to a 20-liter pack. This requires tremendous discipline (or lots of practice), but the advantage of a light, small pack can’t be overemphasized! Bear in mind, however, that if your pack is so full that you have to strap your sleeping bag to the exterior, you’ve just added a bit of bounce to your pack. However, re-packing as you eat some food and complete the 6 stage race can help to overcome this issue.
While everyone’s different, a long-distance rule-of-thumb is that you only carry 10% of your body weight on your back. So a 150-pound man would carry a maximum of 15 pounds. With a week’s food, a sleeping bag, safety gear and the pack itself, this can be a colossally difficult standard, but it’s a good starting point. Food alone might weigh 10-12 pounds at the beginning of the week (more about food in a later post) so finding ways to minimize weight elsewhere is important.
In general, you’re going to want the lightest pack possible that is still functional and offers a certain degree of comfort! The lightest packs have almost no structure: no frame, hip-belt or any way of transferring weight off your shoulders. They are simply bags with straps. Alternatively, you can get an internal frame pack that will transfer up to 70% of the weight to your hips. Something in-between would be a frame-less pack with pods that give form to the pack and thus can transfer some weight off your shoulders.
A hip-belt can relieve your upper body but it adds weight to the pack and can be an additional chafing point, especially with the bounce of running. Frame packs may work better for those planning to mostly hike TPU.
The frame-less packs that mount as vests with wide front panels, hug the body and keep the load closer to your center of gravity, also prevent bouncing and chafing. These bags also have the added feature of water bottle holders in front, making them easier to refill than hydration bladders. Some runners will carry both, with the bladder for backup – but it’s not necessary.
Here are a few representative packs to show you the sort of choices you have:
RaidLight Olmo Ultra Raid Desert 20L + 4L Front Pack – Avg price, $179
Especially designed for stage races, the new Ultra Raid Desert 20L bag allows you to take all the necessary equipment with you for races. At 1 lb. 8 oz. ergonomically integrated back and shoulder straps, bottle pockets on vest front, insulated bladder sleeve, multiple small pockets, designed specifically for multi-day events like Trans-Pecos Ultra. This pack remains one of the most common among all TPU participants. Also available in 30L without front pouch – See more and order now in the TPUstore!
WAA Ultra Equipment UltraBag 20L+ 4L Pouch (optional) – Avg price, $215
Designed by the experts of ultra-endurance races, the UltraBag was designed and built to meet the needs of the most demanding races like the Marathon des Sables or the most intense multi day FKT attempts. At 1 lb. 5 oz bag only, with optional bottle holders (1.5 oz each) and front pocket (1.5 oz), wide vest-type straps, rectangular shape, 20-liter capacity, designed specifically for Marathon des Sables and now a great option for Trans-Pecos Ultra. Order now in the TPUstore!
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 – Avg price, $115 (Amazon)
Providing all the features and capacity you need and nothing more, the Fastpack 20 is a streamlined pack that will get you there and get it done. At 1 lb. 3 oz. vest front with pockets for water bottles/maps/camera, rear stuff pocket, roll-top closure, water-resistant, 20-liter capacity. This pack was worn by TPU2015 2nd place finisher, and Coach Cheryl Tulkoff.
Osprey Talon 22L – Avg price, $75 (Amazon)
With an updated AirScape™ backpanel, a continuous hipbelt wrap for incredible comfort and a suspension system that stabilized loads for dynamic activities, the Talon 22 remains the most versatile day hiking pack ever built. At 1 lb. 7 oz. External sleeve for easy access to hydration bladder, wide hip belt to transfer some weight off shoulders, mesh back panel for cooling. The Tempest 20 is a female-specific alternative to the Talon. Great for those hiking TPU.
-Author Notes: Sheryl Colmer was a volunteer at TPU2016 and now writes about all things Big Bend, stage racing, and TPU!