The universe does not intend for fat people to do much backpacking, as it turns out. As far as I can tell, the largest backpack hip belt you can buy, anywhere, is XL (waist size 38-42). Someday, after losing about 50 lbs, I’ll probably be down to size 40 jeans again and my hip belt will fit.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. When I started looking into backpacking, I had the goal of getting top-end gear that will last forever. I wanted the most technologically advanced gear, because basically, I can more or less afford it. I knew absolutely nothing. I thought backpacks were still like we had in Boy Scouts – a square metal frame that you strap your sleeping bag and pad onto. Nowadays, backpacks are just glorified cloth tubes into which you stuff everything. Who knew?
The first place I ended up was Out-n-Back. I talked with one of the salesmen there for about an hour about packing a backpack, some of the features and differences between various models, etc. Some of the things I learned really surprised me. For example, you don’t roll up your sleeping back and tent anymore. You shove them as tightly into the bottom of the pack as you can, and either stick the tent poles in somewhere or strap them to the outside.
When I started trying on packs, I ran into the same problem that I have with shoes – the cheaper they are, the better they fit. That may have just been because no one had hipbelts in my size except for the cheap packs that had ‘one size fits all’ belts. I probably tried on 15 backpacks over several weeks. After a bit of research on the internet, I decided that I wanted the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60, but no one stocked it. The few retailers who did stock it never had the XL belt, even to order. One did have the belt, but not the right color or pack size.
One quick sidenote: I made the wise decision to actually measure my torso, and discovered that I needed an M sized pack, not an L. An L pack might have been just a little too big, and I’m definitely done growing. Even though I’m 6′ even, I guess I have long legs or something. Get measured before you order a backpack.
I eventually settled on the Osprey Aether 85. Everyone I talked to loved the Aether series, and their All Mighty Guarantee can’t be beat. One guy told me about how he accidentally rolled his backpack down a mountain and tore it, and it was replaced. I don’t plan to need it, but that’s quite a guarantee. I went with the 85 liter one because it’s only 1oz more, and I might end up needing the extra space for things like my huge sleeping bag.
Even after finally settling on the Aether, it was kind of a bitch to actually order one. I gave it a good effort several times, though. There was a retailer in Logan, UT who said they’d hold one until Saturday for me. Right color and belt and everything! Only problem is that when I got to the storefront, they were closed. As in, the store had closed down and was operating from their warehouse now (and not open on Saturdays). So much for that. I tried to get one at Out-n-Back, but they said it’d take two weeks to get in, and I was hoping to use it sooner than that. I tried to order in on moosejaw.com, despite not being sure how I feel about them, but they had literally 0 XL belts, and it could take up to three weeks to get one.
I finally found myself in REI for the umpteenth time. They didn’t have the right color, but they had the packs for me to examine, and they had a spare hipbelt. I tried on the belt and it fit, which was a relief. The guy checked with his manager and said that if I ordered one, they’d swap the belt out for free. He said I should wait for a week or so, though, because there was a 20% off coupon coming out soon for members. Since my pack was going to be $289, I decided to wait.
When the coupon came, I tried to order the pack online from rei.com, but they wouldn’t swap the belt. They had the belts if I wanted to order one separately, but apparently their warehouse guys aren’t qualified to use velcro? I dunno. Morons. I went back into the store to order it there, and they told me that I’d have to pay an extra $40 to order the XL belt separately, and they’d give me a credit once I returned the M one that comes with it. This was retarded because if they had what I wanted in the store, I wouldn’t be charged extra. We discussed this for a bit, and it wasn’t gonna happen. However, when I mentioned that I was told before they’d swap it for free, the manager just gave up and comped me the XL belt if I’d order the backpack. I did so.
I now have, at this time, the XL belt sitting on my kitchen table. My Osprey Aether 85 M backpack should be at the store on Saturday, if all goes well. I sort of wonder if they want my M belt back. I’m going to try to give it back to them, regardless.
I’m not sure I really understand REI. They have a membership that costs a one-time fee of $20, which entitles you to various benefits, like the 20% off coupon I used. However, it also gives you a 10% rebate at the end of the year on all non-sale purchases from REI. That sounds to me like everything in the store is marked up 10% to begin with, and they hold on to your money for up to a year for you, interest free, and then give you a coupon they hope you never use. It sounds FREAKIN FISHY to me. But after doing a lot of price-matching, it turns out that their prices are the same as everywhere else. Lots of this backpacking gear is the same price virtually everywhere, but with REI, if you pay full price, you get a rebate. Several months later, that is.
The other thing is that despite being tied to a large corporation whose policies they must uphold, everyone I ran into really seemed to like working there. I get nothing but helpful and smiles every time I go in there. More surprising, even though they work at a huge chain, they all seem to actually know what they’re talking about. Miracles never cease.
They’re a big corporation in direct competition in a small market with small local businesses. Their employees have to uphold policy instead of common sense. They charge full price for everything and then give you a rebate coupon several months later. I want to hate them, but I just can’t. I just can’t. They’re so nice! Also, the corporation is involved with environmental issues and preservation in all kinds of admirable ways. Just look at all the crap they’re up to! On top of all that, I saved like $60 on my backpack. That’s a whole video game.