Terms of Review:
Evan had asked me to try out the Tarahumara pack (Tara), and Runners Kit Bag (RKB) with a prototype of a running specific Runners Harness, since I do a lot of trail and mountain running. The following are my observations.
First, I have to say I'm biased. I really like packs that are rugged, and offer easy adaptation and expansion for which you can choose lightweight materials to do the job (since the lightweight materials are not permanently attached). This easy adaptation or expansion allows me to take what I need on the particular run or trek without fear of causing permanent damage to the main item. The Tara fits this mold very well.
The construction quality is very high, and overkill for the particular tasks. That is a good thing. For example, the runners kit bag features boxed stitched webbing (1.5") in the rear. I know, there may be some force when deploying a weapon from this, but I can not imagine ever tearing this. I have no concerns about longevity of this particular product. The sewing and construction are very clean.
In my opinion, real world testing trumps everything else. I wanted to do several hikes in which I would use the products in a fashion similar to my year around usage patterns. This includes snow shoeing, general hiking, trail running, peak bagging and scouting. I estimate that during the week, I hiked 10k uphill and the same downhill over probably 25 - 30 miles. This includes a couple test walks on roads, and some pretty significant bushwhacking endeavors.
Below are some of my comments and a few photo's from my various hikes / testing
I was able to load up a small overnight setup consisting of a down quilt, evazote pad, and small shelter with the essentials. The Tara / RKB setup is around 2lbs. Add in the light overnight gear and it's a nice minimalistic setup that allows you to drop the overnight stuff and be able to use the Tara as a day pack. This was definately a win.
- Since I live in snowy country, snowshoeing is a big part of my winter. I only have one other pack that makes packing snowshoes easy, and it does not have enough storage on it's own for a winter jackets / water etc. so I end up adding a sil stuff sack. I really enjoyed how well the Tara performed this task and can see myself using this pack as my main winter pack for quick snowshoe hikes.
Longer Steep Hikes / Runs:
I took the pack on a couple of longer , steeper hikes, with a limited amount of running (where Ice and Mud were minimal). In these instances I used the RKB to load up most of my essentials, and the Tara, for a jacket and whatever else. The Tara / RKB setup worked very well for this. Since I often just dive off trail for awhile in these locals I appreciate the ruggedness of the materials.
Scouting Trip/ Long Hike:
I culminated my week of testing by taking the Tara + RKB and Runners Harness for a pretty long day hike (how does the pack feel after 6 -7 hours). This hike was mostly off trail, bushwhacking , oak brush , and snow. In this instance, I changed to more of hunting / scouting mode (Sheds anyone ?), and carried some relatively large 10*42 binoculars and small essentials in the RKB and most of what would be needed for an overnight in the Tara (sans sleep pad and quilt). Once again, since there was a lot of bushwhacking, I appreciated the ruggedness of the materials. The oak brush in some of this area is absolutely brutal. Between the oak brush and the thorns, I think I could have turned a lightweight nylon pack into a strainer.
Tara and RKB , with a small tent attached to the bottom. Runners Harness in the photo.
Above a more open view where you can see the "Runners Harness" and how it is different than the standard HPG harness. Notice the RKB does not seem overly large yet it is still carrying 10 * 42 binocs and some on hand items (spot, iphone etc).
Above a clear view of the rear of the Tara. Had I wanted to carry a light overnight, I would have packed my sleeping bag and pad in the compression straps and cinched down.
Yes I know it not a great specimen (shed), but I have to start somewhere, and it might be to early for good stuff.
Overall I was incredibly pleased with how the Tara / RKB performed on the final trip. I likely had the pack on my back for 6 hours, yet it was still comfortable. The RKB was fine for binocular usage. There was some real weight (for a frameless pack) in the Tara / RKB combo and it worked well.
Finally, here is a self shot photo showing the Runners Harness and RKB
- I really really like the HPG harness. It is very comfortable on me. When coupled with the RKB weight was very comfortably distributed and not really on my shoulders. It is very comfortable for a pack that does not have the ability to transfer some wieght to your hips.
- I thought the Runners Harness was very comfortable, however the system is so versatile, I can see myself using the individual components more often then when combined. It's simply my preference. The Tara, will likely be my main day hike, peak bag, or bushwhack pack where I do not need overnight capacity. Admittedly, I do not live in Brown / Grizz Bear country, and perhaps if I did, then the RKB would come with me all the time and it would be my main setup period. I prefer to be able to carry them seperatley or together.
- I found the RKB to be sized about right. I can not imagine myself, wanting a larger kit bag. I was able to carry relatively large binos, or most of my essentials close by. Perhaps it's just a matter of preference, but I don't think I would want one much bigger. It is sufficient to do the job at hand without being overkill.