Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Outdoor Products 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack

The kind folks at Outdoor Products recently reached out to me to review their 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack ($72/ 2 lbs 3 oz (much lighter if the waist belt and back panel are removed)).  My initial reaction was that a backpack of this type, and one not commonly associated with the lightweight backpacking cottage community, was likely not in my own interests or that of my readers.  However, the more I thought about it, and reflecting on the tangible stagnation within the lightweight community over the last few years, I decided to put my biases aside and give it a shot to see where it may fit in to my gear closet.

Outdoor Products is best known to me as a Walmart staple in their sporting goods section.  Like Coleman goods, Outdoor Products is widely accepted as a brand for the budget-conscious outdoor sports participant.  They offer a fairly broad range of products including backpacks, hydration sleeves, waist packs, luggage, duffle bags, outdoor kitchen gear (bowls, plates, utensils), trekking poles, carabineers, tarps, containers, etc.

In the nearly 15-years I’ve been associated with lightweight and ultralight backpacking, I can honestly say that it has drawn more of my paycheck than I ever could have imagined.  The reason is because I spent wildly on expensive gear long before I had sufficiently developed my preferences and skills.  The mailman and I were on a first name basis for many of those years and my wife will (un)happily recall many conversations where I defensively articulated that I had returned a box that had just appeared on our doorstep as not to worry her about my growing obsession.  Of course, she was smart enough to ask whether return shipping or a restocking fee was included and that’s when I knew I’d be busy during the weekends ahead with my growing honey-do list.
With this in mind, I try my best to give thoughtful responses when asked about what gear to purchase by those thinking about getting into lightweight backpacking.  The answer is usually fairly straight-forward for novices – go to Walmart.  Purchases of top-end expensive tarps, sleeping bags, backpacks, and stoves can be a significant investment, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly and may not even be necessary for the casual weekend warrior.  The dirty little secret in the lightweight backpacking community isn’t always the gear; it’s the knowledge to fully appreciate what is truly necessary, to be a thoughtful planner, and to exercise reasonable discretion.   It is with this in mind that I consider Outdoor Products . 

The Shasta Weather Defense Backpack is largely marketed as a day pack.  Made of 420 denier fabric with TPU coating, the pack is advertised as “water-resistant” and not “water-proof”.  It has a roll-top closure with haul loop, welded seams, articulated padded shoulder straps with sternum strap, a large front pocket and even a trekking pole holder.  The padded back panel is fastened by Velcro and the waist strap can be removed.  Dimensionally, the pack is 20.5”x 10”x 10” which is identified as 1,654 cu/in.  And for those insisting on making a fashion statement in the great outdoors, it comes in risqué red or sophisticated black – with reflective accents.
At 1,654 cu/in, the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack is very close to the 1,700 cu/in size of my Gossamer Gear Murmur which is nearly double the price and doesn’t quite the water-resistance.  Arguably, the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack  is far more durable and offers better protection in the rain too.  For those of you thinking this may be too small of a backpack to carry as anything other than a day pack, I’d personally disagree having used a pack of this size exclusively during summer months on many outings.  At 6’5”, most of my gear is larger than the average person, so take this to mean that this little pack is big enough even for big boy stuff – if you pack only what you need and you’re conscious of size restrictions.
In the interests of transparency, I’ve got a wall full of backpacks.  So why should I (you) care?  Well, aside from being an excellent option for someone looking for an affordable pack, the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack offers far greater weather-protection and durability than other more expensive light(er) weight backpacks.  This versatility allows me to be less concerned about keeping the contents dry and also makes it my go-to pack for any activities associated with water.  My sons and I spend a lot of time in our trusty canoe and having the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack as a resource gives me great peace of mind.  While engrained in me over the years to take care of my gear, I also like the fact that I can head off trail with the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack as I don’t need to be overly concerned with every twig in the forest.

The roll-top closure is perfect for those of us who understand the value of being able to adjust the length of the “throat” of the main compartment as needed.  Simply put, it’s the best no-frills design and what I’d design personally if I were to make my own pack.  The external pocket comes with a waterproof zipper and the pocket itself is larger than most top pockets and is easier to access.

Other than use the pack while backpacking and canoeing, I felt the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack shined in two other situations.  First I’ve been long trying to find comfort in a hammock.  It’s a love-hate relationship because I really enjoy everything about it, but I just have trouble falling asleep.  For those of you who use hammocks, you’ll know that you need to make a decision on what to do with your pack.  Do you lay it on the ground for it to get dirty and possibly infested with bugs or animals?  Do you hang it from a tree and allow it to be exposed to the weather.  To you bring it into your sleeping area and allow it to take over your personal space?  Do you hang it from your suspension, ridge line or bear bag and hope for the best?  For me, I’ve always hung mine on a tree.  Well, because the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack has a roll-top and deals well with weather conditions, I don’t need to worry either about the weather impacting it or the abrasion from the tree.  Secondly, I’ve been experimenting with various Bushcraft techniques for the last 3 years or so.  For those of you who walk in that world, you likely carry a legit knife, saw and maybe even an axe (*gasp lightweight backpackers*), and if you hunt or trap, you likely have various metal objects that wouldn’t hold up well in a pack lacking robust construction.  As the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack is built for durability, it has held up well for these exercises too.

While most of this review seems pretty standard, I somewhat unexpectedly identified an additional value of this pack.  Because the back panel and waist belt are removable, it allows the pack to sufficiently fit anyone in my family.  To be fair, I need to remove the waist belt from most non-custom packs anyway as it’s rare for an off-the-shelf design to allow for a 24” spine length.  What I didn’t expect was being able to cinch/adjust all the bells and whistles to make it a pack appropriate for my sons and my 5’6” wife.   Not wanting to spend the money on packs for family members who are either growing or don’t head to the words frequently enough to justify their own personal pack, the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack is a great option.  I can think of few things in life which can fit a 6’5” man, a 7-year old boy, and everyone in between.  As a father of two growing kids who will be educated on all things outdoors whether they want to or not, having the flexibility of this piece of gear in my gear closet is remarkable.  For those of you with children, I enjoyed watching my son’s face light up when he realized he’d be wearing my pack and that it fit him too despite our obvious size difference.
So is the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack the perfect backpack?  No.  With that said though, I’ve probably used or tried over 20 backpacks in the last decade and I’d argue that none are perfect.  Most things in our society are designed for the average person.  Unless the average person is built like an offensive lineman, I’m not the average person.  As such, my areas of concern likely may not be shared.

First, the shoulder strap buckle hit me just above my armpit.  This is because the shoulder straps are not long enough, at least for someone my side.  This created a degree of discomfort in that area over longer hauls, but oddly enough it’s something my body is somewhat familiar with because this is a very common theme for me with most backpacks.  If the straps were made any longer, however, they’d lose some of the fit versatility.

Second, since I remove the waist belt for the pack to fit me, the fabric puckers at the lower part of the shoulder straps which connect to the pack and rubs on my sides and back.  While this settled down the more I used the pack, I view this as a design issue which can be remedied by relocating the termination point of the shoulder straps.

Bottom line, I felt the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack was affordable, durable, exceptionally versatile and great for family fun.  Course I’d be remised if I didn’t recommend the manufacturer offer green as a color option.  As the “Jolly GREEN Giant”, this isn’t the first time I’ve made this suggestion and it won’t be the last.  Blending into the woods is GOOD!  I’ve also heard that red attracts bears, so it’s a color I generally avoid on the outside of my pack or clothing.  Course, red is a great dual-use signal color too.  Either way, give the Shasta Weather Defense Backpack a look.

(Disclaimer:  This product was provided to me by the manufacturer free-of-charge for the purposes of this review; however the information contained herein is offered without bias.)

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