The Quiver – Packs


In skiing parlance, “the quiver”  refers to the skis a person may use depending on the conditions and desired mode of travel.  Long and skinny for fast transit across flat areas, short and fat for steep descents in powdery conditions, old skis for “rock skiing,”..and many more.   The joke is you can not have enough skis.

From Catamount Trail Assoc. THEY stole it from the place listed in the watermark… 🙂

Only space and money prevent a person from having all the skis they want for a particular condition.  Some people collect skis to have them; others get skis because they need them for specific conditions.

In the same way, it is how I approach my equipment.

At this point, I do enough different activities in all four seasons that the one-size-fits-all approach of three-season thru-hiking gear would not work for me.

I could get one pack that does it all. But I must confess that I like having options depending on what I am doing.

Theoretically, a vise grip would be fine for most of the very basic mechanical work I do on my car. But a socket set makes things more accessible and more efficient.

Also,  I don’t like to collect gear. I just want something that works.

So with that in mind, here’s the first entry in what I’ll call The Quiver series.

We’ll start with the necessary foundation of most outdoor pursuits: The pack.

~ Updated April 2020 ~

Skiing, climbing, hiking, or backpacking…you have to haul crap.

And the pack is how you generally do it. You put in your stuff, and you take your stuff out.

And here are the packs I found work for carrying my crap.

There is no way I can try all the packs out there. My pack choices is not a “best” list. Even if I  hiked 365 days a year, I could not give a fair and thorough review of every pack (or shelter, shoe, stove, etc.)  I could theoretically try out.

Instead, here’s the packs that work for me for various activities. They may or may not be the “best” for you and your needs. All I know is that they work for my needs. My definition of a good pack is that I should not notice it when doing “stuff.”  Your needs may be different.

If I take the appropriate pack for my chosen activity, one of these packs will work well. And, I emphasize this again: For me.


The day pack: A good day pack can take all kinds of abuse. Stuff it in the back of the vehicle for those last-minute hikes, haul groceries at times, become a stand-in travel pack, go scrambling up mountains, get stained with fine red sand from desert hiking, and serve as an impromptu pad at lunch breaks.  All my daypacks end up looking used and abused.

After over five years of regular use, my Gossamer Gear Type II 26 Summit Pack has a lovely patina from use.  I expect a few more years of continued use before common decency says it is time to get another one. Joan extended the shelf life of this pack recently and “Utah-ized” the pack by swapping out the mesh holsters for some repurposed ULA hydration bladder holders. We should be using our Type II packs for years to come.

The mesh water bottle holsters ended up getting torn to shreds over the years on this Gossamer Gear Pack. With an old ULA water reservoir holder, Joan  “Utah-ized” the pack.


The three-season+ pack (solo) and winter day pack:  I use the sturdy, rugged, and all-purpose ULA CDT for both my backpacking and winter day-use trips involving skiing. Stripped down, it is nineteen ounces. The volume, ease of use, and durability have made the CDT a pack that works well for my off-trail backpacking and winter day use when I am carrying bulkier gear. The simple design with a draw-string opening also means I can get my gear in and out of the pack easier. There are lighter packs, but I find them to be “one-trick ponies” that seem to work best for traditional thru-hiking on well-maintained trails.

On Mt. Peale. The high point of the La Sal Mountains. With much of my typical three-season gear.


The three-season+ pack (couples):  Now that I have a regular backpacking partner and regularly carrying a two-person shelter, I find I need a bigger pack consistently. But I don’t want to take my heavier Catalyst as the trips Joan and I are longer than a five-mile a day type trips I did with a previous partner. So, I went with a ULA Circuit.  Removing all the extras, I get it under 2.5 lbs, I can haul lots of water (relevant in Utah!), have extra room for deep shoulder season gear, or carry a packraft, and is still light enough for prime-three season hiking. And, like most ULA products, it stands up to the rigor of the off-trail scrambling in canyon country and the ever-abrasive red dirt. An all-purpose purpose pack when I need to carry some non-solo gear or even some colder weather gear that does not involve snow travel..

PCO Joan West


The workhorse “heavy hauler” pack:   Winter backpacking on skis? Hut trips? Guiding? Packrafting with winter gear?  I reach for my ULA Catalyst.  I’ve written about this pack before. And eight+  years later, after starting to use it, I still feel the same way.  In brief,  the Catalyst is large enough to haul “stuff,” and it handles it well.  Rated at 40 lbs carrying capacity, I’ve pushed it up to 50 lbs when I’ve hauled hut trip essentials (food and wine, of course). I don’t know if 50 pounds carried is ever truly comfortable…but it was certainly comfortable enough for the weight it hauled.

PCO Andrew Skurka


The everyday utility pack: A discontinued Gossamer Gear Rukus. I used it extensively on road trips to keep my “office” organized, use it almost every day to pack my lunch, a coat, or a laptop, and take it with me on every outdoor trip. The gear holds the clothing and equipment I’ll use at the trailhead, and even for camping, I keep such things as a thermos, a road atlas, etc. when on longer trips now.  And it is my carry-on luggage of choice when flying. Just a useful, rugged, and simple item that I’ve made extensive use of quite a bit since 2014.

From Gossamer Gear


 The “haul my outdoor crap” pack:  A bit of a cheat as it is not truly a pack, but I’ll again mention the flyer’s kit bag.  You might also hear it referred to as a parachute bag.

Not a pack per se..but something this inexpensive (less than $30 used), durable, useful, and just plain well designed should get mentioned by me again. Throw all my crap for the trip in it, including most of the packs above, the trip appropriate shoes, a change of clothes,  the extra gear, and so on, and call it good. Works well as luggage, too. Joan, ever practical, adopted this bag for her needs, also.   Further proving its utility, the kit bag lets us store the packrafting equipment for us easily.

Where to get this fantastic item sans signing up with Uncle Sam? A military surplus store…online or local. 



So that is my quiver of packs. Again, I don’t know if these are the “best” packs, but they work well for me.

Well, the flyer’s kit bag is THE best duffel bag you can buy, in my opinion. Really. 😉 )

Disclaimer:  I received the Gossamer Gear packs for no cost; I purchased the ULA packs with a discount.

I bought my first flyer’s kit bag at a surplus store in Newport, RI, in the early 1990s.   I had to get rid of that canvas one since it looked like “overly vintage surplus” at one point.  I bought another one online, this time in nylon, but still in the ever-cool OD green🙂

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8 years ago

So that’s your backpack, huh?

8 years ago

Next up, your wallet quiver.

8 years ago

Aviator kit bags are what paratroopers jump with to roll up their parachutes and carry them off the drop zone. Overall a very useful item.

8 years ago

I love the Trail Show sticker on the helmet!

4 years ago

I just MacGyvered my CDT. Added some height to it by ripping the rolled fabric at the top, a la Mike McClelland – Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips. Then replaced the cord with BANK LINE A la PMags.