So, solo hiking is fun and all, but I'd rather go hiking with friends. So, I've been working on getting some of them to join me. My friend Kevin seems the most eager to get out on the trail with me, so we've been preparing him to go hiking with me this summer. His job schedule hasn't been matching up well with when our REI runs it's garage sales, so we decided that we'd go to REI and get a look at gear he might want and then I could go and hunt the garage sales for him. We wanted to get him fitted for a pack and boots at the very least, and look over what some of the tents were like.
Now, I've got a method for this. If you've been reading here, you know that I'd never buy a pack without a chance to put some weight in it and wear it for a halfhour or more. This is why I really love REI as a store, because they're well-equipped for this. They're happy to help you pick out packs and load them up with ~30lb of rice. So that's exactly what we did. First thing when we got to the store, we went over to the backpack area, and I grabbed a Gregory Baltoro 65 (in Medium) and a Osprey Aether 70 Figuring that 65-70 liters is about the sweet spot for multi-night backpacking trips. Too much more, and you overpack, too much less and you don't have enough room. We tried the Baltoro first, because I'm biased. My own pack that I am super fond of is a Gregory Baltoro 65 Large. We loaded him up and wandered through the store to scope out some of the other stuff we might want to get. But, after a halfhour wandering and browsing, Kevin complained of a knot near his shoulder blade just like I had experienced with the Osprey Aether when I tried it.
Switching packs, we equipped Kevin with a weighted Osprey Aether. Immediately he could tell that this wasn't the pack for him. We wandered around a little bit, including over to the climbing rocks in the shoe section, but he just felt like the tall and skinny build of the pack was too unbalancing for him. Interesting to me, was that Osprey changed the way that the back of the Aether is built. in 2014 when I tried one, there was a more distinct trampoline support between the pack and the person, while the 2015 (or 2016?) Aether has a somewhat different build there. By this point, I was glad that we'd come down to try them on, definitely wouldn't have wanted to order him either pack sight-unseen.
Our third candidate turned out to be the REI Traverse 70. This was an interesting combination of the Baltoro's more clingy build, with a trampoline back mesh like the 2014 Aethers had. Whatever the case, Kevin swiftly became sure that this was his new pack. Continued time wearing it only confirmed his suspicions. I was relieved, because we didn't have too many options after that, perhaps a larger REI XT or Deuter.
Conversely, picking out boots, our next task went rather swiftly. We had an excellent starting point, readers will know just how over the moon I am for the Vasque Breeze hiking boot. Well, it didn't take any more than that. Kevin tried them on, and felt an extreme and immediate sense of liberation. He'd been wearing the heavy duty work boots that he wears to his job, and switching from a heavy boot with a safety toe, to the relatively light and airy weight of the hiking boot put a real spring in his step. He didn't need to wear them long at all, he was sold. The salesperson assisting us said that he wasn't surprised about 70% of the people he's seen try the boot opted for it.
Anticipating filling up from my Gravity Camp 6L Kevin nabbed a 100oz Camelbak as well. Since we were looking at a relatively new, I believe new for this year, backpack our original "try and find it at a garage sale" plan wasn't going to work for his pack. However, since he signed up to be a REI Member, come spring he'll be getting 20% off, and we'll just wait till then to get the pack. Turns out though, that Kevin WILL be able to make the Garage Sale on March 12th.