Sometimes, writing these pieces comes naturally. When I’m really on a roll, I can knock one of these out in an hour or two. It’s like spinning up a familiar climb and dropping in on a trail I’ve ridden a hundred times—effortless, enjoyable and flowy. But, this is not one of those times.
This time I’m a week past the deadline, four deleted pages deep and the flow looks more like Lower Whistler Downhill than A-Line. See, the problem is that I keep feeling like I’m writing an obituary, one that’s about a still living individual. To be clear, I’m writing about a backpack, the EVOC Explorer 30, but that dancing monkey and I have been to so many places and been through so much together that it doesn’t feel right to treat it like just another piece of gear.
To really explain our long and storied history, I think I first need to talk about trends. Specifically, the minimalism fad that’s been sweeping the industry these last few years. I’ll be one of the first to admit that riding with just a fanny pack is miles more comfortable than with a full backpack. Summer laps in cotton t-shirts are actually enjoyable when gone unmolested by a sweaty monkey. Plus, I think most riders these days frequent places where you really don’t need the storage capacity of a backpack, like trail centers where you’re never too far from the car. Besides, bikes have room for bottles again, they don’t break down as often, and flats are much less common these days—a typical fanny pack will hold all your tools, snacks and spare layer. As a sport, we seem to have found a happy medium between preparedness and comfort.
But my preferred riding doesn’t fit within those bounds. See, I want to go places that require a water filter, a couple thousand calories of snacks and a healthy dose of good luck. When I lived in Montana, I designed my rides by the rules of the Epic. It’s only an Epic if you run out of water at least twice, bonk as many or more times, break at least one bike part and ideally finish 3-4 hours after you intended. In short, a fanny pack isn’t going to cut it, even if you strap an emergency banana to your top tube.
Here’s where the Explorer 30 comes into play. As its name suggests, it has a 30-liter capacity. When I’m spinning my way out of town, waving a map in the air and yelling, “I’m going for an adventure!”, the Explorer 30 has my back. For many of you reading this, you’re probably thinking “woah, 30 liters is like, way more than you should need.” And yeah, it is a lot of space, but that’s kind of the point.
Why do I insist on toting around a backpack just shy of the capacity I use for actual backpacking? There are a couple reasons. First, I never need to worry about space. Rarely do I completely fill the Explorer 30, most of the time I only use about 50% of its capacity. The beauty of that is I still have another 50% when I need to pack extras, stuff a bulky winter layer inside or even pack in a couple days worth of food.
One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing riders using small backpacks absolutely stuffed to the brim to the point where they becomes sausage rolls. Of course your pack is uncomfortable and flopping around all over the place. The same can be said for hip packs. A fully loaded 3-liter hip pack is way more obnoxious than a 5-liter backpack filled to 60% capacity. Minimalism is great when you’re actually being minimal, but as soon as you try to pack for a big ride, there’s no substitute for actual capacity.
In my Explorer 30, I can carry 2.5 liters of water, food for a whole day of riding, an extra layer, tools, goggles, a first aid kit, and a full-size camera very comfortably. Larger capacity packs usually have better support systems as well, like wider straps and bigger back plate, to accommodate heavier loads. When you don’t actually fill them to capacity, they end up being more comfortable than a smaller pack carrying the same weight. The Explorer 30 is a fairly wide and tall pack, which spreads the load out across my back and keeps the weight close to my body. It also helps that I’m 6’4” and have a positive ape index; the large pack actually looks pretty normal on me.
Then there’s organization. Before all you ultralight backpackers get triggered, I’ll admit that organization in backpacks generally comes at the cost of weight gain and a lower capacity as you’re adding additional material all over the place. The Explorer 30 has no shortage of organization pockets, but somehow EVOC managed to design them in such a way that the added ounces are entirely worth it.
Perhaps this is the asset the Explorer 30 offers that best describes my relationship with the pack. I’m a full-time graduate student splitting my week between two cities While it might be more convenient for some to keep things like a tube, pump and multitool on the bike, that doesn’t really work for me because I keep a bike at both ends of my weekly travels. I’m forgetful and would end up without the proverbial paddle, so I just keep everything in the Explorer 30.
I pretty much just keep my ride and life essentials mobile with me. Going away for the weekend? Grab the backpack. Going for an afternoon ride? Grab the backpack. Heading to class? Grab the backpack. What goes into the backpack’s main compartment might change hour to hour—I’m not going riding with my laptop or bringing a can of bear spray to school—but by centralizing everything, I only have to remember one thing when I leave the house. Grab the backpack.
The multitude of pockets and organization means I can keep my standard ride accouterment loaded 24/7. If I’m riding, I’ll take everything out of the main compartment I don’t need for riding and end up with a fairly light minimalist pack. It might weigh more than a fanny pack and be more sweaty, but I can deal with that. From there, I can add stuff based on the specific daily needs—maybe a hand saw and rain jacket for winter, bigger water bladder for deep summer, or even a sleep system for a quick overnight trip.
Maybe this is just a “me” thing. I certainly don’t see many other riders doing their afternoon laps with the same 30-liter pack they’ll use for bikepacking that weekend. Then again, I’m not telling anyone else that’s what they should do. You do you, as the saying goes, and for me that means toting around my big red thunder jacket of a pack. We’ve been together for the last five years on nearly a daily basis, flown across the Pacific Ocean three times, gone face-to-face with bears and moose on more than one occasion, huddled together under tarps in mountain storms, and even rode around the rim of a volcano once upon a time.
Alas, those are but the glorious moments. Most of the time the Explorer 30 sits on the floor of a classroom, the backseat of the car or gets to stare down at the ugly back rack of the e-bike. A few times a week, though, it tastes the grit of muddy roost and if we’re both lucky, flexes its muscles with a full load, adding another Epic to the tally.
It’s red exterior might be looking a bit grizzled and faded, the zippers probably needed wax a few years ago and I’ll be darned if there aren’t sexier new adventure packs popping up in my DM’s on the daily—in fact, I have a few on test right now. But they couldn’t be a replacement for my loyal companion, at least not this soon. So go ahead and dance, monkey, dance. We have so many adventures still yet to come.