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.
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.
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.
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.
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.