Over the last month and a half, I have spent HOURS at Next Adventure and REI trying on different packs and walking around the store (I have both layouts pretty well memorized by now-as well as a wider knowledge base of packs). There was so much more to consider than I’d ever thought possible, and I found myself nitpicking minor details that could become issues after hundreds of miles of wear.

One hit my lower back roughly and would probably promote a lot of chafe, a couple had straps that dug into my arms (also chafe inducing), some put too much weight on my shoulders, some were just heavy…

It took a LOT of deliberation, patience and multiple trips to both stores, but I finally selected a pack that I love (from Next Adventure!). I’m sure we’ll develop a more love/hate relationship over the coming months, but right now, it’s definitely love. My little home away from home for the summer, like my own personal turtle shell that I don’t quite fit into.

I chose the ULA Circuit, which is a popular pack among thru-hikers. It’s very lightweight and designed by long distance hikers, so it has a lot of features one wouldn’t normally look for. My favorite: hand loops that hang from the chest straps, so I can comfortably keep the blood from rushing to my hands (this incidentally earned a gal the trail nickname,  “T-Rex,” last year because it makes it look like you have little arms). It has different straps and hip-belts for different bodies, and I found the combination that put the weight comfortably on my hips without stressing my shoulders or back. It’s a lovely pack.

Then, I got the phone call. I was chosen out of hundreds of applicants to be an ambassador for Gregory packs and be one of the “Dirty Dozen!”

A few weeks ago, I entered a contest put on by Gregory Packs and Keen footwear. 12 people would be selected to represent these companies on their thru-hike this year and receive free gear. The “Dirty Dozen”

A gear company wanted me to wear their pack, and it would be free! I could even trade it for another if I wanted along the way…I’d be an ambassador! (This is a big honor in the outdoor world).

But, I found myself declining this wonderful offer…not an easy thing to do when faced with the increasing cost of choosing the right gear.

Though I really put a lot of time into choosing the pack that I’d want to carry for roughly 5 months, it feels a little shameful to turn down an opportunity to be a gear ambassador. The man who called to inform me I’d been chosen was so darn nice, and sounded a little dejected when I told him I was going with a different pack. He is a fan of ULA though, and didn’t try to talk me out of it. He wished me a great hike and I told him he got to make someone else’s day (which is always nice).

I figure, if I can afford to turn down a free pack, someone else probably needs it more than I do anyhow. Also, I pretty much entered the contest for the free socks more than the pack … but that was apparently not in the cards.

I hope to meet an ambassador down the trail and see how they feel about their pack, and hopefully I’ll still feel good about mine.

The last two pieces of gear to buy: A water filter (I’m going with the Sawyer Mini, and iodine tablets for those truly sketchy water sources) and a bear canister (waiting until Kennedy Meadows as they have a deal for thru-hikers there, and I won’t have to ship it).

I suppose I’ll do a gear list soon, with weight and all that. It’s a really popular topic of convo among hikers, and seems to bear great importance in their blogs. I will abide in time. In time.