By Jason B.
One of the most essential pieces of any backpacking kit is the actual backpack that I am using. This is a make or break piece of equipment. I was fortunate enough to be selected to review High Sierra’s new Pathway 70L pack over the next several months. I plan on using it backpacking in the Southeastern United States including trails in Mississippi and Alabama as the seasons change from spring into summer.
High Sierra was formed in 1978 with a mission to “creating durable, affordable product with distinctive details, delivering the freedom to go anywhere…” Since then they have been acquired by Samsonite LLC. They make all types of outdoor related apparel, luggage and active outdoors equipment and have an interactive website that provides a wealth of information on their products. The Pathway 70L pack though is not on their website as of this writing since it is a new product, but I expect it to be on there soon.
General stats on the Pathway 70L according to the manufacturer:
Fabric: Duralight Waffle Weave, 600D Poly
Weight: 4.5 lbs
Main Colors: Cranberry, Mineral, Pine, and Black with various accent colors.
Retail Price: $99
I will begin my review of the pack by starting with the suspension system. The pack features a single aluminum stay and a thin curved frame sheet. The aluminum stay can be accessed and removed via a zippered pocket on the top inside of the main pack bag. There is a Velcro type closure that holds the stay in place. The frame sheet is sewn into the pack itself and cannot be removed. The shoulder strap set is fairly common with nicely padded straps, load lifters, and standard webbing pulls at the lower end. The straps also have webbing to move the sternum strap up or down to fit most types of body styles. One thing that is really cool is how easy the shoulder straps are to adjust to any torso length. There is a single Velcro type strap that goes through one of three settings – small, medium or large. All I have to do to adjust for torso length is to thread the strap through one of the three rungs and reconnect via the hook and loop closure. I can adjust the torso length in less than 30 seconds. High Sierra claims that the pack will fit torso lengths from 15” to 23” long.
The hip belt is standard. It sewn into the backpack body but is adjustable both at the main connection and on each side via straps. The belt also has pockets on each side which are large enough to hold a smaller phone like an iPhone 5 and plenty of snacks or other assorted items. There seems to be plenty of strap available to fit most any waist size.
The pack itself is divided into two main compartments. There is a bottom compartment, sometimes referred to as a sleeping bag compartment that is separated by a divider from the main compartment. The divider is held in place with two toggles, and is not solid which means items from the main compartment can slide down into the bottom compartment. There are two compression straps on the outside of the compartment to squish this area down. This is a nice feature especially if I want to use the pack on longer dayhikes where I don’t need the full capacity. The main compartment is wide open and clean with a hydration system pocket and a small clip for keys or another small item that I might want to keep close to the top. One feature I like about the pack is that there is an exit for a hydration system hose on either side of the inside of the main compartment, and the opening is wide, making it easy to thread a hydration hose through. The main compartment is closed via pull cord and cordlock.
I will discuss the remaining features of the pack by starting at the top and working down. The top of the pack features a lid with a full length zippered pocket that also features a clip for keys or other small items. The lid is attached via a strap system and can be removed.
The front of the pack features a large zippered pocket that is the length of the main compartment of the pack. The pocket is accessed through a large U shaped zipper. There are two mesh and one large organizational dividers inside of this pocket. The outside of the front pocket features a carry handle and webbed daisy chain. The front of the pack also features tool loops and buckled tool holders.
Each side of the pack features one long zippered pocket and one mesh stretchy pocket. The zippered side pocket corresponds with the length of the main compartment of the pack and the mesh pocket is roughly the size of the bottom compartment. The side of the pack also features two compression straps – one right above the mesh pocket and one at an angle above the zippered pocket. I will be interested to see if the bottom compression strap interferes with my ability to access the mesh side pocket.
Overall construction of the pack seems to be solid. All major stress points have bar stitching for reinforcement. All zippers operate smoothly with no snags. The padding for the shoulder straps, hip belt and the padded back panel are all thick and seem to feel good. I like that the padded back panel has a large channel in the middle. This should help with breathability which is always a challenge with internal framed packs. I also like that the interior fabric throughout the pack has a design that mimics contour lines on a map.
When I am reviewing a pack, I use the following criteria as the basis for my evaluation: fit, durability and usefulness. A sampling of the things that I look for include – how easy is the pack to adjust before using and while on the trail? How does the pack handle on trail and off trail backpacking? Am I able to keep my contents relatively organized using the multiple pockets on the pack or will I end up hanging stuff off of the straps so I can get to it?
Thanks for taking the time to read my initial thoughts on the High Sierra Pathway 70 backpack. Please check back in a month or so for my update.
Update May 4, 2017
I have used the High Sierra Pathway 70 backpack on a couple of backpacking trips and on training hikes over the past few months. The pack’s performance has been good. The fit of the pack has been easy to dial in, and thus far I have had no durability issues with the material, buckles, zippers or straps. It is a traditionally designed internal frame pack and I have felt comfortable with the layout and my ability to store and access my gear. My only nitpick at this point is that it is a hot pack that does not allow for much air flow on contact points like my back, shoulders and hips.
I have put over 40 miles backpacking with the High Sierra Pathway 70 over the past several months. I took two overnight backpacking trips in the Black Creek Wilderness in Southern Mississippi and did two training hikes on the Woodlands Conservancy trails near New Orleans Louisiana. Temperatures for all the trips have ranged from the 60s to the 80s with high humidity and no precipitation.
As I mentioned in my initial review I evaluate packs on fit, durability and usefulness.
This has been one of the easiest packs to get to fit correctly that I have used. The torso length adjustment was easy to adjust with the large hook and loop fastener. I have set it initially and have not had to change it since. Even while wearing the pack, once I get the straps set on the hipbelt and shoulder I haven’t had to make any significant adjustments. One of my trips in the Black Creek Wilderness was a 15 mile day and the pack stayed comfortable all day. The shoulder and hip belt straps are wide and nicely padded. I didn’t have sore hips or shoulders even though I was carrying 35 plus pounds of gear. Overall, I am very pleased with how the pack fits.
My second criteria is durability. The durability has been great thus far. I have not babied the pack at all. I tossed it on the ground during rest breaks and then sat on it as a consumed snacks and water. I have double checked all the high wear areas such as the bottom of the pack, and all the connection points for the hip belt and should straps and everything still looks like new. I also paid specific attention to the compression straps on the pack and everything looks as it should. I will continue to monitor these areas as I continue to use the pack over the next month or so.
My third criteria for evaluating packs is usability or how much stuff can I cram in the pack. The pack is a traditional internal frame pack with the two main compartments. I can easily fit my sleeping bag in an eVent compression sack and my Therm-a-Rest Neo Air in the bottom compartment. The main compartment swallowed the rest of my gear easily – clothes, fuel canisters, canister stove, food, rain gear and insulating layers. I used the large zippered pocket on the front to store my water filter, first aid kit, and snacks. I kept my 10 essentials, TP, phone, keys and other small items in the lid pocket. On one of my backpacking trips, I tent camped so I was able to put the tent body under the lid and put the poles and stakes in the zippered side pockets. On my second trip, I was hammock camping and I was able to fit all the hammock pieces – body, fly, bug net, hanging system in the 2 side pockets. In addition to the impressive storage, the pack has good organization with all the pockets I have mentioned. I really like the hip belt pockets, I use them to keep my phone and snacks handy. This makes eating while hiking easy. I am very pleased with the usability of the pack.
Overall, I am very pleased with the High Sierra Pathway 70 pack. It has performed well, and I look forward to continued use. Check back for my final review in a month or so.
Final Update August 19, 2017
I have used the High Sierra Pathway 70L on one additional backpacking trip, a 40 mile trip covering the length of the Black Creek Wilderness. The pack has performed admirably and continues to remain fairly durable.
This summer has been crazy and I only got in one more backpacking trip since the spring, but it was a doozy – completed the entire 40 mile length of the Black Creek Trail in the De Soto National Forest in Mississippi. The weather was exceptionally hot in late May with temperatures in the mid-90s and evening temperatures barely breaking into the 70s. To make matters worse, the area had recently received significant rainfall making the rivers and streams flooded. Fortunately, they were down from the extreme flood stage, but the trail was a muddy mess in most places and required wading knee to waist deep through flooded sections of trail where the tributaries had not drained. In a couple of places the entire trail had completely washed away along Black Creek requiring some bushwhacking to reconnect to the trail. Even so this trip was a great way to celebrate my 40th birthday.
As I mentioned in my last update, I evaluate packs on fit, durability and usefulness. The fit has been exceptional. I dialed it in on my first trip and have not touched it. As the old infomercial said “set it and forget it.” For my 40 mile hike, I did a 6 mile evening hike, then a 24 mile 12 hour day of hiking daylight to dark, and then a 10 miler on my last day. I was certainly tired on the 12 hour day, but I did not have a single sore spot from carrying my 30 pound pack all day. The pack fit like a glove and easily molded to my body.
I really like how easy the pack is to adjust. It seem to me that it is the perfect fit, bad pun, for teenagers who are growing and getting into backpacking. My daughter is 12 and she has grown several inches over the summer. With the Pathway 70L pack, I can easily adjust the shoulder straps to accommodate her growth. I also think the fantastic price point of $99 dollars makes it perfect for growing teenagers and scouts.
The second factor I use to evaluate packs is durability. Total mileage on the pack is 80 miles or so and the pack is in good shape but there are a few areas I need to watch. The first area of concern is the strap that connects the pack body to the top lid. The stitching is starting to loosen up and separate. This area is stitched in an X pattern with another set of stitching in a box around the X. I think it will continue to hold, but a few bar stitches would make this area more resilient.
The second area that has some wear is on the top of the hip belt. It looks like it was rubbed, but I am not sure how the area was rubbed. This does not affect the function of the hip belt and is just cosmetic at this point. Other than these two areas, everything else with the pack is in great shape. No other areas of significant wear.
The third criteria I use to evaluate packs is usability. Like mentioned last time, the pack is a traditional internal frame pack with two main compartments and an assortment of pockets. The main compartment did a good job swallowing my gear, and the sleeping bag compartment worked well to hold my sleeping bag and pad as long as I used a compression sack. I really like the large side pockets. These pockets held my entire hammock system – hammock, straps, fly and bug net. This freed up the main compartments for food, clothing and other essentials. One of the areas I mentioned that I would watch was the side compression straps and whether they interfered with the mesh pocket. I am happy to report that they did not interfere at all and that I was able to reach back and access water bottles or other gear from the mesh pocket with no problem. The pack has plenty of organizational features for those that like and use them. I found that I didn’t really use the mesh pockets inside of the front pocket, I just put my stove, filter and snacks there. I did continue to use the hip belt pocket to store my iPhone 6s and snacks so I could take pictures or eat snacks without taking my pack off.
Overall, this is a good pack at a great price. It is an entry level pack that can be easily adjusted to fit almost any body style. Durability has been good, but the pack is starting to show some wear. I highly recommend this pack for anyone getting into backpacking.
Thanks to 4alloutdoors.org and High Sierra for providing the backpack for this review.