I have long been plagued with poor backpacks which have made many hikes and campouts uncomfortable and inconvenient. My large capacity backpack was a woman’s pack from my youth that just barely fit an overnight trip’s load. The shoulder straps pinched my upper back together and the minimal waist belt fell at my navel, making it useless for load bearing. I also used a cheap school-style backpack from a popular clothing store that was fine for light loads, but had poor load-distributing abilities and moved around too much unless it was cinched tight enough to hurt. After collecting a good supply of gear to cover all of my other needs, I came to the conclusion I needed something to carry it all in comfortably. I’m a pack minimalist, so an overnight or two-night load doesn’t really take up too much space. I started my search with large daypacks. I wanted a way to secure loads to the outside of the pack, and I wanted a good suspension system to carry the load comfortably and without a lot of movement. Over the course of several hikes, the wish for a hydration bladder became more cemented in my mind, so that became another search criteria. Naturally, the name CamelBak came to mind since they’re heavily associated with water bladders, so I started browsing their website.
I discovered their Rim Runner pack, which has a large water bladder capacity (100 ounces–the largest that they make) as well as a good amount of storage (1590 cubic inches) for my needs. With CamelBak’s reputation for good quality products, I decided to give them a chance. I headed down to the local sports shop that I knew carried CamelBak products and saw that they had the exact pack I had been looking at online. I tried it on, adjusted the straps to fit me, and loaded it with a 20 pound bag of grain that was kept handy for just that purpose. I was surprised to discover that the pack was very stable, comfortable, and it felt the same as my other packs carrying half as much weight. Sold on the pack, I bought it for what I consider a good chunk of change, but I felt that it was worth it.
I have now been using that same pack for a few weeks for almost everything I could need a pack for. I have used it biking, hiking, camping, and as an EDC bag for day trips and just around town. The large three-liter water bladder is great; I have yet to have to refill it during the day. I can load the pack up with my compressed 30-degree sleeping bag, poncho, MSR E-Bivy, and a host of other goodies besides food and a full water bladder. Construction is solid. The bag is not exactly lightweight, coming in at 2.5 pounds totally empty, but the weight is worth it for the sturdy stitching, well padded straps, and heavy duty fabrics. The sternum strap works excellently to pull the straps in toward the center of the chest, to keep the load from pulling the shoulders back, a source of fatigue. The lightweight hip belt is really just a stabilizing strap, with no means to support any weight on the hips. It does come in handy, though, to keep the pack tight against the back when moving quickly.
Both the sternum strap and the waist strap are easily removed or replaced if the need arises, a handy feature I have yet to use. When the water bladder is filled, it takes up space in the main compartment, but the bladder pocket is designed to avoid having the full bladder push against the back of the wearer. The pack includes two sets of compression straps, one pair positioned high and the other pair low on the sides of the pack. The two lower compression straps run over the external mesh pockets (which fit one liter Nalgene bottles well). This isn’t really an issue most of the time, because I don’t commonly keep things in those pockets, but it could become a problem on longer treks when more water needs to be carried. The compression straps let me easily pull the pack close to my back when it was sparsely filled as well as when it is loaded out to maximum capacity. This feature is very handy when I am using the pack for long distance trail runs as well as when scrambling around rocks, or to simply pull the weight of the pack closer to my natural center of gravity for hiking.
The Rim Runner has several handy lashing features, including two loops on the top of the front panel and an ice axe loop on the bottom of the front panel, which allow something like an ice axe, hatchet, folding buck saw, or tent poles to be lashed securely to the front of the pack. The compression straps on both sides of the pack can be put to the same use, allowing long tools to be easily carried along. It is easy and convenient to put the top compression strap through the belt loop of a machete sheath and tuck the end of the sheath under the bottom compression strap to keep everything stable.
My only issue with the Rim Runner lies in the fairly limited ability to tie bulky things to the outside. In general, I try to streamline the outside of my pack to keep it from snagging as well as to keep the load more stable. I do, however, like the ability to strap my sleeping pad, among other things, to the outside of the pack. On longer trips, when I need to carry more food, it would be nice to be able to either strap my sleeping bag or a food container to the outside of the pack. As the pack is now, the bungee cord attachment on the front works great for strapping on an extra layer for a day hike or to secure a wet tarp, but it doesn’t really possess sufficient load bearing abilities for a sleeping bag or other heavy item. It does carry my Thermarest closed cell foam pad quite nicely vertically, though. If the pack had some lash tabs on the bottom and top of the pack, I think it would be just about perfect for me. That would allow me to strap my sleeping pad horizontally across the bottom of the pack, tie an extra jacket to the bungee attachment on the front panel, strap my sleeping bag to the top of the pack, and have nearly the entire interior volume free for food for at least a few days. Of course, the entire problem could be ameliorated if I bought a larger pack specifically for longer trips. Despite possibly wanting the extra lash straps, the CamelBak Rim Runner offers a lot of great features and is a pack that’ll be seeing a lot of time in the woods with me in the future.