Is the Long Haul 50 small enough and light enough for general three-season backpacking while also being large enough for packrafting?
I have used the Long Haul 50 to carry packrafts on two occasions. In the High Uintas Wilderness of northern Utah, I hauled a boat to an alpine lake for a leisurely float. In the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, I carried a boat up past Squaretop Mountain and floated the Green River back to the trailhead. For these short trips, the Long Haul performed exceptionally well. All my gear fit in or on the pack, and the load was comfortable enough. These experiences tell me that if the Long Haul 50 is your primary backpack, but you occasionally want to use it for packrafting, you can. If packrafting is your main activity, or if you need more capacity, the Big Wild 70 could start to make more sense. Read on to see what I mean.
Is 50 Liters Enough Capacity for Packrafting?
The Long Haul 50 is designed as a do-it-all pack, ideal for everything from thru-hiking to load-hauling. In my opinion, its 50-liter size offers plenty of capacity for most 2-5 day packrafting trips in three-season conditions when you don't need a bear canister. Once you start adding more food, a drysuit, a bear canister, or more warm clothes, it gets trickier, but not impossible. And that's where the external attachment points come in.
External Attachment Points
While the main compartment may not be large enough to accommodate a full three-season kit, packrafting gear, as well as a week of food, the external attachment points make most loads possible. So many strap combinations are possible that it would be difficult to explain them all here. The main thing to know is that there are a total of 24 external attachment points, allowing at least 12 strap options, 9 of which can be used simultaneously for securing gear on the outside of the pack: Three straps can secure items on top. Four straps can potentially be used on each side. Two straps can secure items on the bottom. Three straps can secure items on the front of the pack, or four if using the pass-through strap. Few people will want to utilize all of these attachment points at one time, but it is totally possible. These external straps would make packrafting trips longer than five days doable.
I have found that it is quite possible to attach a rolled packraft to either the top or bottom of the pack. On the top, I would recommend using either two parallel straps or a Y-yoke strap. A single strap works too but is a little less secure. The top may be a good place for a boat if you are doing any sort of scrambling that could include butt-sliding down rock. And the bottom may be a better place if you are doing any sort of bushwhacking where willows will be grinding across the top of the pack. No matter the trip, I would recommend trying to get the boat inside the pack if you can; it will be far more protected there. One good option could be to strap your food bag or sleeping pad to the top, bottom, or front to make room for the boat inside.
The PFD will attach on top, front, or bottom. The front of the pack is my preferred place for a PFD because it is light enough not to slip out of this attachment, and it stays out of the way when bushwhacking or scrambling.
Large Side Pockets
The side pockets on the Long Haul 50 are gigantic, especially for a 50-liter backpack, and make packrafting with this pack very feasible. Half of a four-piece paddle will fit in each pocket along with a full two-liter platypus bottle or similar. I even carried one complete four-piece paddle in each pocket on one occasion and there was still plenty of room for water bottles.
Can the Frame Handle it?
Because my torso size is 19.5”, I could theoretically use either a medium or large Long Haul 50, but the medium makes more sense for most uses. Using this size, the shoulder straps wrap around my shoulders comfortably, and the loadlifters are effective. Once I had the pack totally loaded up, however, with probably over 45lbs in it, the medium torso started to feel a little small, and more weight was on my shoulders than I would have liked. Don't get me wrong, it was still pretty comfortable, but maybe not comfortable enough for consecutive 15-mile days. At this point, I wished I was wearing either a large Long Haul 50 or a large Big Wild 70. So this is really the point where the “one pack for everything” concept starts to get more complicated: The medium is perfect for almost every trip, but a large would be better for heavy loads. Thus I could go three routes with this conundrum:
Recognize that the medium Long Haul 50 comfort will start to decline over 45-50lbs, but accept this fact because that’s only about 10% of my backpacking.
Own two packs: a medium torso pack (probably Long Haul 50) for most trips and a large torso pack (probably Big Wild 70) for these load-hauling tips.
Finally, if packrafting or hauling big loads characterized a majority of my trips, I could choose a pack that is on the higher end of my recommended torso size, at which point I would probably choose the Big Wild 70 over the Long Haul 50. This pack would be overkill for most shorter trips when I would be carrying lighter loads.
In my opinion, option one is the most financially responsible and will suit most people, and the prospect of choosing that option is really the purpose of this post. Many (dare I say most) people who use a 50-liter pack such as the Long Haul 50, use it for general three-season backpacking with resupplies no more than seven days or so apart. For this reason, having the external strap options makes the Long Haul 50 an exceptionally versatile, do-it-all pack, accommodating packrafting trips, winter trips, or water-hauling trips when needed.
Written by Ben Kilbourne
You can check out more of Ben's work on his blog benkilbourne.com