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  1. #1
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    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey

    A note from Darcy: “We’ve been fans of NWhikergal’s photos for the past couple of years: they really capture the spirit of being outdoors and they make us want to go. Add to that the fact that she’s a cool person and is local to the Seattle area and it just made sense for us to ask her to test The Hero’s Journey as a 1-3 night backpacking pack. And even though it’s not yet September 27th (the day The Hero’s Journey debuts) we didn’t want to make everyone wait any longer to see photos and read a report from NWhikergal’s first trip with The Hero’s Journey, so here you go!”

    NWhikergal: When Darcy offered me the opportunity to try out The Hero’s Journey for some Northwest adventures, I was beyond thrilled, and I could barely contain my excitement as I counted down the 40 or so hours until my appointment to retrieve the bag. I was also a little worried…what if it didn’t have a good hip belt (my #1 most important feature wish) or fell short in some critical area?

    After testing the bag on an overnight backpacking trip, as well as using the convertible top section as a backpack for a day hike, I can confidently say that I think Tom Bihn has hit a home run with The Hero’s Journey as a versatile bag that can easily transition from backpacking to general adventure travel to even business travel, given its many potential configurations. If I were to purchase one bag to cover multiple scenarios, this would be it. With its surprisingly comfortable weight bearing hip belt and frame sheet, I found that it carried loads extremely well.

    In examining the bag at home, after I finished my oohs and aahs over how fantastic the black halcyon looked, I was impressed with the bag’s many modular options. One can either use the Aeronaut sized main body of the bag as a backpack or detach the waist belt and tuck the shoulder straps into the back panel and carry The Hero’s Journey by attaching either a shoulder strap or a carry handle. And one can detach the top section of the bag via zipper and use it as a personal item, waist pack, or flip it inside out to become a small backpack – too cool! There were even attachable external side pockets for the main pack that are big enough to hold a Nalgene bottle. Very handy! The only missing item that I wanted was a hydration bladder sleeve or attachment point, but I was able to work around that (more on that below). I did appreciate the extra durability of the ballistic nylon base combined with the bag’s less heavy halcyon material.

    In order to put the bag through its paces, I planned a backpacking trip to the North Cascades in Washington State, intending to overnight in a lookout tower if it was available on a first come basis, then go on a day hike the next day. Since the lookout tower would not have a water source or electricity, I knew I would need to carry extra water for cooking/drinking to last till the next day, as well as a tent in case I couldn’t secure the tower. While I packed some ultralight items, I also packed some “luxury” items and camera lenses, so combined with the extra liters of water my pack weighed approximately 30 pounds. I preferred to test the pack with a little extra weight to see just how the bag handled the load.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-nw-hero-1-jpg


    The day of my backpacking trip, I ended up parking 2.5 miles from the trailhead and walking up a steep and unmaintained one-lane road to the trailhead, gaining 1500 ft in elevation in the process. I considered the “energizing” uphill walk a warm up bonus to start to get a feel for the pack.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-nw-hero-2-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-nw-hero-3-jpg


    The first thing that struck me was how much I really, really loved The Hero’s Journey’s hip belt; combined with the frame sheet, the pack felt incredibly stable and handled its load well, transferring the weight nicely to my hips. As someone who is not prone to upper body feats of strength, this was a huge check in the plus column. Note to self: bag is not just a pretty pack, but it can also handle weight.

    When I arrived at the two lakes at the base of the trail to the lookout tower, I immediately began to appreciate the U-shaped zippered main compartment design as I set the bag down suitcase style and retrieved an item. It was so much easier to access things and organize than top loading backpacks I have always used in the past!

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-nw-hero-4-jpg
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    Last edited by Darcy; 09-20-2016 at 08:25 AM. Reason: Having trouble loading photos!
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  2. #2
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    Part II

    I set off up the trail, which switchbacked across the mountain, taking in the fall colors as I hiked. While the ascent was fairly steady, I will admit there was a short rocky section that was less appealing to me due to the drop on one side. I was extremely grateful at how steady and stable the Hero’s Journey pack felt, even with its side pockets attached and a full load.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-7-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-8-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-9-jpg

    The final push to the lookout was a bit more steep and rocky, so I decided to let the bag “rest” a moment to enjoy the scenery, while I popped into the lookout tower.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-10-jpg

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    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-12-jpg

    Then I took in the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains from the lookout tower at 6521 ft. Gorgeous!

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-13-jpg

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    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-16-jpg
    Last edited by MatthewR; 09-20-2016 at 07:45 AM.
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  3. #3
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    Part III

    The lookout had already been claimed, so after enjoying the views, I began my trek back down to the lakes to camp at a site there. Again, I was extremely grateful with how comfortable the pack felt, and I appreciated its stability as I negotiated the tricky downhill section.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-17-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-18-jpg

    I still found time to snap a few photos before arriving at camp.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-19-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-20-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-21-jpg

    I found it very simple to unpack the bag and set up camp given the inherent organization, and once my tent was set up and my sleeping bag fluffed, I enjoyed a warm meal as twilight set. My tent was definitely neater than usual, as it was easy for me to stash my stuff sacks in the various compartments of The Hero’s Journey and have items easily accessible, versus having things spread out in stacks across the tent or shoving everything willy nilly into a top loading pack. The temperature dropped significantly overnight, so I was grateful I brought layers.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-22-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-23-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-24-jpg
    Last edited by MatthewR; 09-20-2016 at 08:27 AM.
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  4. #4
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    Part IV

    The next morning, I experienced something amazing upon awakening – my hips felt absolutely fine – no soreness, bruising, or hot spots whatsoever from carrying the weighted pack the previous day. YES! Did I mention how much I love the hip belt and frame sheet? It was a breeze to reorganize my gear in the bag as I packed up in a light rain then hiked back down to my car.

    At that point I proceeded to do a quick pack transformation, unzipping The Hero’s Journey’s top section and flipping it inside out, so I had a mini backpack, and I was ‘presto change-o‘ ready for my next hike of 7.5 miles with 2550 ft of elevation gain.

    The convertible top section is a fairly petite backpack, so I had to be judicious in what I chose to take, as I normally take a bigger pack for day hikes. That said, I was able to still fit enough for my minimum comfort level, and I will admit the waterproof zipper on the side looks really cool. I used a plastic carabiner to clip my hydration bladder to what is normally a shoulder strap attachment point, then I loaded in my ultralight puffy layer, rain jacket, wind shirt pullover, first aid/essentials and a snack. The bag was quite full, so I attached my personal locator beacon (only to be used in a worst case scenario) to the O ring on the outside of the bag. And off I went.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-25-jpg

    The bag felt incredibly lightweight compared to the full pack from the previous day and morning, and while I was unsure whether I would care for the nylon straps, they did their job just fine. And the hydration bladder cushioned my back nicely as I hiked. As a slight packrat and preparedness junkie, I would definitely use a larger backpack to carry additional items in cooler weather, but this worked great in these circumstances. I imagine this bag would also function well as a petite around town daypack on extended trips.

    The trail was challenging at the start, and I was delighted to be able to sample berries to rejuvenate me along the hike. While the mountains periodically hid behind the clouds, even the partially obstructed views were worth the effort, and I will be coming back to camp here in the future.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-26-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-27-jpg

    While it is very difficult to tell in the photos, the last bit of hiking to the top was incredibly steep, and all of the hikers seemed to pause for breath more and more often as nearing the top. Thank goodness I had my trekking poles with me! All in all, it was a good day, and the convertible backpack served me well.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-28-jpg

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    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-30-jpg

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-31-jpg

    Overall, I give The Hero’s Journey a rating of two thumbs way up. I believe it is a versatile bag which would be perfect for multiday hut-to-hut travel or long term touring, especially given how accessible the contents are and how comfortably it carries weight. I am happy that this bag provides so many modular options, and I am hoping that Tom Bihn produces a video demonstrating the configurations, as all of the options may be a little overwhelming to visualize.

    Is there anything I would change? While I really wanted a sleeve to house my hydration bladder, since I am able to work around that, I do not think it will be a problem. I do wish there were hip belt pockets, as I find those to be handy for carrying snacks, though I realize they might detract from the sleek aesthetic of the pack when not used for backpacking. But those are minor quibbles. In regular travel, I would likely either leave the handle attached or use the shoulder strap, as I do not find the handle fast to attach, though perhaps it just takes practice. But it is good to have options either way. There are simply so many facets to this bag and its many components, I suspect I will be discovering them for some time to come.

    Thank you, Tom Bihn and crew, for allowing me the opportunity to try The Hero’s Journey and share my experience!

    If anyone is interested in the details of how I packed the bag and what I brought, please read on. And to all others, thank you for your attention and I wish you all the best on your next journey!
    Last edited by MatthewR; 09-20-2016 at 08:30 AM.
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  5. #5
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    Part V

    Packing The Hero’s Journey

    The most important thing in loading any pack is to be sure that the weight is well distributed so that the load remains balanced, rather than having one side overloaded, so I tried to pack things that way.

    At first I was flummoxed about how I wanted to carry my water. While there are some people who don’t mind taking off their pack periodically to drink from a water bottle, I find that I just don’t drink enough water that way, so I now use a hydration bladder, generally loaded close to the middle of my back (since water is heavy), so that I can sip water as I hike. While some people might not mind putting a hydration bladder in the top section, without having load lifters (straps that pull the top of the pack in towards a person), I found that having my water in the top section of The Hero’s Journey threw off the pack’s balance for me and it felt too top heavy. So I improvised.

    I found that my Platypus 2L Big Zip LP hydration bladder fit perfectly in the main compartment. To be on the safe side, I tucked a small pack towel behind it with a couple of inches of the towel draped through the top portion, to avoid the possibility of the bladder rubbing against the frame sheet. Caveat: I would recommend putting anything with the potential to be ruined if wet in a waterproof/resistant bag, on the off chance of a leak, if you decide to do that. I also did not pack any sharp objects around my hydration bladder. I unzipped the main compartment zipper just enough to allow the hydration tube to exit, allowed the tube to drape over my shoulder, and I tucked the mouthpiece under my chest strap as I was hiking. While this was the solution that worked for me, others may prefer other methods.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-32-jpg

    The main compartment also held my stove and fuel, sleeping pad, water filter, rain jacket, night clothes/shirt/socks, tent, collapsible 1L Platypus water bottle, and food in a bear resistant bag. I also carried some “luxury” items like a collapsible solar light, and Kindle paperwhite in a waterproof bag.

    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey-pic-33-jpg

    In the bottom compartment I placed my very compressible down sleeping bag in the aether sleeping bag stuff sack, and I had leftover room to fit an ultralight synthetic puffy, light wool hat and lightweight gloves, and lightweight synthetic vest (I wear women’s size small clothing.) While the aether stuff sack is very well made, if I were camping in the often rainy Northwest, I would normally use a fully waterproof stuff sack for my down sleeping bag instead, since I cannot chance a cold and sleepless night with a wet down bag. But I was impressed with how the stuff sack perfectly filled the compartment.

    In the top section I placed my first aid kit/essentials, extra camera lenses, trail map, and snacks, and in the petite zippered compartment on the very top, I clipped a small organizer pouch containing my ID and keys. In one of the side pockets I placed a Nalgene 1L water bottle and in the other I placed my ultralight camp sandals and a small hygiene kit with hand sanitizer, tissues, and empty plastic Ziploc bags to hold trash. Small soapbox item: please pack out all trash and leave no trace when out on the trails. ☺.

    Gear list of items I brought:
    Big Agnes Q core SL sleeping pad
    Thermarest inflatable sit pad
    Sea to Summit aeros pillow + Tom Bihn pocket travel pillow to try
    [Note: while I intended to test the travel pocket pillow this trip, I did not have enough extra layers when the temperature dropped; I would be more likely to use it for regular travel when I pack more, as it weighs nothing and takes so little space.]
    Zpacks down bag in Tom Bihn aether stuff sack
    Zpacks ultralight tent (though my regular tent is a Big Agnes Copper Spur)
    Jetboil Sol stove
    Small fuel canister
    Sea to summit titanium long spoon
    1L Nalgene bottle
    1L Platypus soft bottle
    2L Platypus Big zip LP hydration bladder
    MSR personal pack towel
    Sawyer Mini water filter
    Ursack bear bag to hold food plus line to hang it
    Food (MaryJane’s Farm curry in a hurry meal, oatmeal, instant coffee, sunflower seeds + snacks)
    Mini toothbrush + mini comb
    Vitamins
    Expanded first aid kit + essentials (headlamp, Swiss army knife, etc)
    Tissue/hand sanitizer/empty ziplock bags
    Montbell UL thermawrap synthetic jacket
    Arcteryx atom lt vest
    Mountain hardwear windshirt pullover
    Patagonia ultralight rain jacket
    Outdoor Research lightweight gloves
    Ibex wool beanie
    Ibex W2 sport T – short sleeved
    Darn Tough wool socks
    Luna Mono Sandals
    Luci Lux inflatable solar lantern
    Kindle in waterproof bag
    Ibex woolie sleep shirt; Eddie Bauer long john bottoms
    Sony A5100 mirrorless camera with landscape, 50mm, and zoom lenses in OpTech neoprene covers; spare batteries
    Black diamond trekking poles
    iPhone 6S
    McMurdo Fastfind personal locator beacon
    Trail map
    Small organizer pouch with ID, keys, and health insurance card
    Last edited by MatthewR; 09-20-2016 at 08:32 AM.
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  6. #6
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    I apologize for the technical glitches I seem to be having with the photos displaying properly, and I will try to see if I can fix it.
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  7. #7
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    What a great review. Your descriptions are great! (But can't wait to see the pics too :-)

  8. #8
    Forum Member adalangdon's Avatar
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    You really outdid yourself on this one! Lovely photos and a thoughtful review. Yay!

    (Like seriously, do these places actually exist on Earth? *__* Maybe I need an overseas vacation after all...)
    Last edited by adalangdon; 09-20-2016 at 08:34 AM.

  9. #9
    Forum Member bchaplin's Avatar
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    Thank you so much for testing the pack, and all the wonderful pictures! That one of the berries is beautiful.
    ----
    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
    Edmund Burke

  10. #10
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    Amazing pics, @NWhikergal! Great information on this new bag!

  11. #11
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    Wow! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos with us, @NWhikergal!

  12. #12
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    Great pictures and review, @NWHikergal. I was going to ask abut the yellow device attached to the HsJ in the first picture in Part I, and hanging from the left side of the HsJ Top Pocket in the last picture in Part IV, but carefully reading of the text (and being able to inspect the pictures on my laptop's Retina display), leads me to suspect that this is the personal locator beacon you mentioned.

    By the way, that's a great picture of you wearing the Top Pocket in backpack mode. It's even better for judging the scale (and so are the earlier ones of you wearing the HsJ for all of us in the under 5'4" (1.6 m) crowd. So were the comments about the padded hip belt and frame. You left the water bottle pocket on the right side of the Top Pocket picture empty since you were using your hydration bladder?

    As well as for the spectacular photos of your surroundings, thanks for the really detailed list of what you carried. (And, I loved knowing that those Black Diamond trekking poles in the first photo are likely the same ones that figured in your posts in the discussion of @eWalker's Inca Trail Trek in September thread last year.)

    With regard to the request for hip belt pockets for carrying snacks, I wonder whether it would be possible to modify the design of the Citizen Canine Side Pockets so that they could be used on the padded hip belt? (I'm referencing the pictures at the end of the Testing out the new Citizen Canine Side Pockets thread; they can't be hooked into the current padded hip belts for the Guide's Pack or the HsJ because, although they connect using the same 1.5" wide size webbing, you have to chain them together with webbing connectors that don't let them be hooked into the padded hip belt). They're about the right size for convenient snack pockets, though.

    All in all, a great review! And, by the way, I understand the comment about needing all your puffy garments for actual layering rather than using it in the travel pillow. But I did find that my Nau Lightbeam rain shell didn't do too badly inside that pocket -- it's just that it was so lightweight for traveling that there wasn't enough of it to really fill up the pillow. And my merino wool items were also dense packers. On the other hand, if I'm traveling en route (on an airplane) with my down vest packed into the water bottle pocket of one of my bags (for when I emerge into colder weather at my destination), that works just fine for the travel pillow!

    moriond

  13. #13
    TB Ravelry Moderator gochicken's Avatar
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    Wow! Amazing pictures and post, NWhikergal!
    Last edited by gochicken; 09-21-2016 at 08:37 AM.
    Satisfied owner of: Azalea Swift & LS, Blk/Plum Swift, Cork LS, Blk/UV LS, Synapse 19 & Co-Pilot, Steel/UV Pilot, Fst/Stl Tri-Star, Fst/Blk/UV SA, UV PCSB, Plum SE, FJN, & SCB, Aubergine WF, LS & Kit, Trvl Trays, Passport Pouches, and Shop Bags in all colors Wink, Multiplying OPs Smilie

  14. #14
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    Trip Report: The Hero's Journey

    @moriond, you are correct, the yellow device is the model of personal locator beacon you linked. Particularly when I am hiking solo, I think it is a good idea in a worst case scenario (think falling down a remote ravine and breaking a leg type event), though I hope to never have to use it!

    For multi-day trips where I want to send non emergency preset messages or have the ability to communicate on a limited basis with friends and family, I have used a DeLorme Inreach SE. Plus they can track my trip progress on a map. This came in handy on one trip with a friend when he became ill and we had to exit the trail several days early.

    I agree about using the pillow for regular travel, and I think I will be including it for most trips, since it takes no space and is quite comfortable if sufficiently filled.

    ETA: I forgot to answer your question, @moriond. I also filled the Nalgene in the side pocket with water. The camp sandals and hygiene kit I had in the opposite pocket balanced out the weight closely enough that it evened out. Since I was originally going to try to stay in the lookout tower I wanted sufficient water for cooking/making coffee in morning, etc.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Last edited by NWhikergal; 09-20-2016 at 07:05 PM.
    "Do one thing every day that scares you." - Eleanor Roosevelt
    "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller

  15. #15
    TB Ravelry Moderator Mausermama's Avatar
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    Great write-up, @NWhikergal! I really loved reading your thorough review and your photos are wonderful! The best armchair travel I've enjoyed in a long time! I only wish I had the stamina and strength to hike like that!

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us!

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