I've been thinking about this post wondering what it is I want to say, how long I want to say it for, and how I can best describe my experience with the Exo Mountain Gear 3500. Let me preface this post with telling you that the last time I did this 33-mile hike around Mount St. Helens, it left me beat up and wanting to toss my pack off a cliff. It was a Mystery Ranch Longbow and while I know they make a great pack; it just didn't work for me in terms of comfort.
Loowit Trail 2016 - 33 Miles
Since buying my Exo pack, I've loved it to death, but never really put it to the test by hiking so many miles in so few days. I knew that at some point during the hike it might become uncomfortable, so the most I could hope for was a reduction in pain on my hips. For 33 miles I kept waiting for that moment to arrive where I was like - "yep…here's the pain. This sucks," but it never happened.
The Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helens is a challenge. It has you climbing in elevation, boulder hopping for long distances, sliding down scree, bushwhacking, walking on what feels like marbles, and pretty much everything else you can imagine. Sure, it's a "trail," but it might as well not be. For the majority of the hike you're simply following piles of stacked rocks and posts which point you the general direction of where you're supposed to hike. I'm telling you this because wearing a backpack over that kind of terrain and for that many miles will beat you up and leave you in pain if it doesn't ride the right way (hence last year…).
14 Miles Later
Day one was complete and the pack felt just as good on the 14th mile as it did on the first. At no point did I feel the need to drop my pack to give my body a break. In fact, I don't recall thinking anything about the pack other than it just being along for the ride. Sure, it had some weight to it but it rides so well that you don't really notice it anywhere except your quads.
Day 2 - 12 Miles
I tossed my pack on the following morning and was pleased to find that I didn't feel an ounce of soreness from the previous day. My pack was around 35 lbs. at the beginning of the day, but before we could stop for the night, we had to load up on additional water. After two long days of hiking, my pack was now heavier instead of lighter and I wondered how it would feel going in to the last few miles that day. I noticed the weight increase, but the pack remained just as comfortable. My mind was blown.
Final Stretch - 7 miles
I now turned my attention towards the final day. Seven miles of trail remained and half of it would be over challenging terrain. Large washouts stood between us and the truck and I wondered again if my body would finally start feeling the pain (these washouts are much more difficult early on in the summer when no one has been through them yet). My pack was heavier from a set of elk antlers we found near our second camp site so again, weight was increasing rather than decreasing. Still, when I put the pack on that morning, I felt no hot spots or bruises on my hips. I had a couple of small spots that were a little tender from my pants, but it clearly wasn't because of the pack. I was shocked. Two full days of hiking and no pain?
The final seven miles of the hike were just as comfortable as the first seven. When I arrived at the truck, I still had no pain other than just normal wear and tear on my body that comes from backpacking 33 miles. I honestly couldn't believe it. I now had the confidence that I could spend a long weekend in the mountains without the Exo pack becoming a burden on my body.
I'm officially hooked on the Exo Mountain Gear 3500. Though I have a different high end pack at my disposal at home, I can't get myself to use it because my eyes always drift towards my Exo. My search for the Holy Grail of packs might actually be coming to a close.
After 33 miles in three days under my Exo, I now trust it to bear the load reliably mile after mile. It doesn't slip, shift, dig, bruise, or wobble over varying terrain. I now know that when I'm in the backcountry and miles from the truck, I have a reliable partner in crime on my back that is up to the task.
The peace of mind my Exo Mountain Gear 3500 now gives me is priceless. It will allow me to go further and go heavier without ever giving it a second thought. What more could I ask for?
Good gear doesn't grow on trees. When you find it, keep it!