Crisis Averted

On my last trip to Zion, I recall hearing a popping sound while hiking with my backpack full of camera gear. I knew it wasn’t my back or knees, so it must have been something in my backpack. When I made it back to camp, everything seemed okay. That was early in the trip, and I soon forgot about it.

It was only this past Sunday when I was packing for Death Valley that I remembered the mysterious sound.

I emptied my Gregory backpack, and inspected it. Sure enough, the right side of the hip-belt seemed a little looser than usual.

A  quick google search for “Gregory Palisade 80” listed several review sites. Most of the reviews were glowing, but there was a troubling number of reviews that mentioned “Catastrophic Hip-belt failure.”

I refined my google search to include this troubling phrase.

I found numerous accounts of the belt failing. There are two plastic “wings” that transfer weight from the pack to the hips. Each wing is attached to the base of the pack with two bolts. The bottom bolt provides a pivot point, and the top locks the angle of the hip-belt.

I removed the padded portion of the belt, and examined the underlying plastic. On both sides, the lower bolts were no longer attached. A large crack in the plastic freed the lower bolts, and was heading straight toward the upper bolts. If that crack spread any further, the upper bolts would release — transferring all 60 lbs in the pack to my spine. I would literally have to drag the pack behind me. There is no way that I could hike even a reasonable distance with that kind of weight on my spine.

Gregory is well aware of this issue, and blames the failure on a faulty mixture of plastic that was manufactured in China (Big surprise!). I purchased my pack in mid 2008.  Since then, they have supposedly fixed this issue. The new plastic hip-belt reinforcements are suppose to be much stronger.

Gregory places a lifetime warranty on their bags, so that was not an issue. I can simply call them up, and arrange for the replacement parts. The repair is a simple enough task and requires only an Allen wrench.

Here’s the problem. I discovered this on Sunday, January 9th — less than one week before my big trip to Death Valley. A repair was out of the question.

I visited the local REI where I originally purchased the bag. They fully refunded my 3 year old backpack.  Talk about service!

I would have purchased the exact same bag again, but it was not in stock. Instead, I paid the $32 to upgrade to a Gregory Whitney 95. This pack is just a hair larger, which gives me a bit more space for the mahogany end table I like to take with me on hikes.

This pack has the exact same suspension system, which I found to be incredibly comfortable. So long as the hip-belt issue is resolved, I think I will be just fine. I’ll certainly keep an eye on the hip-belt this time. If I ever see a crack, I know that Gregory will take care of it. I’ll certainly be treating it with the utmost care.

Thanks REI! You’re a lifesaver!

4 Responses to “Crisis Averted”

  1. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    Well, glad you worked it out Ben. I’ve been busy with backpack “managment” lately. Trying to figure out a way to comfortably carry 2 cameras (a 35mm and a 4×5), 3 lenses, holders, tripod, sleeping bag and all the stuff necessary for several days in the hills. Got it figured out already I think, I got a large external compressor bag that is just big enough to pack my bag and an ultralight tent inside (like the Black Diamond FL). That bag goes on one side of the pack balanced by the tripod on the other side. Both cameras, film, filters, dark cloth go protected on the inferior compartment of the back and the lenses go in the superior compartment with cloth, food and gas for the stove..
    I imagine that a 8×10 must be a real challenge to move with.

  2. Ben Horne Says:

    Out of curiosity, Which backpack have you been using?

    I can definitely carry a 4×5 setup along with camping gear, but the 8×10 is prohibitive. I suppose I could carry a sleeping bag, tent and super compact stove setup, but I’d really be pushing it trying to carry enough clothing, food etc. That’s why I’m mostly limited to day hikes with the 8×10 gear. I’d have to have a friend come along and carry the bulk of the camping gear, and my pack would be mostly all photo gear.

  3. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    Sorry for the delay Ben, I missed your answer. I use a mountain backpack made by a local shop, it’s an older model but it’s very similar to this one:
    I use a lot all the strips attached to the pack to fasten some bits of equipment. For cooking in a short (2-3 days) hike, MSR pocket rocket is a very valid option and it weighs about 100 gr.
    Actually by using dehydrated meals and ultralight camping gear it’s quite possible to have no more than 10 or 12 kilos of camping stuff for a several days hike (that includes a tent, a sleeping bag, food, gas and stove and a jacket or something similar). That leaves about 10 kilos for the photo stuff. I know I could possibly carry more than 25 kilos on my back, but in quickly becomes a real torture.
    But to be sincere, nothing beats a good friend willing to carry the tent and some of the equipment.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Other than the bag being a bit different, it sounds like we have a similar setup. I also have a MSR pocket rocket, which is great for ultra light setups. When car camping, or returning to a base camp, I also have their Reactor stove. That thing gets red hot FAST, and will boil water quickly even in a strong wind. It is a bit heavier, and larger than the pocket rocket though. I also enjoy my “Hubba” one man tent from MSR. It’s small, light, and very fast to setup. It’s also great that it is self standing.

      Other than the weight of my 4×5, lenses, and tripod, my next heaviest item is the shooting belt that I use. I’ve tried to consolidate it into a single bag, but I haven’t found one that matches the ease of access, and organization of my belt setup.

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