I am constantly being asked if I like my Aarn Pack and why I like it. My response is, “I love my Aarn Pack and would never go back to a conventional pack”. Not one to write formal reviews I felt it is time to enlighten the unenlightened and I say that without prejudice because here in South Australia we have very little exposure to the product being the only state lacking a retail outlet for Aarn Packs. I had been researching this New Zealand design pack for years, stopping anyone I saw on interstate trips, asking the same questions that people are asking me now and all of their comments were exactly the same as mine, in fact, I can’t even find a substantial bad review on the internet.
After my first walk with ABW I knew I had to change the way I trekked if I was to keep up with these younger hikers and still be there when I turn 70 and for me that meant going lighter and smarter. I stopped procrastinating, took a giant leap of faith in the design concepts of Aarn Packs, flew to Melbourne and bought the aptly named Effortless Rhythm Body Pack. It is a generous 66L capacity weighing 1.9kg which includes two custom fit dry sac liners. Paired with this are two Balance Packs, the Sport S, worn at the front and adding another 10L capacity at an extra 300gms, again including a dry sac liner in each. So immediately I have gone lighter than my faithful MacPac Esprit at 3.2 kg plus the added weight of the dry sack liners.
The Aarn Pack is different to a conventional rucksack and challenges traditional thinking. It optimises the load carrying efficiency through balance and fluid motion, reducing strain on the body and requiring less energy for the hiker. Firstly, it does this by offsetting the load with the use of front Balance Packs and Load Transfer Tubes bringing pack weight forward to the front of the hip belt. This allows the adjustable hip belt to carry the weight evenly around the hips. The belt is soft, light and comfortable and is designed to fit snugly over the pelvis regardless of shape as long as you position the soft grey “triangle” part of the belt over the bony prominence of the pelvic crest.
The second important feature is the Flow System which allows movement of the shoulder and hip belts independent to the main pack, the centre of gravity is maintained and the natural upright posture is retained. Everything works on sliding and pivot- ing connections so apart from the hip belt all straps are loosely adjusted to only take up the slack. The Balance Packs sit forward taking the weight from the shoulders as the top connectors slide along the shoulder strap during movement. Surprisingly these packs do not impede or wobble uncontrollably during activity and they do not obstruct vision during foot placement.
If I feel any weight on my shoulders I know I am starting to stoop forward and immediately correct my posture. If I am in a tight squeeze with knees up under my chest I can simply unclip the two connectors and pivot them out of the way (pictured right). I was a bit slow to catch on to this idea during the Blue Mountains trip when I first encountered this obstacle but I subsequently figured it out. I am constantly learning what this pack can do and it is so important to “think outside the square” to get the most from the Aarn Pack.
I find that the Balance Packs provide amazing convenience, they can be removed and clipped together and carried separately or they can convert into a small day pack with a set of straps provided. With the Aarn concept it is important to distribute weight thoughtfully so heavy compact items should go into the Balance Packs. I have my water bottles in the outside pockets, my navigation and emergency gear in one side and my scroggin, lunch, sunscreen and anything I need for the day in the other. When it comes to doing side trips I just pull out the dry sacks from each Balance Pack and put them into my day pack along with my wet weather gear and hopefully nothing is forgotten.
When people see my pack the immediate response is that the front packs would get in the way, they don’t! The gains of this configuration vastly outweigh any inconvenience. Yes there are some, I find it time consuming undoing and doing up the extra clips when stopping for a short break, all be it a few seconds longer and the balance packs are a bit unwieldy when donning the pack unless you use the over the head technique which works alright for me with a light pack but I haven’t tried it with a heavy load yet. My weekend load comprises of around 11 Kilos on my back and around 5 kilos in front depending on how much water I carry. Not a light weight by the ultralight guru standards but this load carrying configuration allows me to carry all those “just in case” emergency items to keep me totally evenly distribute the weight on the hips and allow fluid body movements.
The Aarn website is worth a visit as the history and science behind the design is very substantial as is the many types of Body Packs, Balance Packs, bike panniers, travel, school and business balance bags. Also available are custom made Cuben Fibre products. I find there is always something new on this site, the indefatigable Aarn Tate is constantly working on better ways to carry loads whatever the sport or occupation.
The engineering of the Aarn pack is very clever and overwhelming at first as every strap, loop or fitting has a purpose and it is all explained in detail on the website, essential viewing to get the best from the pack. It took me a while to tweak my pack perfectly and now I cruise confidently through any walk. I can comfortably rock, twist, stretch and bend forward under load, there is no weight on my shoulders or load on my spine and no pressure from the hip belt. Don’t be misled into thinking there is no weight, the body is still under load but the load is distributed more effectively and requires less effort. In my mind I have achieved my goal in a smarter way to travel. I only “discovered” bushwalking after I retired and I have a big “Bucket List” and this pack has truly changed my hiking experience for the better and I am convinced, all being well, it will see me through to 70+ years!