For long trips into the backcountry, some folks opt to use 60-liter barrels to haul food and equipment. Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a full year in the Boundary Waters, and they have started using this system to haul large loads of food and electronics.
Dave and I are newbies to using blue barrels on canoe trips. We figured our full-year expedition in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was a great time to try them out.
We have been using Granite Gear packs for years, so we hoped that the brand’s barrel harness system — the Vapor Flatbed — would be as good as its Superior One or Quetico packs. After two full months of use, our experience with the Vapor Flatbeds (carrying 60-liter barrels) is positive.
Granite Gear Vapor Flatbed Review
Available: Now ($150)
Where To Test It: On your next canoe camping trip. Dave and I first saw blue barrels with harness systems being used for river trips in Canada, in particular, on the Yukon and Peel Rivers.
Barrels are appealing to use while canoeing because they are waterproof, seal in food smells, and are difficult for bears to break into. We decided to give it a shot while we are canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness during our Year in the Wilderness.
Who’s It For: Anyone who wants to carry a barrel — 60 liter or 30 liter, a large dry bag, or any other sort of big load.
‘Blue Barrel’ Pack System Tested
After nearly 70 days of continuous use this fall, I have decided that I really like the Vapor Flatbed for carrying our barrels.
We have traveled to 102 lakes so far — you can imagine how many times we have carried our barrels across portages. We have been using one barrel for our food and the other for our technology equipment, so the weight of the loads has varied.
After a resupply, the load in one barrel has been as much as 65 lbs. The Vapor Flatbed is totally comfortable to carry with this much weight.
Like all Granite Gear packs, the thickly padded hip belt is comfortable and can be cinched down tight enough so you are carrying most of the weight on your hips instead of your shoulders.
It has all the necessary bells and whistles for adjusting the load just right, with wide shoulder straps, load lifting straps, stabilizer straps on the hip belt, and even a sternum strap.
I’ve seen Dave muscle through many portages just carrying packs with the shoulder straps. Given my smaller frame and less muscle mass, I don’t have that option. When carrying a fully-loaded barrel in the Vapor Flatbed with all straps adjusted properly, I can truck along just as fast as Dave on any portage.
The ample padding along your back is also key. We initially wondered if the bottom of the barrel would dig into your back. With this system, it doesn’t. Honestly, it feels like carrying any other backpacking backpack.
We have been pretty hard on the barrels and Vapor Flatbeds, setting them down on any number of rough surfaces, from gravel to granite, and they are hardly showing signs of wear.
I threw a couple of fastex buckles in the repair kit when I saw how many are used on the Flatbeds — two sets of three running down the sides of the barrel and on over the top, one on each shoulder strap, and the big one for the hip belt. They must be sufficiently beefy, because we haven’t broken one yet, despite plenty of pulling, adjusting, and even smacking on rocks.
Granite Gear was smart to pad the bottom, too. We like how we can plop it in the canoe and then it slides around easily as we adjust our load. The company was also smart to put two handles at the top. When maneuvering gear in a canoe, and lifting a barrel onto your back, you can never have too many handles to grab. We’ve lifted the full load just with these handles and they seem to be reinforced sufficiently.
Granite Gear Vapor Flatbed
- Weight: 2 lbs. 4 oz.
- Material: 210D Nylon Cordura
- Torso Sizes: Regular
- Suspension: Vapor
- Interchangeable Belt
- Same harness as Granite Gear backpacks
- Unique panel system allow you to carry odd shaped loads
- Padded hip belt with hip stabilizer straps personalizes fit, and wide shoulder straps secure the load with a slider sternum strap and load lifter straps
- Padded bottom absorbs some impact and prevents scratches to your canoe
- Works with a 30 liter barrel or a 60 liter barrel; barrel not included
- More Info/Buy Now
Flaw: The only flaw I have found so far is that I need to re-tighten the straps that secure the barrel on occasion. I have noticed that these straps will loosen ever so slightly when they get wet. Basically, I do a quick check of these straps whenever we start our day, to make sure the barrel is held in place as tightly as possible. I might have to tighten a strap or two.
Final Thoughts: When I’m carrying a loaded barrel with the Vapor Flatbed, it feels like I’m carrying my favorite Granite Gear backpack. They know all the padding, straps, and strength of materials needed for carrying a substantial load — and they managed to create a great harness system that can be secured to a 30 liter or 60 liter barrel, dry bag, jerry can, or other large object.
—Amy Freeman and her husband Dave are spending a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in an effort to protect the Boundary Waters from a series of sulfide-ore copper mines that are proposed along the edge of our nation’s most popular Wilderness. Throughout their Year in the Wilderness they are sharing regular reviews on GearJunkie.com. Amy and Dave were named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year in 2014.