By T.C. WORLEY
It’s no secret that JanSport, long known for its school daypacks, is making a return to its roots. The company began as a serious outdoor equipment maker decades ago, but as time went on it seemed that its student-friendly daypacks were the cash cow.
Now the company seeks to get a stronger foothold in the hardcore outdoor space, and it has unveiled a line of packs designed to rival models from the likes of Mountain Hardwear and The North Face. The Tahoma, a $280 pack, is one example. This high-end model is made with sailcloth, a light and tough fabric chosen for its waterproofness and resiliency. The pack has a svelte design, alpine-oriented features, and the capacity to carry about 4,600 cubic inches of gear, making it usable for multiday climbs on places like Mount Rainier (where I tested it) and far beyond.
I climbed Mount Rainier last June, and the Tahoma, which weighs about 4.8 pounds when empty, was a great companion to the top. At a glance, you can tell the pack is stripped down and simple. Its main compartment is one big open space. A small zippered stash-pocket on the waist strap kept snacks and lip balm handy on my climb. Gear loops on either side make climbing gear easy to grab. The removable lid unclips for going a bit lighter weight on summit day.
The Tahoma carried as well as any pack I’ve tried in this size. Its suspension system was highly adjustable, letting me dial in a perfect fit. I was able to “tune” the aluminum frame rails by gently bending them to closer match the curve of my back. Don’t skip the tuning step, as it makes a huge difference in how the pack fits and rides as you hike or climb.
The sailcloth material is a nice touch. Though JanSport is hardly the first company to incorporate the material, it is rarely seen. The fabric is tough and somewhat stiff, perfect for a backpack. It is waterproof enough that I could set my pack in slush on its side and not worry about moisture seeping through.
For 2011, JanSport will release a new version of the Tahoma. A few planned changes will make it even lighter and tougher, including a trade out of the sailcloth for a super-tough airbag fabric. Yes, it’s the same stuff as used in your car’s airbag. (I like the sailcloth, as I noted, but JanSport cites the airbag material as being even better!)
The new model Tahoma will have redesigned shoulder straps and a waist belt employing a dual-density foam with the softer part being next to the body for comfort and the stiff foam on the outside for rigidity.
Price for the 2011 model increases to $300. That’s on-par for packs in the same size from competing companies. You decide. For the money you can get a few JanSport school backpacks — or else one kick-butt alpine bag.