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Panel vs top-loading and suitability for Camino

Ungawawa

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2017-20: Francés, Norte, Francés, Portuguese Lisbon Coastal, Portuguese central
I currently use an excellent but heavy Lowe Alpine panel-loading (front-loading) 45L backpack. I'm in the market for a new one, a lighter one. It seems that all the best recommended light backpacks are top-loaders though, and some even with only one big compartment and no separate pockets like the Flex Capacitor.

At the moment I can't imagine not having easy immediate access to stuff. On the Camino I need a foot cream or want my charger, need sunglasses or contact solution, or it starts to rain and I need my raincoat and cover... How do you deal with this if you have to dig down through all your packed equipment each time?

Currently top-loaders seem hugely impractical to me. I can see how they might suit thru-hikers who don't need to stop much, but the camino for me is a journey of a thousand changes and breaks... BUT I might just be imagining a problem where none exists! I'm totally willing to have people persuade me otherwise. What are people's real-world experiences? I'm particularly interested in hearing from those of you who have switched from a panel-loader to a top-loader.
 
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Time of past OR future Camino
Frances 2016; Mansill de las Mulas to Finisterre/Muxia 2017; Aragones 2018; Suso/Yuso, Meseta 2019
Two thoughts, first, as you said, you might be imaging a problem where none exists. Second, it is all in how you pack it. First aid, some snack, a charger are priority items and packed in the very top compartments. The rain poncho may change locations, from near the bottom to near the top, depending on the day's expected weather. Sandals are near the top. Everything else is in color coded ultralight packing cubes so there is never "digging around". I own an Osprey Sirrus which is both front and top loading and I never use the front. You should receive some excellent packing suggestions on this thread.
 

trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
I really like the Gossamer Gear Ranger 35 that I used this year. Weighs only 33.9 ounces/962 grams.


I have also used a Marmot 36 panel loading backpack which weighs about the same.


I'm way too lazy to mess around with all the drawstrings and buckles of most top loading packs 😂
 
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Ungawawa

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2017-20: Francés, Norte, Francés, Portuguese Lisbon Coastal, Portuguese central
I really like the Gossamer Gear Ranger 35 that I used this year. Weighs only 33.9 ounces/962 grams.


I have also used a Marmot 36 panel loading backpack which weighs about the same.


I'm way too lazy to mess around with all the drawstrings and buckles of most top loading packs 😂
Thanks. The Graviton 38 (the one with an extra brain) is definitely at the top of my panel-loading shortlist. What have been your experiences with it?
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Latest: Rota Vicentina '19; Portuguese '19.
I prefer top loading backpacks because they are not allowed on the beds. Side loaders lay on the floor to pack and in my opinion the pack and straps get dirty whether you see it or not, plus you are bending over farther when sitting to load them up. A couple of stuff/dry sacks inside are easy to pull in and out...easy peasy for me.
I really like my Osprey Sirrus 36L.
 
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roving_rufus

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances (2013-2015) Portugues (2017-2019) Via Francigena (2018-??) Camino from Ireland (2020-??)
I switched from a Lowe alpine 33l which was a best of both worlds as it was a top loader but with a half height side opening pocket. Now have a 30l osprey which is top loading but has enough room in the top pocket for glasses, suncream, first aid kit etc and even my small handbag. It's big advantage is it is nearly1kg lighter than my previous pack. And it just means a little more thoughtful organising but it's the occasional small lose item will always work down to the bottom which is only reason I miss my Lowe alpine with its lower opening side.
I disagree with one way or another keeps straps cleaner, but that maybe I just have tendency to take rucksack off wherever (though that is more the case on other camino and via francigena when break times probably are sitting on grass or a wall)
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Latest: Rota Vicentina '19; Portuguese '19.
I disagree with one way or another keeps straps cleaner, but that maybe I just have tendency to take rucksack off wherever (though that is more the case on other camino and via francigena when break times probably are sitting on grass or a wall)
Let me clarify. I do lay my pack down on nice grass or wall when at all possible. I speak mainly of the floors in albergues, which are often dusty and dirty by end of day and the following morning before the next round of cleaning. I admit that I'm a little anal about that, but my pack still looks near perfect since I purchased it three years ago.😊
 
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trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
I prefer top loading backpacks because they are not allowed on the beds. Side loaders lay on the floor to pack and in my opinion the pack and straps get dirty whether you see it or not, plus you are bending over farther when sitting to load them up. A couple of stuff/dry sacks inside are easy to pull in and out...easy peasy for me.
I really like my Osprey Sirrus 36L.
I don't lay my pack on the floor to load it. My Marmot could open up like a suitcase, but it wasn't necessary to open it up all the way like that. I usually just unzipped it so that the top third or so if the pack was open. Much easier to put things in and arrange them.

The Gossamer Gear pack doesn't open up all the way like a suitcase - rather the zips go about half way down each side.

Thanks. The Graviton 38 (the one with an extra brain) is definitely at the top of my panel-loading shortlist. What have been your experiences with it?
What about the Graviton 34 without the brain? Like I said, I don't like messing with the drawstrings and buckles of a top loading backpack with a brain. I really liked the Graviton 36 except for the color, which got rather dingy looking after two Caminos, and the fact that it was slightly too long to "technically" be carry on size. It was accepted on United and Lufthansa, but I changed to a different pack when I had a Ryanair flight.
 
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t2andreo

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2022
I prefer a top-loader for security when stopped, as well as rucksack weight. The zippers needed for panel loading add weight... only a very ounces... but, as you say... every gram and ounce count.

Top loaders also tend to be more water repellant IMHO. No rucksack is waterproof unless it is designed as a dry bag. Rain gets under even the best rucksack cover. So reducing infiltration points is a good thing.

When packing, I place the items I will need during the day in outside pockets, or in my often used chest / belly bag. This includes, bottles of water, poncho, umbrella, sun hat, snacks, smartphone, guidebook, Buff, first aid & sanitation items, and anything else I might want quick-to-hand, without having to remove my rucksack.

The interior of the main sack is packed in reverse order of need. Things I use every night are near the top. This includes toiletry items, medication and nutritional supplements, and my next days clothing change. EVERYTHING else is below this, again in reverse order of likely use.

I carry a microfiber sleeping bag liner, a yoga sized-terry woven towel, and an emergency foil bivvy bag. These items are stashed in the very bottom of the main compartment, in zip lock bags with the air forced out. As I stay in commercial lodging, where linens are usually provided, the liner and towel are "just-in-case" items, in case I need to stay in an albergue without linens provided.

On most Caminos; these items never leave my rucksack, and remain packed from year to year. In fact, I am seriously considering a leap of faith, and not carrying them next time, especially if I can pre-reserve all my lodging. This would save an estimated 1.5 kg in final pack weight. Something to consider....

Hope this helps the dialog...
 
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Deleted member 43985

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If you really want to cut weight you could look at the waterproof (no rain cover required saves more weight) Zpack Nero 38L. Plenty of outside pocket storage for rain clothes, water bottles, etc plus you can buy waist belt pockets (4 ounces, pic below) or shoulder straps pockets for a small first aid kit, camera, phone, etc. which should be the vast majority of items you would normal take from your pack during the walking portion of your day.

However, smart packing of your sleeping gear, toiletries, etc at the bottom of the pack and any secondary items you may need (lunch food?) at the top of the inside compartment means that the occasional time you need to open the pack, the items you need are at the top. Like others above I use color coded waterproof diddy bags so I know where each item is stored without rifling through my pack. Their bonus is that you can take your valuables to the shower without concern of water damage.

This pack only weighs 10.9 ounces and is fully waterproof but unfortunately these advantages are directly proportionate to the price you pay...

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NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
I have both a zip topped panel loader (opens up 1/3 of bag) and a drawstring top loader. Both have a bottom access pocket with zipper. The drawstring & clips take a couple seconds longer to deal with than the zipper, but I don't have to worry about a zipper malfuntion.

The panel loader does not have a brain. The top loader does.

A lot of people carry only the backpack, in which case access requirements change. The brain of your top loader is where you want to be able to access the bits you may need.

I carry a cross shoulder bag with the essential bits, and use the brain for things I may want access to during the day but not regular, on demand access.
 
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K Turner

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
August-October 2019 CF
I am using a top loader right now on the Camino Frances. I would have liked a panel one instead, but honestly it isn't a big deal. I keep first aid in the top pouch, a dry bag in one hip pouch and an EpiPen in the other for immediate access. I don't have so much that getting to things in the main section is at all difficult...but am already trying to shed some of what I do have!
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Latest: Rota Vicentina '19; Portuguese '19.
Duh, I learned something today... "brain" as in a rucksack contex, evidently means the top pocket. Go figure.

And for all these years, I was referring to it as simply... the top pocket.

How silly of me...o_O
I usually refer to it as "the removeable top piece". The word brain reminds me of the unattractive gray matter we all have...some of us have more, like you, Tom, some have less, like me.😄
 
Time of past OR future Camino
Frances 2016; Mansill de las Mulas to Finisterre/Muxia 2017; Aragones 2018; Suso/Yuso, Meseta 2019
I use the brain of my pack to store snacks, blister/first aid kit, and sunscreen...very handy, especially if traveling with a family member who can grab it quickly for you while walking.
You and I have the same pack. I am able to reach up and unzip the pocket to get whatever I might need, sunscreen, sunglasses, first aid etc..
 
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Via Monastica 2022
I have an Osprey Aura, which offers the best of both worlds: main a top-loading compartment, and then two compartments that are accessed via zippers from the outside. So I can put the stuff I don't need so frequently inside (clothes, sleeping bag/liner), and the things that I need to access easily (first-aid, foot bag, lunch) on the outside. On a day that threatens rain, the Altus goes in the lid (ahem...sorry I can't call it a brain because it isn't), otherwise it's inside. I also have a front pack for other things that I need to get to easily.
 
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NavyBlue

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Le Puy and Camino Frances. Via Francigena. Tro-Breiz in progress.
I currently use an excellent but heavy Lowe Alpine panel-loading (front-loading) 45L backpack. I'm in the market for a new one, a lighter one. It seems that all the best recommended light backpacks are top-loaders though, and some even with only one big compartment and no separate pockets like the Flex Capacitor.

Hi,

No personal experience with panel loaders. Here you will find (adverse) comments on (most) panel-loaders.

I have owned 3 top-loading/side pockets packs (now donated to charities), and I am currently a happy user of the Flex Capacitor. I have no regrets about missing (closed) side pockets. The ones I knew tended to bulge into the main compartment when they were full. They may be seen as convenient for sorting things. But in my experience, they are too large or too small for the content category I would like to put in, I am not organized enough to memorize where is what :rolleyes:, they cannot be opened with the pack on the back (or only by thieves? :confused:)

My current practice for what I need en route :
- sunglasses in one of the huge waist pockets, some oddities (energy bars?) in the other one, toilet paper in the top pocket...
- hat, gloves, in one of the (open) side pockets - can catch them without undue efforts
- a water bottle, suncream in the other one.
- in a bumbag : documents, money, guidebook if any, phone (not addicted enough to carry this last one in the strap pocket)... On the belt of this bag, a compact camera.

And for the rest of it, as several other contributors to this thread, I sort out my priorities for the day : rainy day ? rain gear at the top, otherwise my packed lunch. Emergency pharmacy at the bottom (wishful thinking??). The rest of it in between, sorted with plastic bags.
 
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Keith H

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
😱
I don't see a hip belt on that pack, nor load lifter straps. Looks like more of an around town backpack - not something that's meant to be worn for hours and hours while hiking.
Dang you’re right. A lot of the ultralight folks don’t use hip belts so they’re probably aiming for that crowd. 🤷‍♂️
 

dick bird

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
Plata, Ingles, Madrid, Norte, Primitivo, Invierno, Aragones, Olvidado, Chemin D'Arles
We all have our favourites. I used an Osprey Kestrel 38 this time around. It has two main compartments - one top and one front loading and two compartments in the top flap (which I think is what people are referring to as the 'brain') plus other open pouches front and sides and two teensy-weensy little zip pouches in the hip strap which you have to be a contortionist to use without removing the entire pack first. It was also pretty comfortable to wear.

Whatever pack you use, a couple of tips: 1) dry sacks mean you can compress stuff and can locate things easily - write on the outside what is inside. 2) an S-hook means you can hang your pack off the bunk frame.

I also carry a shoulder bag. I know that seems weird when you have a backpack but it works for me. Buen camino whatever you choose.
 

Anhalter

Active Member
Time of past OR future Camino
2019 CF, 2022 CF
Dang you’re right. A lot of the ultralight folks don’t use hip belts so they’re probably aiming for that crowd. 🤷‍♂️
My guess as an ultralighter is, they are rather aiming to the "weekender" or "onboard carry" crowd. As a traditional ultralight backpack this is way to heavy for what it offers and/or to expensive. Not saying it is a bad pack, but when going for an ultralight pack in the 30L range, there are things costing roughly the same and weighing in at a third while still doing the job (like a "Sub-Nero" for example). (edit: yeah, the Sub-Nero is not panel loading. Still...)
 

trecile

Moderator
Staff member
Time of past OR future Camino
PAST - Francés, Norte, Salvador, Portuguese
My guess as an ultralighter is, they are rather aiming to the "weekender" or "onboard carry" crowd. As a traditional ultralight backpack this is way to heavy for what it offers and/or to expensive. Not saying it is a bad pack, but when going for an ultralight pack in the 30L range, there are things costing roughly the same and weighing in at a third while still doing the job (like a "Sub-Nero" for example). (edit: yeah, the Sub-Nero is not panel loading. Still...)
I agree. I think that the target buyers for this new ULA pack are probably those who use and love their ULA packs for hiking trips, but want something for daily city life.
 

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