Sierra Designs is back with the pack after taking a hiatus. The time-out was clearly productive because it yielded seven high-quality, comfortable and innovative packs to fit any hike and hiker. Like the women’s-specific Jubilee 65, which I tested on a backcountry hike in Yellowstone National Park’s Seven Mile Hole trail.
On a trail like Seven Mile Hole, with its bubbly, boiling and steamy geothermal features and traverses along vertical cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet into the raging Yellowstone River, it’s imperative to have a comfortable pack that doesn’t restrict your ability or movement.
Unique to the Jubilee (and the men’s Revival) is a frame sheet paired with a single DAC stay. This concept looks as if the pack fell off the assembly line, unnoticed, and bypassed several finishing stages until someone picked it up off the floor and threw it on the truck. And with all that exposed hardware, it looks about as comfortable to wear as a whale bone corset, but it’s shockingly comfortable.
The framesheet is made from the same polypropylene composite that is used in racing boat hulls and is stiff, light and flexible. It can also be drilled, cut and heat molded. The single DAC stay is a light, stiff, channeled aluminum extraction that bears weight vertically, yet twists and flexes. Kind of like the way your own spine twists and flexes.
Adding to the flex (and comfort) factor are only four points of contact with your back: two at the lumbar and two at the scapula for ventilation.
I can certainly attest to the ventilation factor.
When hiking in Yellowstone’s backcountry, there are two things that are inevitable: bears and steaming fumaroles. Bears can be fended off with bear spray and/or common sense, but fumaroles have been there for millions of years and aren’t as easily deterred.
When you’re in the vicinity of one, the air temperature is noticeably hotter. Add that to the fact that when I tested this pack in July, there wasn’t a cloud in a sky and I was already hot and sweating from carrying a fully-loaded pack over uneven terrain and descents rich with gravel and scree. But because of the four contact points that created air-flow a-plenty, my back didn’t sweat nearly as much as I expected.
Before I go any further, there’s something you need to know about me and my backpacking style. Despite backpacking for more than 20 years, I’m still a princess. I never, and will never, embrace the ultra-light, minimalist movement. There are certain dead-weight items that are non-negotiable for me: Hammock. Pillow. Change of clothes for each day I’m out. Camp sandals. Book. Toiletries for grooming and cleaning. Wine. Exped Downmat. Sun shower.
All dead weight when back packing but here’s the thing: If you have a comfortable pack that is designed to carry heavy loads properly, this extra weight isn’t a problem. It’s even better when the pack itself is lightweight to begin with. As it happens, the Jubilee’s svelte unpacked weight of three pounds, nine ounces got a bonus point before I even filled it with frivolity.
Needless to say, the Jubilee is a good pack for someone like me. It’s a top-loading pack, So I could stuff, stuff, and stuff more stuff, but the full zipper inside the large front pocket zips down the middle so I could easily access gear that’s stuffed somewhere in the middle or bottom of the pack. My Kelty Red Cloudand Pawneepacks have this same feature and I love it. No need for a yard sale while searching for that one item I didn’t think I’d need.
The Jubilee also has a nice top lid that contains two internal zippered compartments for items like a first aid kit or toiletries. It’s also attached with shorter webbing straps than other packs I’ve used so the lid didn’t plop into the dirt.
I have a few annoyances with this pack. The hip belt pads are designed with hard, thin, dense, grooved padding. Great for allowing optimal air flow but after hiking about five miles, my hip bones became sore and I had to fashion extra padding with a pair of socks. This may or may not have been an issue if I had left behind the hammock, wardrobe, shoe collection, bathroom sink and wine cellar, but for the princesses out there with minimal natural padding on the hipbones, a little more padding on the hip belt would be nice.
Also, the bottom of the pack has an odd shape. Rather than flat, it’s canted with an upward angle. This leaves no room for a sleeping bag compartment. Turns out it’s an intended safety feature. The pack’s designer, Vince Mares, knew a guy who was butt-scooting down a rock when his pack bottom caught and pitched him to his death. Don’t let this be a deal breaker though. There’s plenty of volume inside for your sleeping bag.
Then there’s the bottle opener on the shoulder strap. It’s a nice and quirky touch but what about us wine drinkers? I think Sierra Designs should offer a choice of a cork screw or a bottle opener. Then there’s the general superfluousness of it. Booze is critical for me in the backcountry, but even I, Princess Marie, don’t carry glass bottles. I use a PlatyPreserve.
Note: The bottle opener came in handy back at the trailhead when our regular bottle opener went missing in the jambalaya that was the back seat of our car.
Overall, the Jubilee 65 is a great pack with an even greater suspension system. There are a ton of little extras that go the extra mile to add refinement, sophistication, comfort and quasi-luxury to any backpacking trip like snack pockets in the hip belt, trekking pole loops, side and load compression straps, radio/GPS attachment points and even a handle for schlepping the pack around airports.
If you live in or near Minneapolis, you can try out your own Jubilee 65 at any of the retailers listed here.