GoLite Jam 35L Pack
Recently I started shopping for day packs and was blown away by the average price. My argument is this: why would anyone would spend $120 on a day pack when at that price you are already over halfway to a pack big enough for an overnight trip? Here’s my evidence: the GoLite Jam 35. Retail price is $200. Listed under their “Ultralite Backcountry” series, this pack is a better bang for your buck than any day pack.
The Jam 35 is gender neutral, comes in three torso sizes and 2 colors – Grease (grey) and Gunbarrel Blue. Once you get this or any GoLite pack, you see how all the other manufacturers’ pack designs waste materials (and add weight). The pack alone came in around a pound and a half as listed on the Jam 35’s specifications. The buckles on the Jam are small but tough. The pack’s material is either Gridstop or Ripstop, preventing a rip from prematurely ending the life of the gear. Broken zippers also kill gear, so I’m thankful GoLite didn’t skimp out. The zippers were very sturdy and never got caught on the edge material the whole time I used it. There is one large top-loading access for the main compartment with an easy to use cinch cord and a compression strap over the top. The main pocket also has two pairs of compression straps on the side as part of GoLite’s ComPACKtor system. There is one separate large back pocket for the stuff you want easier access to and/or don’t want compressed. Although the pack looks small when it is empty, it could easily hold enough for a weekend (maximum recommended load is 30 lbs) as you would expect from a 35 liter pack. This pack inspires even an ankle-roller like myself to leave the heavy boots behind (a pound off your feet is like 10 off your back anyway) and head out for some fast miles. If you are more into hammocks than tents for the backcountry, consider this enough pack for a very long weekend. For its ultra-light classification the Jam still has standard backcountry features like two water bottle side pockets, a mesh internal hydration bladder sleeve (my 100oz fit), two small hip pockets for cell phone/camera/GPS, emergency whistle on the chest strap, and of course ice axe loops. As far as organization, I feel most day packs try to make up for small size by adding more compartments and pockets. The Jam is simple and if you’re like me, I would rather dig in two big pockets than 70 small annoying ones. What made me smile the most when I saw the pack for the first time, is the use of some reflective material (like where you hold the hydration hose on each shoulder strap) for those of who bike on the roads, push the daylight hours, or stand the chance of needing to be rescued at some point. It’s an easy feature to add without a weight penalty, and that is right up GoLite’s alley.
I am 5’6” and in between the small and medium measurements for torso, so I went with the small. It came up a little short, riding high on my back when packed light, and fit just right when fully packed down. The waist, shoulder, and cross-chest straps still had enough room to fit my stocky stature. In fact, once you get settled into using this pack on a regular basis, the first thing you will want to do it cut all the extra nylon off of the straps, because GoLite gives you plenty of it. The shoulder straps are narrow but much more comfortable than they look. The padding is the same thickness throughout the whole strap so no matter where they fall on your body you’ll have the same comfort. The pack lacks the torso adjustment featured on one-size-fits-all packs, but if my dis-proportioned self didn’t have a problem, you shouldn’t either. Just make sure you measure your torso length twice if you don’t know it already.
I am one to stretch the uses of any piece of gear, many times beyond manufacturer specs. The hydration bladder sleeve (when empty) is big enough for a tablet or a 15” laptop, and is somewhat secured behind the removable foam back pad. I felt no need to remove the foam back pad but it you wanted to gain a little more space with less comfort, be my guest. It was no aluminum frame, but as long as you took a little extra time to make sure your stove isn’t jutting into your back, I thought the back panel was sufficient. For biking specifically, the back panel conformed to a riding position, but I could see myself removing the back pad for more of a hydration pack feel. The pairs of compression straps on the side of the pack were strong enough to hold a pair of my skis securely on each side of the binding, but if you were hardcore about backcountry I would suggest getting a purpose-built pack for that. Biking and skiing with the pack on felt just as light as any bare-bones hydration pack. I am even considering trying an overnight bike-packing trip with the Jam. If you were looking for a bag to take on the chairlift, I packed it with the compression straps all the way tight and the pack stuck out at the most 4” from my back.
As much as I boast, do not think this is the end all be all of packs. However, I would rather spend my money on the Jam 35 than a day pack or even a hydro pack. For my situation it was perfect. I have a large backpack and a bare-bones hydration pack but nothing in between. So instead of spending money on a day pack with slightly more storage than my hydro pack, I am now more excited about quick overnighters with my hammock and trail runners or my mountain bike. With backpacking equipment getting smaller and lighter, do not get left behind. Keep up with the ultralight Joneses, and get the Jam 35, 50, or 70. Want another reason? The Jam 35 is on sale right now through GoLite’s website for $119.99.