This handy pack surprised me. I test so many packs that sometimes it just seems like a pack is a pack and unless they look super amazing snazzy out of the box I kind of feel like I have it all figured out. The Pawnee is understated; not particularly superlight or super-equipped or fancy. But I reached for it when I needed a blueberry-picking pack. Believe me, that is a bigger deal than it sounds. In Alaska, we’re big on finding our own food. We hunt, fish, and gather and that pretty much consumes all of August and September so that we have enough food to last until next summer and fall. Blueberry picking is one of my favorites because it activates my rarely-tapped OCD tendencies. There are so many berries, I want to get them ALL! I’ve been known to bring home multiple gallons of berries in my marathon 8-10 hour blueberry quests.
So I needed a pack that could stabilize a heavy load (YOU carry five gallons of berries, your lunch, your dog’s lunch, and some water and extra gear), and especially a heavy load in odd-size containers, for I fill up all my poor-girl’s tupperware (you know, that crappy stuff you get for 5/$5 at the grocery store) and I’m not picky about the container as long as it holds berries.
It’s tough for a pack to meet these specs because I’m kind of tough to fit for backpacks. I evidently have a tiny torso on which most packs fit strangely. My biggest problem is usually a chest strap that is juuuuust placed exactly WRONG, if you know what I mean. If they don’t adjust high enough, I can’t use them. The Pawnee has room to spare, and though I have to wear it on its smallest adjustments, it fits great and carries a load well. And it’s got more carrying capacity than I would have guessed from looking at it.
Organization was easy with all the pockets. I’ve noticed that lots of packs are going the “streamlined” way, meaning that they don’t have any damn pockets, making packing all the little things I need for things like search and rescue and other backcountry work kind of a pain. I prefer a backpack to be more than just a big sack, so, I liked the easy-access front pocket and especially the front panel zip-out on the Pawnee. That’s the feature that turned this pack from a blueberry-carrier to a 24-hour SAR pack for me – panel access is rare on all but winter packs and I really need to get to my stuff quickly. The technical pack I was using looked really cool, but couldn’t compare to the Pawnee for pockets and access. The tougher fabric means it can take a bit of a beating, which is also nice.
As I mentioned, the pack adjusted well for me and fit my torso nicely. It has a bendable stay that can be torqued for a more custom fit, but I haven’t yet been bothered to do so. I’m quite happy with this pack and due to the price point, most people would find it a good and inexpensive choice for backpacking. Note that it’s billed as a day pack but if you need to bring enough stuff to fill this pack when you go on a day hike, you’re really doing it wrong unless you’re planning on bringing home the bacon in the form of blueberries. No, this is way better for multi-day backpacking in my opinion.