- May 20, 2017 at 3:57 pm #3468902nick uMember
I’m in the market for a thru hiker backpack. I love panell loaders but it seems that the majority of packs are top loaders only. Why is this? I find top loaders quite inconvenient and awkward, that requires much more organization. Whereas panel loaders allow for much greater accessibility. I know zips can be an issue but in my experience the rewards outweigh the risks. Am I missing something?May 20, 2017 at 5:50 pm #3468913Link .Member
The one panel loading backpack that I had eventually failed and it was disastrous, try keeping your stuff in your pack when the zipper fails. I am sticking with a top loading pack from now on.May 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm #3468915Mark FowlerMember
+ 1 for LInk.
It is also much harder to squeeze in that last few bits of gear when the pack is already too full.May 20, 2017 at 7:32 pm #3468927Rex SandersMember
@rexLocale: Central California Coast
+1 for LInk and Mark’s comments. Had a panel loader, zipper jammed easily, too hard to cram more stuff inside. Also, you must lay the pack down on the harness (in the dirt) to get at everything – or unpack over a clean surface. Might as well have a top loader.
Organizing a top loader requires a little practice and planning. Keep your “need during the day” items in outside pockets or at the top of your pack, including snacks and lunch. Then you’re only digging deep if something unexpected happens. You unpack and repack only once per day.
I maintain a pocket-by-pocket, bottom-to-top loading list, so I don’t have to figure it out again on the first trip after a long winter.
— RexMay 20, 2017 at 8:00 pm #3468932J RMember
Before going UL I liked panel loaders, because I was bringing so much crap that keeping it organized and accessible was the driving force. Now not only is each item lighter but I bring considerably fewer items, so there’s less to organize. I find I rarely need to go into the pack body during the day, once for lunch and if weather changes, otherwise most if not all of what’s inside my pack’s main compartment isn’t needed until camp. This not only greatly simplifies what goes into the main compartment but also cuts down on the need for additional pockets, lids, etc. So a top loader is no problem to stay organized and cuts weight and the chance of zipper failure to boot.May 20, 2017 at 8:32 pm #3468936Ken ThompsonMember
@hereLocale: Right there
I’m rarely in my pack during the day. When I am a small bag contains the vast majority of tiny items needed.May 20, 2017 at 9:15 pm #3468943David ThomasMember
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
I liked mine (still have it) when I was leading trips, because there was more stuff I need to get to (first aid kit, dry socks, etc) during the day. But on my own trips, I don’t need my tent, quilt, dinner, next days’ food, etc, until I get to camp.
In a 4- to 6-pound pack, one can have thick material and a sturdy zipper. Hard to do that in a 2-pound pack and perhaps impossible in a 1-pound pack.May 21, 2017 at 7:17 am #3468967jimmy bMember
+1 on JR’s and Rex’s comments. Less gear and most of it for camp, the only things I really need to access during the day are snacks, water filter and possibly a rain cover or layer of insulation. All fit nicely in an outside pocket or in the case of rain gear, outside my liner bag on top in the main body. This simple method keeps me from looking at bags with zippers. Packing the same way in order of gear needed to set up camp becomes second nature. KISMay 21, 2017 at 8:39 am #3468978George FMember
I am with Jimmy B and the others. As you get into the rhythm of your thru hike you will likely find the number of things you need to get at quickly shrinks. Between the top of my pack, a back stretchy pocket and hipbelt pockets I never have to dig during the day. The toilet kit is on top right under the windshirt or jacket I may need during the day, it doesn’t matter if the FAK is lower down, it is very rare to actually need that. And if I was going through an blister phase and knew I would need it during the day I would just throw it in the back pocket. You get the idea, if you are going light you are also going somewhat minimalist and things will sort themselves out.May 21, 2017 at 10:01 am #3468992Jesse AndersonMember
@jeepin05Locale: Land of Enchantment
I’m going to buck the trend here and say I love panel loaders. I’d been using top loaders for quite some time until I bought a kuiu pack, it was like a revelation. I love not feeling like I have to dig through a black hole to get to stuff as I unpack my camp. In a top loader everything has to be methodical, but what if I don’t always need to unpack in an exact order? What if I want to use my hammock and take a nap at midday? Having instant access to everything is awesome. My pack isn’t that old and doesn’t have that many miles yet, but I find the potential for failure worth it. I can’t say I’ll never go back to a top loader, but for now, I’m officially a panel-loading convert.May 21, 2017 at 10:34 am #3469003JCHMember
One more vote for the simplicity of top loaders, for all the reasons mentioned above.
1 out of 9 resposes in favor of panel loaders…Granted a very small sample size, but pretty much the result I expected.May 21, 2017 at 10:43 am #3469008W I S N E R !Member
I’ve never had one, at least not for backpacking. But my commuter pack is a panel loader. Easy access is key in that regard.
I have a few friends that are global travelers…lots of train hopping, airplanes, hiking, hostels, etc. They swear by panel loaders so they can get to stuff on the go without unloading an entire pack.May 21, 2017 at 11:54 am #3469018Golly G. WillikersMember
@pianoLocale: Orion Spur
I will add my voice to those in favour of panel loaders, for the same reasons.May 22, 2017 at 7:05 am #3469133Mike AndersonMember
I got a ZPacks ark zip a few years ago, panel loader with a roll top. Whats not to Like! I load bigger items through the panel zip up then fill the top. I find this set up works very well for me.May 22, 2017 at 7:51 am #3469138Thomas EMember
I also love my Zpacks Arc Zip panel loader. Awesome to just lay it on its back and open up the front having everything available.
I seldom go ultralight, but carry 1-2 lbs of luxury items for comfort btw. Reason for that is that I don’t do long thru/section hikes and spend quite some time at camp just fishing, burning a fire, reading, relaxing etc. Just mentioning this as I might have different needs than a typical UL thru-hiker where every ounce counts. This makes me appreciate stuff like panel loading.May 22, 2017 at 8:44 am #3469150Woubeir (from Europe)Member
My packweight might range from less then 10 lbs to 40 lbs and I never had the feeling that I needed a panel loader instead of my top loader. The biggest advantage of a panel loader is so-called being able to organise how things are carried inside, but even when carrying lots of different gear I felt organisation has never been a problem for me. And I do not have an ‘how to pack’-list.May 22, 2017 at 10:12 am #3469163Bob MoulderMember
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
Top loader for me as well.
It’s very rare that I have to get something inside the pack during the day. Sometimes I’ll put a jacket or other piece of clothing inside the top as the day warms up. But as others have noted, I don’t carry that much extra stuff and I know precisely where everything is in my pack, so I don’t have to go digging for anything.May 22, 2017 at 12:33 pm #3469173Rex SandersMember
@rexLocale: Central California Coast
Decades ago I took a Sierra Club basic mountaineering class. On the written final: “Describe in detail how you pack your backpack.” At that time I owned an enormous Trailwise top-loading, single-compartment framed backpack.
My answer described the contents of each pocket, and ended with this:
“Everything else gets dumped into the main compartment, with the most important stuff at the bottom. When I get to camp, I turn the backpack upside down, and the most important stuff winds up on top.”
I got an A on that test.
— RexMay 22, 2017 at 12:34 pm #3469174Lester MooreMember
@satoriLocale: Olympic Peninsula, WA
For a thu-hike and most backpacking trips – definitely a top loader pack. With hip and shoulder pockets and/or backpack external pockets, anything you’re reasonably likely to need during the day can be make easily accessible.
The one type of trip where I prefer panel loaders is when photo-backpacking. If the main objective is to get good photos and not cover a lot of ground, then there will be at least one SLR camera body and three or four lenses and lots of accessories that need easy access multiple times a day – perfect for a panel pack.May 23, 2017 at 9:17 am #3469352Kevin BabioneMember
Another panel-loader vote here…I have a ZPacks Arc-Zip and it’s perfect for me. It has an outer zip pocket where you can easily keep anything you need to access during the day. The game changer for me is that I’m sleep in a hammock – I can easily lay my pack down in the hammock and get to anything without having to empty it. I opted for an expandable top of the pack (rather than a roll-top opening) so I rely exclusively on the panel zipper.May 23, 2017 at 10:08 am #3469358Nick GatelMember
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I’m in the market for a thru hiker backpack. I love panell loaders but it seems that the majority of packs are top loaders only. Why is this? I find top loaders quite inconvenient and awkward, that requires much more organization. Whereas panel loaders allow for much greater accessibility. I know zips can be an issue but in my experience the rewards outweigh the risks. Am I missing something?
“Am I missing something?”
Nope. You stated you know zippers can be an issue.
I have never owned a panel loader because of the zipper (high potential for failure) and I rarely need to dig into my pack during the day to find something. But this works for me. Apparently a panel loader works for you. So why change or even ask?May 23, 2017 at 11:00 am #3469363MJ HMember
This seems like a nice panel-loader pack, if you’re into that kind of thing. At least it doesn’t seem too much heavier than (maybe too heavy) top-loading packs by the same manufacturer and is on sale.May 23, 2017 at 11:14 am #3469367Bob MoulderMember
@bobmny10562Locale: Westchester County, NY
3lb 7oz is pretty heavy for a UL pack.
Good price if that’s what you’re looking for, but it’s tough to tame the base weight starting off with a pack that is 2 lbs heavier than truly UL gear… for instance Zpacks Arc Zip.
Granted, that’s a big price differential, although in the scheme of things it’s about the cost of one night’s stay in some halfway decent resort hotels.May 23, 2017 at 11:25 am #3469370IanMember
To expand on what Craig already mentioned, I have a panel loader that which is my go-to for international travel and is the only bag I bring with me. I’ve tried using top loaders like my MLD Prophet and found them too cumbersome for urban travel because I’m constantly digging in it for books, camera lenses, tri pods, etc.
Conversely, when I’m actively hiking between camps, I rarely have to retrieve anything from my main compartment because I stow anything I’d need while actively hiking in the front pocket, so a simpler/lighter backpack makes more sense to me here.May 23, 2017 at 4:24 pm #3469426Luke FMember
On my big winter packs I like a single vertical zipper that goes all the way to the top of the roll top. Not quite the access of a panel loader, but since the zipper doesn’t make any curves the chance of failure is reduced and it is easy to take any stress off the zipper with compression straps. In the event of a zipper failure the same compression straps will hold the pack mostly together enough to not lose anything.
For my every day and travel backpack I quite like a trizip (like what Mystery Ranch makes), 90% of the time I use it like a top loader but every now and then I can shed some daylight on the bottom of the pack to find something that went missing. Like the vertical access zipper, a smart compression system will keep the pack mostly together in case of zipper failure.
for normal 3 season use a normal top loader is just fine for me.
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