I remember the first purchases that really defined me—those I bought with my own “hard earned cash” such as my first CDs, first car, first snowboard, and probably most importantly—my first backpacking pack. In 1995 I was 15 and in awe of a green Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) 55-liter internal frame.

Before that monumental purchase, I huffed my brother’s external frame pack 1.5 miles to a glacial lake. It was so far from my suburban neighborhood, and it was grueling. I am not sure what was inside the pack because so much gear was strapped, tied, and clipped to the frame. There where mosquitoes, blisters, and heavy A-frame tents; however, being on the shore of that lake surrounded by pine trees, as the sun set on the Appalachian Trail (AT), was transformative. 

After a few more Boy Scout hikes, I saved money from my summer of dog walking and my paper route to buy an internal frame pack. I had walked into that gear store so many times and talked to the clerks (so many times) about the benefits of internal frame packs, sizes, features.

I spent the next few years of high school trying to use that backpack as much as possible. My dad and I section hiked parts of the AT in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. We went on trips with the gear store. I even convinced my parents to let me venture out for 10 days with an Outward Bound backpacking course. Happily, I did not need to rent a pack for this trip.

When I went off to college, that backpack definitely fit in my cramped dorm room. I quickly joined the outdoor club on campus and got into the craggy ranges of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Not only was I supposedly expanding my mind, but I also expanded what I carried in my backpack: snowshoes for winter camping, climbing gear, and maybe some beers.

That pack came with me on my first cross-country road trip, a summer internship with the Forest Service in Washington State. We hiked in the North Cascades, the Olympics, and the Kettle Range. I did my first solo hike that year, where I got a little nervous from all the bear scat.

My first job after college was as a wilderness trip leader in the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico. This time I was getting paid to use my backpack. What could be better? Along with my other backpacking gear, I would pack a 5-poound first aid kit, walkie-talkie, field guides, and accident report sheets into four mountain ranges: San Juan of Colorado, Pecos and Zuni of New Mexico, and the La Sal of Utah. The pack was thrown on and off gear trucks, squeezed through sandstone cliffs, packed until the seams stretched with extra food and water, and sat on by countless exhausted teens. This led to a few broken pairs of sunglasses, and I still don’t understand why they couldn’t sit on their own packs.

After 20 years of sweat, awe, and inspiration, the buckles are broken, the waist belt pad-less, fabric worn see through, and it still makes it out for adventures and memories.