The Evolving Food Pack – How Gear Improves Over Time

Every spring as outfitters begin gearing up for the busy summer season ahead, production begins to turn from winter dogsports back to portage packs. Alongside the new gear, a reunion of sorts takes place as old packs come back to us through the fall and into the spring as outfitters send in old gear for repairs. Even the toughest of gear needs some help every now and again as a wide variety of people rent them week after week. And with the returning packs comes a glimpse into our history. Each generation of packs returned illustrates design improvements, changes of technique and hardware, and a plethora of gear testing playing out real-life right in front of us.

For this article, I lined up 8 different generations of food packs to show how this pack has evolved and improved over time. Each generation has unique features which define it from those which proceeded it and those that follow. Furthermore, every generation of food packs shown here share a common DNA as a Kondos/Portage North pack made from 1000 denier cordura with a ring attached to the sides for hanging as a bear bag.

The first differences we see on the side by side photo are aesthetic from going to a second color for the bottom reinforcement to changing the hardware. It’s also obvious when they are next to one another that they are all food packs and they serve the same function. But as we dive into the ways these packs have changed with time it will be obvious that they don’t all serve that function in the same ways.

As I outline in this article last summer, the backstraps are one of the most major changes on these packs. The design of the straps themselves changed to be more ergonomic, more comfortable, and more adjustable. Even more significantly, the design by which they are attached to the pack body has changed dramatically. This allows for a stronger, less accident prone attachment for every pack.

As we look closer at the top flap here, we can notice a few major changes with time. Aesthetically, it’s apparent that the thread we used changed colors (makes it easy to spot the generations too.) We can also notice three different generations of buckles used on the top flap. More importantly, the means of attaching the buckles to the pack has evolved over time. As the newer packs gained the “angled” corners, the buckles also received a lower stitch line at the bottom of the “box-x” which hold the buckle. As we will see later, this is an important component to a completely redesigned attachment within this top flap. Also, though it’s not totally visible on this picture, do you notice how the bottom reinforcement (black fabric) on the newest pack has two rows of stitching all the way around? The older generations shown here only had a single stitch line on the side gusset of the pack. This small change reinforced this panel of the pack.

As we move inside the top flap of the pack it’s apparent that the buckles are attached differently. The old style used a fold in the webbing and fabric to lock the webbing in place. This is very effective. The only potential issue is that the webbing remains exposed and can sometimes act as a catch point. Our newest packs utilize the material of the top flap in a creative way to essentially encase the webbing in a single piece of fabric. A stitch line on top and bottom with a box-x over the gap encases the buckle webbing so it’s inside of the pack material where it is protected.
As we move to the side of the food pack, we get a close look at the signature bear-bag apparatus unique to food packs. The most apparent change is in how the ring is reinforced. The oldest pack in this lineup (left side) has a single strap up the side. With time, a piece of reinforcing webbing was added along with a handle. This webbing was eventually extended into the side-seams of the pack to add a great deal of strength and a fail safe which remains on the packs today. One may also notice the rings which changed from a round ring to a D-ring to limit sliding around if the pack is unbalanced on lifting and lowering. The top flap itself has changed from the old “lace up” method with rivets through the pack fabric to the modern buckle-up flap.

Finally, we look inside of the packs to one of the most important changes in the longevity of our gear: taping seams. Many cut fabrics, including cordura nylon, fray badly along their edges over time. A well-sewn seam along this edge can arrest the fraying close to the seam, but the tattered fabric can still be a nuisance. It can get caught on anything and everything and a hard pull on these threads can start disassembling the fabric the pack is made out of. All of our packs are taped by sewing the thin fabric strip along the exposed fabric edges. This protects the exposed fabric edge and, by extension, the seam and all parts of the pack which depend on it. The left picture illustrates what can happen overtime to a pack without the seam tape.

Author Bio:

Riley Smith

Riley is the Director of Community Engagement and Public Relations for Portage North and Sundog Sport. He comes from a background in wilderness programing and environmental education with four years of BWCA outfitting and guiding before taking this role. In his free time, he can be found out canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing, capturing photography, and writing.
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