Since late 2015 I’ve lived out of backpacks and a duffle bag. Even when I rented a room from friends or family, I never really ‘settled in.’ Fortunately, living like this has helped me mentally prepare for this upcoming month long excursion through Puerto Rico. Of course for me, accessibility is going to be the biggest issue, as I can’t expect to have the same access I have in California.
What I can efficiently plan for is how I carry what is medically necessary. This might be TMI, but my one of the things non-disabled people take for granted is their ability to use the bathroom in a generally non-dramatic fashion. However, that’s not my reality. Living with my spinal cord injury, I have to carry more than the average person. For starters, to deal with my bladder, I have to use a medical instrument called a catheter. I use roughly 7 catheters every single day, and these take up a lot of space. Dealing with the other end is another challenge - it is a convoluted, time-intensive process, requiring lots of patience, nitrile gloves, sanitary wipes, and frankly, a sense of humor! 99% of the time this system works, but sometimes things don’t go to plan and accidents happen. For this reason, extra clothing is going to be a must-have. Since we’ll be ‘backpacking’ hopefully into remote areas, we need to pack as efficiently as possible, and that means I can only really bring one bag.
I’ve never owned a backpacking backpack before, but this trip is the perfect excuse to take the plunge. However, thinking of finding a backpacking pack that will work with a wheelchair was a little scary. I decided to test drive a friend’s pack out a few weeks ago - and it didn’t go well. My center of balance was off, and the bottom of the pack was jammed into my wheelchair backrest and the top was jamming into my neck. I was frustrated, but I knew there had to be a bag that would work for me so I went to REI to search for it.
If you’re an outdoorsman/woman and haven’t been to REI, you need to go, as they have just about everything you need if you’re planning a backpacking trip. Emily and I thought it would be a quick trip to check out tents and backpacks….and we thought wrong. We were like two kids in a candy store, wondering from aisle to aisle for a few hours, totally geeked out on every kind of camping gadget imaginable. Eventually, we made it over to the backpacks where Jeff the backpack specialist stepped in.
I’m still not sure who was more excited during this process. Emily, Jeff, and I took turns grabbing backpacks, hoping we had found the winner. Finally, Jeff suggested one that was short and versatile, and immediately after trying it on I knew I was in love.
The Osprey Porter 46 is the perfect wheelchair-friendly backpack, and its price wasn’t that bad. $140 is relatively cheap, given that some packs are as expensive as $400! It’s overall length is 22 inches. Ye - it's shorter than most packs but its width (14 inches) and depth (11 inches) makes up for its length. At 3.4 lbs, it’s also lightweight, which is important to make it useful on the go.
My pack has all the bells and whistles. Well, that’s half true...no bells, but it does have a whistle! Hopefully I don’t need to use it. I’m not planning to fall down a well or get stuck in a snowstorm but if I do, I have my whistle.
I’m also stoked it has a padded laptop sleeve, as I’m going to need my computer to keep you all updated and the sleeve is super padded. Another useful feature is the stow away hip belt and harness, so there’s no loose straps. This feature is going to come in handy when I check the bag at an airport. It has zippered pockets everywhere, which will help me stay organized with all the little things I’ll have to pack around with me on this adventure. Like most backpacks, it has secret pockets but I won’t tell you where they are.
Osprey trademarked the next feature. They call it the straight jacket feature. Let’s be real, it sounds sketchy but it’s my favorite part of the pack. the straps can cross over one another which compresses the pack making it smaller.
The straight jacket feature gives you the option of using the Porter 46 as a day pack. The overall size of the pack shrinks and it becomes much easier to carry. Emily and I are going to have a home base in every city we stay in, so being able to unpack and leave supplies we don't need on day trips is going to make life easier. This is when the straight jacket feature will come in handy.
I’m in love with this backpack and am already using it daily. I’ve tested it on a trip to Portland and camping a few times, and I must say that I’ve found the perfect backpack. I’m now one step closer to a successful journey through Puerto Rico.
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