If one peruses prior posts here at williswall.com, mention of Zimmerbuilt custom packs came into play after ordering a few for myself and one for my daughter. Aside from a ski pack, these Zimmerbuilts have been the only pack to adorn my back for the last two years. I've found that I can make do with these smaller packs during the summer season when I don't have to carry more than about 3 days of food. However, this year I ordered what I might refer to as the "Ultimate Pack System" from Chris, consisting of three parts: main pack, detachable food bag, and front pack. Due to his schedule, Chris has been unable to deliver my front pack for this design as of yet, but I have substituted a front pack I received from him last year and this has worked out well. He did make me a custom sized pack strap camera pocket for those occasions when I didn't want to carry the front pack.
I might call this newest addition a "movement pack." I spent a lot of time researching for an adventure racing pack, or ultra pack that I could buy off the shelf, so to speak. What I found were over engineered packs for my purpose...I am not adventure racing, so many of the extras were unnecessary. I just wanted as clean a pack as possible; no side water bottle pockets, no back pocket, nothing to catch on brush. I also wanted a pack that would hug my back, keeping the center of gravity inward. What I had made was a long, fairly wide but "flat" pack, only 4 inches deep. How many times have I wanted to access an item towards the bottom of any of my packs, and had to take crap out and lay it on the ground to be able to see or reach said item? To avoid this, I chanced a full length zipper in the middle of this pack, allowing me to find any item in the pack without having to remove stuff. When I say chanced, I knew the compromise this zipper would present; I could not stuff this pack with contents that would go into a regular tube, as the zipper becomes the weak point. This pack would need to be loaded accordingly, and with this limitation in mind I have had great success with it. While taking advantage of my back's real estate and keeping the depth at 4 inches, I have enough volume for myriad trips but the pack locks onto me, with absolutely no bounce, no sway and no noticeable effects on my center of gravity. The addition of a hip belt, only for the purpose of holding the pack in place and also incorporating two hip pockets, also helps with the utility. Here's a summary of observations after a season of use:
LIMITATIONS: carrying capacity, lack of side and back pockets, ventilation, zipper cautions (no overstuffing, fluids must be carried inside or on front pack
BENEFITS: true back hugger, no sway or bounce, no protrusions to catch on branches or brush, versatility with the addition of food bag, simplicity
This year I did a fair amount of biking and this pack was on every trip. I did not use a front pack on the bike but still had access to my camera with the pack strap pocket. I did one trip where the pack system (all 3 components) were at their max, carrying 5 days of food, with no noticeable discomfort. Sometimes I strapped on the food bag and used it for fluids, extra clothing and other items for ease of access, as the pack still remained thin.
This system also worked well for a combo hike, where I biked for 9 miles then packed for 9, the latter part cross country for an overnight. What did I miss the most with this system? With no side pockets I either had to carry water in the pack or in the detachable food bag. Most of this time this was not a problem. I wish I had Chris put a pull tab on the bottom near the zipper to hold the pack in place when I was zipping up at full volume. Otherwise I am very happy with this configuration and am grateful there are still people out there that will do custom work. Needless to say working with Chris Zimmer is a pleasure, with excellent response to questions and impeccable workmanship.