Mr. Boolie Goes to Washington

Rick Cameron stands in front of Mount Rainier

I was trying out a lot of new hiking gear on my weeklong hiking trip in September to Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park. In the picture above, the hiking pants and hat are old, but everything else I’m wearing is new right down to my socks and shoes and undies, and it all worked out rather well. The green wool hoody I’m wearing, an Ibex Hooded Indie, I loved so much when I got home I ordered two more for myself and another for my wife.

The backpack is The Guide’s Pack from Tom Bihn, this was my first time hiking with it and it did great. In the pack were more new items, including an Ibex wool coat (the Shak Lite) and an Outdoor Research rain shell (the Foray), both of which I was wearing earlier in the morning but took off as the sun came out, and both of which got tested over the next few days as the rain and cooler weather rolled in. I can’t speak yet to how they will wear with time, but so far I’m sold on the Ibex wool layers, they’re thin and easy to pack but dried quickly and kept me warm when it was cool but I didn’t overheat in warmer weather. This was my first time not wearing cotton layers and I was surprised at how much more comfortable I was, to the point that I began to feel rather foolish for not having moved away from cotton years ago. The Foray rain shell also did well, not a drop of rain got through and it seemed to breathe better than my previous coat.

My shirts were some new synthetic shirts from a variety of outdoor companies as well as one wool shirt from Ibex, and those too I was pretty happy with. Cotton is still the softest but these performed much better on the trail when I started to sweat and were still plenty comfortable.

Funnily enough it wasn’t my new gear that failed me, but rather my trusted old hiking shoes, I learned the hard way that they aren’t as waterproof as they once were. Fortunately I had brought some other new shoes that I pressed into service, even though I had planned for them to be more general purpose shoes. I’ll pick up some new waterproof hiking shoes this fall.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack holding a Canon 500mm lens

The rucksack design of the Guide’s Pack allows it to swallow a variety of loads. I ordered it thinking I’d pack it with my normal hiking gear, but when it arrived I realized it could hold my Canon 500mm telephoto lens. I hiked with the big lens quite a bit on this trip, too much to be honest, as it weighs 8.5 pounds and I wasn’t in good enough hiking shape for that much weight. The backpack has a frame which helped with the weight, but with all the elevation changes I ended up a bit too tired on some days. Normally I’ll carry a more moderate load as I realize this heavy of a load could shorten the life of both the bag and its wearer, but it’s nice to know I can take it on trails where I expect to see a lot of wildlife. Which on this trip meant trails where from past experience I expected to see pikas and marmots and I came away with some pretty nice pictures thanks to the new bag.

Still, I’d like to limit how often I carry that heavy of a lens and will look for something a little more portable than the 500mm lens but that can replace my aging 100-400mm lens, as it is in need of repairs but I’m hesitant to spend much money on it as it lacks some features of more modern lenses (including weather proofing).

Bags for carrying camera gear on a hike

This was my normal hiking setup in terms of the bags I carried, what varied was how much camera gear I carried on any particular hike. The Tripod Quiver (also from Tom Bihn, and also new for this trip) held my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod, while the backpack held either my Canon 500mm lens or the 100-400mm lens, plus extra coats and clothes and food. The Tamrac camera bag held my 100-400mm lens when it wasn’t in the backpack, my Canon 7D SLR, and my Canon M mirrorless camera, plus a water bottle for easy access (new water bottles for the trip too).

I had intended to take the new bags on short hikes closer to home before the trip but ran out of time, so they got pressed into heavy duty service immediately. Not to worry, they both worked out great. I got constantly drenched on multiple days and while the dampness did eventually penetrate the bag, I had everything inside in smaller bags so everything stayed dry. I will probably look into a rain cover for future use, even though I typically don’t have to hike in such a steady rain, but it would be nice to have for emergencies.

One thing I wish I had more of was stuff sacks for the extra coats and clothing I kept in the bag. I had one for one of my layers and attached the bag with key straps to the o-rings in the bag, which made it easy to find and access when I wanted to put on the jacket. But I didn’t have stuff sacks for the other layers and their zippers scratched the paint on the big white lens. Easy enough to rectify on my next Tom Bihn order.

The Tripod Quiver I originally intended to attach to the backpack but found that carrying it on its own with the Absolute Strap was both comfortable and convenient. I took the tripod on every hike, something I’ve been loathe to do in the past, so that worked out nicely.

All in all the new gear worked out well and made for more enjoyable hiking.

The Tamrac camera bag certainly wasn’t new, I bought it the mid-1990’s and it has been with me on every hike since. Like the Tom Bihn bags, it was made here in the United States, and even outlived the company that made it. I was in graduate school when I bought it based on some research, as even though it wasn’t very expensive, every dollar was precious back then. Even so I never would have believed it would be my hiking partner two decades later, but here we are. It fits nicely in overhead bins of even puddle jumpers, so it’s easy to take on trips.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack in front of Mount Rainier

Since it can sometimes be hard to judge the size of things when online shopping, I thought I’d provide this helpful size comparison of the Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack. Based on my preliminary observations, I’d say it’s somewhat larger than an iPhone and somewhat smaller than Mount Rainier.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack in my room at the Paradise Inn

Up above the tree line on Mount Rainier there’s a fine dirt everywhere so my beautiful new bag didn’t stay clean very long, as this shot from my room in the Paradise Inn shows. Which is good, because I haven’t been hiking enough the past couple of years and it’s a sign things are headed in the right direction. A dirty bag on the trails is better than a clean one in the closet.

The Tom Bihn Guide's Pack and Tripod Quiver on Rialto Beach

I was waiting for the sunset at Rialto Beach near the end of the trip and took a quick shot of the two new bags. The next morning I went to the Hoh Rain Forest and then drove back to my home in Portland. I’m not quite done getting bags, I’ve got my eye on an Aeronaut 45 for longer trips instead of my rolling suitcase, as at most of the places I stayed I had to carry the suitcase and the duffel/backpack style of the Aeronauts would have been much more convenient, and maybe an Aeronaut 30 and/or a Smart Alec for shorter trips.


  1. Do you have any updates on the real-world use of the Guide’s Pack? 3 years after it’s release, I keep clicking on the Guide’s Pack on the Tom Bihn website but have yet to “pull the trigger” on the checkout button.

  2. Still love the bag, it’s what I take on all my day hikes. The main compartment is a big empty space so you have to like the large rucksack style if you choose a bag like this, I like how flexible it lets me be in terms of what I carry. Since this trip a couple of years ago I added another side pocket and the new padded hip belts. I keep two water bottles in one of the side pockets and things like headlamps, etc in the other as it has some dedicated pockets. I keep snacks in the top little compartment so they’re easy to get to without opening the main bag. It’s extremely well-built as you’d expect from a Tom Bihn bag. Inside I sometimes have my telephoto zoom lens (I rarely carry the big telephoto as I did on this trip) along with extra layers, rain gear, first aid equipment and the like. The extra layers are stored in stuff sacks that are attached to o-rings at the top of the bag with colored key straps, so I can easily extract what I’m looking for in the large space.

    I was also pleased with how it does on hot days, I got it the same time as I switched to wool or synthetic shirts, the combo of the moisture-wicking shirts and the mesh back of the bag made the hiking much more pleasant on a recent visit to the Redwoods in sweltering heat. You’re going to sweat as you’d expect, but my back wasn’t an ocean of sweat the way it was in the past with a different pack and shirts.

    I may eventually add a smaller and lighter bag to use on days when I’m taking a short hike and don’t need to carry much, but I hike frequently enough when the weather could be variable that I like being on the safe side with extra gear, especially since I’m usually alone. The bag does well even lightly loaded, but it is a bit heavier than a smaller bag. It fits me well and I like the feel of the materials. Really been quite happy with it, I think the design is lovely and it makes me smile every time I put it on.

    I almost ordered a second one since the big space could be used as a pseudo-suitcase on car trips but I picked up an Aeronaut instead to fill that role. It’s a great bag, the key is to find out if it’s the right bag for you.

    1. Thank you for the very detailed response! The last point was one of the questions I had. I have an Aero 45 now but find I over pack and it is not the most comfortable in backpack mode. I was considering getting the Guide’s pack as a travel bag for airplane trips (understanding the limitations of a top loading sack). Have you used it for travel or have you relagated that duty to your Aero entirely?

      1. I haven’t used it on flights as I rarely fly, but I know some people prefer dedicated backpacks as their carry-on luggage. Someone wrote up their experiences traveling with the Guide’s Pack as their only luggage for a couple of months through Asia and how much they loved it since they were walking a lot and needed the comfort of a true pack, but I can’t remember where I read it. I think the big disadvantages are the dangling straps, the lack of compartmentalized access, and the bag not being perfectly rectangular to make it easier to use packing cubes and the like. There’s a post on the Tom Bihn forums about traveling with the Brain Bag, probably a lot of overlap with the Guide’s Pack since they are both large bags:

        For a heavy bag with a lot of walking I’d prefer a true pack design rather than a convertible like the Aeronaut, but I haven’t had to do that with my travels.

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