Embarrassment at REI

I’ve spent 4 years obsessing over backpacking gear and planning a future Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike.

I’ve been backpacking three times.

I’ve read dozens of trail blogs, gear lists, and books of backpacking wisdom.

So when I went to REI to jump on the bandwagon of the Osprey Aura AG 65, (the AG stands for Anti-Gravity! How cool is that!) I was hoping to not feel like a total dunce.

As if fate would be so kind.

It began when the extremely helpful saleswoman asked if I wanted to try the pack on.

Well, yes, I suppose I would.

She measured my torso, found me to be right between a medium and a large, then gave me a medium to start off with.

I swung it confidently over my shoulders.

“Crap!” I muttered as my arms became entangled in the straps. What is this, a backpack for ants?

“Maybe you should loosen the shoulder straps,” the saleswoman suggested.

Of course! This pack was still configured for shipment! All the straps were tight as could be!

I loosened the shoulder straps and slid my arms comfortably through. THIS was how a pack should feel! Built for an adult-sized human, not my two-year-old nephew!

“Looks good,” the saleswoman muttered. “Now, you want the belt to sit on your hips.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, buckling it onto my hips like I’ve done on all my previous trips.

She paused. “It looks like it might be a little high,” she suggested.

I froze. I recognized that voice. That’s the voice I used when my roommate would try to wear leather boots with sweats on her walk to the cafeteria. It’s the voice that says, “If you think that’s a good idea, fine, but the rest of the world knows better.”

I refuse to be outsmarted by the rest of the world!

“Yeah,” I agreed, shifting the pack down an inch or so, “I’m just needing to adjust it a little. That’s better,” I said, looking up for affirmation.

I received none. “Still a little high. You want it to be on your hips,” she repeated.

At this point I was regretting bringing my sister on my shopping expedition. She wasn’t as adept at keeping a straight face as the saleswoman. I could practically hear her wondering how I would survive a five month trek if I couldn’t even make it to footwear. This, commingled with that particular joy that only comes from seeing your sister harmlessly embarrassed in a not-too-permanent fashion.

“Oh, right,” I mumbled, trying to save face and shifting the hip belt still further down.

“Do you know where your hips are?” the saleswoman asked gently.

“I thought I did,” I whimpered.

“Let me—do you mind?” I nodded. She moved forward to loosen the belt, then lowered it a full three inches and settled it where packs are apparently supposed to be.

It was at this point I discovered my error, though I was too embarrassed to state my case.

See, I had always thought that, “Your hip belt should be on your hips,” meant, “Your hip belt should be on top of your hips.” There is a crucial difference, however. If I had to write directions on how to wear a hip belt, I would say, “It should be around your hips.”

But no one asked me to write these instructions. Thus, I’ve been carrying my pack’s load on what most people would call my waist, or, not where it’s supposed to be at all.

In my defense, I’ve never seen a woman with a baby “on her hip” that carried it so low as REI and the rest of the backpacking world say a pack is supposed to be.

Embarrassment aside, the pack did feel incredible when worn properly. And the saleswoman was amazing and managed to not laugh throughout the entire episode, while giving me really useful advice. Unfortunately, I now have no idea if I actually need a new pack, or if my old one hurt my back simply because I was wearing this incredibly simple device entirely wrong. I’ve got two weeks to decide before my coupon arrives… And, should the upgrade be unavoidable, there are three other REIs I can go to to avoid having to meet that same salesperson’s eyes. Although with how helpful she was, I should probably go back and give her the sale anyways.

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