Sat, Feb 23, 2019
In an effort to expand our gear testing, Chris and Rob went to our local EMS to review a new and exciting pack. Since Chris is dedicated to his external pack and has always wondered what the draw is to an internal, we decided that Chris should review an internal. We decided on the EMS 5500.
Without much success, we attempted to convince EMS that they should donate a pack for testing. They declined our offer, so we took one from their pool of rental gear. In hindsight, this might not have been the best idea.
We picked up the 5500 a day before our journey was set to begin. I inspected the 5500 and found a few things you might expect in a piece of rental equipment; it was dirty, the two waterbottle pockets were ripped (one was held together with safety pins!), seam threads were pulled out, etc. However, nothing appeared to be really broken about the pack, so we took it home and I set to adjusting it. EMS claims that the pack fits torso sizes from 18–22 inches, which should not have been a problem. I adjusted the pack to fit my body, then filled it and checked again. I felt a significant amount of pressure on my shoulders from the shoulder straps, so I continued to try to adjust the fit. Somewhat satisfied with my adjustments, I declared that I was ready to hit the trail.
Several things about the 5500 really impressed me right off the bat. There are multiple lash points from which you can, well, lash stuff. This is important in an internal frame pack since most of them lack any external pockets, which makes them easier to use on tight trails (but also makes them tougher to organize since everything must go into the one of the pack's two large pockets). The 5500 also has a large spindrift collar making it easier to tighten your load as your trip wears on and your load shrinks, and a fully adjustable pack lid that turns into a fanny pack. The back pad is well appointed with about 2 inches of foam, the base is built with a sturdy canvas that will take a lot of abuse before ripping, and a hydration bladder pocket rounds out the feature set.
Of course, with the good comes the bad. The things that bothered me most about this particular pack were, unfortunately, deal-breakers. This pack was a nightmare to fit for a couple of reasons. First, the shoulder straps were too narrow to fit my hulking 46 inch shoulders. Although the straps are infinitely adjustable thanks to hook and loop attachments, they were never wide enough to stretch outside my deltoids (something that caused constant irritation). This would have been fine if the pack could have kept the shoulder straps above my shoulders, but that was not possible for one or another reason. While we were on the trail, I tried in vain to adjust the pack straps to fit my shoulders. Even at their highest setting, they still dug into me. So I tried elsewhere. I checked the hip belt, which to my dismay, was moving freely up and down under the pack’s back pad. Further investigation showed that there is no way to tighten the belt, which meant that I was forced to live with this ill-fitting pack. In all fairness to EMS, this may have been because I was using a rental, but that does not account for the lack of an adjustment feature.
Secondly, the hip belt left a little to be desired. Rob pointed out at one point that he thought the hip belt looked too short. Once I looked, I agreed. The hip belt padding stopped about halfway around my torso. Leaving the front part of my hips exposed, or worse, covered by webbing.
Finally, the shoulder straps need some design attention. They are well padded, but thin, a fact that exacerbated my fitting problems. The sternum strap only travels so far, so if you happen to be tall, you can only move it down to just below your neck (which doesn’t help). And in what I can only imagine is a design oversight, the straps adjust where they meet the pack rather than at the base of the strap's padding, making their adjustment rather difficult and creating yet another irritation.
EMS’ Lip Service:
Exclusive EMS Variable Fit suspension lets you adjust straps 3 ways for a perfect fit. HDPE frame sheet with dual aluminum stays offers stability and comfortable weight distribution. Padded S-curve CoolMax® shoulder straps eliminate chafing. Reticulated foam backpad is cool, cushioning. Fabric is rugged 450 denier polyester ripstop/1,100 denier poly spun. 5,500 cu. in. total volume, fits torso lengths 18 in. to 22 in.
My Lip Service:
This is a pack with some strong features; fix the problems with the suspension systems and add an external pocket, and you have yourself a solid performer. The lack of hip belt padding is also a concern, but the overall padding is sufficient. I will warn you by saying this: if you are over 6 feet tall, I wouldn't recommend this pack. Your shoulders and hips will hate you if you do.
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy