Top positive review
19 people found this helpful
Excellent external for the money
on April 14, 2014
I've carried many backpacks both in the military (ALICE) and civilian backpacking (internal and external) use and am impressed with the features, build, and quality of this pack. On the con side, the lower sleeping bag compartment is unsuitable for regular sleeping bags and would likely only fit light or ultra light bags. The other two cons are that you cannot remove the 'hold-open' bar without cutting through the material and the 'hydration compatible' means a one liter bag laid on its side. Our Camelback Mule bladder will not fit (100 ounce). We wound-up attaching the Mule to the outside of the back which works out fine for hiking out after establishing our base camp. For $1.99, I bought a pair of 1" wide, 48" long buckled straps (from Academy) and attached my sleeping bag (in a waterproof compression sack) to the frame beneath the pack. I placed my rolled Therm-A-Rest pad under the top cover flap.
My wife and I hammock camp and, as opposed to placing a bag in the lower compartment, we fit the following: ENO double nest hammock, ENO bug guard, ENO Flexfly tarp (one of the largest they make), a Coleman pillow, an ENO Hot Spot sleeve, a pair of sleeping socks, a pair of ENO Atlas straps (we have the One-Link ENO system) and a twin size flat sheet. In the top compartment, I carry a 12 x 4 x 4 gear/toiletries bag, a Jetboil Flash stove, a spare set of clothes in a 9L Sealine dry sack, half height lantern and misc odds and ends. The five exterior pockets allow me to easily access a variety of items including a first aid kit, toilet paper and trowel, Sawyer mini water filter, Cree headlamp, 16 x 52 monocular, bug spray and sun tan lotion, 4 Clif bars, 16 and 25oz S/S bottles, and gloves, mosquito face net, bandanna, and hat. Fully loaded, with water, food, and stove fuel, the total weight is about 35 pounds (my wife, who carries the Alps Bryce backpack comes in at 33 pounds with roughly the same items sans Jetboil).
You may wonder why I gave this 5 stars despite the cons I mentioned. If you read the description, it is accurate: the lower compartment WILL fit a sleeping bag, just not my large bag (39" x 82" synthetic) and it IS hydration compatible, just not for my 100oz reservoir. The 'hold-open' bar is a good feature and is typical of newer external frame packs so disabling it is a personal preference, not a shortcoming of the item.
An old rule of thumb I recall being taught as a teenager when I first began backpacking is to divide the cubic inches by 100 and not exceed that amount in weight, otherwise you're carrying too much (in this case, this pack has a 3900 cubic inch capacity- divide that by 100 and you have a max ideal carry weight of 39 pounds. I carry about 35 pounds in mine and, properly packed, the backpack is balanced well and handles the bulk/weight well. With any pack, if you try to use it as a big old stuff sack and jam as much as you can into it, you're going to stress the pack seams, grommets, etc. over time. Internals work better as 'stuff sacks' due to their lack of frame (my internals only have two flat malleable bars for stiffness).
Being an older camper in my 50s, I 'car camp' more than backpack, but when I want to get into the woods, I go with this external due to all its pockets and the cool air across my back. I don't consider myself an 'ultra-light' packer, but I would suspect this pack could easily handle 5-7 days for an ultra-light packer. My wife and I have spent three nights in the woods with our packs (my Zion, her Bryce) and did fine with one change of clothes, plenty of food, and our 'old-person' creature comforts (extra snacks, pad, etc.).
When considering other packs, such as the Kelty external (also 3900 cu in), I went with this one (and my wife's) due to price and amount of intended use. The Kelty is probably slightly better quality, but not by much (my wife used a Kelty Red Cloud internal, which is still in great shape, and now prefers her Bryce which is a slightly smaller version of this pack- 3600 cu in versus 3900 cu in.). If you want larger (and double the pack weight!), go with the Alps Commander at over 5000 cu in. We've used these packs on about a dozen hikes and have been pleased with their durability. When we first got them, we sprayed a silicone-based water-proofing spray on them (available at Walmart) but haven't used them in anything more than a light rain (we try to avoid outings when it's going to rain!). The packs came with two extra securing pins which we have not had to use. My wife was comfortable with the fit of her pack as received and I moved the shoulder straps one more hole out due to the width of my shoulders. Unlike the Kelty, these packs do not have load lifters on the shoulder straps which I do miss (but keep in mind that this pack is $50 less). The sternum strap is adjustable (slides up or down closer or farther from your neck).
Relative to our body size, I am 6' and my wife is 5'4". Once again, if you look at torso lengths, the Bryce is better suited to my wife's height and this one to mine. Watch the Alps torso measuring video on Youtube before you decide which pack is best for you and meets your carry requirements.