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In search of the perfect backpack

My gear searching is still going on and after finding my dream base camp gear I’m still searching for the right backpacks for both of us. It is very hard to make a decision just by reading reviews and looking at pictures but I think it’s a pretty good start.

Knowing my own preferences I’ve come to realize that the probability of finding The-Perfect-Do-It-All-Pack are pretty slim. However some of the packs I’ve found seem pretty promising and have scored high on my list of demands:

  1. Carry-on sized or as close to that as I can get
  2. Light, preferably under 1,5 kg
  3. Panel opening for easy gear access
  4. Not too strappy (terrible for flying), but just enough of them that it is still good for hiking
  5. Hip belt with pockets

Making buying decisions based on web pages and reviews is time consuming. Especially with gear that you wear. You never know if the guy who gave a product 1 star is built like a Roman soldier or like a Kenyan runner. Someone with some muscularity may complain straps being too tight or too close together and someone with a slimmer fit will have excess straps and maybe a flimsy fit.

You also have to put up with some annoying features on manufacturers’ websites that slow your research. For example the Arc’teryx website prevents you from opening their links into new tabs (because the product images aren’t actual links), which is super annoying since as a consumer I want to go through their list of products and compare the ones that interest me at my leisure without breaking my workflow. The lack of good quality (and BIG enough!) product photos/videos and valuable spec lists is also a drag. Showing a photo where a person is actually wearing the product would be good. Some American manufacturers also forget that most of the people on this planet use the metric system and it would be polite to add conversion tables to the spec list so that we don’t have to Google/calculate them all the time.

But alas, enough UI talk, lets move on to the list that I’ve come up with:

Arc’teryx Miura 30

How amazing it is to get a gazillion reviews to read! The pictures of this product on Arc’teryx’s own site were also a joy to watch. However the pack is on the heavy side and because of the unconventional loading design I’m a bit skeptical whether it will work for us. On the plus side I have to mention that almost all the reviews about Arc’teryx products mentioned their amazing manufacturing quality standards and they should definitely last for a lifetime. Arc’teryx also provides very good instructions on how to make their packs fit perfectly.

Out of all the packs in my list this is the only one that I could find in Finland to try out. A definite plus.

Manufacturer description This mid-sized convertible will hold all the day’s necessities and climbing gear on the inside, and a rope can be strapped to the outside in two different configurations. Release the Rolltop and open the front panel for instant access to all the gear.

Price 165 € + shipping
Weight 1900 g (regular)

Useful reviews @ |* | | |* | Youtube *
*for Miura 50L not 30L

Pros Cons
Opens up completely; light interior helps to see things in the darkOuter straps are detachable, movable (top or front) and there aren’t too many of themDetachable hip-belt

For some reason the pack appeals to me aesthetically more than any other pack on this list. Just watching the picture of it makes me feel like a ninja.

No hip belt pocketsSince it is originally designed for climbers I have no use for the vertical straps insidePricey and a bit to the heavy side

I’m getting the heebie-jeebies by just looking at that front zipper – practically an open invitation for pickpockets

Arc’teryx Axios 33

I wasn’t able to find that many reviews on this pack, which is a shame, since it looks and seems good. For some reason the pictures on Arc’teryx’s site are pretty vague for this pack compared to the Miura. Most of them are of useless details on the fabric and don’t give you an idea of the general functionality of the pack.

Because of the lack of reviews I don’t have the slightest idea whether this pack will stand up to the test. If I don’t find this in Finland to try on, chances are slim that I’ll find the enthusiasm to order it online, try it out and risk having to send it back.

Manufacturer description This lightweight women’s pack is designed as a large day-tripper or super-light overnighter. Featuring a highly breathable, gender-specific suspension system that has increased airflow for on-trail comfort. Hydration ready and loaded with organizational pockets.

Price 175 € + shipping
Weight 1250 g (women’s regular)

Useful reviews @ | Youtube* | Flickr |
*for Axios 50 l

Pros Cons
There is a men’s version of this pack which is a bit bigger in volumeReviews say that this can easily be used as a carry-onLight weight

I like the organizational pockets on top

Zipper on both sides that open all the way down makes it easy to reach the gear

Only one small hip belt pocketWith so few reviews at hand I’m also hesitant to pay the listed 175 € for this

GoLite Lite-Speed 35

It was very hard to find decent reviews on the current GoLite Lite-Speed. GoLite apparently renewed the design around 2010 so all the reviews that I could find were about the old model. At least the old one got lots of good reviews though. GoLite has certainly risen to the favorites among ultralight backpackers but for me personally their other packs were either too big in volume (for our needs) or top loading (which we’re avoiding).

I also wish the manufacturer provided more detailed pictures of their products on their web site! I cannot stress enough how much easier it is to get a proper feeling of the product when there is a horde of pictures available. How does this pack’s back panel look like? Or the pockets? What about the interior? And what’s with the friggin’ tiny scroll bar-ed area for specs? Huh? My UI-head can not ignore these things :D

Manufacturer description Our previous generation Lite-Speed was lauded as ”Most Versatile” pack by Outside magazine and Backpacker magazine, and the new Lite-Speed ups the ante with upgraded suspension, access and materials.

Price around 110 € + shipping
Weight 1200 g

Useful reviews @

Pros Cons
Light weightPartly made of recycled materials For some reason the pear shape of the pack is little off-putting to meI don’t like the extra bungee cords on the front, but luckily they are detachable

Osprey Kestrel 32

Lots and lots of amazing reviews about this pack. And even though I’m not really fond of the colors I do like the design in general. This might be a possible winner in my mind. Even though Osprey does ship some of their products to Finland I have only found places that offer other sizes in the Kestrel series but not the 32. That’s odd, since I think that the 32 looks the most functional of the lot. Especially if you don’t like top loaders…

Manufacturer description Panel loading design allows quick access to gear in the Kestrel 32.  Ideal for everything from a day at the crags to climbing your favorite peak, this pack will soon become a close companion. A comfortable AirScape backpanel and adjustable harness ensure a great fit.

Price 100 € + shipping
Weight 1260 g

Useful reviews @ | | | | |

Pros Cons
Carry-on sizedHas built-in rain coverAirspace System that actually works, at least according to the reviews

The least expensive from all the packs I have listed

Straps can be used either on the side or at front

Doesn’t open all the way down

Final words

The fun thing about all this is that it is only the beginning of April which gives me 8 more months to consider all of these packs. Some manufacturers might still make upgrades or bring new contestants to the table. The base camp gear will also play a big role in the selection process. When I have enough experience with the gear to know how much space it takes and how it feels to haul it around, I will have a better idea of what is required of the backpack to best accommodate the gear inside it and the person wearing it.

Whatever I end up choosing you can bet I will write a full review about it with big pictures and details.

Update 18th Aug 2012: So we ended up choosing totally different packs for our trip after all. For our small ”day pack” we chose the Granit Gear Vapor Day 32 liters and as for the bigger one we picked the Granite Gear Meridian Vapor 52 liters. I actually wrote a review of the Meridian Vapor already. The Vapor Day review is still coming up later. You might also be interested on reading what we are actually carrying in our packs also:)

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