Light, very durable, but not quite enough padding on the hipbelt
Disclaimer - Ill preface this review with my cut and paste statement that I work as a backcountry backpacking guide in Yosemite National Park. Nearly all of the products I take the time to review have seen at least a half a season, if not more, of use... and Im committed to not bothering to write a review until I feel like Ive really gotten to know a product. Sorry if you've read this before, but when I read reviews from park rangers or other guides I like knowing that the review is written by someone using this stuff out in the field, not just in a park or their backyard.
This pack is a stripped down, minimalist mountaineering pack. Most Arcteryx packs are very comfortable, but are heavy enough that I avoid them (Bora, Altra, etc). I often hear people say that the weight is worth it because of the comfort. To some degree this is true, but it doesn't matter how comfortable it is if your joints have to carry the load. Your knees don't care how good your hips feel.
So, when I saw the weight on this pack I was ecstatic. I picked one up immediately. I figured I might do a little mountaineering in it, but 99% of the time it was going to be a straight trail pack. I like stripped down minimalist packs, and refuse to use a pack over four pounds, and prefer to try to keep them under three (which is tough while remaining comfortable enough for me).
This pack exceeded my expectations in every single regard but one. First, its incredibly durable. My packs are always getting put down and picked up on granite, so they see a lot of severe abrasion. I've had some packs literally last a couple trips before developing moderate holes. This pack would make it years on Yosemite's granite.
I also like the layout. One small side pocket, one zippered pocket on the lid... that's all I need. Hell, my old faithful Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude has no zippered pockets (or lid), and I love it. That made this pack feel luxurious as far as storage goes.
Comfort... wow. The backpanel on this thing is absolutely the single most comfortable backpanel ever made. It distributes weight perfectly into my lower back, and a long torso kept the weight entirely off my shoulders while keeping the weight well over my center of gravity... and this is with a load around 35 pounds, with a bear can strapped between the top of the sack and the lid. The backpanel is very, very rigid and creates a very solid structure to the pack. That they managed this while keeping the pack at a hair over three pounds is astounding.
Now... to the only single downside, and ultimately... a deal breaker. The hipbelt uses two lightly padded ovals (one on each side) that function as hip padding. They can be slid over the several inches of empty space along the hip belt to provide a sort of custom padding for one's hips. The idea is fantastic. However, these 'pads' are so lightly padded that with a load of about 30 pounds I wound up getting pretty severe bruises on each iliac crest... and that was on a short four mile test hike.
If Arcteryx beefs up the cushioning on these pads, or offers various levels of padding on a few interchangeable hipbelt cushions... I would quite literally buy three or four of these packs and horde them decades to come. That is how much I love this pack. Even with the painful, spartan hip pads I'm still giving it five stars. Its great to see Arcteryx finally throwing a few bones to those of us who want lighter packs with fewer features.
Very sadly... I'll be returning this pack. I've ordered the Nozone 75 because its still under four pounds... and it uses a simplified version of the Bora hipbelt! I'll have a review for that pack sometime in the future... once I can put a few trips on it.