Deuter ACT Trail 20 SL
This pack rocks for carrying a heavy day-load, and…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $60
This pack rocks for carrying a heavy day-load, and carrying it well! The harness and Delrin rods distribute weight evenly and the shoulder and waist straps are well-designed, making the pack comfortable to wear for a full day of cross-country trekking with a dense load.
- Harness well-designed for women's torso
- Support system distributes weight well
- Can get water bottle without taking off pack!
- Lid pockets are very small
I've been a long-time Osprey fan/user because their harnesses fit so well, and this is the first non-Osprey pack I've bought in the last 15-20 years. I've had it about six months and have used it extensively for both on- and off-trail photo hikes in the Aleutians. I'm very, very impressed with my first Deuter pack!
I am reviewing the 2011 model, which I bought new in early 2012 at a dirt-cheap close-out price. Deuter bills this as a "women's fit" backpack, and I have to say that it fits my frame quite well. I'm 5'8", 140 pounds, average build with a small bust and an 18.5" back.
I find this pack fits me very comfortably, especially with a heavier load. The shoulder straps are nicely shaped and I get no rubbing around my neck or edge of my armpit. I probably have the shoulder straps at about the halfway mark, so there's a lot of room to fit someone with a considerable larger or smaller chest/torso. Ditto the waist belt - I've got a 30" waist and it should easily fit someone quite a bit smaller or larger.
I typically carry about 20-25 pounds of gear: binoculars, one camera, two lenses, two flashes, two tripods, assorted filters, water, snacks and, because I live in the Aleutians and you never leave home without cold-weather gear, rain gear, a pullover, hat and gloves. The water bottle is carried in the mesh side pocket, raingear in the mesh front panel pocket, tripods on the outside using the accessory loops and lower compression straps to hold them in place; everything else is carried in either the main compartment or tucked into the lid compartments, with room to spare.
Photo equipment is dense and there aren't many options for layering light versus heavy items - even so, I find this Deuter does an excellent job of distributing weight. The back panel and shoulder straps are well padded so it is quite comfortable to pull the pack in close to reduce sway or sagging. Most of my hiking is off-trail, up, down or across mountains, with some scrambling - the fact that pack stays close, doesn't sway or sag or otherwise throw me off balance is huge plus.
The waist belt isn't padded but is shaped such that the lack of padding is hardly noticeable. Even on day-long hikes (6-8 miles) with my usual load, I have yet to notice any sore spots on my shoulders, hips or back that would indicate uneven weight distribution. With lighter loads (10-15 pounds) the pack tends to ride up above my hips somewhat, and I actually prefer the fit/comfort with the heavier load.
Our conditions are never warm so I can't speak to the merits of this pack in a hot climate. Deuter advertises an "AirContact Back System" that is supposed to improve air flow across the back, and I do notice some airflow there, but never enough that I start to get chilled in our usually-cool-if-not-downright-cold weather. I can't say whether it is or is not enough air flow for warm-weather hikers.
The fact that the main compartment can be accessed either from the top or via the front panel is a great option, making it easy to locate and replace/remove just what you need without unpacking everything. The front mesh pocket is perhaps a bit small for bulky items like softshell jackets, but it easily holds my rolled-up rain pants and rain jacket, hat and gloves without bulging.
A couple of features that I really like: easily-accessible included rain cover (it rains a lot here!), and a side mesh pocket that is shaped such that I can remove and replace my water bottle without having to take off my pack! The rain cover fully encloses the pack from top pocket to bottom, and wraps around both sides far enough that it will cover the side pockets and objects attached to the accessory loops.
I've not been out in torrential downpours but have used the rain cover in everything from mist to moderate rain with high winds, and find that it does a good job of keeping the pack and its contents dry. In heavier rain moisture will accumulate on the back panel around the neck/upper back, but that is typical of any pack with its own rain cover rather than a poncho over hiker + pack.
My only complaints, if I can even call them that, are that the lid pockets are pretty small and since they don't stretch, it's hard to fit more than a couple camera batteries, some snack bars and car keys in them. The zipper side pocket is nice for storing an i-phone sized cell phone or similar object, but it can be difficult to get stuff in/out of this pocket if the main compartment is stuffed.
I'm really impressed with this first Deuter pack and will certainly consider this brand for future purchases!