User Review: Mountainsmith Achilles
Design: top loading internal frame
Size: 3100 cubic inches
Number of Pockets: 1 main, 1 top, two small side pockets
Max. Load Carried: about 36 lbs.
Height of Owner: 67 inches
Price Paid: $88
Being of limited means, I have to try stuff that I find on sale. This limits my choices of gear, but I wanted to get a lighter pack than my old standby Kelty Coyote 3750. The Coyote weighs a hefty 5 lbs 3 oz, but it does carry loads very well for me. When the Mountainsmith Achilles started showing up on closeout, I was interested. The Achilles looked like a good combination winter day pack/3-season weekend pack, and weighs only 3 lbs 10 oz, with a 3100 cubic inch capacity. That's over 1.5 lbs lighter right than my old Coyote, so I figured I'd try the Achilles.
The Achilles is a narrower, more 'technical' looking pack than the Coyote. It has only one main compartment. No separate sleeping bag compartment or external pockets. There is a pack lid pocket, with a waterproof zipper for access. I think the lid is removable for use as a fanny pack, but I've never tried to use it that way. There's also an abrasion resistant panel on the front of the pack with webbing and quick-release buckles for holding crampons, good attachment points for skis, and lots of auxiliary attachment points for all sorts of ropes, 'biners, snowshoes, ice axes, etc. (The ice axe loops are of the 'quick-release' variety, and are very convenient.) The pack fabric is very lightweight yet quite tough, with a diamond-hatch pattern in it. Very abrasion resistant. I haven't put a scuff or tear in it in over a year of use.
The one thing I noticed right away is that the Achilles' frame is nowhere near as rigid as the Coyote's. I got the Medium size, but the torso length still seems a little long. (I have a short 17.5 inch torso. The Achilles in a Medium is supposed to fit between 17 and 19 inch torsos.) The top of the Achilles' framesheet seems to sag whenever I put any kind of weight in the detachable lid compartment, bending the top of the framesheet. It just feels a bit floppy up there.
If I have the pack loaded up with my usual 30 to 35 lbs, I notice that I need to cinch everything up quite tightly to stabilize the load. While the shoulder straps feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes, they're no worse than any other pack I've tried -- even though the straps are narrower and less thickly padded than most. The hip belt is excellent. It's not thickly padded, but it is very wide, which seems to distribute the weight nicely. I find the pack to be acceptably comfortable, but I'm hoping that something with a more substantial frame will prove to be more comfortable with my heavy-ish loads. (Maybe an Osprey Aether 70?) I did find that if I put my tent poles in the Achilles so that the poles run parallel to my spine, that this stiffens up the Achilles' suspension enough to make it carry better. I suppose I'll learn more tricks as I use the pack more.
As a ski pack, the Achilles is a little big, but very good. I used it for a weekend cross-country ski/snowshoe trip in the Adirondacks. I got all my stuff in and on it, and skied very comfortably out to the lean-to. The pack compresses down nicely, so skiing around with only an afternoon's worth of stuff went fine. The pack was not flopping around at all and the narrow profile of the pack allowed lots of room for moving my arms and ski-poling. I skied with my snowshoes strapped to the pack, then snowshoed with my skies strapped on the pack, with a little strap holding the ski tips together to make a sort of "A" frame. It all worked fine.
All in all, I'd say that the Achilles is a great winter or climbing daypack, and a very acceptable weekender for 3-season backpacking use. However, I wouldn't recommend this pack for loads of 35 lbs. or more -- although if you have a longer torso, the pack may carry quite a bit better than I've experienced.
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