Design: Top and side loading
Number of Pockets: 1
Max. Load Carried: 40 lbs
Height of Owner: 5' 9"
Price Paid: $289
Having used a Mountainsmith for 10 years, I cannot say how thoroughly disappointed I am (was, it got sent back) with the Expanse.
First, there seems no way to me, that it meets the advertised volume of 5800, unless of course you have counted the "fanny pack," the too skinny pocket on the back, and the one foot of extendable waterproof cinch top. But wait, you cannot extend the cinch top because the straps which hold the fanny pack on top of the bag are not long enough to allow that. Even after stuffing my tent in without its bag to use every conceivable airspace and had my sleeping bag under compression, there was not enough internal useable space for other than a weekend of camping, let alone any serious camping or traveling.
The flap supposedly used to separate the sleeping/tent compartment from the rest of the pack is connected to the front of the bag, six inches from the bottom, and to the back of the bag just below the J-zip, at nine inches. So, unless your compression sack just happens to form the shape of a sloped roof tool shed, the flap is useless. As for space under the flap, even under compression, the flap barely went halfway over my four season bag. This left half the top exposed. If your sleeping bag is small enough to fit under the flap, anything packed on top of the wedge formed by the flap causes the depth of the bag to narrow because of the front being pulled towards the backboard side of the backpack. This also leaves an "airspace" in the bag making secure packing difficult. I had to use socks to fill the spaces, in order to keep things from jostling around.
The side, mesh water bottle holders are so loose and big as to snag and not hold anything securely; certainly nothing as heavy as a water bottle. The fabric is see-through thin. This is definitely not a bag you would want to put through an airline/bus/train trip.
Even sillier, there is this strange piece of pop-up plastic between the shoulder blades used to re-enforce a buckle to nowhere on the inside of the pack. No instructions were sent, which would normally be required to understand proper use of the suspension system.
After my tent and sleeping bag, I filled the rest with pillows, slightly extending the cinch top. Then I used the four straps to pull down the fanny pack top. One of the fanny pack sides has a rain flap to cover that side of the top of the main bag, but the side next to the neck does not! It leaves the top of the main bag exposed. My old bag has a fifth strap in the middle used to pull the pack over the bag.
My old Mountainsmith is too worn to use. Now I have to hurry to buy a decent pack before my trip. A gunny sack is better than the Expanse.
Max. Load Carried: 50
Height of Owner: 5'9''
Price Paid: $180
Overall, I'm quite happy with this pack. A bit on the heavy side, but the suspension system works great once you get it tweaked right (there are lots of adjustables to be toyed with). The sleeping bag "divider" is worthless to me, but I love the U-zipper. My bag goes at the bottom, then my tent above it. The tent comes out easily from the bottom of the U-zipper, and then the sleeping bag is easy to pull out.
The water compartment is also worthless, as it is not near the top of the pack...it's hard to shove the reservoir in there when you have stuff in the pack. I just plop my reservoir somewhere near the top of the pack...no big deal.
The mesh pockets and front pocket are great for organizing gear.
Really solid construction...have had it for almost 3 years and after about 25 trips it's functionally like new.
Also great for travel...pockets and U-zipper make it pretty easy to find stuff.
Design: top and front loading
Number of Pockets: 5
Max. Load Carried: 50lbs
Height of Owner: 6'2"
Price Paid: $45 on clearance
The bag itself is fine. There is more than enough room to fit my 4 season down bag within the sleeping bag compartment and close the compartment without the problems that M Jarvis stated. The top of the bag closes nicely and covers the top with the four adjustable straps so if you pull them tight they will cover the top and be positioned nicely. The pack is comfortable and big enough for long trips and with the numerous straps, it compresses down when just doing an overnight trip (as long as you don't mind a backpack with the weight of an extended trip design). I bought this pack at the REI garage sale for $45 and am pleased to say that i would have bought it for full price.
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The Mountainsmith Expanse Backpack is a full-on expedition pack with a suspension design comfortable enough for when the Sherpa is you.