User Review: Mountainsmith Expanse
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.