2016 Update: This pack has had quite a few miles put…
Design: Two in one pack with removeable hydration pack
Number of Pockets: 3 includes the main
Max. Load Carried: 25lb (although it is rated up to 35lb)
Height of Owner: 5'10"
Price Paid: $125
This pack has had quite a few miles put on it since the original review and I like it more and dislike it more for the same reasons as I did back in 2005. I've pared down the bulk and weight of my gear tremendously since then and this pack now has more than enough volume for me to get EVERYTHING inside and it sure rides nicely with under 20lb of gear and food, but at over 3.5lb, it's adding considerably more weight than my 2014 SMD Fusion 50 (2lb) or even older Gossamer Gear Mariposa (17oz.).
This has become my loaner to friends that are just starting to try to get smaller and lighter and works well as a transitioning pack.
Don't let the three-star rating fool you; I really like this pack. It just takes a little time with it to figure out the best way to use it.
First of all, unless you've gotten your gear weight and volume down, down, down, don't plan on spending more than a couple of nights in only the best of weather on the trail using this pack. At ~3300ci of volume, and not all of that actually useable (I'll explain later), this pack is small. It's also heavy for a pack its size. I originally attributed this to the addition of a second complete suspension system, but it actually has more to do with the fabric used.
Now some explanations.
I mentioned that not all of the ~3300ci of volume was useable. That's due to the fact that the removable "daypack" also doubles as the hydration pack. If you are carrying any more than about 1.5 liters of water in it, you start losing space rapidly and what's the use of a hydration bladder/pack if you can't carry enough water to be practical?
When carrying a hydration bladder filled with up to two liters of water the removable daypack portion has enough room left to carry my first aid kit, repair (sewing) kit and rain gear in the top and some Clif Bars, a 7'x9' piece of folded Tyvek, a pair of extra socks, the legs to my convertible pants and a windbreaker. That's not much gear, but certainly enough to cover most bases when away from a base camp on an excursion.
With the above mentioned gear in the daypack, that leave a rather small (my son's school pack is larger) main section of the main pack for the rest of my gear. In order to accomodate my penchant for overpacking (I'm getting older and want to be comfortable) I've had to get a little creative with how I pack.
The bedroll (pad and bag) are strapped to the bottom of the pack while inside the main pack are my cooking gear (the smallest and lightest), water filter (Miniworks), a very minimal amount of extra clothes (one pair of socks, underwear and long sleeve t-shirt), food for about 3-4 days and only the most minimal amount of fishing gear in a couple of Altoid boxes.
If there's a chance of any weather, and when is there not in the high Sierras, my tent gets split with the tent and fly in the stuff sack strapped under the compression straps on one side and the poles and stakes under the straps on the other side with my fishing rod and reel. This can present a problem, though, as the main pack and daypack are only attached by clips on the compression straps and items strapped to the pack under those straps tend to move toward the center between the packs during hiking unless otherwise secured.
Due to the lack of water storage capacity, I've taken to carrying a filter waterbottle for use on the trail, thereby saving space in the hydration pack by being able to fill it only half full and using it only for emergencies. Since the pack has no pocket or pouch on the outside for a waterbottle, I've had to add a strap on carrier for it on the front of the waist strap. Not a big deal, but REI should have thought of that early on. No pack should be without a waterbottle pocket. They don't add enough weight to be noticed.
A couple of the niftier features of this pack are the zippered pockets on the hip pads that are just big enough for a couple of Clif Bars, some Chapstick, bug juice, and a GPS unit and the whistle built into the sternum strap. Nice additions and very practical.
All in all, as I said, I like this pack, but couldn't possibly recommend it to anyone with limited experience backpacking unless as a day or overnight pack only.
While this backpack does seem very small for anything…
Size: 3025 cu
Number of Pockets: 4
Height of Owner: 5' 5"
Price Paid: $100 (on sale)
While this backpack does seem very small for anything more then a few days, its usefullness and its price come to make this pack a very good investment. The fact that this pack has its own very diverse daypack alone makes this a very good purchase since many daypacks alone cost nearly the same as this whole system. Now yes the daypack and the backpack itself is quite small. However, if you are aware of this before you start packing you should have no trouble finding the space needed for a multi-day trip. Also, the main pack (while it only has one compartment) is accessible from both the top and the side.
Now the weight of the system is a little bit more then other packs I believe mainly in part to all the straps used to attach the daypack to the main bag. Hopefully other companies will see the value in having a fully funtional daypack instead of what we have seen for the past few years...the dreaded fanny pack. We all know that this is a rediculous design feature that many bags now have.
However I applaud REI for developing this new system. While this is not an ideal backpack for long distances or long term excursions, it is definatly a great multi-purpose pack designed for those small trips you take just to get away for a while.