Mountainsmith Apex 100
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This is a comfortable, huge capacity, well-designed,…
Source: bought via a "pro deal"
Price Paid: ~$150
This is a comfortable, huge capacity, well-designed, well-constructed freighter.
- Could use one more set of side compression straps.
I was looking for a lighter replacement for my Gregory Rainier, and the Apex 100, which weighs about 3lbs less, fit the bill. The suspension is comfortable with loads up to 60 lbs (most I've carried in it), and extremely easy to adjust, even in the field.
The main compartment is cavernous, easily swallowing camera gear in its own daypack, along with clothes, food, tent, sleeping bag, pad, cook kit, and fuel—4 days worth with a lot of room to spare. I stash my sleeping bag, pad, and tent in the bottom zip-access compartment, and this leaves a huge amount of room in the upper compartment—more than I've been able to use.
The top knot is large, easily holding lunch, snacks, map, beacon, first aid and tool kits, car keys and other sundries. There's a separate zipped compartment on the underside of the top knot that's harder to access on the fly, so I stash my phone in it.
The waist belt and shoulder straps are thickly padded with mesh surfaces to help disperse sweat, and both have plenty of attachment points to hang gear on. The waist belt has a mesh pocket I used for sunglasses and a zipped pocket I stash camera batteries and a remote release in. This pack has hatch back access, which I need for camera gear, plenty of external lash-ons, as well as a big panel stash pocket on the back that can hold a rain parka and pants. Note that the Apex 80 does not have panel opening.
The pack carries well, with my only concern being the relatively soft padding in the shoulder straps and waist belt. Other brands use a firmer compressed foam which makes for a more solid feeling connection with the pack. The Mountainsmith has a cushier, comfortable ride, but I worry that the softer foam won't hold up as well as more solid feeling suspensions. Only time will tell, but so far after three trips with heavy loads I can't detect any breakdown.
The materials and stitching are all top drawer, with nice, burly smooth zippers. The open side pockets easily hold a 1L Nalgene and a compact tripod. The forward angle on the water bottle pouch is a bit steep so if you don't stuff the bottle way in there, it has a tendency to eject.
Still, this makes the bottle easy to reach with the pack on, an improvement over other more awkward arrangements in packs I own. The only design nit I have is with the side compression straps. They're arranged in a way that makes it hard to get a smooth profile when the pack is under-filled. Specifically, a fairly large area on each side of the pack doesn't fall under a strap and tends to bulge out. One more strap would be nice.
This pack is a freighter capable of carrying huge, heavy loads. Even with the extra bulk of camera gear, I haven't come close to filling it on 4 day trips. It carries 60 lb loads comfortably, and I think it could handle 80 lbs—I could easily fit two weeks worth of gear, food, and fuel into it.