CAMELBAK ALPINE EXPLORER PACK
TEST SERIES BY NANCY GRIFFITH
October 20, 2014
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Northern California, USA
5' 6" (1.68 m)
130 lb (59.00 kg)
My outdoor experience began in high school with a canoeing/camping group which made a 10-day voyage through the Quebec wilds. I've been backpacking since my college days in Pennsylvania. I have hiked all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. My typical trip now is in the Sierra Nevada in California and is from a few days to a few weeks long. Over the past few years I have lowered my pack weight to a lightweight base weight of 15 lb (6.8 kg) and use a tent, stove and quilt.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
|Photo courtesy of CamelBak
Year of Manufacture: 2014
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.camelbak.com
MSRP: $115 US
Listed Weight (pack and reservoir): 2.6 lb (1.2 kg)
Measured Weight: 2 lb 10 oz (1.2 kg)
Pack Weight only: 2 lb (0.9 kg)
Dimensions: 21.5 x 10.5 x 10.5 in (54 x 26 x 26 cm)
Pack Capacity: 1,648 cu in (27 L)
Reservoir Capacity: 100 oz (3 L)
Size Tested: One Size Only
Torso Length: 19.5 in (49 cm)
My Torso Length: 18 in (46 cm)
Color Tested: Bamboo/Sprout
Other Colors Available: Brick/Soil and Dark Navy/Orion Blue
Assembled in Mexico with US and imported components
The Alpine Explorer is a 100 oz (3L) hydration pack that is listed on CamelBak's website under the 'outdoor' category. It is a meant to carry everything for a long day of hiking or for an overnight trip. The volume capacity on the website shows 1,648 cu in (27 L) but the hang tag shows 1,830 cu in (27 L + 3 L reservoir). It seems a little bit odd to include the reservoir but since it has its own pocket, I guess that's fair enough.
|Photo courtesy of CamelBak
The pack portion is made of 70D Diamond Clarus & 420 Nylon with DWR + 1000 mm PU (polyurethane). On the back panel there is a zippered pocket for the water reservoir with a drain hole in the bottom. The zipper is color-coded with a blue sleeve to differentiate it from the other pocket zippers. The main storage area unzips about 2/3 of the way down both sides of the pack. Hanging inside of it at the top but with a separate outside access is a lined pocket for sunglasses or a small camera. Next is an organization pocket which has a key clip, a small zippered pocket, a small mesh pocket and two other open pockets. On the front is a large overflow pocket for things like an extra layer. There are several slots at the top for hanging carabiners or threading straps through. On each side there are mesh pockets. Compression straps are positioned over the mesh side pockets and at the top sides.
The shoulder straps aren't fixed at the top but rather they slide along a d-shaped ring to conform to the individual. The straps are nicely cushioned with thick foam with straps for routing the hydration tube down either side. The right-hand side has a small clip at the sternum strap for holding the hydration tube in place. The sternum strap has a slider on both sides to adjust the height. The waist belt is also cushioned with foam and can be removed completely if desired. The back panel features is cushioned and has ventilation channels.
At the bottom of the pack are two tool or ice axe straps which tuck away when not in use. At the top is a lifting strap. Attached to the top compression straps are cords with a barrel lock and hook for holding trekking poles. The other end of the poles can slip through the ice axe loops.
The 100 oz (3 L) reservoir features a large opening with a quarter turn cap that screws into the fill port. The fill port has an integrated tab to use as a handle when filling and an integrated hook at the top. Under the fill port there are two dryer arms that fold out to hold the reservoir in an open position for better drying. On the reservoir there are graduation marks every 16 ounce and 0.5 L. There is a baffle running length-wise down the reservoir to prevent sloshing and to make a lower profile.
The drink tube attaches to the lower part of the reservoir with a Quick Link connection. This makes it easier to fill the reservoir without having the hose attached. The bite valve is angled 90 degrees and has a lock.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS & TRYING IT OUT
My initial impression was that the pack is a bit larger than I would expect for a day pack but it has compression straps that make it possible to tighten down the load into a reasonable size. It seems to be as advertised on the website. I was happy to see the 90 degree shut-off valve because I've just changed one of my other packs to include this valve and love it. Also, the quarter turn cap on the reservoir is welcome since my older CamelBak had the fully threaded version.
I tried it out for a mountain bike ride and loved all of the capacity. I was able to carry an extra layer, lunch, snacks, sunscreen, etc. and tighten it all down to keep it from sliding around on my ride. I was able to easily add ice to the reservoir which is a big plus for me. The hydration tube seemed shorter than what I'm used to but I was always able to find the tube and route it to my mouth without problem. The torso length feels a little long for me but the hip belt helped to keep it down even while riding.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
They recommend wiping the pack with a damp cloth to remove dirt. For heavier dirt, it can be soaked in cool or warm water with a very mild soap and rinsed with cool water. It should NOT be washed in a machine and will void the guarantee if it is.
They recommend cleaning and drying after every use. If mold or discoloration develops then hot water and baking soda or bleach or a CamelBak Cleaning Tab can be used to soak and then wash out the reservoir. Brushes can also be used. Then allow it to dry overnight.
There is a lifetime guarantee.
The CamelBak Alpine Explorer is a large hydration day pack that can serve for a full day hike with lots of convenient pockets.
Removable hip belt
Lots of pockets
Large easy open cap on reservoir
90 degree shut-off valve
Top compression straps seem to interfere with pockets
Hydration tube is shorter than I'm used to
Torso length feels a little long for me
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
During the field testing period, I used the pack for a three-day backpacking trip, five day hikes, three mountain bike rides and one snowshoe hike as well as for airline travel, fishing and hauling stuff around in general.
Desolation Wilderness, California: 3 days; 17 mi (27 km); 6,560 and 8,220 ft (2,000 and 2,505 m) elevation; 55 to 72 F (13 to 22 C) with clear to cloudy and windy conditions; 15 lb (7 kg) pack weight.
Multiple hikes in the Auburn Recreation Area, California: 2.5 mi (4 km) to 3.6 mi (5.8 km); 500 to 1,500 ft (150 to 450 m) elevation; 43 to 58 F (6 to 14 C).
Foothills of the Sierra Nevada (California): 4 mi (6.4 km); 743 to 1,262 ft (226 to 385 m); 75 F (24 C); dry conditions.
Loon Lake, Sierra Nevada, California: 4 mi (6.4 km); 6,327 to 6,478 (1,928 to 1,974 m); 34 F (1 C) with clear conditions; breezy.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I found the pack to be really useful for hauling as much gear on a day trip as I could possibly imagine. The pack is quite large and I usually had it cinched down to make it as small as possible. The torso length is fairly long and seems quite long for me since I have a short to average torso length. For day trips, I'm used to a pack that sits higher on my back so it was odd to have such a long pack.
Since it had so much room, I decided to try to pack it for a three-day backpacking trip where we didn't need bear canisters. I was easily able to fit all of my normal gear without any extra stuffing or arranging needed. And that was just into the main compartment. I still had the outer pockets! I had assumed that I'd have to hang or strap some items on but I was able to easily get everything inside including my water shoes. I have to admit that I was shocked since I am by no means an ultralight hiker. And my husband didn't need to increase his load to accommodate me although he was quite willing to do so. His immediate comment was 'can you fit a bear canister in there too?' thinking of our upcoming nine-day trip where we'll both have to carry a full canister. Of course that won't be possible but the pack has quite an amazing amount of space while appearing like a day pack.
I love all of the different pockets which made organizing my gear really easy. I've gotten used to lighter packs with less pockets but it was nice to have more options. I put my larger gear in the main pocket and my electronics, headlamp, wallet, map and smaller items in the outer pocket. However, this pocket isn't 'small'; I was able to fit a magazine inside without folding it and could stuff in a sun shirt too. Then I still had the overflow area for my water shoes and side pockets for sunscreen, fuel and bug spray. The only problem I had was with the overflow pocket straps since they buckle high across the openings of all of the other pockets. That requires me to unbuckle them every time I'm trying to load or unload or find anything which is kind of a hassle.
The next big test was comfort. On day trips it was quite comfortable except for it being a little long as mentioned earlier. There is no padding on the hip straps at all and I like to carry the load there rather than on my shoulders. I had a pinched nerve in my neck last summer from backpacking and shoulder straps can aggravate it. I was able to tighten the hip belt enough to get the load off of my shoulders but found on an extended climb that my lower back was straining. I ended up swapping packs with my husband for the last few miles which helped. Then on the downhill the next day, I had no problem. The unpadded hip belt didn't cause me any discomfort.
One issue is that the pack is built like what I'd compare to a book bag which causes an unbalanced load. The pockets are stacked so that as I add to them, the gear gets further from my body which leads to the back strain. And with no load lifters or frame sheet, the pack doesn't transfer the weight to my hips. If I try using this pack again for backpacking, I'll likely remove the water reservoir and instead carry water bottles attached to the front straps for a more balanced load.
The water reservoir has been quite easy to use and I love the large-mouth opening so that I can add ice to my water on day trips. The quarter-turn opening is easy to open and close and is a huge improvement over my older CamelBak design. The collar around the opening of the reservoir is solid and makes an easy place to hold it open while filling. It also fits well into the pack and keeps the reservoir from slipping down as the water is depleted. However, it does seem to make the reservoir quite a bit heavier than any of my others.
The 90 degree elbow on the bite valve is amazingly helpful. We have a standing joke about how bite valves always end up in the dirt when we set our packs down (and often forget to stow them ahead of time). But the angled version is just right to keep this from happening. I still try to stow it but I don't have to worry as much if I forget and have yet to end up with a dirt-covered bite valve.
The tube seems to be shorter than what I'm used to but I have to admit that it's long enough to reach my mouth so I really can't complain about that. In fact longer tubes have a tendency to catch on my shorts when I'm mountain biking which is not only irritating but can also be dangerous. There is no chance of that happening with this set-up.
The pocket for the reservoir has plenty of space for getting the full reservoir inside. In fact I forgot to fill it before I packed for the backpacking trip and was still able to get a half-full reservoir back in with no problem at all. I like the blue sleeve on the zipper pull for the water reservoir pocket. With so many pockets on this pack, there are a lot of zipper pulls so it's nice to have that one easily identifiable.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
During the long-term testing period, I used the pack for a three-day backpacking trip and five day hikes as well as for hauling gear around for a 10-day road trip.
Desolation Wilderness, California: 3 days; 17 mi (27 km); 6,700 to 9,983 ft (2,042 and 3,043 m) elevation; 39 to 65 F (4 to 18 C) with clear to cloudy and windy conditions; 15 lb (7 kg) pack weight.
Leggett Redwoods, California: 4 mi (6 km); 970 to 1,150 ft (296 to 351 m); 72 F (22 C); sunny
Nehalem Bay, Oregon: 4 mi (6 km); 0 to 50 ft (0 to 15 m); 59 F (15 C); overcast and rainy
Cape Flattery, Washington: 2 mi (3 km); 50 to 300 ft (15 to 91 C); 57 F (14 C); cloudy
Two hikes in the Auburn Recreation Area, California: 2.5 mi (4 km) to 3.6 mi (5.8 km); 500 to 1,500 ft (150 to 450 m) elevation; 58 to 75 F (14 to 24 C); sunny
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
On the backpacking trip we hiked in to Sylvia Lake and set up a base camp at 8,220 ft (2,505 m) using the pack as a backpack. Again the pack worked well to carry all of my gear for the three-day trip since we didn't need a bear canister in this wilderness. This was a fairly easy hike in and out of only 6 mi (10 km) and 1300 ft (396 m) of gain, so I didn't have the same discomfort as during my prior backpacking trip. Then the next day we bushwhacked for 8 miles (13 km) round-trip and summited Pyramid Peak using the pack as a day pack. I loved the convenience of having a day pack for carrying my rain gear, lunch and essentials. The bottom line is that I can use this pack for short backpacking trips so long as they don't include very long mileage or very strenuous conditions.
The pack performed in much the same way as during the prior testing period. It continues to hold a ton of gear with the ease of packing with all of the pockets and storage areas. The durability has been great with it still looking nearly new despite a lot of brushes with granite and shrubbery. The 3L capacity of the reservoir is perfect for long days and makes it easy to 'water-up' prior to a big hike. It is also easy to clean and dry. And I have found that I really prefer the 90-degree bite valve for ease of use as well as keeping it out of the dirt when I set my pack down.
I see this pack being my choice for long day hikes especially in the winter when I want to carry more gear. And I'll use the reservoir when I need to carry enough water for a long or hot day hike.
Overall, I found the Alpine Explorer to be amazingly versatile. It cinches down well for day trips but holds enough gear for an overnighter (or multi-day trip for me) or for a winter day trip where I have a lot of extra clothing and gear.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
Lots of organization pockets
Large, easy-open reservoir
Outer pocket buckles across other pockets' zippers
Full loads cause unbalanced condition
This concludes my Long-Term Report and this test series. Thanks to CamelBak and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to participate in this test.
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Read more gear reviews by Nancy Griffith