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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > CamelBak Alpine Explorer > Test Report by Theresa Lawrence
I have more than 15 years of backpacking experience. Day hikes and 2-3 day backpacking trips take place on most weekends throughout the year while longer trips are only occasional. I backpack predominantly in mountain terrain (Coast Range, Cascades and Canadian Rockies) with the goal of summiting peaks. Activities I use my gear with include mountaineering, ski touring, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, trail running, Search and Rescue and overseas travel. I like my gear to be reasonably light, convenient and simple to use though I would not claim to be a lightweight hiker.
Initial Report - May 22, 2014
Images Courtesy of Website
DESCRIPTION & FIRST IMPRESSIONSWhen I received the CamelBak Alpine Explorer I was reminded of my old book bag I toted around university back in the day. It was the same shape and size with zippered access into multiple organizational compartments. While the manufacturer states the intended use of the Alpine Explorer was for full day ascents, I did not connect its appearance with that of an alpine summit pack. Of course upon closer inspection this pack offers more than meets the eye. First off, the pack fabric is made with 70 D Diamond Clarus & 420 Nylon with DWR (durable water repellent) + 1000 mm PU (polyurethane). This apparently translates to waterproof, breathable and durable, which is very important as I will no doubt encounter rain. Nylon mesh fabric is also incorporated into the pack for the side pockets that are the size of 1 L Nalgene bottles, and for the expanding sides of the outer hinge pocket. This outer hinge pocket is fastened with two clips, each of which houses a shock cord to fasten an ice axe or trekking pole. Ice axe loops are hidden in the bottom of the hinge pocket and can be pulled out when in use. There are three zippered compartments. The outermost compartment, I call the organizational compartment. It is further divided into two compartments by a nylon divider, which is further accompanied by a small nylon pocket and a wee zippered pocket for small items. A key clasp hanger is also embedded in this compartment. The other two compartments include the main compartment and the hydration reservoir compartment. A zippered sunglass pocket is also included and accessed from the top of the pack and takes up space in the main compartment. The reservoir compartment is rigged so that the rigid 'lightweight fillport' component of the CamelBak Antidote Reservoir is supported. The hose has an exit port and clips to the right shoulder strap. It consists of a bite-lock access, also called the Big Bite Valve. The specially designed Antidote Reservoir features a lengthwise baffle down the center and a 'lightweight fillport' with a quarter turn cap and dryer arms that fold out to help hold open the reservoir when drying. The hose is also removable to make filling and drying easier.
The sternum strap is adjustable for height on a slider and has a sturdy gear loop, but no whistle. There are more gear loops on the upper arm straps and on the back of the pack. The waistbelt straps pull outward to tighten and are wide (38 mm/ 1.5 in) for comfort and stability. They are also removable. The back panel is padded in places needed for support and comfort and is strategically not padded in places where airflow will preferably occur. CamelBak calls this design their 'Air Director'. The way the shoulder straps connect to the pack is quite unique and reminds me of a D-link. This appears to be a very sturdy design with the intent to bear a lot of weight without straining the seams.
Cleaning instructions are provided for both the pack and reservoir. A damp cloth is recommended for removing dirt. For more aggressive cleaning, it can be soaked in cool or warm water with mild soap and rinsed thoroughly with cool water. The reservoir needs minimal maintenance so long as it's rinsed and dried after every use. More intensive technical instructions are available if this hasn't been done and mold develops. All of this and the customer service warranty are provided on the CamelBak website.
TRYING IT ON
So far I have found that the back panel and shoulder straps fit quite comfortably. The sternum strap however, even at its highest adjustment point still sits quite low on my chest. I'm hoping this will change when I'm carrying more volume and have the reservoir full of water. Where it sits now is not comfortable and I chose not to do it up.
I also left the pack out overnight in a storm, not intentionally. I forgot it was sitting on an exposed picnic table when I was at a kayaking paddle fest. It spent about 12 hours being pounded on by rain and while the material was fairly soaked through, it was still beading when I picked it up. A good sign. There was nothing in the pack at the time, so I can't say if items would have remained dry, but the inside of the pack felt damp and the pack took a while to dry. I would say that was a fairly extreme situation almost akin to falling in a river with the pack on. There was a lot of water involved.
I'm pleased with the color choice of this pack and the construction looks very well-made with no apparent flaws in seams, zippers or connecting points. I feel the weight of the pack is a bit on the heavy side. The weight I'm sure factors from the sturdy waterproof nylon material, which may translate later on as an advantage for durability and longevity of the pack. To be determined.
Over the past couple months I have used the Alpine Explorer on one mountain biking trip (30 km/ 18.6 mi) and seven day hikes ascending seven peaks in the Southern Canadian Rockies. I've also used it several times for hauling gear for traveling and for use around town. Details of the day hikes are as follows:
- Mt. Victoria (2587 m/ 8488 ft), near Pincher Creek, Alberta. Elevation gain: 1100 m (3609 ft). Distance: 16 km (9.9 mi).
- Turtle Mountain (2110 m/ 6920 ft), Blairmore, Alberta. Elevation gain: 780 m (2559 ft). Distance: 6.2 km (3.9 mi).
- Castle Mountain (2766 m/ 9075 ft), Banff National Park, Alberta. Elevation gain: 1300 m (4265 ft). Distance: 26 km (16.2 mi).
- Mt. Indefatigable (2670 m/ 8760 ft), Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta. Elevation gain: 1000 m (3281 ft). Distance: 5 km (3.1 mi).
- Mt. Tyrwhitt (2874 m/ 9429 ft), Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta. Elevation gain: 650 m (2133 ft). Distance: 4.5 km (2.8 mi).
- Ha Ling and Miner's Peak (2481 m/ 8140 ft), Canmore, Alberta. Elevation gain: 816 m (2677 ft). Distance: 7.6 km (4.7 mi).
- Middle Sister (2769 m/ 9085 ft), Canmore, Alberta. Elevation gain: 1400 m (4593 ft). Distance: 16 km (9.9 mi).
Trail conditions included everything from well-groomed trail to snow fields to scree and scrambling in the alpine. Weather encountered was typically hot, dry and sunny, with some overcast days and light drizzle. Temperatures ranged from 17 to 34 C (63 to 93 F).
I found the pack fit comfortably on my back. The straps had adequate padding and width. The waist strap width was comfortable and easy to adjust. The sternum strap in my initial review reported that it came across my chest too low, however, in the field I was able to position it comfortably and this was never a problem. I found that the greater the volume used of the pack, the more the load distributed to the shoulders instead of the hip belt. I believed this was because the volume would expand further away from my back. The less volume needed the more the pack could be compressed closer to the back distributing the load onto the hips. After a really long hike with lots of elevation I did feel the wear and fatigue on my shoulders. However, for most of the hikes I did, the pack was quite comfortable and I believe the Air Director design did offer some airflow advantage.
The space in this pack allowed me to pack everything I needed for an outing in the mountains where the weather can turn for the worst in the middle of a brilliant summer day without warning. So there was enough room for a full 3 L reservoir, rain gear, first aid and emergency supplies, extra warm layers, food, ice axe and poles. When trekking up to Victoria Peak, I mountain biked the logging road access to save time and I would say at this point with my hiking boots in the outer pocket and tools attached, this would be when it was the most fully loaded. Because of the extensive volume, and as I said before it gets farther away from my back, most of the weight here was on my shoulders. And as the volume expanded my center of gravity was noticeably further back, which for precarious scrambles wasn't ideal. I did however enjoy the capacity. I never ran out of room and if I didn't use the full volume, it compressed really well with the straps provided.
Getting ready to mountain bike to the trail head of Mt. Victoria
The tool loops functioned well for both poles and ice axe. The side mesh pockets worked really well for items like bear spray, bug spray and sunscreen or for a small digital camera or stashing MicroSpikes. The outer hinge pocket was useful for quick access to an outer shell or layer or to put river shoes or gaiters. The organizational compartment was useful for my first aid kit, emergency supplies and food, while the main compartment was where I put all my extra layers and rain gear. I used the sunglass pocket mostly for my small digital camera, just because I was usually wearing my sunglasses. But when I wasn't this was a useful pocket for my sunglasses knowing they would not get crushed or scratched.
I was a little disappointed on my first day hike when I placed the pack down on some shale and a portion of the back panel was snagged. However, no added snags were made on any other trip. It must have snagged a really sharp rock though it was never thrown or tossed. I'm still curious about the longevity of this material, though the pack construction has held up solidly other than the snag. All the zippers, buckles and seams are flawless.
The hydration bladder has held up well to date. It's easy to stash in the designated compartment in the bag, which can by added after the pack is fully loaded in most cases. The hose is of adequate length for drinking on the go. The dryer arms are useful when hanging the bladder to dry, though I found it never fully dried when hanging this way because some water always pooled in the edge underneath the opening. This was never really a problem as the mouth was big enough to fit my whole hand so I was able to just take a towel to it. The big mouth and handle were helpful for filling it up and the quarter turn locking mechanism gave me the confidence that it was closed and wasn't going to leak.
Overall my experience to date with the Alpine Explorer has been mainly positive. I have enjoyed scrambling with this pack and will likely continue to use it for similar adventures. Everything I needed was easily accessible and everything had its own place and was well organized. The pack was comfortable for the most part, though when filled to the maximum volume all of the weight was distributed onto my shoulders and my center of gravity was noticeably further back. The pack has held up well to date and I am looking forward to seeing how it will endure more in the next couple months.
- Lots of space and capacity for alpine day hikes
- Lots of pockets and organizational features
- Easy access to gear
- Good compression to downsize
- Gear loops for poles and ice axe
- 3 L reservoir and designated hydration compartment
- Greater volume distributed weight to shoulders and changed center of gravity further back
- Snag in the mesh padded fabric on back panel
Very compressible for small volume loadsThanks to CamelBak Products, LLC and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to take part in this test series. More observations to follow in the next couple months; please revisit then for the final long term report.
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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > CamelBak Alpine Explorer > Test Report by Theresa Lawrence
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