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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > Dakine Heli Pro Pack > Test Report by Brett Haydin

DAKINE HELI PRO 20L PACK
TEST SERIES BY BRETT HAYDIN
LONG-TERM REPORT
March 23, 2009

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Brett Haydin
EMAIL: bhaydin AT hotmail DOT com
AGE: 36
LOCATION: Denver, Colorado, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 195 lb (88.50 kg)
CHEST: 42 in (107 cm)
WAIST: 35 in (89 cm)
SLEEVE: 33 in (84 cm)

I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips in rough, mountainous terrain, although I have extensive experience in the upper Midwest as well. I take one or two longer trips each year, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

November 2, 2008

Manufacturer: DaKine
Heli Pro 20L
Image courtesy of DaKine

Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.dakine.com
MSRP: US$ 85.00
Listed Weight: Not Available
Measured Weight: 3 lb 2.2 oz (1.42 kg)
Listed Volume: 1,200 cu in (20 L)
Listed Size: 21 x 11 x 5.5 in (53 x 28 x 14cm)
Measured Size: 20 x 11 x 5.5 in (51 x 28 x 14 cm)
Color Tested: Woodland
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty on manufacturing defects in the US. There is a 2 year warranty for the rest of the world.


Other details provided by manufacturer:


  • Cross and vertical snowboard carry
  • Diagonal ski carry
  • Fleece lined goggle pocket
  • Deployable water bottle pocket
  • Insulated hydro-sleeve
  • Quick draw ice axe sleeve
  • Waterproof, fleece lined camera pocket
  • Recommended for riders 5 ft 7 in (1.7 m) or taller
  • Fits torso length 18 in (45.75 cm) or larger
  • PVC Free


Product Description
The DaKine Heli Pro 20L is a day pack designed for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. When I received the Heli Pro 20L, hereafter referred to as "pack" or "Heli Pro," there were 3 hang tags attached to the main zippers; one listing the msrp, another stating the product is PVC Free and a third listing product features and warranty. This hand tag contains feature descriptions in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and another language that I could not decipher. The pack is constructed of 600D Polyester and feels rugged.

Main Compartment
Inside the main compartment
The main compartment opens up fully in the front from the bottom arcing from one side to the other by zippers. These two zippers, as well as the others, have cords with plastic tabs on the ends which feature the DaKine trademark logo. The zippered opening is also protected by a 0.75 in (2 cm) overlap of the fabric which would appear to help keep water or snow from penetrating the zippers. Inside the compartment, there is a plastic tab in the center near the top to hang a hydration sack. Just to the left, you can see a yellow fabric tab with a drop of water pictured on it showing where the hydration tube should go. The compartment is lined in the front and back with nylon that is patterned to resemble wood that has been cut. The rim of the compartment is lined with a coated material that feels like rubber and should definitely protect the contents from the weather.

On the front of the pack are two smaller compartments for storing various items. Near the top, there is a fleece lined pouch large enough to store my winter goggles. It has DaKine stitched into the front and looks great! The other compartment has an opening that measures 12.5 x 10 in (31.75 x 25.5 cm) and lined with the same wood-patterned nylon as the other compartment. Interestingly, this compartment extends behind the goggle compartment and has plenty of room. There is a circular plastic ring with a number of holes in it near the bottom of the compartment facing the front of the pack. I could not figure out what purpose thick could have as it would be a perfect spot for snow to enter the pack if I fell on my back. On the outside of the pack are three loops of 1 in (2.5 cm) straps to secure any other items I would want to.

Water Bottle Pouch
Deployable water bottle holder
Looking at some of the other features of the pack, there is another compartment on the left side that unzips to reveal a nylon mesh water bottle holder. The water bottle is secured by an elastic cord and toggle and is large enough for a 34 fl oz (1 L) bottle I frequently use. On the left side of the pack are two sleeves that are designed to hold an ice axe. The openings are about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) in diameter. There is a short strap and buckle on the bottom sleeve to secure the head of the axe.

The waist strap is well padded and extends just far enough to cover my hip bones. There is a 1.5 in (3.8 cm) strap and clip that holds the waist secure. The extra slack hangs free, but there is plenty of extra to cover multiple layers. On one side is a waterproof and fleeced lined compartment large enough to fit my point-and-shoot digital camera. This compartment tapers from one end to the other from 4 to 2.5 in (10 to 6.25 cm). It also contains a clip that I can hang my keys from for safe storage. On the other waist strap (my left as I am wearing it) is a looped strap sewn into the waist padding to hang gear from. It reminds me of a gear loop on a climbing harness! There are also load straps on the waist band to pull in the load closer as needed.

adjustment tab
Adjustment tab for sternum strap
The shoulder straps are also well padded and can be adjusted by 1 in (2.5 cm) straps with buckles. The sternum strap is really neat. It clips across the chest like any other, and has an elastic strap sewn into the back of one section to allow for stretching while breathing. However, the vertical adjustment is unlike any other I have seen. At either end of the straps are plastic tabs that are perfectly shaped to lock onto a bead of fabric sewn into the shoulder straps. These slide easily up and down to get the strap into just the right position. There is about 7 in (17.75 cm) of vertical adjustment that can be made, which is ample for me. The strap on my left as I wear it also has a zippered opening for the hydration tube to exit. This opening has some insulating material sewn into it to help keep the tube from freezing.

There are two methods of securing my snowboard; vertical and horizontal. There is a set of straps on the front of the pack at the bottom that clip together to hold the lower portion of the snowboard secure. These 1 in (2.5 cm) straps have a rubber reinforcement sewn into the back to protect the straps from the edges of my snowboard. There is also a well sized loop sewn back on itself at the ends to make it easy to grasp with gloves or mittens on. When not in use, there is an opening where the straps meet the pack that they can be stuffed into for storage. About halfway up the pack are two compression straps that convert to strap on the upper half of the snowboard. These straps are the same size, albeit longer in length, as the lower straps but lack the reinforcement on the other straps.

Carrying a snowboard horizontally is a little different. The padding on the back of the Heli Pro is secured to by two 0.75 in (2 cm) straps with clips in the upper corners of the padding. When unclipped, the padding folds down to allow the snowboard to be put into place. There are also rubber reinforced strips that are sewn into the top and bottom to protect the pack from the edges.

Horizontal Carry
Horizontal attachment
Carrying Board
Loaded up

For the diagonal ski carry, there are two sets of straps to use. The straps on the upper left are secured to the pack by a buckle, but clips together around a pair of skis. The strap on the lower right is two straps sewn together to make it twice as thick, and are stored the same way as the lower snowboard straps. This forms a loop of fabric that cannot be adjusted. There is a hook and loop closure in the storage opening to keep the loop in the pouch when not in use.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

There are a lot of useful features incorporated into this pack, that is for sure. The materials seem to be quite durable, and every attempt to make it so seems to have been made. It seemed odd that the upper vertical carry straps would not be reinforced, but I realized that doing so would limit their ability to be compression straps as well.

The quality of craftsmanship is superb. I could find no imperfections at all despite a thorough inspection. The main zippers take a little bit of getting used to as the rubber coating on the underside of the fabric has a tendency to stick to the zippers as well. There is ample storage for everything I should need for a day trip into the backcountry.

The waterproof fleece-lined compartment on the waist strap is a nice feature. I was a little worried that my camera would not fit. My camera measures 3.75 x 2.25 x 1.25 in (9.5 x 5.75 x 3.2 cm) and there is enough room for it as well as my car keys. Looking more closely at it, the zippers have a rubber covering that comes together when zipped. These two pieces come together, but there are a few gaps. I will have to keep a watchful eye on the waterproof feature while in the field.

TRYING IT OUT

hydro sleeve
Hydro-sleeve with bite valve
There were a lot of features to test out with this pack. I first wanted to experiment with the hydration bladder compatibility. My bladder easily fit in the sack and on the plastic tab. I have a 3 L (100 fl oz) bladder that I typically use. In order to get the tube to feed through the insulated sleeve, I had to disassemble the bite valve. Once I did this, I was able to easily slide the tube down the shoulder strap. The zippered opening seems excessive large to me, especially since I cannot seem to fit the whole bite valve in the opening. I do have an "L" shaped shut-off valve that makes it more difficult.

I also wanted to try strapping on a snowboard in both fashions. When I tried the horizontal carry method, I found that I needed to loosen the shoulder straps quite a bit to allow the bindings to slide through. Otherwise, lining up the board in the approximate center between the bindings was easy. There is plenty of room. Once secured, I shouldered the pack to get a feel for this and was satisfied that this would be easy to do in the field. I think this could be a great way to carry both board and snowshoes if needed.

When I tested out the vertical carry method, I found that the straps are barely long enough for my snowboard. I ride a Burton Supermodel X , the 160 cm size. At the point where the straps would secure the board to the pack, the board measures 10 in (25.4 cm). The lower straps fit snug while fully extended, but the upper straps took some effort. I am a little concerned that if I load my pack to full capacity, I may not be able to secure the board with the straps provided. Because I can easily accommodate the horizontal carry, I am not worried about using this pack at all. I also tested the straps to see if my snowshoes would fit in the vertical carry straps, which they did.

SUMMARY

So far, I am really impressed with this pack. I plan to use it quite a bit over the next four months as the ski resorts are just beginning to open. There are several mountains that have ski descents already tested this season. I plan to take this pack during any day trips, but also as a summit pack for backcountry hikes.

Likes so far:
1. Different options for snowboard carry
2. Integrated insulated hydration sleeve
3. Plenty of well thought out storage

Concerns so far:
1. Vertical carry straps seem a little short, but I should be able to make it work.
2. Main compartment zippers stick to rubber on covering. This is just a nuisance, not a major flaw.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

January 27, 2009

Pike National Forest Colorado - Devil's Head - November 10 - 11, 2008
Elevation: 8,950 - 9,748 ft (2,728 - 2,971 m)
High temperature: 45 F (7 C)
Low Temperature: 25 F (-4 C)
Terrain: rocky and dry.
Weather Conditions: foggy turning to partly cloudy with some gusty winds at times.

Arapaho National Forest, Colorado - Warren Gulch to Chief Mountain Trail- November 23 -24, 2008
Elevation: 8,250 - 11,709 ft (2,515 - 3,569 m)
High temperature: 50 F (10 C)
Low Temperature: 30 F (-1 C)
Terrain: somewhat rocky but loose soil.
Weather Conditions: sunny with moderate winds.

Day Trip Activities:
I also used the Heli Pro on three snowshoe hikes; two in the Arapaho National Forest and once in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I experienced relatively warmer temperatures ranging from 20 to 45 F (-6.7 to 7.2 C) with some snow during the hike, but otherwise sunny conditions.

Additionally, I have been snowboarding 8 additional days at Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapaho Basin ski resorts where I have used the Heli Pro. Each of the resorts have areas that can only be accessed by hiking to them.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

My first experience with the Heli Pro was an overnight backpacking trip to experiment with different configurations for the upcoming winter. I brought along the pack as a summit pack as well as my snowboard for a short day trip once I packed in. I found that my board is difficult to strap vertically. With my stance, the width of the board is 10.5 in (26.7 cm) where I should strap the board beneath the binding. The lower strap barely accommodates this; it is a real struggle to clip the buckle. The horizontal carry feature is very easy to operate. Even with gloves on, I am able to unclip the buckles and reattach them. I love being able to keep my hands warm!

Keystone Hike
Hiking into the bowls at Keystone

I have used the Heli Pro mostly as a day pack while snowboarding. This pack rocks for days on the slopes! For one, the pack is large enough to stow whatever I would want for the day; extra snacks, tools and camera. I can also stash an extra layer if needed with ease. Of course, when I have the Heli Pro loaded to capacity, I need to take it off when I get on the lift. I did find that the deployable water bottle holder is a little unnecessary, since the bladder usually has more than enough. However, I have used it to hold a thermos for warm drinks or soup on day hikes.

The insulated hydro-sleeve is a little problematic with my configuration. The bite valve is angled at a right angle, and I have not been able to get the zipper to close around the whole unit. On one day snowboarding, the temperatures were at -10 F (-23 C) at the base, lower at the elevations I was riding at. Even though I took frequent sips, the tube and bite valve iced up after 3 runs. Determined to make this work, I purchased a bite valve that has straight configuration and continued to use the sleeve. I was lucky enough to be riding a few weeks later with similar temperatures (or unlucky depending on your perspective). However, the problem continued even with the valve completely enclosed. I have noticed that the straight valve remains unfrozen at somewhat warmer temperatures. I have had no problems in temperatures down to about 10 F (-12 C).

The fleece lined pockets have been great features for me as well. I have used the goggle pocket for both goggles and sunglasses and have noticed no scratches while they were protected there. The waterproof pocket on the hip belt has been used to store both my camera and at other times my cell phone. Having a safe, fleece-lined pouch is great, plus it has provided easy access while on the mountain. I have captured a number of great pictures of my daughter as a result of keeping the camera so accessible. The only drawback of the pocket is that the swivel key ring is also located in it. I would rather have it in the front compartment where it would be away from my camera; I am afraid of scratching the screen.

The front pouch is roomy and I use it to carry smaller items such as maps, compass, repair tools and the like. I haven't seen any use for the drainage hole, but I have not seen much in the way of rain or wet snow. I would prefer to have some storage pouches in this compartment, but as it stands, the pouch is functional.

Looking over the pack, I can see no signs of wear so far. Every seam, stitch and zipper is holding up quite well. The issue I mentioned with the zippers seems to have corrected itself with use. I no longer notice any problems with them catching on the rubber.

SUMMARY

Likes so far:
1. The variety of carrying methods has been great.
2. I can attach other items such as snowshoes with ease as well.
3. Plenty of storage for winter layers.

Areas that could be improved:
1. Vertical carry straps could be a little longer to accommodate wider boards
2. Compartments could use some pockets to increase organization

So far this pack has been a useful addition to my gear, particularly as a winter day pack. I have a couple of trips into the backcountry planned over the next two months. Check back then to see how the Heli Pro 20L holds up!


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I took the Heli Pro on an overnight in the White River National Forest, south of Breckenridge, Colorado on the Quandary Peak Trail. I hiked about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) in and spent a cold night with the temperature when I went to bed at 5 F (-15 C). Temperatures exceeded 40 F (4 C) as the day progressed making it a warm hike, despite the windy conditions. Elevations were from 10,875 to 13,145 ft (3,315 to 4007 m). I packed the Heli Pro with my backpack and snowboard and then used it as a daypack for the summit hike

I also used the pack on two separate snowshoe day hikes. The first was an 8 mi (12.9 km) round trip in the Rocky Mountain National Park up to Ouzal Falls, elevation 9,450 ft (2,880 m). Temperatures were between 20 and 40 F (-7 and 4 C) with clear skies. The second snowshoe hike was in the Eagles Nest Wilderness to Lily Pad Lakes, a 3 mi (4.8 km) round trip from the trailhead. The temperature was about 40 F (4 C). Additionally, I have used this pack snowboarding an additional seven days at various resorts.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The DaKine Heli Pro has continued to serve me well over the past two months. My favorite use has been as a day hike pack while snowshoeing, whether up to the top of a mountain or just in the foothills. Regardless of the use, the pack is comfortable and easy to adjust. There is enough padding on the shoulder and waist straps to make it comfortable, and it transfers the weight to my hips well. There tends to be a fair amount of excess nylon strap that flaps around when I am cruising down the mountain. I fixed this problem with a couple of rubber bands.

Over the testing period, I have used the pack in combination with three snowboards: 1993 Burton Craig Kelly Air, 2008 Burton Supermodel X and 2009 Santa Cruz Platinum TT. I was able to attach two of the three with the vertical carry system, but the Supermodel X was too wide for the straps. I was able to use the horizontal carry system with all three, but in high winds this made hiking much more difficult. The outer straps easily accommodate my snowshoes, and I found that using the ski strap on the top helps keep the snowshoes from shifting around.

I really like the useful features in this pack. The ice axe holder works really well. I am fairly flexible, so I was able to easily reach behind and unclip my axe if it was needed. I used the water bottle holder to store a number of items during the testing period. The water bottles I have used have come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I never had a problem with any of the water bottles or thermoses falling out, even when snowboarding.

Now that the spring season is here, the Heli Pro pack is proving to be useful when I strip off layers throughout the day. As I noted in the field report, there is plenty of room in this pack for gear. When fully loaded, the biggest challenge is sitting on the lift chair with it on my back!

The pack has held up remarkably well over the testing period. Despite a number of tumbles with the pack on, I see no signs of wear on the pack. I remember sliding out in a heel-side turn once and sliding down the hill on my back with the pack on; I completed a full 360 degree turn on the pack. I was a little concerned about both the contents in my pack as well as the pack, but the Heli Pro handled it just fine.

I took the opportunity to use the Heli Pro along with a large backpack for an overnight. I packed the Heli Pro in my backpack and strapped the snowboard to the outside. The snowboard carried noticeably different on this backpack than with the Heli Pro. I was glad to use the Heli Pro the next day as I hiked up. The winds were pretty high above timberline and the pack kept the board close to my body and snug the whole time.

One of my chief complaints remains to be the insulated sleeve. I noticed that if I keep the bite valve enclosed, I can usually keep the valve free of ice down to about 10 F (-12 C). After that, it requires a bit of work to keep it ice free. I wish that the insulated pouch was a bit larger to accommodate the bend of my locking bite valve. Despite the snow and slush, I have not had any problems with the pack keeping my gear dry. I have yet to experience either a major rain storm with the pack or leaking bite valve issues.

SUMMARY

The DaKine Heli Pro has proven to be a superb winter day pack. I especially like the ease with which the various functions perform. Having an insulated sleeve built in to the pack definitely extends the usefulness of my hydration bladder into the winter. There is plenty of storage for a day full of activity in the mountains. I also appreciate the versatility this pack offers. I can use it with snowshoes, snowboards or just around town.

I only have a few concerns about the pack overall. The first is a modification of the hydration sleeve to accommodate bite valves with the bend in them. It would save me the trouble of purchasing the insulated cover or a straight bite valve without the locking mechanism. The lower vertical carry straps are just a bit too short for wider powder boards, in my opinion. I had to carry my board horizontally most of the time due to the width in the center of the board. One or two more inches, and I would have been able to use this option more. I noted a couple of other possible improvements in my Field Report, and still carry those opinions.

CONTINUED USE

I am extremely happy with this day pack and I plan to use the pack during my winter hikes and snowboarding. It is a bit heavier than the day pack I use in the summer, so I don't anticipate using it during the warmer seasons. I really like the color choice I made as well, and will likely continue to use this on a daily basis to and from work.

I would like to thank DaKine and everyone at BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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