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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > L.L. Bean Stowaway Pack > Owner Review by Greg McDonald

L.L. BEAN STOWAWAY DAYPACK
BY GREG MCDONALD
OWNER REVIEW
November 16, 2008

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Greg McDonald
EMAIL: gdm320 AT yahoo DOT com
AGE: 21
LOCATION: Boynton Beach, Florida
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 0" (1.83 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)

I have been camping for 15 years, 11 of them have been spent hiking in the backcountry. My hikes are almost exclusively in Florida and generally range between one and three nights. My all-time favorite hike was a 10 day expedition in the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. I consider myself a lightweight but comfortably equipped hiker, with a pack averaging between 25 and 30 lb (11 and 14 kg).

Product Information

L.L. Bean Stowaway Daypack
L.L Bean Stowaway Daypack

Manufacturer: L.L. Bean
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.llbean.com
MSRP: US $24.50
Listed Weight: 16 oz (455 g)
Measured Weight: 15.1 oz (428 g)
Listed Capacity: 1,000 cu in (2,540 cu cm)
Stuffed/Packed Dimensions (Approximate): 13 x 5.5 x 3 in (33 x 14 x 8 cm)

Description and Features

I purchased the L.L. Bean Stowaway (known as the Stowaway or pack for purpose of this review) in the summer of 2007. I was initially very impressed by both the capacity of the pack and its light weight, combined with its ability to stuff down to be packed into itself. It is marketed by L.L. Bean as a lightweight and stowable daypack intended for light duty.

It is not designed to carry much of a load, as it is frameless and the narrow hipstrap is a stabilizer to keep the pack tight up against my body and is not designed to be load-bearing in any way. The shoulder straps are 3D mesh to improve moisture wicking and airflow. The back material is the same 3D mesh used in the shoulder straps that wicks moisture off my back and improves airflow.

Notched sternum strap.The pack includes the all-important sternum strap to keep the shoulder straps from sliding off while underway. The sternum strap has notched buckles which makes it easy to remove the entire strap if I didn't want to use it or if I needed to use the strap for something else.

Three long silver reflective strips frame the sides and bottom of the front pocket. The tabs that the stretch-cord runs through are interwoven with a silver reflective material. The zipper pulls are also interwoven with the reflective material. These features come together to provide excellent visibility at night while either underway or when trying to find and get into the pack while stumbling around in the dark.

The Stowaway is a panel-loading design. A panel-loading pack generally includes a main compartment with a zipper running more or less all the way around the pack, usually with a few small additional pockets. The Stowaway has a zipper that runs along the sides and top of the pack running from side pocket to side pocket. The advantage of this design is that I can open the pack up to access any of my gear without having to unpack everything like I would with a top-loading pack. The downside of this design, and the reason it isn't used on larger packs, is that if the zipper becomes damaged or is put under too much strain it could cause a catastrophic failure. For a daypack, this design works very well. The majority of the pack's stated capacity of 1,000 cu in (2,540 cu cm) comes from the main compartment.

The Stowaway has a smaller front pocket for holding a few items, such as my GPS and camera, that require quick or easy access. The pack also stuffs down into this front pocket, which I will touch on in the next section. The pack also has two mesh water bottle pockets on the side and a shock-cord assembly on the front for strapping gear to the outside.

Field Use

Typical load for a day of climbing.The Stowaway has seen plenty of action in the last year. It has been used mostly in Florida, with limited usage in Massachusetts and Maine. It has been carried between sea level and 1,000 ft (300 m), in temperatures ranging between 25 F (-5 C) and 110 F (45 C), and in both clear weather and torrential rains. Since most of my experience with the pack has been in Florida, I have extensive experience with the pack in very high humidity.

I have used the L.L. Bean Stowaway Daypack for about the last 16 months under a wide variety of situations and scenarios. I would estimate that the Stowaway has seen around 65 mi (105 km) of trail use on day hikes and side hikes while on my longer treks. I have packed the Stowaway into my expedition pack for use on side hikes on two occasions totaling a little over 20 mi (30 km).

I would further estimate that I have used the Stowaway on another 50 or so occasions for everyday use. I have used the pack as my carry-on when I fly, as a gear bag when I go climbing, or as a general bag for random and assorted articles when out and about on the town.


Opinions and Observations

Stuffed inside its front pocket.The Stowaway apparently gets its name from its ability to pack down into its own front pocket. When the pack is stuffed down into itself it slims down to about 13 x 5.5 x 3 in (33 x 14 x 8 cm) which totals about 215 cu in (545 cu cm). The small packed size and the relatively low weight are a big draw for me when I need a daypack for an expedition base-camp style hike where I hike in, set up a base camp, then take side hikes to different locations for different activities. Compared to some other packs that were available on the market at the time I purchased the Stowaway, it packed down the smallest and lightest at the best price - which was a fantastic combination. The photo on the right is a comparative photo with a Nalgene bottle to give an idea of how much space it takes up in my pack.

With a light load the pack is very comfortable to wear even for long periods of time. My typical loads for the pack range from about 5 to 12 lb (2.5 to 5.5 kg) which covers water, snacks, and gear. The 3D mesh shoulder straps and back have been pretty at effective wicking moisture away from my body and allowing air to flow freely which is important in high heat and humidity conditions. Even after wearing the pack for a full 8 hour day of hiking (with normal 20 minute pack-off breaks every few hours) my arms and shoulders are still comfortable. The hipstrap does an adequate job of keeping the bottom of the pack tight into my body to avoid flapping around and the discomfort that comes with that.

There is plenty of storage for pretty much everything that I need on side or day hikes. The photo above is a typical main-compartment loadout for the Stowaway for a day spent climbing. The external stretch-cord is something that I commonly use to stuff my climbing helmet inside or secure my trekking poles when I do not need them. I typically store maps, a compass, my GPS, and some snacks in the front pocket. The dual external mesh pockets securely hold the two Nalgene bottles I routinely carry on my day hikes.

There is a slight issue with the smaller front pocket (that the pack stuffs into). The problem is that there is a flap that covers the zipper, presumably to improve the weatherproofing, that sometimes snags when I zip or unzip to gain access to the compartment. This hasn't caused any damage but it is certainly a nuisance.

The primary drawback of such a day pack is, ironically, a byproduct of the best thing about it. The weight and packed size of the Stowaway is kept down by the lack of a frame, suspension system, or padded straps and hipstrap. This is the trade-off that has to be made. Without such a suspension system or padded harness, it is impossible to transfer any of the load to my hips. As a result, the pack starts to become uncomfortably heavy once I take on a load greater than 12 lb (5.5 kg). Would I trade the low weight and small size for a suspension system? No, because that isn't what I use the pack for. The Stowaway is not a "do all" pack for me - it is purpose built and purpose used.

There isn't any information that covers the "weatherproofing" of the Stowaway but I have found that it is moderately water resistant. In a light rain or sprinkle the water beads up and rolls off the pack keeping the contents dry. When I have encountered heavier rains I have always put my rain jacket on over the pack to protect it so I'm not really sure of the extent of the waterproofing but I haven't really had any issues with soaking of the gear inside.

The durability of the Stowaway has thus far shown to be very good. The pack shows very little wear and tear. Sure there are some set-in dirt smudges and pulling of a miniscule bit of mesh from the shoulder straps and backing but it is purely cosmetic and doesn't have any effects on the performance of the pack. The stitching is still tight and well secured and shows no noticeable pulling in any spots including the junctions on the pack straps.

Ups and Downs

Pros:
- Very low base weight
- Small packed size
- Comfortable to carry under light loads
- Plenty of storage space

Cons:
- No frame, suspension system, or padded harness
- Snagging of the front pocket zipper

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.


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