TERRA NOVA LASER 20L PACK
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
INITIAL REPORT: October 31, 2009
FIELD REPORT: January 5, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT: March 9 2010
||Catskills, New York State
||6' 0" (1.85 m)
||215 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION AND SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Terra Nova
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.terra-nova.co.uk/
Listed weight: 328 g (11.6 oz)
Measured weight: 340 g (12 oz) (N.B. equivalent to listed weight within the accuracy of my scale)
Stated volume: 20 L listed on website (1220 cu in)
Stated uses (from tag): Lightweight day use, adventure races, one or two day events and mountain biking
Features (from examination)
Belts and straps: contoured hip belt, mesh lined shoulder straps, removable chest strap with integral whistle
Back: contoured back, with spacer mesh on the back panel and shoulder straps
Body: Lime-green ripstop nylon with full length water resistant central zipper
Pockets: two bottle pockets on hip belt, two hip belt pockets with water-resistant zippers, two mesh stow pockets, zipped top pocket on body of pack, and internal hydration sleeve
Other features: outlets for hydration tube on left and right of upper pack body, with retaining elastics for tube on shoulder straps, compression elastics with locks for body and main stow pockets, small reflective loop on rear for nighttime visibility
TERRA NOVA LASER 20L PACK
The pack was received in good order. It has one descriptive hang-tag outlining the main features, and no other attached information (nor did I feel further explanation was required).
I have used a number of lightweight daypacks over the years, but this is, I believe, the lightest I have yet carried. Surprisingly, it is also the most fully featured, although that may be because I usually tend towards minimalism in such gear. The numerous pockets have obvious potential for keeping odds and ends close to hand. The pocket high on the body looks like an excellent place to store a working GPS, which will fit there with room to spare. The waistband pockets will also work for this, something I have also already tested.
My first move was to see if the pack is large enough to carry all the odds and ends (a significant amount) that I use in the course of a hiking day, or otherwise carry as precautions. It is indeed large enough, and then some. In fact, I have found that I can fit a lightweight sleeping bag (in compression sack), and a structured tarp with a pole, with room left over for jacket, cook gear, plus a moderate amount of food and water (though no pad, unless fully inflatable). It seems to me, based on my preliminary observations, that this pack is potentially adequate for mild weather overnights, provided the gear used is lightweight. Unfortunately, given the fact that it has arrived near the beginning of winter, when heavier gear is needed for a margin of safety, I may not be able to fully test its potential for this purpose (unless we have a spell of warmer temperatures).
Though the body of the pack is too short for the poles used in my structured tarp, they can be made to fit in diagonally by allowing them to protrude slightly from one of the two hydration ports. The website mentions the pack in conjunction with Terra Nova's very lightweight Laser Photon Elite tent, which (in conjunction with the mention of "one or two day events" on the hang-tag) leads me to think that this pack is designed for more than day trips, albeit with lightweight or ultralight gear.
This is a pack of a rather complex design, very well executed. The quality of manufacture is impressive; no loose threads, superbly sewn. When filled, the main body is approximately teardrop in shape, constructed from a fabric barely heavier than silnylon, although with a sturdier nylon base. It fits me well, despite the fact that I am by no means skinny. With the shoulder straps near full length, the waistbelt sits a bit higher than is customary, but this isn't likely to be an issue for a pack intended for such light loads (or so I hope) For carrying in this manner (rather than higher on my body) I may need to reposition the chest strap; the shoulder straps have provision for this adjustment, with at least four loops for adjusting the chest strap position.
The bottle pockets are quite low in volume, clearly designed for a soda bottle or equivalent. The hydration sleeve in the interior of the back is large enough to take a fairly substantial bladder of Platypus type, so I will likely be using bottles, but periodically refilling them from the bladder within, or simply using a hydration tube from the interior, weather permitting. Access to the main body of the pack is via a full-length central water-resistant zipper.
The mesh pockets are large enough to fit a windshirt or even a low volume insulated piece, and still have room for some snacks. The hipbelt pockets, which have neat tabbed string pulls (as do all the zips and cords), look handy for low-volume essentials, or even a spare pair of socks. The compression system is fairly standard of its kind; a thin elasticized cord passes through a number of triangular urethane tabs outfitted with holes, and is tightened by use of a cord-lock. From past experience, I know that I need to be careful of such projecting cords, which can snag on brush. I was interested to see an extra set of the urethane tabs with holes near the top of the zip, which would seem to allow for the attachment of a piece of lightweight gear with a thin cord.
The pack is completely frameless, and most of the rear is lined with mesh to enhance breathability. It is far too small for a Z-Rest or similar pad to be used inside for structure, but this is just fine in a daypack, or for that matter an overnight pack carried with a light load. When folded down into a ball, the pack will just fit in the pocket of the jacket I am wearing as I write this (one that I often wear on the trail).
The image at the head of this report shows the Laser 20 with a fairly full winter load, including a sleeping bag, down jacket, shell, thermos, first aid kit, etc. It carries comfortably with this load, and there is still some unused space. No crampons are included. From preliminary wearings the pack seems very stable indeed, even with a fairly full load like this one. It hugs my body well, without any swaying or play. It promises to be perfectly adequate for winter dayhikes on trail, cross-country skiing, and a wide range of similar activities. I will report on my experiences in the coming months.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I have used the Terra Nova Laser 20 L pack since November, mostly under winter conditions. At times, these have been quite harsh. I have used it during two sessions of cross-country (x-c) skiing. One session was on a groomed trail system, the other back-country through the woods. I've done several trail hikes, and one serious bushwhack ascent by snowshoe of a trailless peak, involving a certain amount of brush. Temperatures have ranged from comparatively balmy (well over freezing, and consequently with light loads of a few pounds of odds and ends), to pretty darn cold. The bushwhack fell into this category, with lows to about 20 F (-7 C), combined with very nasty windchills (gusts at elevation of 50 mph, 80 km/h), resulting in presumed windchills at about 0 F (-18 C). On this trip, as I will report, I was able to fill the pack with a suitable winter load weighing in at around 17 lb (8 kg), including consumables, mostly fluids. All pack use was in the Catskill and Shawanagunk Mountains of New York, to elevations of about 4000 ft (1220 m). Terrain has ranged from the essentially level to strictly mountainous, with snow cover ranging, trip to trip, from minor to hiking-pole depth (at elevation).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I have come to regard this pack very highly, based on my first two months of testing. It carries pleasantly low on my back and it has no discernible slop, i.e. it moves with my body, no more, no less. With light loads of sundries (a parka, some munchies, water) I am not really aware that I am wearing it, it is so comfortable. This comfort, and the low center of gravity (relative to the wearer) make it a real asset for x-c skiing, and by extension I am hoping it will be a good performer in other sports where balance and stability are requisites, such as bicycling.
However, what has really impressed me most is the sheer amount of gear this apparently tiny pack fits. Also, equally important, is the relative comfort with which it carries when full. Winter in the mountains is unforgiving, and I always need to carry enough stuff to ensure both my safety and comfort. This pack is not necessarily designed for such fun and games, and I'd hesitate to use this pack in full-bore winter conditions in the Adirondacks, for example; but it will comfortably carry the prerequisites for a grueling day ascent (including crampons, which I carry housed in a crampon pouch attached by a 'biner to the hang loop at the top of the pack).
I especially like the internal sleeve, which holds a two quart (2 L) Platypus water bladder right against my back. I don't use hydration systems in winter, as they freeze too easily even when insulated, but the combination of the thin fabric and proximity to my warm back keeps the water from icing up very effectively. This is a strategy I often (almost always) use in winter, but it seems to work unusually well with the Laser 20, since it has no padding bar the thin fabric between bladder and back. For other liquid needs there's room to carry a thin thermos (a luxury) in one of the two water-bottle mesh pockets (the other I use for food, most of the time). While some care should probably be taken to secure it, the thermos didn't fall out when I was using solely the tension of the pack's elastic pocket cords to retain it. This was true even when doing butt-glissades (an inelegant but effective way to lose elevation on safe slopes, and a great way to lose gear)!
The main zipper is the waterproof variety, and like most such it can be slightly stiff at low temperatures, but not to an extent where I thought it was a significant problem. Within the pack, when it was pretty much stuffed, I was able to carry a Blizzard Bag (a substantial emergency bivy, highly compressed to about the size of a VCR cassette), a light down parka, a waterproof shell, extra socks (fairly bulky fleece ones with a VBL liner), a balaclava, neck gaiter, and fleece hat, a set of ice creepers (Kahtoola MICROspikes), an extra pair of gloves (in an external pocket), a powerful headlamp, a substantial bag of sundries, a serious first-aid kit in a waterproof bag, and a few other odds and ends (in addition to the water bladder). When carrying all this, I still had enough room to take out the waterproof-windproof jacket and put in the light synthetic-stuffed parka I had worn at the trailhead and during the first few minutes of the hike. And I still had a little room left over... I should mention that most of the gear I use tends to be lightweight and low-bulk, but that's typical for the audience this pack appears to be aimed at. Fully stuffed as above, the seams show some slight stress, but this doesn't appear to be excessive, i.e. at a level likely to damage the pack.
The zipped waistbelt pockets are extremely useful, small though they are. I carry a compass and/or GPS in one, spare batteries for headlamps, along with some munchies, in the other. The thin pocket at top right is just big enough to stuff a neck gaiter, balaclava or hat, providing fast, easy access. In conjunction with the mesh pockets and the waterbottle pockets a lot of gear can be kept easily accessible. I have tied Spectra cord through the spare pair of urethane tabs, securing it with a stopper knot and tucking the rest into the bag. This seems handy for keeping snowshoes from flapping if they are not in use, but I haven't yet field tested this. An extra attachment point is always handy, in any case, and I commend Terra Nova for that small touch.
The Terra Nova Laser 20 L pack, based on my use so far seems to be a very versatile performer. It's absolutely perfect for x-c skiing and moderate on-trails day hikes in winter (and all other seasons), but it can also carry enough gear for more serious winter day trips. My long-term test results will be available in March, and I hope (if we get some milder weather) to report on whether the pack can be used with lightweight gear for an overnight trip in this timeframe.
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
For the past two months I have carried the Terra Nova Laser 20 L pack on all my day excursions. Temperatures during January and February were still quite cold, with day temperatures usually well below freezing. I used the pack for four more dayhikes and some cross-country skiing trips.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I have little to add to what I have already established and stated. This is a terrific pack for light to moderate day loads, and is suitable for winter day trips when the conditions don't demand really heavy gear. By extension, I expect it to be great during spring and summer. It is probably among the most comfortable day packs I have owned handy for both day-hiking and backpacking, though I should qualify this by saying that most of my three-season daypacks are fairly rudimentary affairs. I continue to find the capacity of the pack almost startling, and I like the center zip, which provides easy access to gear. I have not found any problems adding and subtracting items in the field. In fact, I feel this arrangement is preferable to a top loading pack; I can get at the contents easily even when gloved.
The condition of the pack is still essentially as it was when I received it. I will probably avoid doing really hard bushwhacks with a lot of brush when using it, although I did undertake one such hike wearing the Laser, and found that the narrow profile helped prevent it hanging up on branches. I have generally avoided using it under conditions where it might get snagged by brush. But for all other purposes, I think this is an excellently designed piece of gear, and I expect to use it as my daypack for the foreseeable future.
I have not been able to test how waterproof it is as yet (no rain to speak of, just snow) and so I am unable to comment on this aspect of performance. However, I usually carry any gear that will be affected by damp in silnylon bags etc., and I do not expect this to be an issue, even if it is less than perfectly waterproof. None of my daypacks are, in any case.
The Terra Nova Laser 20 L pack is a day pack of moderate capacity, well suited for cross-country skiing, hiking, and other aerobic sports. It is designed to provide easy access to key gear via low volume exterior mesh pockets, and has small zippered pockets on the hipbelt for snacks, compass, GPS etc. It has hydration ports and a sleeve for a bladder. The design is sleek and the set of features is more than adequate, despite maintaining an exceedingly light base weight. It's definitely a "keeper," so far as I am concerned.
This report was created in part with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer