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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > Terra Nova Laser 20L Elite Pack > Test Report by Michael Williams

TERRA NOVA LASER 20L ELITE
TEST SERIES BY MIKE WILLIAMS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - November 24, 2009
FIELD REPORT - January 31, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - March 30, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Mike Williams
EMAIL: mlebwillATyahooDOTcom
AGE: 36
LOCATION: Milliken, Colorado, United States
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)

I was introduced to backpacking as a teenager through scouts in Colorado Springs, Colorado and fell in love with it. I continued to actively backpack through college and took a break to start a career and family. A few years ago we decided as a family to become very active in hiking, backpacking and camping. Currently my wife, son (8 yrs) and I hike and backpack extensively in Colorado and South Dakota as a family. We continually look for the right balance of lightweight, durable, comfortable and safe gear for our family to enhance our outdoor experiences.


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information

IMAGE 7
Manufacturer: Terra Nova Equipment
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: www.terra-nova.co.uk
MSRP: GBP £45.00
Listed Weight: 7.4 oz (210 g)
Measured Weight: 7.7 oz (220 g)
Listed Volume: 20 L
Size: One Size
Pockets: Main Compartment, 2 Hip Belt Zippered Pockets, 2 Mesh Side Pockets

Guarantee: (From Manufacturer's Web Site) "This product is guaranteed to the original owner against defects in materials and workmanship for a period of 1 year from purchase." The warranty does have some limitations and restrictions which are identified in the FAQ and Product Guarantee pages.

Product Details

The Terra Nova Equipment Laser 20L Elite (henceforth referred to as the Laser Elite or ruck) is a small top-loading ultra-light rucksack. The Laser Elite is the latest edition to Terra Nova's Laser line of light weight packs. The ruck appears to be designed as "Super-light" race equipment and is marketed as an Adventure Racing and Mountain Marathon product.

The intent of this ruck is to offer a balance of features that is as close as possible to carrying nothing at all. The pack is constructed of a rip-stop nylon fabric that is bright green and very thin which aids in the ultra-light aspect of this pack. While the pack remains in the ultra-light class for a 20 L pack, it still offers many features such as a roll-top closure, padded shoulder straps with daisy chain attachment points, mesh water bottle pockets, compression shock cords and a basic hip belt with 2 zippered pockets.



Initial Impressions

It is evident to me that the Laser Elite is a no-frills price of equipment. Everything is designed to be light weight and streamlined which doesn't leave a lot of room for extra components. When I first saw the ruck I thought it looked like a 20 L dry bag with shoulder straps, a hip belt and water bottle pockets, and that is basically what it is. The manufacture refers to this pack as a rucksack, and it should be considered a ruck as it is not a backpack with any structural support at all.

In keeping with the ultra-light theme of this ruck, the straps, shock cords and belt are all very small. The shoulder straps are padded, however padding in this case is relative, but it should be adequate given that the ruck may not carry significant loads. In my opinion the hip belt is designed for stability rather than weight distribution and most of the weight of the pack will be placed on the shoulder straps.

The rip-stop fabric that the ruck is constructed with appears to be coated for some water repellency however the seams are not taped or sealed. The roll-top closure is secured with a hook and loop system as well as quick-clip buckles which results in a secure and water resistant closure. With these features it looks like the ruck will offer good water repellency but will not be water proof.

For the most part the main body of the ruck is made from the "Safety Green" rip-stop fabric and all of the components are made from black materials. It isn't the most attractive pack I have ever owned, but it is an interesting pack that offers quite a bit considering it weighs less than most double cheese burgers out there.

Trying it out

I have used the ruck solely as a gym bag for the last week. It certainly has quite a bit volume and holds all of my clothes, shoes and miscellaneous items with room to spare. It became very evident that packing would need to be a thought out process. Without any structural support this ruck is not a "throw everything in and go pack"; the first time I loaded it my gym shoes were pushing against my back in an awkward position.

Once loaded, the ruck fits ok, but not great. I do not think this was designed for someone with a large chest or big shoulders as there was only about 3 inches of extra webbing on the shoulder straps once I was adjusted properly. The hip belt worked well, but didn't distribute any weight and only served to keep the ruck secured. This aspect of the hip belt should not be a problem as I doubt I will carry more than 10 lb (4.5 kg) with this ruck.

I did take the opportunity to throw some backpacking items into the Laser Elite. While it reinforced my opinion that packing needs to be thought out it did highlight how much room the pack has. Below are some pictures of my test pack.

IMAGE 1
Packed


The Contents of the ruck include a Soft Shell Hoody, Wool Long Sleeve Shirt, Jetboil PCS, Hammock, Emergency and First Aid Kit, 2 pairs of extra socks and 1 L water bottle and small items in the hip belt pockets.

IMAGE 2
Unpacked


There is plenty of room for food and a small quilt for an overnight trip.

IMAGE 3
Side View


Again, the packing needs to be thought out, you can see items bulging and sagging. Also note that the fabric is see through, I can see where all of my gear was packed.

IMAGE 4
Back View


The belt doesn't offer a lot, but this is the only area of the ruck that offers organization.

IMAGE 5
Pockets




Testing Strategy

Since I will be testing this piece of equipment during the winter I will be limited to day hikes or snowshoe trips. I will primarily be in the mountains of Colorado where the temperatures and conditions will be constantly changing. I plan on focusing my testing (but not limiting) on the following aspects of this ruck.


  • How much of a load will this ruck carry comfortably?

  • What is the best way to pack the ruck given its lack of structure?

  • Without a robust compression system will the ruck be subject to excessive load shifting?

  • Will extra clothing layers interfere with the limited size of the ruck's shoulder straps?

  • How hot will this ruck be on my back, will a lack of back panel ventilation cause issues?

  • How durable is this ruck given its light weight materials?

These are the areas that I am going to focus on during the 2 month Field Report phase of the test series.

SUMMARY

I am excited to test this rucksack. I have never ventured into the ultra-light backpack arena and this should be a good introduction. By no means am I the target audience for Terra Nova's marketing of this pack. I can honestly say that I will never be an adventure racer or a participant in a mountain marathon, but I can see the usefulness and benefits of this ruck.

This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report which will provide more details of my experience durring a two month testing period can be found below.


FIELD REPORT

Field Conditions & Performance

During the Field Report phase of this test I really felt that it was unfortunate that I was testing this pack in winter condition as this pack was not designed for winter use. I began testing this pack in Colorado and have taken it on 3 snowshoeing trips to Rocky Mountain National Park with weather ranging from 10 F (-12 C) to 50 F (10 C) in blowing snow and heavy blizzard conditions.

At the beginning of this test I had a strong feeling that I would not like this pack for winter activities and for the most part I still don't. On the first trip with this pack the large volume allowed me to carry my standard winter kit which includes a stove and a sleeping bag; however I had a hard time with load stability and comfort of the shoulder straps and lack of a sternum strap. I quickly learned that I prefer a framed pack for anything with a load over 10 lb (4.5 kg).

IMAGE 1
Snowshoeing


For the second trip I used a foam pad to add structure to the pack and that made the pack much more comfortable, however it significantly reduced breathability on my back. The back sweating was a concern considering the conditions I was in and forced me to go at a slower pace and regulate my layers more that I would normally prefer. In addition to a sweaty back I had a hard time keeping my water from freezing either in the bottle holders or inside the pack.

On my third trip I experienced the same issues and came to the decision that I did not feel comfortable talking this pack on snowshoeing trips. That is when I came to the realization that, while it performed at a less than desirable level I was using this pack in a method that it was not designed for. So I took the pack and loaded it up with summer gear I would take on a day hike and went to the gym and got on a tread mill.

While on the tread mill I walked on steep inclines and also ran with the pack on. Walking was fine; however my shoulders were a bit sore from the narrow cut of the shoulder straps. While jogging, in simulated conditions, a steady rhythm developed and the pack started to shift from left to right with each stride and was not something that I would like on the trail if I was running a mountain marathon, which I will never do. One issue that I noticed while jogging was that my arms will not bend enough to allow me to get to water bottles kept in the side pockets; I had to stop and take off the pack to get water.

At this point I was ready to pass judgment on the pack as something that was not for me but I decided to take the pack on vacation. I took the Terra Nova since it packed light and we planned on doing some light rock scrambling and other hiking and I didn't want to bring anything substantial on the trip. On our vacation we went to Jamaica and I learned that I really liked this pack.

IMAGE 2
At the Falls


The first use of the pack was some rock scrambling up Dunn's River Falls and I was amazed with this pack. At the DR Falls, the rock scrambling route actually goes up the falls and we were wading chest deep in some areas. The pack fit well, not a lot of layers to add bulk to my shoulders and I didn't really notice the light load in the pack. However the pack's water resistant features really shined in the water. I kept the pack on while I waded through chest deep water and also while walking under falling water and at the end of the hike nothing was wet in the pack. We also kept money and credit cards in the belt pockets that were absolutely bone dry, I was very impressed.

IMAGE 3
At the Falls


Observations

I have tested this pack in a wide range of conditions, from below freezing blizzards to a waterfall hike in the Caribbean and believe that I have used the pack enough to begin to form an opinion. Some issues that I have with the pack are related to using the pack in conditions that exceed its design purpose such as winter use and would not be fair to comment on. However, when used within the design parameters of the pack there are some items that I feel I could comment on.

Things I Like…

  • Water Resistance

  • Packable Size

  • Large Volume

  • Bright color was easy to spot in crowds and cover

Things That I Would Change…

  • Hook and loop closure catches on fleece and Merino wool sleeves

  • Water Bottle Pockets are hard to reach

  • Shoulder straps are narrow and thinly padded

  • A lack of a frame / structure can cause load shifts in certain conditions

  • Heavy loads are uncomfortable

Field Report Summary

I do like the pack; however I will not use it in significant winter conditions anymore. I believe that this is a niche pack and its use is limited to lightweight loads in temperate / wet conditions. It is my hope that I will be able to continue the testing of this pack in a more suitable test environment for the Long Term phase of this test series.

This concludes my Field Report of the Terra Nova Laser Elite 20L backpack. The Long-Term Report below are the results of the final two months of testing the ruck.


LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Conditions and Performance

Since my field report I have continued to use the Terra Nova as a gym bag as it fits that role quite well. In addition I have used the ruck on 2 separate day hikes in the foothills of Northern Colorado. The weather on these trips were quite different than what I experienced during the Field Report phase of the testing, it was actually nice and sunny without any snow. And my final use of the ruck was as a stuff sack on an overnight snowshoeing trip to the Colorado State Forest.

On the day hikes I felt that the pack worked quite well with light loads. I limited the load of the pack to around 10 lb (4.5 kg) for each hike and that included two, 1 L bottles of water. On the first hike I used a foam pad to provide back support similar to what a frame sheet provides in other packs. For the second hike (the same trail, rout and gear) I did not use the foam pad for support in an effort to get a fair comparison of the performance.

I discovered that I enjoyed the support and stability that the foam pad offered. It still required careful packing, but the foam pad helped maintain the load and was very comfortable. I found the ruck, without the foam pad to be uncomfortable; items poked me in the back, the load shifted and hung low which caused slight pressure from the shoulder straps. I was again very happy with the water repellency of the pack when I took my pack off for a water break and the pack tipped over into a puddle. The pack was muddy, but everything was dry and it cleaned up very easily. The greatest frustration I have with this pack is the access to the water bottle pockets; I'm not a contortionist and I will never be able to get a bottle out by myself without taking the pack off.

My other frustration with the pack is the hook-and-loop closure to the main compartment; it snags any fabric that goes into the pack. Clothing, towels and other materials have gotten snagged on it and I have never been able to avoid a snag when reaching in with long sleeves. This was very evident when I used the ruck as a stuff sack, but other than that the ruck worked well as storage option and then could be used as a summit pack.

Final Conclusion

I believe that I tested the Terra Nova Laser 20L Elite fairly and under numerous conditions that will allow me to form an opinion of the ruck sack. Overall I have mixed feelings about this pack. It requires some thought when packing, I will not use it without a foam pad for support and it is cumbersome when accessing water and gear. But I believe that these issues are out-weighed by the benefits of the pack. It virtually weighs nothing, is incredibly water tight, offers a large volume compartment, can carry a decent load relatively comfortably and is stable if packed correctly. For my use the Terra Nova Laser 20L Elite will make a perfect summit pack that will stow nicely in a larger pack and will be able to carry the items I need for an excursion from base camp.

This concludes my Long-Term Report and my testing of the Terra Nova Laser 20L Elite. My thanks to Backpackgeartest.org and Terra Nova for allowing me the opportunity to test the Laser 20L Elite.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Michael Williams

Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > Terra Nova Laser 20L Elite Pack > Test Report by Michael Williams



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