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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Aarn Design Peak Aspiration pack > Test Report by Mike Curry

June 12, 2011



NAME: Mike Curry
AGE: 41
LOCATION: Aberdeen, Washington
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 210 lb (95.30 kg)

I've been backpacking, climbing, ski-packing, bushwhacking, and snowshoeing throughout the mountains of Oregon and Washington for the last 25 years. I'm an all-season, all terrain, off-trail kind of guy, but these days (having small kids) most of my trips run on the shorter side of things, and tend to be in the temperate rainforest. While I've carried packs (with winter climbing gear) in excess of 70 pounds (32 kilos), the older I get the more minimalist I become.



Manufacturer: Aarn Design
Photo Coutesy of Manufacturer

Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: $195 +60 for Sport Balance Pockets
Size Tested: Long Torso, Large Hipbelt, Long Sport Balance Pockets
Listed Weight: 1.52 kg (3.35 lbs) (Pack Only), 480 - 500gm /pair (17 oz) (Sport Balance Pockets)
Measured Weight: 3 lb 9.2 oz (1.62 kg) (Pack Only), 14.2 oz/pair (403 gm) (Sport Balance Pockets)


Approx Volume:
S: 40 L (2440 cu in)
L: 45 L (2746 cu in)
Key Fabrics:
7500D, 500D cordura nylon, 210D ripstop nylon

Key Features:
" 2 back lengths with clip torso-adjust
" U Flow,Multi Flow, and Flexi Flow
" Waterproof dri-liner
" One main compartment
" Lid/hydration pocket
" Front and side stretch pockets
" Custom-mould frame with 1 vertical stay
" Custom-fit hip belt (M)
" Cord-loc compression
" Ice axe, crampon, snow shovel, and trekking pole attachments
Compatible Options:
" All models of Balance Pockets
" Balance Gear Racks
" X Flow chest straps
" Custom-fit hip belts (S/L)
" Lasso-loc straps
" Ski straps
" Snowboard straps
" Tool quivers

" Now in two torso lengths, short & long (S & L)
" New waterproof Dri-liners
" 4 mesh exterior pockets
" Compression Straps
" Converts to a day pack with add-on shoulder straps
" 500D, cordura, 210D ripstop nylon
" Fits on all models except the Marathon Magic & Mountain Magic
" Grey/black
" Approx. Volume:
Short 12L + 2L/pair (732 + 122 cu in)
Long 14L + 2L/pair (854 + 122 cu in)


Roll-Top Closure

The Aarn Peak Aspiration pack is designed to distribute some of the load weight to the front of the body in detachable "balance pockets."


My very first thought upon opening the package and looking at the Aarn Peak Aspiration pack was, "wow, this has got to be the most complicated pack I've ever seen." There appeared to be dangling straps everywhere, and I had serious concerns about getting completely tangled in them if I tried to put it on. In retrospect, the pack is actually relatively straightforward after reading through the instructions and watching the videos available at their website, but the first impression was definitely somewhat daunting.
While I found the pack a little intimidating, my first impressions were mostly positive. The pack is composed of fabrics with a relatively subdued and pleasant color scheme of blue, grey, and black, with yellow lettering and a few brown straps. The size of the pack seems more than adequate for my typical solo multi-night outings, and also more than adequate for overnighters and weekends with my family.

All the materials appear to be very high quality, and the emphasis seems to be on durability over light weight. That isn't to say the pack is over-built, but rather that it rests more on the climbing/expedition end of my scale of thinking than the ultralight end. The materials seem robust, and it's a pack I'm not going to feel afraid of tossing down in the brush at the end of a long day on the trail.

The components, including buckles, toggles, and like, all appear to be of good quality. The load lifter straps and hipbelt adjustment straps have flip locks that will hopefully prevent any slippage. The hipbelt is held on by hook and loop fasteners that appear well-made and are laid out in what appears to be a logical way. All the stitching appears very well done, and in all, I'm very impressed with the overall construction.
The one thing I'm a little surprised to not see is a buckle with an integrated whistle. These seem to be ubiquitous on today's packs, so when I didn't see one on the Aarn, I was a tad surprised. Not a major thing, but it will probably prompt me to throw a whistle into my pack again . . . something I haven't done in a number of years.

Key Attachment Points

While this pack is loaded with features, many of which I find to be very unique, there are just a few that I feel competent to comment on before field testing. Features not discussed here will be covered in subsequent reports as I gain experience with them.

First, it is evident that with this pack's unique balance pockets, I'll be needing to re-think how I load my pack. The balance pockets, being smaller in volume than the main pack, need to be filled with heavier items to most effectively gain the load-distribution benefits of the pack. This will likely mean moving back to water bottles from a hydration reservoir (there are mesh pockets on the balance pockets that will work nicely for this). Given the relatively small volume of the balance pockets, many of my heavier items (stove fuel, etc.) that I normally would bury in my pack will likely be moved to the front. I love the idea of balancing the load, but am a little anxious about how much change I will need to make to reap the benefits.

The main compartment is roomy, but has a roll-top/buckle closure that may limit effective volume. I have used other packs (and stuff sacks) with this type of closure, and often find it difficult to compress items effectively.

The pack has what appears to be a nicely designed elastic cord and buckled panel for external storage on the back, and systems specifically designed to retain ice axes and trekking poles. I look forward to trying these out, as well as experimenting with using the balance pockets as makeshift lumbar packs.


While the instructions seemed quite complex at first glance, they weren't as bad as I'd feared after reading them. At Aarn's website I also found videos that showed how to adjust the pack and use many major features, which I found very helpful. The combination of reading the instructions and watching the videos relieved me of my anxiety over getting the pack set up and adjusted.


Hip Belt Attaches with Adjustable Hook and Loop
My initial use was all about getting the pack set up and adjusted for my body. I initially adjusted the hipbelt angles according to the instructions, and placed about 15 lbs (6.8 kg) in the pack, distributed between the main compartment and balance pockets, before adjusting all the other adjustments. I found the pack very comfortable, and did not feel the need to adjust the frame stay curvature at this point.

The adjustments were relatively easy and straightforward after reading all the instructions and watching the videos, but they did take more time than I've ever taken setting up a pack. It took me almost hour to get everything dialed in to where I felt like I wanted it. While I may have felt intimidated by all those straps and flaps at first, they lend incredible adjustability to the pack, and I greatly enjoyed being able to dial things in to fit me.

I can say that, at this point and with a minimal load, I find the pack to be incredibly comfortable. In order to adjust the pack properly, I had to get the hipbelt adjusted at the top of my hipbones. Normally I wear a pack lower (because I usually find this more comfortable). Interestingly enough, being able to adjust the angle of the hipbelt made this higher position quite comfortable for me, at least walking around the house.

The other thing I noticed is that the pack offers me better range of motion in my arms than most packs I own. The pack body is relatively narrow, and the shoulder straps run very close together on my chest, allowing me virtually unimpaired movement of my arms. I really liked this, but having the balance pockets sticking out in front of me may take some getting used to.


My initial impression of the Aarn Peak Aspiration pack is very positive. It appears to be very well-made, quite comfortable with a light load, and incredibly adjustable. I look forward to exploring how the load distribution system and features work under field conditions.



Closeup of Hiking Pole Attachments
I've used the Aarn Peak Aspiration pack on 5 days of field use to date. Two days were day-hikes in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, the other three were on backpacking trips in the same area. Pack weights ranged from 20-22 lbs (9-10 kg) on the day hikes to 28-35 lbs (13-16 kg) on the overnight trips. The trips were dry except for one day where a constant misty rain fell.


The Aarn Peak Aspiration Pack has performed very well in field testing so far. Below are my thoughts on various aspects of the pack based upon my experiences so far.


I really do find this pack to be exceptionally comfortable. I've not adjusted the curvature of the frame stay, and haven't felt the need to. Perhaps as I take some longer trips during long-term testing with greater loads I might feel the need to try, but for now that aspect has been great.

The load distribution properties of the pack I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, I find the pack to be exceptionally comfortable when I have the weight more evenly distributed between the main compartment and the balance pockets. On the other hand, I find it rather inconvenient for me to distribute the weight in this manner. The items that I have that are the heaviest to put in front are generally food and fuel. While I don't mind having some of the food up front, I'd rather have a jacket, gloves, hat, or other items up front, but these items are too light to really gain much advantage in relation to weight distribution. I have to choose between the convenience of having what I want up front, and the comfort advantage of better weight distribution. I have found I tend to split the difference, splitting some food and other heavier items between the two balance pockets, along with compact raingear, and usually two water bottles.

The overall comfort of the pack and its suspension system is excellent, though I must admit I often find myself struggling with all the straps when I go to put it back on. Once it's on it's great, but I sometimes find myself not wanting to drop the pack in order to not have to mess with the straps and adjustments.
Profile Showing Balance Packs


No failures, and the pack seems very durable. I haven't babied it, but I've tried to keep it out of the mud. All the straps, buckles, and other components seem to be holding up well.


Unfortunately, the one day that I encountered rain, most of my gear had already gotten soaked overnight, so I was putting wet gear in the pack. Before doing so I didn't notice any moisture in the pack (which had been sitting out in the rain all night) which I take as a good sign, but this is an aspect I'll need to better assess in long-term testing.


I haven't had an opportunity yet to use the ice axe or crampon attachments, but hope to during long-term testing. I've used the pole attachments on a number of occasions, however, and really like them. I have found that on brushy trails it's very easy to rake the poles out of the elastic restraints without me noticing, allowing them to fall. They seem to be very secure on open trail, however, and it isn't much of a problem if you have someone behind you to keep an eye on it.


Balance Packs and Straps
Overall, the Aarn Peak Aspiration pack has proven to be a very comfortable and versatile pack. While I have to choose between good weight distribution and super-convenience of accessing items, the balance pockets are a plus either way. The pack seems very waterproof, and while I find the straps somewhat confusing when taking it on and off, it's very comfortable. The hiking pole attachment works well, but I have to use caution on brushy trails to keep them from being raked off.



I've used the Aarn Design Peak Aspiration pack on three days of backpacking and one day of dayhiking during long-term testing. Conditions ranged from steady rain and 50 F (10 C) to sunny and 75 F (24 C). The backpacking trip had a total pack weight of approximately 32 lbs (14 kg) and the day hike involved about 15 lbs (7 kb) of clothing, snacks, cameras, and the like for my family and I.

All trips were in Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest in Washington State.


Long term testing has found me both enjoying this pack a little more and enjoying it a little less. I've finally grown accustomed to having to pack differently, and I don't find that such an inconvenience. At the same time, as the mercury has started to rise in the thermometer, the snug-fitting back and wind-stopping balance pockets have found me wishing at times for a better ventilated pack.

During my day hike, I had the opportunity to test the Peak Aspiration in some solid all-day rain, and I'm happy to report my extra clothing remained dry in the main compartment, as did the items in the balance packs and lid compartment.

I did finally shape the frame somewhat, and found it relatively easy to do. It did take two people, however. My wife had to check the fitting for me and mark where it needed adjusting, then I pulled it off and made the adjustment.

I took the pack for a short outing from camp while backpacking with empty balance pockets just to assess how the pack would feel without them in use, and I have to say it was still quite comfortable.

Finally, I tried out the ice axe carrying strap (even though I wasn't climbing, I took an axe along with me) and I have to say I've never felt my ice axe was as secure as it is in this pack. Even if the upper retainer (that would occasionally pop loose with hiking poles) released the axe, the strap held the axe and prevented it from completely falling. It is by far and away the best ice axe stowage system I've ever used.


The Aarn Design Peak Aspiration pack is an innovative and effective pack design for improving weight distribution on my body. The pack is comfortable when used without the balance pockets full, but with heavier items added to the balance pockets, I notice myself being able to carry a load with less fatigue than I would expect in a normal pack. The pack requires some adjustment in packing habits to fully realize this advantage (by shifting heavier items to the front balance pockets), but after getting used to it, I don't find that to be such a problem. The pack is full of features that make it very versatile and pleasant to use.


I expect to use the Peak Aspiration pack on occasion in the future, but it will likely be used primarily for cooler-season trips and perhaps a few climbs. As the temperatures have started to warm I'm more likely to choose one of my other packs with more ventilation. For winter trips, especially with heavier loads, the Peak Aspiration is definitely on my short list!

I would like to thank Aarn Design and for the opportunity to test the Peak Aspiration pack. This concludes my report.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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