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


Pack in snow


INITIAL REPORT - January 14, 2011
FIELD REPORT - March 30, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - June 04, 2011


NAME: Patrick McNeilly
EMAIL: mcne4752 AT yahoo DOT com
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA
HEIGHT: 5' 8" (1.73 m)
WEIGHT: 155 lb (70.30 kg)
TORSO SIZE 18.5 in (47 cm)
WAIST SIZE 34 in (86 cm)

I have been hiking for over 20 years but backpacking only since about 2002. Most of my backpacking is done as overnight trips and occasional weekend and weeklong trips. My typical pack weight is approximately 18 to 20 lb (8 to 9 kg) before food or water. Most of my backpacking is the three season variety in the mountains of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. In addition to backpacking, I also fish, hunt, and enjoy orienteering. As a result, some of my backpacking equipment gets used in a number of different venues.



Manufacturer: Aarn Design Ltd.
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website:
Pack Listed Weight: 3 lb 6 oz (1.52 kg)
Measured Weight: 3 lb 6 oz (1.52 g)
Pack Volume: 45 L (2746 cu in)
MSRP: US$ 195.00
Sport Balance Pockets Listed Weight: 14.1 oz/pair (400 g)
Measured Weight: 14.3 oz (405 g)
Sport Balance Pockets Listed Volume: 12 L/pair (732 cu in)
MSRP: US$ 60.00
Additional Options: Compact or Expedition balance pockets, ski straps, tool quivers, snowboard straps, balance gear racks, custom hipbelts.

The Pack

Wearing Peak Aspiration PackThe Aarn Peak Aspiration Pack is top loading with a single main pocket and utilizes 1000D, 500D Cordura and 220D ripstop nylon in its construction. The pack features a roll top closure which fastens with a clip buckle, similar to a dry bag. The pack also has a fixed lid with a small zippered pocket measuring approximately 10 in x 12 in (25 cm x 30 cm). Under the lid there is a length of webbing to secure items under the lid.

The front of the pack has a pocket for carrying a climbing helmet or other items. There are also three sets of cords on the front of the pack. One set runs essentially around the perimeter of the front of the pack and can be used to compress the pack when not completely full. The second set criss-crosses the front of the pack and will accommodate small items on the outside of the pack. The last set of bungees are two small lengths approximately half way up the front of the pack and are used to secure long tools or trekking poles.

At the bottom of the front of the pack there are two fabric slots, two small lengths of webbing with clip buckles and two O-rings. These can be used to carry ice axes and trekking poles. The webbing and buckles wrap around the axe or pole and firmly hold it in place. There are also two water bottle pockets which can accommodate a one liter bottles on either side of the pack.

The pack has an ergonomic hip belt which mimics the shape of the pelvis. Each side of the hip belt can be adjusted in both length and angle independently. This provides a nearly custom fit of the hip belt. The hip belt also has webbing loops on either side to carry carabiners and other climbing hardware. On either side of the main buckle are two slots or "holsters" which act as an attachment point for the balance pockets. Attached to either side of the hip belt are lumbar stabilizer straps which attach to webbing that runs around and though a channel on the front of the pack. The belt also has a small hook on either side which is another attachment point for the balance pockets.

The pack has a "Custom Mould Frame" which consists of horizontal and vertical aluminum stays and an acetal perimeter rod. There is one main vertical stay which is easily removed and can be bent to conform to the wearer's back. The pack also utilizes a matrix mesh material which forms the back panel and provides an air gap between the pack and the wearer's back.

Roll Top ClosureHip Belt

The packs shoulder straps are a light mesh material which can be easily adjusted to conform the shoulders. The adjustment is easily accessible and uses a series of loops which run down the back of the pack and the shoulder straps clip into the appropriate height for the wearer. The bottom portion of the shoulder straps runs through a slot around the front of the pack and links both shoulder straps together. This allows a great deal of movement of the arms and shoulders when the wearing the pack. The shoulder straps also have load lifter straps which tie into a horizontal stay at the top of the pack. Lastly, there is a two piece sternum strap attached to the shoulder straps which are also used to secure the balance pockets when they are attached.

The inside of the pack has a removable waterproof liner. The liner appears to be made of silnylon and its seams are taped. The liner is held in place by hook-and-loop fastener. The liner must be inserted in the proper configuration after it is removed because the one half of the opening has the hook portion of the fastener and the other half of the opening has the loop portion. This allows the top of the pack to completely close using the hook-and-loop fastener when the waterproof liner has been removed.

The Balance Pockets

The most unusual feature of the pack is the addition of front balance pockets. My pack came equipped with the Aarn Sport Balance Pockets which are optional equipment. Other sizes of balance pockets are available depending on the user's preference. Balance Pockets

The balance pockets consist of two separate detachable pockets which utilize a curved aluminum stay on the back of each pocket. The pockets attach to the pack at three points. The bottom of each pocket's frame inserts into the "holster" on the front of the hip belt and secures with a snap; the top of the frame clips onto the shoulder strap; and a bungee on the lateral side of each pocket attaches to a hook located on the side of the hip belt. The bungee has a cord lock which can be tightened and helps stabilize the balance pockets.

Each balance pocket has one large main pocket with a zipper that runs across the top and down the side of the balance pocket. There are two smaller mesh pockets, one on the front and one on the side. There are also have two compression straps on the front of each pocket. Each balance pocket is dedicated to either the left or right side. The right side pocket has an additional mesh pocket located on the back of the balance pocket.

There is a quick release buckle attached to the top of each balance pocket. This buckle clips into the sternum strap of the pack in a crossed fashion to keep the pockets from swaying while walking. There are also two D-rings on the left pocket and two oval disks on the right pocket.

The two balance pockets can be removed and converted to a day pack. To do this, the pockets are placed next to each other and the oval disks are inserted through the D-rings. Next, a pair of straps [included with the balance pockets, weight: 1.4 oz (40 g)/pair] are attached to either end of the balance pocket frames to create the shoulder straps.


My initial impression of the Peak Aspiration is that this is a complicated pack. There are lots of straps and cords and things hanging all over this pack. However, once I took some time to look over the pack and got a better feel for it, I still think it is complex but very functional. The quality and workmanship appear to be very good and there appears to have been a great deal of thought put into the design of this pack.

I spent a fair amount of time looking over the Aarn website to better understand the pack's functions and how to properly fit the pack. There are a number of videos on the website describing the fitting process and the various accessories for the pack. These videos were very useful and really helped me understand how to use this pack. One thing I learned is that attachment points for all items used in conjunction with this pack are color coded. When something needs to be inserted or clipped onto the pack (e.g., the balance pockets) there is colored webbing or cord at each point to ensure the proper alignment and positioning of accessories. Once I realized this point, many things started to make sense.

When adjusting the fit of the hip belt, I found that the small size belt could not adjust properly according to the information on the website. My measurement for the hip belt size was right on the border of a small and a medium and I chose the small based on the amount of adjustment shown in the online fitting video. I contacted the manufacturer by e-mail and asked if they could send me a medium hip belt for the pack. I received a very prompt reply and a new hip belt was shipped the next day. I thought this was excellent service.

The pack can be ordered as a stand alone item but when combined with the balance pockets a whole new carrying system is created. The balance pockets are not simply small extra pockets on the front but are quite large and designed to hold the densest items being carried. I will have to rethink how to my packing system when using the pack and balance pockets. For example, it is recommended that light items be stored high up in the main pack and water be carried in the balance pockets, as far forward as possible. That is significantly different than what I am used to.

What difference does all that distributing of weight make? The manufacturer indicates that all the weight is transferred to the pelvis and not carrier on the shoulders. I was skeptical but loaded up the pack with various light- to mid -weight items and the balance pockets with one liter of water each and put the pack on. I was very impressed that I did not feel any weight on my shoulders at all. The weight seemed to be distributed all around the hip belt. One thing that felt a little funny was weight on the front of the hip belt but did not find it uncomfortable. I did need to adjust the frames of the pack and both balance pockets. The pack needed adjusting in the lumbar region and the balance pockets were putting pressure on my stomach. The adjustment is not hard to do, the stays easily slip out of their respective sleeves and can simply be bent to the correct shape.

The balance pockets are a new concept for me and I have to say that they do look a little unusual. However, with the way the weight gets transferred to the hip belt, I might not care what they look like. The zippers on the pockets work well and I can easily access the interior of the balance pockets. I was concerned that I would not be able to easily see my feet while using the balance pockets but they separate in the center and allow me to see where I am walking. I haven't had a chance to hike with the pack on but I am interested to see if the balance pockets interfere with my arm movements while using trekking poles.

Tool AttachmentSome of the other features that I really like are the waterproof liner and the roll top closure. The liner is removable and secures with hook-and-loop fasteners. The liner is also orange in color which could be useful in the event that I needed to use it for signaling a rescue crew (I sure hope I never need it for that). The closure system is very simple, like that of a drybag and allows extra space to be rolled up easily and securely fastened.

The outside of the pack has various bungees and attachment points for accessories. The pack is designed to carry ice axes and trekking poles. The clip and loop at the bottom of the pack allows for securing the bottom of the poles and there is a bungee further up the pack which ties down the rest of the pole. This is a simple but effective way to carry poles.

I tried to convert the balance pockets to a day pack and was pretty confused for a while. After realizing that things are color coded I could see that the oval disks would fit through the D-rings (with a little difficulty) and that straps could be quickly attached. I put the resulting day pack on and found it fairly comfortable with a couple of water bottles inside.


The Aarn Peak Aspiration Pack is a well made top loading pack with a variety of features. The pack can be fitted with front balance pockets to allow for carrying gear with the weight evenly distributed around the hip belt. The pack initially looks complicated but is easy to adjust and appears very functional.



I have used the AARN Peak Aspiration Pack on five local day hikes in central Maryland or in the Michaux State Forest in southern Pennsylvania. I also used the pack on one weekend trip along the Appalachian Trail in central Virginia. The outings were all on maintained trails and ranged anywhere from 3 to 10 miles (5 to 16 km) per day and were at elevations of 300 to 4000 ft (91 to 1219 m). The temperatures on these outing ranged from 18F to 50F (-8 to 10 C). I did encounter light to moderate rain and snow on some of these trips, as well as some very windy conditions [20 to 35 mph (32 to 56 kph)], particularly on my weekend outing in Virginia.


Cold Mt. VirginiaAfter using this pack for the last few months, I can say that I really like this pack. I have used it both with and without the front balance pockets attached. I find this to be a very functional pack. It has been a great size for winter day hikes where I might carry extra gear. The pack also cinches down to quite a small size, so that if I am carrying a smaller load, everything is secured. One thing that is important to me is that when I cinch the load down, other parts of the pack don't flop around. That makes for a less frustrating hike. The pack worked out well on my weekend trip, especially with the balance pockets attached. The balance pockets add lots of room, so I had plenty of space for all my gear. I like the roll top closure which helps to compress the pack and also to seal thing up and keep water out. I haven't had any problems with water getting into the pack, so the liner seems to work. The pack fabric has been very durable and other than being a little dirty hasn't shown any wear worth noting. I also have not had any issues with failure or wear of any of the straps, cords, or other parts.

The pack is very comfortable and I believe the load transfer is excellent and I don't have any weight riding on my shoulders. There have been times while carrying a full pack that I have that sensation of "Oh yeah, I'm wearing a pack." The hip belt is probably the most comfortable that I have ever worn. I have played around with the adjustment (which is very easy), so that it fits really well and hasn't given me any troubles on the trail. I found it rather amazing that when I attached the balance pockets and fully loaded the pack, I could slip my arms completely out of the shoulder straps and carry the load using the hip belt alone. Alright, I might not want to hike like that but I really didn't find it uncomfortable. I have found that I can get a very good range of motion while wearing the pack. The bottom of the shoulder strap doesn't attach directly to the pack but rather runs continuously through a channel on the front of the pack. I can feel the strap move around as I raise one arm up then the other (like when climbing a ladder). It doesn't feel restrictive at all.

Packing the balance pockets does take a little thought. The idea is to carry denser and heavier items (e.g., water) in the front balance pockets. The balance pockets will easily hold 1 L water bottles but other items may not fit well into the pockets. I did find that isobutane fuel canisters fit really well into the pockets and I tended to carry my fuel and stove in the balance pockets. One thing that I found important to remember is that they are called balance pockets for a reason, they balance things out. As items get used up during a trip, the weight needs to be replaced to keep things in balance. Water isn't too much of a problem but when food or fuel is used up, other items might need to be shifted from the main pack to the balance pockets. I didn't find this a big problem but if the items I wanted to move didn't fit well into the balance pockets, I had to try less heavy items instead. For example, I wanted to pack my self-inflating pad into one balance pocket but it wouldn't fit, so I ended up putting clothing in the pocket instead. I haven't needed to alter the types of gear that I bring on a trip because the pack has ample space for all my gear. I simply need to pay attention to my packing.

View of feetThe balance pockets tend to flop around if they are full and the pack is on the ground. This can create a situation where I seem to never be sure which pocket is which. Not really a problem but I have ended up unzipping pockets unnecessarily, I guess more than I would like. I had a little concern initially that the balance pockets would get in the way with my arms when using trekking poles but I have not had any problems with that at all. I also was wondering if I would be able to see my feet as I walked down the trail and have not had any problems in that regard since the two pockets are separated when the pack is worn. I have had a couple occasions where my thighs would bump up against the balance pocket when taking a big step up. That hasn't caused any problem but is something that doesn't typically happen with a conventional pack. The mesh pockets on the balance pockets come in very handy. I usually keep a water bottle in one of them and keep it secure using the cinch straps on the balance pocket. The right balance pocket has a small mesh pocket on the back which is really handy for a camera or other small items. Seeing items in the mesh pockets (both those on the front and behind) can sometimes be a little difficult. Since these mesh pockets don't close, I have had to keep an eye out that something doesn't fall out but nothing has so far.

Daypack configurationOne feature that deserves some mention is the ability to use the balance pockets as a daypack. I converted the balance pockets while using them on my weekend trip in Virginia to do a separate day hike. I didn't have any problems converting the pockets to the daypack configuration. Since this configuration doesn't have any kind of hip belt and the fact that the balance pockets have metal stays, I was concerned how comfortable this setup would be. I actually thought it worked out quite well. When used as a daypack, the metal stays are closer together at the top than they are at the bottom. This means that there isn't a metal rod poking me in the lower back (a good thing). The shoulder straps are narrow and didn't slip or cause me any problems other problems. The only disadvantage to the daypack configuration is that there are two smaller pockets rather than a single larger one. I was able to carry all that I needed, so I was pleased.

Although the pack has really good qualities, there are a few things that can be annoying. First, there are lots of cords on the pack for securing items to the pack and compressing the load. They perform those tasks very well. However, some of the cords are very long (and probably could be shortened) and have a tendency to tangle with the other cords. This is not a major issue but can be a bit bothersome. The bottom of the hip belt is not attached directly to the body of the pack, which allows a greater freedom of movement when bending forward. Since it isn't attached at the bottom, it can sometimes flip over and can make donning the pack a little more difficult. The belt usually falls back into place but I have had it remain upside down when I went to reach for the buckle. Lastly, when the balance pockets are attached, it can be a little difficult to buckle and tighten the hip belt. I found that it was easiest to grab the two sides of the buckle and support the weight of the balance pockets when performing this action.


The Aarn Peak Aspiration pack is a top loading pack which can be fitted with front pockets to balance weight both front and back. The pack is very comfortable and allows for a good range of motion. The pack accommodates both large and small loads, although loading the pack effectively can require some careful thought.

Things I like:

1. Very comfortable
2. Good range of motion while wearing
3. Loads compress well

Things I don't like:

1. Loading needs different planning
2. Balance pockets flop around
3. Hip belt gets in way when donning pack

This concludes my Field Report, please check back later for more information in the Long-Term Report.

I would like to thank Aarn Design Ltd. and for the opportunity to test this pack



The Peak Aspiration Pack has been along with me on five local day hikes in central or western Maryland and on two overnight backpacking trips in central Virginia near the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trips ranged anywhere from 3 to 10 miles (5 to 16 km) per day and were at elevations of 400 to 1350 ft (122 to 411 m). The temperatures on these outing ranged from 30 F to 80 F (-1 C to 27 C). I did encounter light to moderate rain on some outings but nothing involving heavy downpours.


Over the past couple months I have continued to be impressed with the Peak Aspiration Pack. It is in great shape other than being somewhat dirty from use. There have not been any problems with seams ripping, cords failing, or other general quality issues. I still find the pack very comfortable, even when using the front pockets. The pack can be fitted to my body well enough and there is so much freedom of movement that I haven't noticed issues problems with rubbing or pressure points from awkward load transfer. At one point I decided to load up the pack with about as much gear as I could find and take a hike. The pack weighed 46 lb (21 kg) and I took it on a 5 mi (8 km) hike and can say that I didn't find it uncomfortable. The weight distribution on the front and back of the hip belt made it much more comfortable than I had expected.

I have become a fan of the balance pockets. They really don't get in the way and I can have quite a bit of gear available right in front of me. Although there is the problem of deciding what should go in these pockets. I was a little concerned that as the temperatures got warmer the balance pockets would make the pack too hot . I don' t find the balance pockets really any warmer than shoulder straps on other packs.

There have been a couple additional things that I want to mention that have been somewhat annoying. First is that there is a small mitten hook inside pack's lid pocket. I like this feature, so I can be sure that my keys are in a safe place. Unfortunately, the hook sits right along the zipper and when I attach my keys they tend to hang out of the pocket and prevent me from closing the zipper. Not a major issue but it could easily be alleviated by moving the point of the mitten hook attachment.

I wanted to play around with using a hydration bladder along with the pack. My solution was to use the top lid pocket to hold the bladder. I found it very difficult to put a full 2 L bladder into the pocket. I was able to get a bladder filled with 1 L of water into the pocket without much difficulty. That wasn't bad but I typically want to carry 2 L in a bladder if I am going to use one. With a bit more experimenting, I was able to get 1.5 L into the lid pocket which I could be happy with. Since I was using the lid pocket I tended to have a greater amount of hose to deal with outside the pack than with other hydration compatible packs.

There are two side pockets on the pack for water bottles and such. I have carried 1 L bottles in them and there is a tendency for the strap that runs around the front of the pack linking the shoulder straps to work its way under the bottles. This pushes them up and they can fall out. I did have a water bottle fall out of the pocket at one point when I was bending over. This only happened once but it did make me keep an eye on things in those pockets.

One last positive thing I would mention is that I found I was able to attach both of my trekking poles to a single tool attachment point. Initially, I didn't think there was a long enough strap attached to the buckle of the tool attachment to allow it to wrap around both poles. That allows me to have the other tool attachment point available for another use. I don't usually carry additional tools (like an ice axe) but the spot is there nonetheless.


The Aarn Peak Aspiration pack is a top loading pack which can be fitted with front pockets to balance weight both front and back. The pack is very comfortable and allows for a good range of motion. The pack accommodates both large and small loads, although loading the pack effectively can require some careful thought.

My likes and dislike haven't changed much but I might add that I believe the pack handles fairly heavy loads well and that the mitten hook in the lid pocket could be in a better place.

This concludes my testing of the Aarn Peak Aspiration Pack, I would like to thank Aarn Design Ltd. and for the opportunity to test this product.

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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