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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Columbia Mobex Backpack > Test Report by Kathleen Waters

COLUMBIA MOBEX WINTER XL BACKPACK
TEST SERIES BY KATHLEEN WATERS
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LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - September 12, 2010
FIELD REPORT - November 07, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - January 08, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: kathy@backpackgeartest.com
AGE: 59
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.60 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

Living in Colorado and being self-employed, I have ample opportunities to backpack. There are over 700,000 acres/280,000 hectares of public land bordering my 71-acre/29-hectare "backyard" in addition to all the other gorgeous locations which abound in Colorado. Over the past 15 years, my husband John and I have also had the good fortune to hike/snowshoe glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in exotic locations, including New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. I use a tent (rainfly if needed). Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) excluding food and water.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Columbia Sportswear
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.columbia.com
MSRP: US $129.00
Listed Weight: N/A
Measured Weight: 1 lb 13 oz (822 g)
Colors Available: Voltage and Black
Color Tested: Black

FEATURES: (from Columbia website)

•Fabric: 20D nylon Triple Rip™
•Omni-Heat thermal reflective hydration system, Columbia by Hydrapak 3L bladder included
•Omni-Shield advanced repellency
•Flex Frame with tool loop
•Ultra-light construction
•Versatile internal gear organization with multi-point lash-down system
•Reflective safety accents provide visibility in low-light conditions
•Easy grab zipper pulls are functional with mittens and gloves
•Dimensions: 20” x 9.5” x 7.25”
•Imported
Mobex Winter Backpack
Picture Courtesy of Columbia Sportswear Company

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Thanks to clear and concise information on the Columbia Sportswear Company website, there were no surprises for me when I received the Mobex Winter Backpack. In addition to the multiple images and detailed description, the fact that my husband has an original style Mobex (and loves it), had me excited about the Mobex Winter long before it arrived!

At first glance, other than color, I didn't see much difference in the two packs (original and Winter) but once I really started to examine the Mobex Winter , I discovered lots of neat improvements, so much so my husband is developing a nice case of "pack envy".

Initially, the most noticeable thing about the Mobex (all models) is the external frame system. According to Columbia this Flex Frame™ system "features a comfortable-wearing network of flexible poles that provide featherweight structure and spring back to life when crushed."

The fabric used for the body of the pack is Columbia's new Omni-Shield®-armed ripstop nylon which is purported to have "advanced repellency" and is a smooth, matte finish that is pulled taut by the Flex Frame™. A white Columbia logo across the top back of the pack marks the Mobex as part of Columbia's Titanium line of products.

A very generously-sized dual-directional zipper gives access to the main compartment of the Mobex, unzipping all the way to the bottom of the pack. This is great as the "clamshell" construction of the pack allows the pack to "snap" closed when the zippers are not fully opened.

Inside the Mobex, there are three compartments on one side of the pack and two on the other - the hydration side which rests against my back.

Hydration Pouch
Hydrapak 3 Liter

The hydration pack is a three-liter Hydrapak™ hydration pack and is encased in a pouch made from Columbia's Omni-Heat® thermal reflective technology to help prevent freezing. There is a small mesh open-topped pouch over the top of the hydration pouch at the bottom of pack. On the opposite side of the pack is a small mesh open-topped pouch near the top of the pack, a tautly stretch mesh "divider" panel and an additional zippered removable pouch near the bottom of the pack. Both the divider panel and the zippered pouch can be removed via hook and loop fasteners.
Interior Pockets
Interior Mobex Pouches

Two additional external zippered pockets can be found on the very top and bottom of the Mobex. These pockets are very small and very tight.

Nicely padded shoulder straps are well designed with the right strap having a channel for the hydration tube. This channel is lined with thermal reflective material and features a zippered pocket where a hand warmer can be inserted to help keep the tube ice-free during cold weather. The chest strap can be moved up or down for an optimal fit.
Hydration Sleeve
Shoulder Strap with Shielded Hydration Sleeve

Two very large zippered pockets on the hip belt add to storage options on the Mobex and are easily accessed thanks to the positioning and the rubber coated finger-loop zipper pulls.
Hip Belt Zippered Pocket
Hip Belt Zippered Pocket

The Mobex is uni-sized so there is no flexibility in the frame for long versus short torsos. I measure 18.5 inches (47 cm) from the base of my neck to my waist and on first impression, the Mobex is just fine for me.

The construction of the Columbia Mobex Winter pack appears to be stellar with no loose threads, pulled stitches, snags or other imperfections.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

I suppose there really doesn't need to be an instruction manual included with a backpack. I don't think I've ever received instructions with any of my other packs and the Mobex Winter pack is no exception. After all, putting a pack on my back was/is fairly intuitive. Adjustments to the fit just require tugging on the various straps. Zippers zip, hook and loops fasten, etc. About the only thing that I'd need to know about any particular pack is how to care for it and as of this report; I haven't been able to find out anything on the Mobex either on the website or on any of the retail hangtags.

Columbia is very generous however with details on the various technologies going into the making of the Mobex Winter pack on their website. And an interesting little tip on the use of hand warmers to keep the hydration tube from icing up is explained on one of the hangtags. Other than that, it looks like I'm on my own. I think I can handle it though!

TRYING IT OUT

Talk about good timing! The Mobex Winter pack arrived just as I was getting ready to go out of town for the weekend. I wasn't planning on backpacking, nor even a real day hike, but a steam engine train ride from Durango, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado to view some of the most spectacular scenery in southwestern Colorado. I only needed a couple of changes of clothing, some additional layers if it got cold, camera, binoculars and miscellaneous odds and ends. Not enough for a suitcase but too much for my gym bag or my small lumbar pack. Eureka moment! I'd use the Mobex Winter pack! Yay!

It took me a minute or two (I'm slow sometimes) to realize I had to totally unzip the Mobex's main compartment to be able to access the interior without having the "clam shell" feature of the pack kick in and close up the pack while I was still trying to pack it!

Once I got past that hurdle and thanks to the various pockets and such, I had no problem sorting and packing my stuff in an easily retrievable, organized manner.

The body of the Mobex Winter pack is adequately spacious and I readily utilized the hip belt pockets for my camera, cell phone, some gel paks, etc. Folded nicely, I was able to stuff my baseball-style cap into the top zippered pocket where it is reachable while I'm wearing the Mobex. I didn't use the bottom zippered pocket. I'm not sure for what, if anything, I'll ever be able to use the bottom zippered pocket. It's really small and pulled very tight by the external frame of the Mobex. But I have 4 months to figure that out!

Hip Belt Strap
Hip Belt Strapped Tucked Away Neatly
As with the usual course of things with packs, I had to tighten the hip belt as far as it would go to get a good fit. Once the weather gets colder and I'm wearing more and bulkier clothing, I'll be able to loosen it a bit, but for now, I have 18 inches (46 cm) of excess webbing hanging from my waist. NO, I don't! Columbia thoughtfully added a stretchy fabric loop around the hip belt so I can tuck in the excess webbing and be neat-looking after all! Ditto the "tucking" loop on the shoulder straps where I have 15 inch (38 cm) "tails", but there isn't any such loop on the chest strap.

Speaking of the chest strap, it is able to slide up and down the shoulder straps 4 inches (10 cm) for optimal positioning. Briefly, I tried the chest strap high, I tried it low and right now I think I like it low but will be testing the strap both ways to see how different pack weights color my preference.

So, the Mobex Winter pack was prepped and ready to go and so go, I did!

SUMMARY

I'm very excited about the winter hiking/snowshoe possibilities the Columbia Mobex Winter Backpack presents. The Mobex is bigger than my usual winter day pack but is lighter as well. That's a great combo in my book!

So, continue reading for the results of my first two months of hiking with the Mobex.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

In the last two months, I have used the Columbia Winter Mobex backpack 6 times, mostly for two to four hour day hikes with my husband around our property, a weekend trip to Durango/Silverton, Colorado and one overnight camp with our granddaughter.

The terrain around our property is varied. We are in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at roughly 5600 ft (140 m) and the elevation goes up from there another 900 ft (23 m). Within our property there are valleys filled with cactus and prairie-type grasses, hills of sand to gravel to granite and lots of juniper and pinyon pine make up the landscape.

Temperatures have been quite warm this summer and early fall with daytime highs up to 90 F (32 C); however we are blessed with desert-like conditions where sundown produces almost immediate drops of 30 degrees or more. Over the testing period, temperatures ranged from 90 to 40 F (32 to 4 C).

We have had no rain at all.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

During this portion of my field testing, I am most impressed by the lightness and stability of the Mobex backpack. It is by far the lightest of all the packs I own thanks to the fabric and the external frame. And since there are no external pouches, there is no extra weight from those pouches. The hip belt zippered pockets work well instead to hold items I might want readily at hand without having that added weight on my back. The hip belt pockets are supported by the hip belt's construction, not my back and/or shoulders as side pouches on the backpack proper would be.

Using the Mobex gives me more leeway with content weight while still keeping the overall pack weight down.

The configuration of the Mobex interior with its "compartments" helps me to keep the "bottomless pit" that is usually my pack, more organized and stable. I can pack small heavier items in the back bottom pouch of the Mobex pack and know they will stay there. Thanks to the neat divider that unclips with ease, I can further divide and conquer pack chaos. I like that space for extra clothing and my food. The small zippered pouch that attaches to this divider is great for very small essential items like my multi-tool, flashlight, etc.

Because of the way I'm able to compress and pack up the Mobex utilizing its compartments, I have found contents do not shift during my hiking. Everything pretty much stays put. This is great for, not only keeping me more stable on the trail, but for the overall comfort of my back and shoulders. No pack shifting means no sudden pressure on my shoulders or "whoops" as I lurch off-trail and maybe down that drop!

I love using the very nice sized hip belt pockets. I use them for my camera, cell phone, glasses, lip balm and food snacks, even my binoculars! The pockets are so much more accessible than pouches on the sides of other packs I own.

As for fit, the Mobex with its one-size-fits-all sizing may not work for some, but it sure works for me. Granted, I have all the straps that can possibly be adjusted pulled to their limit, but that's about par for the course with me and pack straps and at least, Columbia has thoughtfully provided "holders" for the excess webbing, so I don't go around with numerous "tails" to snag on every other bush and tree.

The bottom of the pack rests nicely right on my waist where the hip belt supports the pack's weight rather than my shoulders getting dragged down by the pounds/kilograms. The top of the pack rides just above my shoulders but is out of the way of my head and any hat brim I am wearing. This is a pleasant change from some of my other packs which feel obtrusive and rub against the back of my head.

I've tried the chest strap both high and low on my chest, and I've found I prefer it low. This seems to give me more support by pulling the Mobex in closer to my lower back and gives me more freedom of movement. It also allows more air flow between my back and the pack which as the weather conditions have been unusually hot lately, has been a good thing. As it gets colder, I may find snugging the back closer to my back may become preferable.

Using the hydration reservoir is pretty much the same as others I own. The selling feature of the Winter Mobex is the heat shield reflective lining for the reservoir's tube. This hasn't been of any use as of yet, but I'm excited about testing it in the colder temps coming up.

With no extra care taken, the Mobex has held up to the use I've put it through so far. I've haven't overstuffed it and I haven't crushed it falling down a cliff (yet!). It has gotten a bit dirty and I found just a damp cloth to be sufficient to clean it up. Despite my leaving a pair of damp, stinky socks in it for a long forgotten two weeks, the pack hasn't developed any funky odors. Nothing has torn, though I am leery of possible punctures in the fabric due to the tautness of the fabric. So far, so good!

SUMMARY

The Mobex is definitely, for me, a day pack. There isn't enough room for a tent, pad and sleeping bag as well as all the other gear I need for an overnight. The one overnight I did, my husband carried the tent and my pad. Hmmm, maybe it IS good for overnights - "Honey...can you take the tent, pad, etc.?" But for a day pack, particularly in the winter where extra layers are doffed and donned at whim, this pack looks like it'll be a winner.

Winter hasn't even begun here in Colorado. We have had almost record-breaking high temperatures for several days over the last months and yesterday, November 6, the high was 78 F (26 C)! As a result, as of yet, I can't really say anything at all about how the "winter" part of the Mobex backpack performs.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

All of my testing during this reporting phase took place in Colorado, except for casual use in Michigan. Usage took place on 4 day hikes and one 2-night overnight.

November and December 2010 were incredibly mild and dry months for the whole of the Front Range of Colorado where I live and primarily play. While the west slope mountains of the Rockies got pounded with snow, the east side (Front Range) experienced record lows in precipitation. We had one snowfall measuring less than 6 inches (15 cm).

In order to find snow for our annual family Christmas Snowshoe, we had to drive into the mountains. Even on Mt. Evans, a 14K + foot (4300 m) peak, at 10K feet (3000 m), there wasn't enough snow! We ended up just hiking in winter boots.

Temperatures bounced all over the place from record highs to near-record lows. One day it would be 60 F (16 C) and the next day temperatures would plummet to single digits (-17 to -13 C). On a New Year's Eve night hike, it was 0 F (-18 C) which was the coldest outing.

I did spend 20 days in Michigan in November where it was seasonably damp and cold, but no snow.
Mt. Evans
Christmas Hike on Mt. Evans

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

My experiences with the Mobex these past two months closely mirrored my first two months. I continued to enjoy the comfort of the pack and especially liked the hip pouches. These front pockets are just so darn handy for things like lip balm, digital camera, etc. Some of my other packs have hip pockets but none as easy to use and as spacious and the Mobex. Two thumbs up to Columbia!

Once the weather became marginally wintery, I found I didn't care for the interior construction of the Mobex as much. With bulkier clothing layers, space became a premium and it became necessary for me to be more conscious of folding and carefully repositioning articles inside the pack. There was no way for me to just stuff things back into the pack while on the go. I tended to make a mess of things while rooting around for that extra pair of socks or when stripping off my hat or gloves. Maybe with practice, I'll get better, but right now, I'm skeptical.

Where the Mobex gets my highest praise is for how well the hydration system works in cold temperatures. The lowest day time temperature I used the Mobex was our hike on Mt. Evans. It was 10 F (-12 C) and mostly cloudy. My husband's water bottles turned slushy, but my hydration tube did not!

I kept the tube encased in the shoulder strap with a small hand warmer in it. When I wanted to take a sip, I needed to unzip the shoulder strap zipper a bit so as to bring the tube to mouth level. I had to be careful not to drop the hand warmer. After I slaked my thirst, I put the hand warmer back into position and zipped the tube back into place. That might be a bit cumbersome, but having flowing water at all times is well worth the effort! And with 3 liters of water, I don't have to worry about running out as much.

I also like the zippered shoulder strap system for keeping my tube safe and secure from snagging branches and from flapping around on me. It's neat!

One other inadvertent test of the Mobex occurred when I forgot to take the pack out of the car after a hike. With a partially (maybe 1 liter) filled bladder and temperatures which plunged to -10 F (-23 C), I was very uneasy about how the Mobex had faired.

When I retrieved the pack the next morning, to my surprise, a pull on the tube found water flowing freely! Even though the hand warmer had long since given up the ghost, the hydration tube was fine! That's way more than I would have expected of it.

After 4 months of testing, the Mobex still looks pretty darn good - almost new in fact after a recent swipe down. There are no weak spots, pulled stitches, frayed belts or worn anything. I think I'll keep it!

SUMMARY

The Mobex is a great day pack! It holds what I need in the way of extra winter layers and keeps my water flowing and readily accessible. For me, it's not big enough for anything other than day hikes unless my partner is willing to shoulder more of the load. I continue to have some difficulty finding things in the pack when the pack is not fully opened; and when the pack is fully opened, I tend to let things fall out. But that's me, my husband has no such problems with his Mobex.

I am, however, very pleased at the lightness and comfort of the backpack and it will definitely be my winter go-to pack when I'm dayhiking and need to carry lots of water and extra clothing layers.

Thanks to Columbia Sportswear Company and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to try the Mobex out.

Kathleen (Kathy) Waters

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

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