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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > High Sierra Sport Sentinel Pack > Test Report by Michael Wheiler
Click Here To Go To The Initial Report: December 20, 2007
Click Here To Go To The Field Report: March 18, 2008
Click Here To Go To The Long Term Report: May 20, 2008
Product Specifications and Features Per Manufacturer Unless Otherwise Noted:
Manufacturer: High Sierra Sport Company
Item: Sentinel 65
Manufacturer's Web Site: http://www.highsierrasport.com
Place of Manufacture: China
Color: Chipotle/Tungsten/Black (also available in Pacific/Tungsten/Black)
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price: U.S. $180.00
Over the years, I've come to believe that Colin Fletcher was absolutely correct when he wrote that the backpack is more than just a house for the rest of your gear, it is the "crucial interface between you and your load" and is second only to your boots in its ability to "mar your walking."¹ High Sierra generally describes the Sentinel 65 pack on its web page as "For day trips or long-term adventures, our Sentinel 65 frame pack delivers on gear space without adding on the weight."
The High Sierra Sentinel 65 (hereinafter the "Sentinel") arrived in perfect condition with the pack wrapped in plastic. The only information supplied about the Sentinel was contained on two hang tags. The large hang tag was a colorful placard containing pictures of the Sentinel and product specifications as referenced in the previous section of this report. The smaller hang tag carried the "Built-To-Last" guarantee, the company name and logo, contact information for High Sierra, country of origin (China), and a bar code with a suggested retail price. The warranty information is follows: "High Sierra Sport Company products are warranted to the original owner for the life of the product against defects in materials or workmanship under normal recreational use. If your High Sierra Sport Company product fails due to a material or manufacturing defect, we will repair or replace the product at our option. Guaranteed."
After removing the Sentinel from the box, it looked like what I was expecting after viewing High Sierra's web page. My initial examination of the Sentinel was very enjoyable. The Sentinel is designed with several cool features. In this Initial Report, I will try to describe in word and photographs the major features of the Sentinel.
The Frame: High Sierra uses two aluminum frame bars in the Sentinel which can be adjusted to fit the shape of the user's back. The stays are pre-bent and the user will want to check the stays to determine if the shape works with the shape of his or her back. The Sentinel also uses the "Ergo Fit shoulder harness" system. There are no instructions that I could find with the Sentinel or on the web page describing how to find or use the Ergo Fit shoulder harness system but it was relatively easy to figure out. I found that the shoulder harness was secured to the pack bag by way of a hook and loop closure. The Ergo Fit shoulder harness system is designed for torsos between 15" (38 cm) and 20" (51 cm) and users with a maximum height of 72" (183 cm). My torso length is 19 3/4" (50 cm) and my height is 70" (178 cm) both of which are pushing the upper end of the fit range for this pack.
The shoulder harness was adjusted to very top of the nylon webbing when I received it. The torso length can be adjusted by simply pulling on the diamond shaped nylon material at the bottom of the ERGO Fit label and lifting it away from the hook and loop closure. The ERGO Fit strap then slides out of the nylon webbing and can be reinserted at the appropriate level for the user. I was easily able to decrease the torso length of the pack to the very smallest. I then readjusted the torso length to the longest size, folded the ERGO Fit strap back into place, and re-secured the strap to the hook and loop closure. I then tried on the empty pack and the fit seemed about right, though I will want to add some weight before determining if this is the best fit. Adjusting the torso length of the Sentinel is simple and easy.
Shoulder Straps and Back Panel: High Sierra uses both mesh and high-density foam in its padding. The VAPEL mesh which is built into the shoulder straps and waist belt "offers added ventilation to keep you cool" and to help wick away moisture from those parts of the pack. The back panel is molded with AIRFLOW channels "to keep your back cool and dry."
The removable media pocket is attached to the left shoulder strap (see photograph below). My Garmin Vista GPS, cell phone, and Olympus digital camera each fit separately into the pocket. I was also able to squeeze in a handheld radio made by Motorola but the opening in the center of the closure strap was not in the right place for the antenna but I was able to attach the strap via the hook and loop with the antenna sticking out to the side. The media pocket is attached to the shoulder strap by way of nylon webbing and hook and loop closure. It was easy to remove and reattach to the shoulder strap.
The shoulder straps are approximately 1/2 inch (2 cm) thick and taper in width from 2 1/4 inches (6 cm) at the bottom to 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) at the top. "Load lifter straps" are attached near the top of each shoulder strap. Shoulder harness adjustment straps are also located at the bottom of each strap. An adjustable sternum strap is attached to each shoulder strap by way of black plastic clips which slide along a piece of plastic covered by pack material which is sewn into the lower half of the inside of each strap. All of these straps, upon initial examination without a loaded pack, pull and release easily for quick adjustment. All of the nylon webbing straps on the Sentinel were much longer than I need to be able to adjust the pack.
The Hip Belt: High Sierra uses both mesh and high-density foam in the waistbelt on the Sentinel. The belt is approximately 13 1/4 inches (34 cm) long on each side and tapers from approximately 6 inches (15 cm) in width at the hip to approximately 4 inches (10 cm) at the rounded end (near where it buckles). The thickness of the padding varies but is generally around 3/4 inch (2 cm). There are right and left hand hip belt stabilizer straps.
Load Control: The Sentinel is designed with side and bottom compression straps and load lifter straps to assist with load control and stability.
Pack Bag Capacity and Accessibility: According to High Sierra, the Sentinel has a 3,970 cubic inch (65 L) pack bag with lid. It also has an internal hydration sleeve which is approximately 21 inches (53 cm) deep and 11 inches (28cm) wide. There are exit ports on each side of the pack bag for the hydration tube. The exit ports are marked by a patch sporting a blue drop of water. The Sentinel does have two compartments with a zip-out divider. The divider doesn't zip all the way out of the bag it simply hangs down near the back of the compartment. However, the zipper for the divider shelf can only be used from inside the lower compartment as the pull only hangs down into the lower compartment. Measuring across the opening of the pack bag, it is approximately 12 inches (30.5 cm) in diameter. There is an 8 inch (20 cm) tall extension collar. The main compartment closes at the top by way of a draw string closure. There is also a nylon compression strap which closes over the top of the main compartment by way of a plastic buckle.
Other Features: There is also a nylon web carry handle just below where the lid attaches to the back of the pack. The pack also has "soft lashing hardware holds" on broth sides of the pack in the back to hold an ice ax and/or trekking poles.
Other Pockets: There is one open mesh pocket on both sides of the pack bag just above where the hip belt attaches to the frame. These pockets are large enough for the user to insert a 32 ounce (1,000 ml) bottle. There is also pocket in the bottom of the pack bag which is closed by hook and loop which contains a waterproof pack cover (see photograph below).
The front pocket is attached to the pack bag by the side nylon web compression straps. The straps can be loosened allowing a rope to be placed under and secured by the front pocket. The pocket is approximately 13 inches (33 cm) in height and 9 1/2 inches (24 cm) in width. It is not designed to provide much depth. As such, it will be limited to carrying fairly thin or flat items. I was able to place a freeze dried meal for two and my knife, fork and spoon inside this pocket with some room to spare.
Initial Impressions: The Sentinel appears to be well constructed and designed. Adjusting for torso length is quick and easy. The pack has many very cool features. However, in attempting to pack my Big Agnes Battle Mountain winter sleeping bag into the Sentinel, try as I might, I was not able to squeeze it into the sleeping bag compartment even though I used a compression sack to reduce the size of the Battle Mountain as much as possible. I had to unzip the compartment shelf and place the sleeping bag and pad in through the main compartment. These two items used up a lot of the available space inside the pack bag. I was then able to add a three season tent with poles, cook pot (which contained my lighter and stove), a regular sized canister of fuel, extra socks, and thermal underwear. There was some space left and I did not use the extension collar. I put my pillow, headlamp, and rain jacket in the top lid pocket with a little room left.
The next step is to get this pack loaded and into the field to see just how comfortable it is to wear and how well all of these cool features actually work.
¹ The Complete Walker IV, Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins, page 125 (2003).
I used the Sentinel on over-night cross-country skiing trips in Harriman State Park (elevation 6,270 ft/1,911 m) on January 11-12, and 18-19. Temperatures during both outings ranged between 13 and 19 F/-10.5 and -7 C. There was 5 ft/1.5 m or more of snow on the ground but during the second trip we received approximately 8 in/20 cm of new snow overnight. While we were skiing during the first trip, the wind was blowing up to 6 mph/10 km/h. There was little to no wind during the second trip. On both occasions, we cross-country skied approximately 6 miles over various terrain including some fairly steep hills. I carried the Sentinel on both trips. During the first trip, the Sentinel was nearly full for the trek to our camping spot at about 1/2 mile (0.8 km) from the trail head. It weighed 36 lbs/16 kg. When we hit the trail the next morning, I only carried a partially loaded pack. Total pack weight during the day ski trip was about 15 lbs/7 kg.
During the first trip I carried the following items in the Sentinel to our camp site:
During the day ski trip, I carried the only following items in the Sentinel:
During the second trip, the pack was full but I only carried the completely full pack a short distance from the vehicle before setting up camp. Pack weight for this outing was 48.5 lbs/22 kg. In addition to the items listed above, I carried a Hilleberg Jannu with poles (6 lb. 3 oz./2.8 kg) and footprint, 1 more Nalgene liter water bottle, a pair of long handle underwear, and two closed cell foam pads strapped to the outside of the pack. During the cross-country skiing trip the next day, I again carried a reduced number of items.
A. Frame. The frame was easy to adjust to my back and generally it fits the shape of my back. However, my torso size (19 3/4"/50 cm) is very near the upper end of the Sentinel's torso size limitation (adjustable from 15" to 20"/38 cm to 51 cm) and I do not feel that I'm getting quite as good a fit over my torso length as I would like--the pack feels a bit short even when it is extended as long as it can be. I carried 36 to 48.5 pound (16-22 kg) loads on both of my outings. The Sentinel frame transferred the weight to my hips but the Sentinel's design also allowed me to make weight transfer adjustments from hips to shoulders as necessary. I did not notice any part of the frame digging into my back, shoulders, or neck. To date, the frame appears to be holding up well under fairly heavy loads. I will continue to watch for and report on any fractures or weakening in the frame.
B. Lumbar Padding and Breathability: Though I have yet to use the Sentinel on a long trip, to date, it has provided sufficient lumbar support. My back did not ache at the end of either day's trek with the pack on my back for 3-4 hours. I have not yet had the opportunity to test whether the Sentinel's design allows my back to breath on hot days or during strenuous climbs. I hope to be able to report on that feature in the Long Term Report.
C. Hip Belt: So far, the waist belt does not rub or create any pressure points. It is comfortable. It is also nice and wide. I like a wide waist belt because I believe a wider waist belt helps with load transfer and comfort. I have not yet had the opportunity to determine whether the material used in the hip belt wicks moisture away from my waist and hips.
D. Shoulder Straps: The shoulder straps seem to match my shoulder angle well. When I transfer the weight of the pack from my hips to my shoulders, the straps distribute the load evenly on my shoulders and I have not observed any permanent compression of the foam in the shoulder straps. The load lifters are easy to adjust and are effective at transferring pack weight. I have not yet had the opportunity to determine if the foam and mesh construction wicks moisture away from my shoulders and chest.
E. Sternum Strap: The Sentinel has an adjustable sternum strap which is easy to adjust and effective in assisting with stabilization of the pack by keeping the shoulder straps in position. As with other packs I have tried that feature fully adjustable sternum straps, when I apply enough pressure to the strap, it will become detached from the shoulder strap. However, it is also relatively easy to reattach.
F. Adjustability: It was fairly easy for me to adjust the Sentinel in all respects. As previously noted, I am not totally pleased with how it fits my frame and I generally do not like the design of the torso adjustment. To me, it feels weak and unstable. That observation aside, with the exception of the torso adjustment, I can easily make other adjustments to the pack on the go and it is fairly easy to make the torso adjustment as well. So far, even fully loaded, the Sentinel's design provides me with adequate head space and allows full head movement.
G. Load Control: I am not yet in a position to definitively state how stable the Sentinel is when traveling off trail or while climbing steep trails. I have made some short, steep climbs but nothing serious enough yet to challenge the pack. When fully (and properly) loaded, I have not noticed the load shift. When not fully loaded, there was an expected tendency for the load to shift. However, I compensated for that by stuffing my Diablo parka in the pack to fill up a great deal of the open space in the pack. The load lifters are easy to use and effective. The side and bottom compression straps also assist with load control and stability.
H. Pack Bag Material and Webbing: So far, the pack bag's "Grid-Weave Duralite, Mini-Weave Duralite, and Duraweave" material is durable and shows no signs of wear or tear. The Sentinel has a cover which is water resistant but, to date, I have only had the Sentinel out in light snow and I have not even attempted to use the cover. Also to date, I have not noticed any problems with the buckles, zippers or webbing materials under freezing temperatures. The buckles and webbing work well together and adjust easily.
I. Pack Bag Capacity and Accessibility: According to High Sierra, the Sentinel, in size large, has a 3,970 cubic inch (65 L) pack bag with lid which should be large enough to carry a great deal of gear. However, so far, it has been challenging to pack all of my usual cold weather gear (like a 4-season tent, a sub-zero sleeping bag, multiple sleeping pads, extra warm clothing and lots of food). With some creative packing, the Sentinel has held all of this gear but it wouldn't be my first choice of packs for winter camping simply because of the fact that it is difficult to pack all the gear I usually take on winter campouts. I have been able to arrange the gear inside the pack to balance the weight. The internal hydration sleeve works with my CamelBack hydration bladders. As expected, when the hydration bladder is full and inserted into the sleeve, it does interfere slightly with the placement of other gear inside the pack because of the bulge it creates in the center of the gear chamber.
The Sentinel does have two compartments with a divider. The compartment zipper works properly and I can stow longer gear (such as tent poles) inside the bag with the divider in place. The divider does have a zipper so as to partially remove the shelf allowing the user to stow longer items inside the pack bag. As with my other I-frame packs, once my gear is stowed in the pack bag, depending upon its location, it can be hard to find and retrieve. This is more of a function of training myself to properly organize my gear in the pack. The hinged front pocket works well for holding a rope and the "other accessories" on the pack actually hold other gear such as an ice-axe and/or trekking poles.
J. Removable Media Pocket: My GPS, hand-held radio, and cell phone all separately fit in the removable media pocket. My GPS is a bit of a tight fit and is a little harder to remove from the pocket once stowed. So far, the stretch mesh material of the pocket seems to be holding up well and had not lost any of its elasticity. It is very easy to remove and reattach the pocket.
K. Side Compression and Base Compression Straps: The side compression straps are designed to reduce pack volume, restore proper load distribution and reestablish stability. These straps work especially well when the bag is only partially full. In addition, the straps double as accessory straps for carrying bulky items such as a sleeping mat or a set of trekking poles. I have yet to determine whether I can use these straps to attach a pair of snowshoes.
L. Zippers: The zippers on the Sentinel have "glove-friendly" zipper pulls.
M. Versatility: So far, it is my experience that the Sentinel is suitable for day trips or long-term adventures--so long as the long-term adventures do not require a lot of cold weather gear.
In summary, the things I like about the Sentinel are:
LONG TERM REPORTI would like to thank High Sierra and BackpackGearTest for giving me the opportunity to test the Sentinel 65 backpack.
(May 20, 2008)
Field Testing Locations And Conditions:
On January 25, I used the Sentinel 65 on a snowshoe hike near Sun Valley, Idaho (elevation 5,920 feet/1,804 meters). The temperature that day was a pretty constant 25 F/-4 C. There was a slight breeze but not enough to make much difference. It had snowed approximately 10 inches/25 centimeters the night before and I was the first one on the trail--as such I was breaking trial for a large part of the trip. At one point, I decided to leave the trail and cross a ravine to another trail which I could see had been previously used by another snowshoer. On that section of my trip, I estimated that the snow was close to 6 or 7 feet/1.8-2 meters deep and consisted, in large part, of untracked powder. Had there been no snow, I would have been bush whacking! The total trip was about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) with some very steep ascents and descents. On this trip, the Sentinel 65 was only partially loaded. Total pack weight was 22 pounds/10 kilograms.
I next used the Sentinel 65 on February 22-23, 2008, during an overnight snowshoe hike near Kelley Canyon (elevation 6,177 feet/1,883 meters). Kelley Canyon is a ski resort located northeast of Idaho Falls, Idaho. I had planned to leave work early but, as usual, I was delayed. By the time I reached the trail head, it was completely dark and I had to hike by the light of my headlamp. The temperature was 26 F/-3 C. It was overcast and threatening to snow but there was no wind. The snow pack, typical for late February, was hard and icy. The trail I chose was fairly flat at first but then climbed steeply to the spot where I intended to camp for the night. The Sentinel 65 was fully-loaded and weighed in at 48.5 pounds/22 kilograms. After about a 3/4 mile (1.2 kilometers) hike, I reached my destination for the evening and set-up camp. It began to snow during the night and continued to snow lightly the next morning. While some snow accumulated on the Sentinel 65, it was easy to brush off and did not cause any moisture concerns. As such, I did not use the rain cover for protection.
On March 21-22, I snowshoed into Lower Palisades Lake near Swan Valley, Idaho (6,131 feet/1,869 meters elevation). The round trip for this hike is 8 miles/13 kilometers. The trail is mostly a gradual climb into the lake with some fairly steep ascents and descents but this year several snow slides created some very steep and slippery side hilling. Typical spring snow conditions existed--icy hard pack which, during the heat of the day, turned soft and grainy. However, with cold overnight temperatures, the snow froze hard and turned icy again. Again the Sentinel 65 was stuffed and weighed 48 pounds/22 kilograms. While I was packing into my camp site, the temperature was warm enough that I only had to use a light jacket but it was overcast. Overnight, the weather cleared and the temperature dropped significantly. Food and water that I had stowed in the pack were frozen solid by morning.
I last used the Sentinel 65 on April 11-12, 2008 north of Island Park, Idaho near Henry's Lake (6,470 feet/1,972 meters elevation). This was a short snowshoe hike of approximately 2 miles/3.2 kilometers. My route took me over some very steep inclines and descents and some equally steep side hills. The snow was hard pack/ice during the morning but started to soften up by early afternoon and became a bit slushy. During the hike the Sentinel weighed 22 pounds/10 kilograms.
Even on steep ascents, descents or side hills, the Sentinel 65 felt balanced and comfortable. I recognize that pack balance has something to do with the way the user organizes the gear in the pack, but I never felt like the pack was causing me to become unsteady even on some fairly difficult terrain. I really like the on the go, weight transfer and adjustability of the Sentinel 65. On the longer trips I took, I was able to adjust the weight from my shoulders to my hips and back again with ease. Despite the fact that I could never adjust the Sentinel 65 to the torso length that I needed, it was fairly comfortable to wear. I have also really liked the wide, thick hip belt. It seems to transfer the weight of the pack to my hips very well and I have not noticed any sore spots on my hips. In light of the fact that I used the Sentinel 65 almost exclusively during our winter season, I didn't really get to test its venting and wicking capabilities. Even on the long hikes, the temperatures were generally cool enough that I really never worked up a sweat despite carrying 48.5 pounds/22 kilograms.
The Sentinel 65 is well constructed. I can observe no visible wear or tear at this time. In fact, it still looks pretty new. The zippers and buckles all still function properly. Cold temperatures did not seem to affect the pack bag material, the zippers or the buckles. I did notice that the mesh side pouches were not tight enough to keep my regular sized Nalgene water bottles in when I set the pack down and it tipped over. Then again, it was easy to pull a bottle from the pouch while hiking. I did have to stop walking to re-stow the bottle, but that was mostly a function of my not being able to look at the trail and where I was putting the bottle at the same time.
Despite its load carrying capacity, the Sentinel is versatile in the sense that, when necessary, I was able to carry a full, heavy load but I was also able to carry smaller, light loads for day trips and shorter hikes. The compression straps allowed me to keep the pack's contents snug and compact. With the exterior pocket, the lid pocket, the zippered lower compartment and the top compartment, gear is readily accessible.
The Sentinel 65 was used mostly during our winter season. As such, while it was used during some snow storms, it did not see any serious precipitation so I have not yet had to use the rain cover. Nor can I report on how well the Sentinel repels water. The light snow it did experience was easily brushed off and created no moisture concerns. I did put the rain cover on the pack just to make sure it fit and it does.
With some practice, I was able to get the Sentinel 65 to hold all of my cold weather camping gear. I generally use two closed cell foam pads under my tent floor to keep my tent from freezing to the snow and then I use my winter weight sleeping bag and self-inflating pad inside the tent. With extra clothing, extra water (most of the streams are frozen over), and a four season tent, the capacity of the Sentinel was stretched to the limit. I generally attached the closed cell foam pads to exterior of the pack with the side compression straps. That being said, given the fact that I did not take any multi-day winter trips and my pack was completely full, I am not confident that the Sentinel's capacity would be sufficient for a multi-day winter outing unless I cut out some gear. However, I use lighter and less gear during the summer months and therefore, I expect that the Sentinel 65 will be able to easily handle multi-day trips during the warmer weather months.
Things I dislike about the Sentinel are as follows. The torso adjustment just doesn't feel stable to me and doesn't adjust enough to comfortably fit my torso. The webbing throughout the pack is too long but that is especially true with the webbing on the hip belt. During the field tests, I had to double and triple loop the webbing and stuff the loops into the hip belt clip. While I was hiking, the clip didn't always hold the loops and I would have to either let the excess webbing hang down and flap against my legs or redo the loops and attach it to the clip. I will likely cut off some of the webbing now that the test is completed.
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