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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Mountainsmith Boundary Backpack > Test Report by Mike Curry

MOUNTAINSMITH BOUNDARY PACK
TEST SERIES BY MIKE CURRY
LONG-TERM REPORT
August 04, 2008

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Mike Curry
EMAIL: thefishguyAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 38
LOCATION: Aberdeen, Washington
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 235 lb (107.00 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.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Image Courtesy of Manufacturer
Manufacturer: Mountainsmith
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.mountainsmith.com
MSRP: US $149.95
Listed Weight: 4 lb 6 oz (1.98 kg)

Measured Weight: 4 lb 10 oz (2.10 kg)
Detachable Lid/Lumbar Pack Weight: 9 oz (255 g)

Manufacturer Specifications:
Dimensions: 31x8x13 in (78x45x33cm)
Volume: 4577 cu in (75 L)
Fit Range: 18- 22 in (45 - 56 cm)

Other Information:
Color Tested: Pinon Green

SUMMARY

Overall, my initial experience with the Mountainsmith Boundary pack leaves me very optimistic about its longer-term performance. It appears to be a very well designed and well made pack that uses good quality materials and components. It seems well-sized for my typical weekend trips, and is suitable for most trips of up to about a week when carrying my usual low-weight/low-volume gear. Its suspension system is quite comfortable when worn as designed.

The only concern I have at this point is its comfort given the fact that I prefer to wear my waist belt close to my hips. Adjusting the suspension to this length lowers the back panel so that it no longer follows the contour of my back, which may be advantageous for air circulation on hot days, but possibly at the cost of comfort. If necessary, I will simply adapt to wearing the waist belt at my waist, where intended. I will experiment with this in the field, and report my experiences.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Mountainsmith Boundary Pack arrived well-packaged in a cardboard box. Inside the box, the pack was found within a clear plastic bag. Attached to the pack were two tags. One was a photo of a water bottle stating, "Together, you and this pack saved 48 plastic bottles from the landfill" and on the back were a series of photos illustrating the recycling process from plastic bottles to backpack. The other tag provided basic information on the features of the bag, contact, and warrantee information.

The Pinon Green color is very nice, and combined with the black accent colors make for a pack I find very attractive. The size of the pack is suitable, in my estimation, for the bulk of trips that I take during the spring and summer. While I would likely want a larger pack for trips of over one week, I tend to pack light and use gear that is fairly compact. Even packing heavy, however, I would consider this pack quite suitable for weekend trips.

The first thing I noticed about this bag was the feel of the fabric. The information tag described the fabrics used as being 100% Recycled PET, using 450d for the body, 840d for the reinforcements, and 150d for the ripstop lining. These fabrics feel different than other pack fabrics I have encountered. They are very relaxed (as opposed to stiff) for their relative thickness, and have an almost slippery feel to them. The surface feels soft by comparison to fabrics used on other packs I own or have made. The slipperiness of the fabric is somewhat similar to the slipperiness of silnylon material in feel, though it seems simply to be a function of the PET material and weave, rather than any coating. I like the feel of the fabric.

After examining the fabrics my attention turned to the overall workmanship of the pack. The stitching is very consistent and well done. Components (such as zippers, zipper pulls, straps, buckles, toggles, etc.) appear to be of good quality. The only possible defect noted was a zipper pull extension (a small loop of cord with a plastic piece that connects the ends which is attached to the zipper pulls) that appears to not be fully snapped shut. I was unable to press it in the rest of the way, and will watch it for any signs of failure during testing.

The features of this pack were what interested me the most when I first looked it over. The first two that grabbed my attention were the two water bottle pockets and the zippered side-pockets with pass-through sleeves. The water bottle pockets grabbed my attention because they are much larger than I am used to. They easily carry a 32 oz (.95 L) Nalgene-style water bottle. I usually carry at least one wide-mouth bottle of this size, I found this very nice. In addition, since the pocket is relatively large and closes with an elastic cord and toggle, it could also be used to carry a variety of other items, such as wet socks, etc.. The other item that immediately grabbed my attention was the zippered side pockets with pass-thru sleeves. Each side of the pack has one of these pockets, which is only attached on the front and back sides. A long item could be slid behind this pocket, held up by the water bottle pocket at the bottom, and secured using the compression straps that are immediately above and below the side pocket. My immediate thought was that this pass-thru sleeve might work well for my fishing rod case, and that the side pocket gives me a place to put my other fishing gear where I don't have to dig through the main pack to get to it. They also appear that they would be quite secure for use in carrying skis, something I am unlikely to get to try test during the testing period.

The main pack compartment contains a pocket for a hydration bladder, and their are exit ports for the hydration tube on either side of the pack that are marked "H20" and located just above where the shoulder straps connect to the pack.
IMAGE 2
Foreground Strap Transfers Weight from Pack to Belt

Another feature that grabbed my attention was the pivoting waist belt. The waist belt is a continuous piece that passes behind the molded foam back panel, held in place by a hook and loop fastener in the middle. An adjustable strap runs diagonally from the waist belt (near the outside of the hips when wearing it) to the bottom of the pack near the water bottle pocket, allowing the strap to bear weight. The outcome of this system is that the waist belt can articulate somewhat independently of the pack itself.

The trekking pole mounts are another feature that captured my attention. I've never owned a pack with dedicated trekking pole mounts. For this pack, they are hook and loop closures on either side of the front panel elastic rigging, one each above and below the elastic rigging. I look forward to seeing how these work for me when covering terrain where I can't use my trekking poles.

The detachable lid has several features that I like. In addition to converting to a lumbar pack, the bottom of the lid has a zippered clear plastic pocket that is almost the size of the lid itself. Behind this pocket is where the waist belt for the lumbar pack is tucked away when not in use.

The main compartment of the pack is divided, with a lower "sleeping bag" compartment that is separated from the main compartment above by a panel that is closed with a drawstring cord.

Other features, such as the ice axe loop, front panel elastic rigging, and compression straps seem well-designed, well-located, and suitable for their intended purposes. The Molded foam back panel and stays will be discussed further in the "Trying It Out" section of this report.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

No instructions were provided with the Mountainsmith Boundary Pack. Care instructions are available at their website, but I was unable to locate instructions on adjusting the suspension system, though being familiar with adjusting other pack suspensions, I found it easy enough to figure out.

TRYING IT OUT

My initial experience trying the pack out involved packing the pack with approximately 5 pounds of bulky clothing, and adjusting the suspension system. I then wore the pack around the house for several hours under a 20 pound load to further refine the adjustments.
IMAGE 3
Orange Tabs and Holes in Strip Used to Balance Suspension

The pack uses two frame stays that cross in an "X" pattern behind the molded foam back panel. Each shoulder strap is adjusted independently by means of an adjustment tab located at the bottom of the frame stay (which is visible under the waist belt in the photo in the "Initial Impressions" section). The tops of the shoulder straps have a small orange tab that can be used to make sure the suspension is adjusted evenly, and two strips of material sewn to the pack contain round holes that can be used as a gauge for ensuring the suspension is adjusted evenly.

The molded foam back panel contours very nicely to the shape of my back. It contains molded grooves to allow for air circulation, and I look forward to seeing if these work well in the field, or if clothing blocks the air flow.

Adjusting the pack posed a dilemma for me. To wear the pack with the panel following the natural contour of my back requires the waist belt be worn higher than I usually do. My actual torso length is approximately 19-20 in (48-51 cm), but I usually adjust my packs to about 22 in (56 cm) to allow me to wear my waist belt on my hips. Fully extending the suspension on this pack allows me to wear the waist belt on my hips, but in doing so a void occurs behind the small of my back. When the pack is adjusted as intended, with the molded foam back panel following the contour of my back, it is incredibly comfortable and stable, and the waist belt wraps around my waist. I suspect this is how I will most often wear it, though on mild sections of trail I may extend the suspension to allow the waist belt to ride on my hips, and perhaps get better air circulation behind my back on hot days. Since it is very easy to adjust the suspension (it can even be extended while wearing it quite easily) I will experiment with this during testing.

Overall, after adjusting the compression straps and load-lifter straps, I found this pack to be very stable and comfortable. I look forward to trying it out under heavier loads and real backpacking conditions.

The shoulder straps are perhaps the area I am most impressed with. Of all the packs I have owned and made over the years, this pack's straps fit the contour of my upper body most comfortably. Most pack straps have a point where their curve doesn't follow my curve somewhere over the shoulders or through the chest area, and that does not appear to be the case with this pack, at least under light loads. The sternum strap also has a short elastic section sewn into a loop in the nylon that allows the straps to flex somewhat. All in all, I found the suspension to be a very comfortable fit for me.

TESTING STRATEGY

This pack will be used mostly for weekend trips, including some minor climbing and scrambling trips during the test period. While I tend to travel fairly light, many trips will involve bringing fishing gear, and pack weights will likely range from 20-30 lb (9-14 kg). Most trips will involve at least some off-trail sections, with several trips entirely off-trail. I will also use the pack for day hiking with my children, where I carry a lot of extra clothing and food.


FIELD REPORT

SUMMARY

All in all, I've been very pleased with the performance, comfort, and features of the Mountainsmith Boundary pack. It is comfortable, easy to adjust, and packed with a number of features I find very useful. I find it to be a great pack for my typical 1-4 night trips with minimal fishing gear, and feel it will easily accommodate my typical lightweight/low-volume load for even longer periods with good planning.

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the Mountainsmith Boundary pack on three trips to date, involving a total of 8 days of backpacking. The trips have been two weekend trips and one four-day trip. I have also used the pack for day hikes with my family, carrying extra clothing and snacks on 5 different occasions.

Weather conditions have ranged from relatively mild temperatures around the clock, ranging from 48 to 54 F (9 to 11 C), to daytime highs about 75 F (24 C) and overnight lows about 40 F (4 C). Trips have included sunny skies, high hazy clouds, and light rain.

Trips have been along the wilderness coast of Washington State, and in the southern Olympic Mountains.

TYPICAL PACK INVENTORY

IMAGE 2
Boundary Pack Loaded for 3 Nights
To give a practical volume to the pack, the following is a rough inventory of the items I have taken on a typical trip. Small items contained in larger packages are not included.

*Sleeping bag
*Silnylon tarp and guy lines
*1 US Gal. (3.79 L) resealable bag containing meals
*1 US Gal. (3.79 L) resealable bag containing assorted small items
*1 US Gal. (3.79 L) resealable bag containing snacks
*Compact raingear, approx. 4 in (10 cm) diameter packed
*1 US Gal. (3.79 L) resealable bag containing extra clothing
*Fleece top
* 3x6x10 in (8x15x25 cm) dry box
*Small pot containing stove, etc.
*Map and Journal
*16 fl oz (473 ml) bottle containing denatured alcohol (stove fuel)
*1/2 in (13 mm) closed-cell foam pad (outside pack).
*64 fl oz (1.9 L) hydration bladder
*32 oz (1 L) polycarbonate water bottle

In addition to these base items, I have carried fly boxes and rods. There is more than adequate volume for the items listed above, and compression straps have been drawn to about half their compression capacity or more with this typical base load.

Pack weights have varied with inventory, but have ranged from 22 - 34 lbs (10-15 kg) for trips so far, before water weight.

For day hikes with my family, the pack has carried a variety of clothing, snacks, and beverages for my kids. The compression straps allow the volume to be reduced adequately for my typical use day hiking with my family. Day hike loads have averaged in the neighborhood of 10-15 lbs (4.5-7 kg).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

My primary observations during Field Testing have surrounded comfort, features, and durability.

*Comfort:

Though the limited adjustment in torso length (described in my initial report) makes it impossible for me to position the hip belt as low on my hips as I would like, I have still found the pack to be quite comfortable. The range of shoulder strap adjustments, load lifter strap adjustments (both at the shoulders and the waist belt), and sternum strap adjustments allow me to find a comfortable configuration with a variety of loads over a variety of different terrain. When on open ground, I tend to let out the load lifter straps that pull the pack top in toward the shoulder straps, and loosen the shoulder and sternum straps somewhat. This allows the pack weight to transfer more toward my hips. During off-trail or scrambling conditions, I tighten these straps down to improve load stability. The range of adjustment also allows me to occasionally re-adjust the positions of both the load and where the shoulder straps come across my chest and shoulders. I do this to prevent chafing and heat build up under the straps.

The pivoting waist belt seems to work very well. I had wondered how it would impact the stability of the pack on my back, and can't say that I have noticed any negative impacts. The positive side is that the pack moves with me very well when I am engaged in activities like scrambling over logs or boulders.

The molded foam back panel has proven to be more comfortable than I would have suspected. When I have the pack positioned high on my back, the curvature of the panel conforms nicely to my back and feels very stable. When I loosen the shoulder and load-lifter straps, it settles slightly lower, gives good air circulation behind my back, and is still very comfortable.

On day hikes, with loads of about 10 lbs (4.5 kg), I can adjust the pack to where I hardly feel the pack is there.

*Features:

There are a number of features I have found particularly useful. Top among these are the side pockets. I've never owned a pack with side pockets before, and wasn't sure if I would find them useful or not. Quickly I discovered these were ideal for me to store items such as fishing tackle and raingear that I wanted easy access to without having to open the main pack. When I'm not fishing, I usually have my compact raingear in one side, and snacks in the other. My usual tarp shelter fits in one side as well.

The hydration pocket in the main pack is functional, and fits my usual bladders with room to spare. The hose pass-through slots are well located, and allow me to pass the hose under my arm and up to the elastic strap on the shoulder strap. I have noticed that with my wife's hydration bladder the bite valve tends to slip out from under the elastic strap, but that bite valve is only slightly larger than the hose itself, so I don't consider this a fault of the pack. Due to the location of the hose pass-through slots, the hose and bite valve are easy to retrieve when they slip out from under the elastic strap.

IMAGE 4
Molded-in Whistle
The molded-in whistle was discovered quite by accident on one of my trips. While connecting the sternum strap, I felt a protrusion on one side of the buckle, but not on the other. When I looked to see if I had broken something, I noticed that that buckle is the location of the molded in whistle. The whistle generates a raspy whistling sound, but achieving maximum volume requires some breath control (it is easy to over-blow the whistle). Having a molded-in whistle as part of the pack is a nice bonus when you hike along the coast, as a whistle can help get the attention of a nearby friend when surf is drowning out your voice. Its location on the sternum strap is very convenient, as by simply unclipping the sternum strap, you can bring the whistle up to your mouth.

The trekking pole mounts are functional, but since I strap my closed cell foam pad to the bottom of my pack (using the long compression straps for the lower compartment) it is difficult to get them in place. The sleeping pad's position requires the trekking poles be positioned very high, and the pole mounts aren't long enough to wrap around the extended grip on my poles. Since I only attach my poles to my pack typically for transport, this hasn't really posed a problem.

The detachable lid (which converts to a lumbar pack) has posed one small inconvenience for me. Though I have not yet used it as a lumbar pack, I have had some difficulty keeping the lid positioned correctly. As I travel, the lid has a tendency to slip behind (instead of maintaining its normal position which covers) the pack stay bars. The reason I've found this problematic is that if the lid is in the correct location I can reach behind my head and feel if my dry box is in the lid section, and whether or not the lid compartment is zipped shut. When it slips over the stays, the lid compartment falls far enough back I have to remove the pack to make sure I've put my dry box (which contains my camera, matches, and other delicate or important equipment) back, and that I've closed the zipper. This is a problem I've had with several packs with detachable lids, however, so I consider the inconvenience relatively minor.

IMAGE 3
Map Pocket Under Lid
The map compartment is convenient, but I would rather see it as an actual dry pocket. While the plastic cover provides easy viewing and protects from rain when the pack is open, when the pack is closed the clear plastic side is down, and the map is only protected by the pack material and contents above it. For our climate, I'd prefer two layers of the clear plastic with a waterproof zipper. The map pocket is well, sized, though, and allows me to slip my plastic-covered waterproof journal behind the map, providing addition protection to the map from the rain.]

The front panel elastic rigging offers me a real advantage when facing showery weather. My raingear and other wet items can be easily positions under or around the rigging to dry. By repositioning the items occasionally, I am usually able to get damp items dry a few hours of hiking in nice weather. The elastic seems quite strong, and items feel very secure in it, especially when the elastic is tightened with the toggle.
IMAGE 1
Elastic Cords on Panel Securely Hold Jacket

The water bottle pockets function well for carrying a variety of water bottles, though a standard wide-mouth 32 oz (1 L) water bottle doesn't feel very secure in it to me. I haven't had one fall out, but I do find myself checking it quite often. I've actually found these pockets more valuable for me in carrying other items I may want to access along the trail without removing the pack, because I can actually reach them without removing the pack. I've used them for carrying trash, small items I've picked up along the trail, and items such as fleece gloves and stocking caps. They work great for these small items, as the elastic drawcord can be drawn very securely, and is easily operated without taking off the pack.

The pass-through sleeves behind the side pockets are great for carrying a small fishing rod case (or a rod without a case. While a larger standard rod case can be used, there is a minimal trade off in volume. If the case is run outside the compression straps, the side-pocket volume is slightly reduced due to the bulging of the rod case from behind. I usually position a rod case behind the compression straps, however, which causes the case to bulge more into the main compartment where I usually have room to spare.

Last of all, the main compartment's sleeping bag section divider works well. The drawstring closure is easy to operate, and the lower compartment easily handles my high-volume sleeping bags. That said, I usually leave the divider open and use the main compartment as a single chamber.

*Durability:

So far, the pack has held up extremely well. One particularly nice aspect of the fabric used for the pack body is that it is remarkably easy to clean. It almost seems to clean itself. Even when I've had some soiling of the pack, usually it seems to work itself off for the most part during normal wear. A quick wipe down when I get home, and the pack looks almost like new.

TESTING STRATEGY

During the Long-Term reporting period I plan to continue to assess the comfort, features, and durability of this pack. Specifically, I hope to use the detachable lumbar back for day trips, and evaluate the pack over more challenging terrain in the high country of the Olympic Mountains.

I would like to thank Mountainsmith and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Boundary pack. My Long Term Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months. Please check back then for additional information.


LONG-TERM REPORT

SUMMARY

Overall, the Mountainsmith Boundary pack is a versatile pack that I'd able to use for trips of up to 5 days (or longer under some conditions), and is almost perfect for my use as an overnight or weekend pack. It also works well as a daypack while hiking with my children, where I'm carrying a fair amount of extras. It is comfortable and very stable, and moves very well with my body.

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the long-term test period, I have used the Mountainsmith Boundary pack on two 2-night weekend trips, two single-night trips, and about 8 day hikes. All trips were in the Olympic Mountains or the Olympic Coastal Strip of Washington State. Elevations ranged from sea level to 4,200 ft (1280 m). Temperatures ranged from 35 F (2 C) to 90 F (32 C). Weather conditions have been primarily overcast or sunny, with occasional rainshowers.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

While I've added a good deal of experience with this pack during long-term testing, my opinion of it hasn't changed. It's a solid performer that is comfortable, functional, and versatile.

IMAGE 1
Boundary Pack on an Attempted Early-Season Fishing Trip
During long-term testing, the bulk of my trips have been at higher elevations in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. In these locations, the pack has seen use over rocky, mountainous terrain, and on a number of trips was used while covering late-season snow. The pack has handled all these conditions without any noticeable wear or damage, and it still looks almost as good as the day it arrived.

The fabric this pack is made of seems to repel stains. While using it as a daypack with my kids I've spilled lots of sticky gooey stuff in and on it, and I've always been able to just wipe it off. I've not washed the pack at all (just wiped off obvious spills with a damp cloth), yet it appears almost as clean as when it arrived.

In regards to comfort, this pack is remarkably comfortable when traveling over rough terrain. The photo in this picture was taken after hiking about 1 mile (1.6 k) off-trail scrambling over (and under) logs and brush, and negotiating some moderate snow slopes. I experienced very little load shifting, and the pack moved with me exceptionally well.

While the channels on the foam pad against my back do provide for some air flow, I do find my back getting very sweaty and sticky during warmer weather. My solution to this has been to loosen the straps and allow the pack to shift lower, positioning the belt at my hips. I actually find this more comfortable overall to having it adjusted correctly, however the load is not nearly as stable as when the pack is adjusted correctly.

I've also gained a lot more experience using this pack as a daypack, and have discovered that while it is too large for my usual solo dayhikes (I can't compress the load enough to make it stable). The pack is perfect when I'm dayhiking with my kids, though, as I can pack some extra clothes, extra food, and extra everything and use the compression straps to adjust it down into a nice compact load.

CONTINUED USE

I will likely continue to use the Mountainsmith Boundary pack for three-season weekend use, summer extended trip use, and for dayhiking with my family. While it might not be the first pack I reach for when I'm carrying a large load, or in very high temperatures, I will probably go to it before all others for steeper off-trail adventures where load stability is critical.

I would like to thank Mountainsmith and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the Boundary pack. This concludes my report.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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