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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Mountainsmith Boundary Backpack > Test Report by Tim Tessier

MOUNTAINSMITH BOUNDARY BACKPACK
TEST SERIES BY TIM TESSIER
INITIAL REPORT
April 01, 2008

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Tim Tessier
EMAIL: timothy_tessier@yahoo.com
AGE: 51
LOCATION: Greensboro North Carolina
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

Backpacking Background: I hiked as a child with my father and started hiking with my now 16 year old son 8 years ago. We now routinely take 20 mile (32 km) weekend hikes (2 nights) approximately once a month year round. Additionally, we take one, 5 - 7 day extended trip each summer. Most of our hiking is done in North Carolina, southern Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. We go regardless of weather so we have experience in all types of conditions. We do not tend to travel very light, my typical pack weight is 25 lb (11.3 kg) exclusive of food.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Field Report added May 30, 2008

Manufacturer: Mountainsmith
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.mountainsmith.com
MSRP: US$ 149.95
Listed Weight: 4 lbs 6 oz (1.98 kg)
Measured Weight: 4 lbs 9 oz (2.07 kg)
Volume: 4577 cu. in. (75 L)
Fit Range: 18" - 22" (45 - 56 cm)
Dimensions: 31" X 18" X 13" (78 X 45 X 33 cm)
Color as tested: Aztec
Other details:

The Boundary is the new version of an existing model. The largest difference in the current iteration of the Boundary is recycled materials used throughout. According to a hangtag on the product the Boundary saves 48 plastic bottles from the landfill. This is accomplished by use of the following:

- 150d Recycled PET rip stop lining
- 840d Recycled PET reinforcements
- 450d Recycled PET body fabric
- 100% Recycled PET webbing and binding

About the only items not made from recycled materials are the 1" (2.5 cm) wide aluminum stays and some reinforcements. The pack features a recycling symbol approximately 1" wide on the sleeping bag compartment as the only outward sign of this change.
IMAGE 1

The pack is a mid-size pack suitable for a cool weather weekend, or a multi-day trip in the summer when winter sleeping bags and bulky winter clothes are unnecessary. It features 2 lateral compression straps on each side of the main pack bag and vertical compression straps across the sleeping bag compartment.

The suspension system consists of a molded foam back panel which covers a pair of 1" (2.5 cm) aluminum stays and a hip belt. These stays cross in an X and the tops of the shoulder straps ride up and down on the tops of the stays and are adjusted by straps that cross on the back with the stays and are buckled at the bottom. This arrangement makes the shoulder straps independently adjustable. The shoulder straps are well padded and seem quite sturdy. The hip belt features dual density foam bound to an HDPE panel.

IMAGE 2

This pack is feature rich, with a long list of standard features. These include:
- a detachable lid that doubles as a fanny pack
- dual hydration ports and a hydration sleeve inside the main packbag
- zippered side pockets with pass thru sleeves
- two water bottle pockets with drawstring closures
- two trekking pole mounts
- a water resistant clear map case underneath the pack lid
- a lift loop in the center of the top of the pack for lifting or hanging the pack

There is a separate sleeping bag compartment. The separator has a drawstring that allows the user to open it up so that the inside of the bag is one big compartment if preferred.

The top of the pack has a drawstring storm collar with a nylon cord and barrel lock fastener. The pack lid is adjustable and can be removed and used as a fanny pack for a dayhike. I checked and the buckle on the fanny pack is the same size and type as on the main hip belt of the pack. This would allow me to replace one side of my hip belt buckle should I manage to break it. I like this feature as I once broke a hip belt buckle on day 2 of a planned 6 day trip. Carrying a pack with a semi-functioning hipbelt is not anything I ever want to do again.

Underneath the lid is a clear plastic zippered compartment. This is designed as a map case so that you can place your topo map, folded to the area you are in, within the pocket. This provides a quick and easy way to check your bearings and progress while stopped for a water or snack break.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The pack came to me in a plain brown cardboard box with the pack inside contained in a simple plastic bag. This pleased me as I have often wondered about "Green" products that come in fancy 4-color packaging.

IMAGE 3

I noticed immediately that the pack fabric was softer than most other packs I have used or examined. The packcloth feels great. The Aztec (brick red) color with black accents is visually pleasing. The pack seems very well made with all stitching and fabric being very uniform and well done. There are rope pulls on all zipper tabs and a very solid attention to small details such as draw strings with barrel fasteners on the tops of the water bottle pockets on both sides.

The pack came with two tags attached. One points to the various features that the pack has on one side, and talks about the recycled materials on the back. The other is shaped like a plastic bottle and states that "Together you and this pack saved 48 plastic bottles from the landfill". On the back this tag has pictures that show the recycling process of turning bottles into fabric. There are no instructions at all in the package.

I slipped the pack on empty and noticed that it seemed short to me with the hip belt riding much higher on my hips than I am accustomed to. I also noticed that the shoulder straps ride farther out on my shoulders (farther from my neck) than I am used to and are not curved to come in to my chest. As a result the sternum strap is longer than other packs I have used.

Slipping the pack off I turned it over and examined the suspension to try to understand how to fit it to my back. The method of adjustment is not obvious but I finally saw the twin buckles at the bottom and the straps going up to the padded shoulder straps. Loosening these straps I slid the buckle points on the shoulder straps up the stays as far as they will go. This helped the fit feel more natural. The hip belt, however, does ride higher than I am used to. I will of course report as to whether this design causes any discomfort or inadequate weight transfer.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

As I mentioned before, there are no instructions of any kind. My reason for mentioning this is that I feel as though there should be. I would have been saved a fair bit of time and aggravation if there had been instructions that showed how to adjust the suspension system. I also would have been saved some time and trouble if there had been information that the hip belt was designed to ride higher on your hips, therefore it is simply going to feel different.

There are also features listed that are not obvious. On the website, among the features listed is a safety whistle. I haven't found it yet if it is included. There are trekking pole mounts that are not obvious. There are pass-thru sleeves behind the pockets on the sides of the pack. I have no idea what those are for unless it's to carry skis.

In short, the product could be improved with the addition of some instructions.

TRYING IT OUT

I loaded some gear into the pack and took it for a cruise around the neighborhood. The hip belt still rode higher on my hips than I was used to but seemed to transfer the weight properly to my hips. Everything seemed very tight and well put together. Belts and straps stayed adjusted, nothing squeaked or creaked, all in all it seemed very tight and well put together.

As I have used larger packs in the past I was anxious to put a real load in this pack that would be sufficient for a cold weather weekend trip. I found that I had to change the way I did some things but that everything would still fit. With my tent outside the pack, under the sleeping bag compression straps, I was able to get everything in the pack that I needed for a weekend.

IMAGE 4

The side pockets are approximately 13" (33 cm) deep and swallow a lot of small items. The pack lid is generously sized as well. There are also a number of external attach points and a nylon cord web which is perfect for attaching wet or dirty items outside your main pack bag. The pockets and attach points made it easy to organize things so that items that needed to be quickly available (raingear) were, and other items that would not be needed until camp (cookwear) were out of the way.

Thus loaded it is now ready to go for our first weekend adventure.

TESTING STRATEGY

My son and I will be hiking quite a bit this spring and summer. I will be using this pack for our weekend trips as well as one or two more extended trips this summer. We are planning a return trip to West Virginia in July which will last 4 - 6 days.

We will be hiking primarily in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as Mount Rogers Virginia and other areas in the western North Carolina mountains. We will be in elevations from 500' ( 150 m) to 6000' (1829 m) sometimes in the same trip. I will be carefully evaluating the performance of the pack and also what I have to give up to carry a smaller pack than I am accustomed to.

SUMMARY

My initial opinions of this pack are favorable. It seems to have a well thought out design and intelligent features. The workmanship seems solid and the recycled fabric seems to be very soft but strong. The extra features allow for improved organization and the size seems adequate for my purposes.

The workmanship seems first rate as all zippers, buckles, seams, etc. all seem to be of good quality and properly done. I am still learning my way around some aspects of the product. This process could be shortened by the addition of a sheet of instructions packed with the product.

All in all, I am pleased with the pack initially and am looking forward to giving it a proper test in the real world.

See my Field Report below for a more complete review.


Field Report - May 30, 2008

To date I have used the Mountainsmith Boundary for six days of hiking on 2 three-day, two-night trips. The first trip was to Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area on a cold, foggy, rainy weekend in early April. We hiked approximately 5 miles (8.5 km) into an Appalachian Trail shelter on a Friday, then on Sunday we hiked out again. This was not a tremendous number of miles but certainly a good "shakedown cruise" for a new pack.

The second trip was in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Memorial Day weekend. This trip involved 32 miles (52 km) of hiking in three long days, approximately 10 stream crossings, and roughly a 1.5 mile (2.42 km) total elevation change.

As stated earlier, this pack is smaller than what I am used to carrying. For the past few years I have carried a 5600 cu. in. (92 L) pack. This pack has a maximum capacity of 4800 cu. in. (79 L). What would have to stay at home to make it all work? What changes would I have to make?

The Mt. Rogers trip was actually a better test of this than the Smokies trip. First it was cold, nasty, weather. I needed cold weather clothes, yet still needed to carry my tent as I didn't know if the shelter would be available. As the weather was predicted to be wet, it was imperative that I carry rain jacket, rain pants, and pack cover. At 40 F (4.4 C) I wanted to carry a warm sleeping bag. Warm shirt, long underwear to sleep in, water filter, cookset, well... you get the idea.

I was able to get everything I needed into the pack, though I used every cubic inch of space. I put the sleeping bag in the sleeping bag compartment. Then I put the cookset, sleep mat, and other large items in the main body of the pack. I then stuffed dry socks, and various items of clothing into corners, shoving them down with my fingers until the main pack body was pretty well stretched to its limit. I then took my headlight, thin nylon rope, personal care items, etc. and put them in one side pocket. I put my water filter and gaiters in the other side pocket. I put my map and compass in the internal "map compartment" underneath the lid and put my first aid kit and some snacks inside the lid itself. Finally, I attached the tent, in its stuff sack, to the outside of the pack via the sleeping bag compression straps.

Thus loaded, the pack weighed just over 30 lbs (13.6 kg) and I was ready to go. You will notice, however, that there is no mention of food. I hike with my son. He carries the food. (I carry the tent, he carries the food, that's our deal.) Had I been going solo, I would have had to make some hard choices, probably involving simple, less bulky food, and a simpler, less bulky cookset. Based on my experience this pack was sufficient for a weekend in cold weather but would have been absolutely insufficient from my perspective, for a longer period in cold weather.

I do want to take a moment to mention the hydration sleeve. There is a sleeve on the inside of the pack that is large enough for a 2 liter hydration bladder. There are two hydration ports, one on either side, to allow me to pull the hose through and clip it onto a strap for convenience. The sleeve allowed me to put my hydration bladder in "head down" so that it would fully empty as it is being used. This operation, however, needs to be completed before the pack is fully loaded. Once loaded I found it nearly impossible to get the hydration bladder in. As a matter of fact, I pulled a number of items out of the pack, put the bladder in, then reloaded the pack in order to accomplish this task.

We arrived at Mt. Rogers in cool blustery weather for a 5 mile (8.5 km) hike into our shelter. When I first put the pack on I immediately noticed that it rode higher on my hips than my other pack. In all honesty, it didn't feel worse, just different. As I walked with a 32 lb. (14.5 kg) load I noticed that the suspension system on this pack was fully up to the job. The pack was very stable on my back. The hip belt, though it does ride higher than I was used to, fully transferred the weight to my legs. I found that I was well-balanced and able to walk fully upright throughout our climb to the shelter.

All of the belts and straps stayed adjusted throughout. I was struck by the utter lack of "fiddling" required. Once adjusted the hip belt stays adjusted. Same with all others. On the hip belt there is a loop of fabric through which the belt slides for adjustment. As I carry my digital camera in a case, suspended by a carabiner I found this to be an ideal place to hang my camera case. It is completely out of the way, yet ready to hand whenever I need it.

I did not feel any discomfort from the shoulder straps being farther out on my shoulders than I am accustomed to. Again, once adjusted they stayed adjusted for this short hike.

The trip to the Smokies gave me a much greater chance to test this pack over some long days. This trip was in warm weather. This allowed me to lighten my load considerably. Also, since the forecast was for a 20% chance of rain showers or thunderstorms, we left the rain pants, and pack covers at home. I was able to get the single-wall tent we took inside the pack, rather than having to load it on the outside. My load, before we left, was 20 lbs. (9.07 kg) exclusive of water. With a full water bladder and a 1 liter Nalgene bottle full of Gatorade it was probably closer to 24 lbs. (10.9 kg).

Again, when we first started hiking I noticed that the pack felt different to me. However, as we got into hour number 2 then 3, this difference completely melted away. Instead, I noticed how solid it felt. I appreciated the fact that it didn't creak at all as I walked. When we came to stream crossings, at times up to mid-thigh in rushing water, I appreciated how stable this pack is.

On the second day, when we climbed over 3,000 feet (914 m) in hot weather, I noticed that the back panel seems to ventilate very well. Of course I was sweating, but with my old pack the sweat used to run down my back to the point that my belt would be soaked through. On this day, that never happened.

I also appreciated the barrel lock fasteners on the mesh "water bottle pockets" on the outside bottom of the pack (just above the hip belt). These fasteners meant that I could tighten the pocket around my Nalgene bottle on one side, and around a cup that I always carry with my GPS inside it, on the other side. This gave me a convenient place to carry my GPS, antenna up, where I could reach around and easily grab it at any time. This also gave me a high degree of confidence that if I slipped and fell while crossing a stream I would still have everything when I recovered my balance. Over time, packs without this feature tend to get loose around water bottles as the elastic stretches out of place.

One other note... earlier I stated that I could not find the safety whistle that was supposed to be included. A backpackgeartest.com reader sent me a note suggesting that I look on the buckle of the sternum strap. Sure enough, there it is, molded into the male end of the buckle. The whistle gives a satisfying piercing cry that I believe would be easily detectable for quite a distance.

Summary

All in all, it is my feeling that for a summer long-weekend trip, this pack is ideal. It is large enough without being too large. It is stable. It is very well designed. It suited my needs very well. For winter use, I am afraid that its utility would be limited by its size. I am, admittedly, not an ultra-light packer. However, I found it to be a challenge to stow all I needed for a cold weather weekend.

I have not discussed the "planet saving" aspects of this product on purpose. My feeling is that if you can get a product that has first-rate functionality that is also "green" that is a plus. However, if it doesn't perform then the "green" aspect is moot because no one is going to use it anyway. The fabric needs to stand up to use, and so far, this one has. That being said, I'm testing the performance aspects. The environmental savings are for someone else to judge.

Things I like about this product:
1 - The suspension system that keeps the pack stable, yet allows it to breathe.
2 - The hydration system pocket that will accommodate a 2-litre water bladder
3 - The barrel lock fasteners on the water bottle pockets.

Things I don't like about this product:
1 - The manufacturer should do a better job of helping you get started with inclusion of some directions etc.
2 - The size is somewhat limiting, particularly in cold weather
3 - The hip belt rides higher on your hips than others and takes some getting used to.

Please check back in early August for my Long Term Report.

I would like to thank Backpackgeartest.org and Mountainsmith for the opportunity to test this fine product.


Long Term Report - August 3, 2008

I have used the Mountainsmith Boundary back pack one additional time since the field report was filed in June. I took it on a 2-night, 3-day trip to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area in western North Carolina.

As my son was in California for the summer I went with a friend, however, in this case I had to carry both my tent and my own food. I carried the tent underneath the the vertical compression straps at the bottom of the pack, and slid the poles into the vertical sleeves on the side of the pack. These worked extremely well for this purpose with the bottom of the pole sliding into the mesh pockets at the bottom, while still leaving room for a standard Nalgene bottle. The only caveat here is that the poles have to be into the sleeves before the packbag is fully loaded. In dry weather, as we experienced on this trip, this was no problem. However, on a rainy day this would have been problematic as I generally load my pack inside the vestibule of my tent on rainy mornings then drop the tent and strap it on the outside of my pack.

IMAGE 5

With the tent on the outside of my pack I had plenty of room to pack everything I needed for a long weekend. Before water and Gatorade the pack weighed 22 lbs. (10 kg). We camped very near the car Friday night and on Saturday set out on a 5 mile (8.0 km) hike out to Shining Rock. The elevation ranged from 5,000 - 5,500 feet (1,524 - 1,676 m). The weather was fair and warm. This was easy walking on relatively flat ground and the pack had the now familiar solid, well-balanced feel that I have come to expect. Again, as before, the pack needed virtually no adjustment after I initially put it on. Everything stayed exactly as it was when I initially adjusted it.

When we reached the rock we dropped our packs for a short walk and then a climb/scramble to the top of the rock itself. This gave me an opportunity to test the removable lid/fanny pack. The lid comes loose by simply unclipping the front straps and 2 small additional clips on the back. I then simply lifted off the lid and pulled the waist strap out from underneath the integrated map compartment. I checked and found that the zippers are mounted so that they are both on the top when wearing the fanny pack. When something is required I can simply pull it around to the front, unzip, and reach inside for my camera, snack, compass, or whatever is required.

While wearing the fanny pack scrambling up the rock I did not notice it being in the way or feel encumbered by it in any way. All in all this is an excellent and highly useful feature of this pack.

Returning to our packs and replacing the lid, we had our lunch, then loaded up for another 7 miles (11.3 km) to Graveyard Fields to spend the night. The pack performed admirably and I experienced no soreness or discomfort at all as a result of it.

The next morning we closed the triangle, hiking a steep 3.5 miles (5.6 km) across a ridge back to the car.
Through it all the pack performed well. It did not creak as I walked, the straps all stayed tight, and it seems to be "good as new".

As the fabric is a new design it is worth noting that it has held up extremely well. The pack looks and feels like brand new. There are no pulls or rips in the fabric at all. The zippers all still work smoothly and the straps show no signs of wear at all. In short, it has held up to its first summer of use without the slightest difficulty.

Final Summary

The Mountainsmith Boundary backpack more than fulfills its promise as a midsized pack adequate for winter weekends or longer trips in the summer. It has adequate space and extremely intelligent design features. I am very pleased with its overall design and outstanding quality of its workmanship.

Throughout the summer I have been pleased with how well it performs and, once I got used to the different feel of the hip belt, it is quite comfortable to wear. The pack transfers weight to the legs very effectively. The lid does not interfere with the full brim of my hat, as the top of the pack is still below my head even when fully loaded.

All in all, I believe this pack is an excellent choice for a midsized backpack.

I wish to thank backpackgeartest.org and Mountainsmith for the opportunity to test this excellent product.

This concludes my review of the Mountainsmith Boundary backpack.

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

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