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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Red Fox Outdoor Equipment Sandhill 65L > Test Report by Coy Ray StarnesRedFox Outdoor Equipment Sandhill 65L
Review by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: October 12, 2017
Field Report: January 2, 2018
Long Term Report: February 27, 2018
Sandhill 65L side view with 3L water bottle in the side pocket
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy backpacking, hunting, fishing and kayaking. I enjoy hiking with family and friends but also hike solo occasionally. Most of my hiking has been in the Southeastern US. I hike throughout the year but actually enjoy late fall or early spring the most with some winter hiking mixed in. I don't like the hot and humidm weather of summer unless I can escape to the mountains where it is cooler. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability to a degree. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food and water.
Initial Report: October 12, 2017
The Sandhill 65L, which I will often refer to as the pack later in my report, is from the Russian manufacture RedFox Outdoor Equipment. The company was founded in 1989 by climbing partners Vladislov Moroz & Alexander Glushkovsky. US distribution began in 2014 with one store in Colorado but now includes another Colorado location. The pack is not actually made in Russia. This is not a negative observation, but much like many US (backpacking gear, phone, or shoe etc.) companies, the pack is made elsewhere, in this case Vietnam. The pack is fully warranted to the original owner against defects in materials and workmanship for the lifetime of the product. Period. If a product ever fails due to a manufacturing defect, even after extended use, we (RedFox Outdoor Equipment) will repair the product, without charge, or replace it, at our discretion.
Before I dig into the details of the pack I'll make a couple of quick observations. When picking up the empty pack it feels incredibly light for its size. The wire frame is probably a big factor but the hip belt and shoulder straps are not overly padded either. However, construction seems very solid. The other is the layout of the pack. It is a single compartment pack with a large shove-it pocket on the front, hip belt pockets and water bottle pockets on each side, and a nice sized floating top lid. Over the years I have found this simplified layout a good compromise for keeping my daily essentials handy and keeping my overnight gear buried deep in the main pack compartment. And now on to the pack details
AirVent Wireframe Suspension: This is really made up of two components. The wire frame runs around the entire perimeter of the pack. It is approximately 25 in (64 cm) tall,13 in (33 cm) wide at the top and 15 in (38 cm) wide at the bottom. The middle part is bowed about 2 in (5 cm) away from the mesh panel that rides on the back. The wire frame is also bowed a lot at the hip to aid in wrapping around the hips and to a lesser extent at the top. The mesh back panel is hourglass shaped and is made of a very open weave and even has an open area. I was pleased to find the air gap is plenty big.
Airvent mesh back panel
generous air gap
Top-loading single, extendable chamber: This is the main compartment of the pack. It measures approximately 25 in (64 cm) deep, 13 in (33 cm) wide and 10 in (25 cm) front to back. This works out to about 3250 cu in or 53L. This is not surprising since the shove-it pocket, top lid, water bottle and hip belt pockets are added into the 65L (3967 cu in) volume of the pack. Plus the extendable portion (collar) adds another 6 in (15 cm), but to be fair, it would be hard to close the drawstring at the top if it were filled all the way up.
Extendable, removable top lid: The top lid is floating, meaning that if the 65L volume of the pack itself is not enough, the top lid straps can be let out to cram even more gear in between the lid and the main pack compartment. The outer pocket measures approximately 10 x 12 x 2 in (25 x 30 x 5 cm) and I was able to easily stuff my XL fleece jacket inside. The under side pocket is about the same dimensions but only about half as thick. There is a key clip inside the inner compartment. The top lid is removable but there are no straps to convert it into a day/waist pack. I think this might be aimed at gram weenies who might leave the lid at home when not needed.
fleece jacket inside top lid
Large shove-it pocket: This is one of my favorite features on the pack. It measures approximately 14 in (36 cm) tall and about 13 in (33 cm) wide. It is fairly evenly divided into three sections. The center is made of the same material as the rest of the pack but the outer edges are made of a very tightly woven but stretchy mesh material. It is closed by a single strap in the middle and at the top. This same strap continues down the center of the pack to form a 14 in (36 cm) daisy chain and is one of three daisy chains on the pack. The shove-it pocket is the perfect place to store a rain jacket or rain fly, especially if they are wet. It also means a rain jacket would be easily accessible if needed during the day. I would have to remove the pack but no digging into it is involved.
back view of pack and shove-it pocket
Two stretchy side stash pockets: I call them water bottle pockets. They are plenty big for a 1L Nalgene bottle. I often put my tent/hammock stakes in these pockets but there are small drain holes about as big as my finger in the bottom. I placed one of my big plastic stakes inside and it did poke through, but the top end was big enough to prevent it from sliding on out. I can resolve this easily by placing them on the other side of my water bottle. These pockets are made up mostly of the same mesh used in the shove-it pocket except for last couple of inches (5 cm) which is made of the pack material. Here is a photo of the pocket with a 1L Nalgene bottle inside and my tent stakes. Note the one sticking out the bottom. To be clear, this is because the drain hole is designed to easily let water escape, just something to keep in mind if placing skinny items in the water bottle pockets.
side pocket with 1L Nalgene water bottle and tent stakes
Shoulder Straps: These are slightly S shaped for a comfortable fit. They start out approximately 3 in (8 cm) wide and gradually taper down to 2 in (5 cm) wide. The padding is approximately 0.25 in (0.64 cm) thick. There is an adjustable sternum strap with a conveniently located whistle built in where it clips together. The pack also features load lifters that connect the shoulder straps to the top of the main pack.
Hip Belt: The hip belt appears to be the same thickness as the shoulder straps. They are much thinner than I am accustomed to. They start out at about 5 in (13 cm) wide where they connect to the pack but quickly taper to about 3 in (8 cm) wide. The strap that connects each side is 1.5 in (4 cm) webbing. It is a center pull design meaning it is tightened by pulling from where they connect towards the sides. There is a small pocket on each side, one is made of the pack material and the other is made of mesh. Each pocket measure approximately 6 in (15 cm) x 3 in (8 cm) and about 1.5 in (4 cm) thick. Unfortunately, my iPhone 6+ will not it in either pocket and it's really not even close. The video on the website shows a cell phone going into one of these pockets easily...must be a fairly small (by today's standards) cell phone.
This about covers the main features of the pack. It does have four compression straps, two additional daisy chains, ice ax/hiking pole loops, bottom sleeping pad straps and a place for a hydration bladder on the inside of the main compartment. The compression straps are 0.75 in (2 cm) and long enough to strap additional gear under them (within reason). The sleeping pad straps on the bottom are 0.5 in (1.3 cm) wide and 12 in (30 cm) long, plenty long for all but the largest sleeping pads.
Fitting the pack
The Sandhill 65L is not a gender specific pack and the torso length is not adjustable. I am average height but I do have a long torso. I have a hard time finding shirts that will stay tucked in and pants short enough. For example, I wear 38 x 30 jeans because I hardly ever find any shorter then the 30 in (76 cm) inseam. I wear the heel area out on my jeans because they drag. Adjusting the torso length on this pack is as simple as shortening or lengthening the shoulder straps. When the straps are shortened the hip belt will hit higher on my waist and vise versa if lengthened. Since the pack fits against the back with a suspended mesh panel it is no big deal if it sits a little lower or higher on a person. With my long torso the pack sits pretty low on my back. The waist belt fit me at about the mid point on the web straps. My waist measures 40 in (102 cm) which is a little more than my pant size, but after cinching it down there was 8 in (20 cm) of webbing left on each side. In other words, the hip belt could be let out another 16 in (41 cm) or snugged down the same amount. I can gain or lose a lot of weight and still use this pack.
I loaded the pack with my hammock, sleeping gear, cooking gear, toiletries, and a few other odds and ends, put it on and adjusted the shoulder straps, load lifters etc. I weighed myself with and without the pack and it weighed approximately 17 lb (8 kg). I then added 5 L (1.3 gal) of water and some food and weighed it again, it now weighed 26 lb (12 kg). I wouldn’t typically carry this much water but I wanted to simulated a two or three night load. The pack felt okay but it seemed like the shoulder straps were now carrying most of the weight. Apparently not though, I checked by unsnapping the hip belt and the shoulder strap load went up a lot. I’m just used to a heavier hip belt handling most of my pack weight. I was by no means uncomfortable with the 26 lb (12 kg) but I wasn't wishing the pack was even heavier. I guess this is where the "as heavy as you can bear" load limit comes in.
I did notice that the way the shoulder strap webbing that connects to the lower end of the pack partially covers the hip belt pockets. I double checked to be sure the hip belt (both sides) wasn't supposed to pass to the outside of this webbing but I had it on correctly. I think if I were skinnier these pockets would wrap more to the front and not be covered. Anyways, I was still able to unzip them most of the way. I had a pocket knife in one and was able to retrieve it and put it back up.
hip belt pocket covered by lower end of shoulder strap
I am excited to put this pack through the paces. It is lighter than all my framed packs, even those with less volume. Please check back in approximately two months for my Field Report.
Field Report: January 2, 2018
Sandhill 65L in its element
Test Locations and Conditions
I have used the RedFox Outdoor Equipment Sandhill 65L on three overnight hikes on local trails near my home in Grant Alabama. I also wore it on several day hikes for exercise by loading it with my typical backpacking load. My first overnight trip was on October 18th. I hiked about 4 miles (6 km) total and the overnight low was 50 F (10 C). My second overnighter was on December 4th. I hiked approximately 6 miles (10 km) total and the overnight low was 54 F (12 C), but it was one of those strange nights when it actually warmed up a little during the night. It also rained off on and on during the night. My last overnight trip was Dec 12th. I hiked 4 miles (6 km) total and the overnight low was 46 F (8 C). On the day and overnight hikes I crossed creeks and small streams and went up and down several steep hills.
Field Test Results
I won't go into each hike in detail because the pack performed about the same on each hike. What I did notice was that this is perhaps the most comfortable pack I've ever used with loads around 20 lb (9 kg). It was still great at 26 lb (12 kg) but I could tell the waist belt was not as happy at this weight. By this I mean I could fell more weight on my shoulders once I upped the weight but not to the point that it was uncomfortable. It's hard to describe but I think the thin but flexible hip belt and shoulder straps on the Sandhill 65L make it more comfortable with loads in the mid to low 20 lb (9 kg) range.
I love the layout of this pack. Since it is a single compartment top-loading design it is important to have a way to manage wet gear and have easy access to items that might be needed during the day. I really appreciated the generously sized shove-it pocket on the Sandhill 65L after the Dec 4th hike when it rained early in the AM and I woke up to a soaked rain fly. I was able to place it, my pack cover and rain jacket (it stopped raining before I got up) inside the mesh compartment. It did not soak through to wet any gear inside the main compartment. Even the water bottle pockets are huge. I could easily fit two 1L smart water bottles in one side pocket. This also meant I could put all kinds of things in each side when I was only carrying one bottle per side. I carried my toiletries and a few snack in the top lid so I never needed to dig into the main compartment until I was at camp and ready to set up. I still have not hiked in anything more than a few sprinkles using the Sandhill 65L but on this hike I did keep the pack under my tarp instead of hanging on a tree tree like I normally do. It was a calm rain so it would have stayed dry without the rain cover but better to be safe than sorry.
pack (under pack cover) hanging under hammock fly on a rainy night
I also loved that I was able to strap my hammock to the bottom of the pack. A tent or sleeping pad could be stored in the same location. Utilizing this and the massive shove-it pocket and water botle pockets left tons of room in the main compartment. It also meant I could keep my sleep gear clean and dry while I set up my hammock. I was using dry bags on my first two overnight hikes but I did just cram my top and bottom quilts inside loosely on my last overnighter and a couple of my day hikes. This is the easiest way to pack and I don't mind admitting I'm lazy at times (ok most of the time). I'll save the dry bags for times when I know it will rain or space is at a premium.
One thing I was not able to test was cooling ability of the AirVent Wireframe Suspension. It seems to support the weight fine but since I only hiked in fall conditions I don't know how it would do on a blazing hot summer day. However, since it keeps the main pack compartment well away from my back I can only surmise that the Sandhill 65L would do well and better than packs that don't offer the air gap this one has. I was also a little concerned that by putting the weight in the pack further away from my torso it might make the pack feel like it was pulling me back but I didn't have any trouble with my heaviest load of 26 lb (12 kg). I would like to see how the pack handles even heavier loads so will be sure and really load it down at least once in the future.
Not all was perfect about the pack. I'm not very flexible and I found it difficult to get a water bottle from a side pocket. Of course had I used the hydration sleeve for a hydration bladder this would not have been an issue, but I like the simplicity of using water bottles. This was never much of a problem since I was usually ready for a rest break and getting the pack off and on is easy. However, a few times I wanted a drink while not needing a full blown sit down rest stop. I found a compromise where I could stop, loosen the hip belt and extract one arm from under a shoulder strap and slide the pack around to the other side enough to get at a bottle. After my drink I would slide the bottle back in and get the pack back in travel mode very quickly. The other disappointment was the size of the hip belt pockets. They were plenty big for my knife and a few snacks but I would have loved to keep my iPhone 6+ in one of them. That's all I have for now. Please stay tuned for my Long Term Report which will follow in approximately two months.
Long Term Report: February 27, 2018
out on an exercise hike on a cold day
(notice icicles in background and frozen puddles in foreground)
Long Term Test Locations and Conditions
I took a 6 mile (10 km) day hike with the pack on January 6 and a 4 mile (6 km) day hike about a week and a half later. It was very cold both times with temperatures slightly below freezing. I used the pack more as a suitcase on a car camping trip on February 16. I did do about 4 miles (6 km) walking, just not with my pack on. I went on one more overnight in my local woods on February 20 during an unseasonably warm few days. The hike was 5 miles (8 km) total. The high was 77 F (25 C) and the overnight low was 61 F (16 C). I had to cancel my last planned hike on February 24 due to severe weather.
Long Term Test Results
I hurt my left foot sometime in late November or early December and it gradually got worse. I took a couple of weeks off hiking and it seemed a lot better so on January 6 I loaded the Sandhill 65L with 36 lb (16 kg) and went on a 6 mile (10 km) day hike down to the holler, up the other side of the mountains and then back. Temperatures were around 30 F (-1 C) during this hike. It took me a little over three hours to complete the hike and my shoulders were feeling the load by the end of the hike. Admittedly, I had not hiked enough to toughen them into hiking shape but the hip belt on this pack does not offer much help getting the load transferred down to the hips where I’m accustomed to carrying most of my pack weight. On the plus side, the hip belt is extremely comfortable no matter how much I was carrying. Anyways, my foot was very sore for the next several days so I rested it as much as possible.
A week and a half later on January 16 it was feeling a lot better so decided to try again but shortened my hike to 4 miles (6 km) and carried only 20 lb (9 kg). The temperature was around 22 F (-6 C) during this hike. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much better luck with my foot so I rested it just over a month before attempting another hike.
On February 16 I loaded the pack with all my normal hiking gear with the idea that I would hike a 4 mile (6 km) trail at a hammock gathering at the Meriwether Lewis campground in Tennessee. It was a great weekend of eating and talking gear, but with the cold rain I gave up on hiking the trail. The good news is, my foot really did not bother me during or after this trip even though I walked about 4 unladen miles (6 km) over the two days.
My next opportunity to hike was February 20. This was actually my warmest trip during the entire test period despite being the middle of February. I hiked 5 miles (8 km) total. My pack weight was at 23 lb (10 kg) and the pack felt great. I just wish I could always get away with a load like this. My left foot was slightly sore after this hike but a lot less so than on previous longer hikes with a heavier load.
It’s not often that I will say I deem a backpack worthy of consideration for a major hiking undertaking such as a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, but with several good packs in my gear closet, I would have no problem choosing this one. With a few improvements in the design it would be the hands down winner. With this in mind, my first suggestion would be to make the hip belt a little firmer to help transfer more of the load to the hips. I would also like to see the water bottle holders on the sides canted forward slightly to aid in grabbing them while hiking. Oh, and make the hip belt pockets bigger!
The size of the main pack is great for the hiker who may not be able to afford the lightest and most compressible down gear. The huge side pockets, voluminous rear shove-it-pocket and cavernous top lid meant I was able to keep everything I needed during the day handy without having to dig into the main compartment. I could always keep a rain jacket poked in under the top lid, something I did on several occasions. This also meant the simple drawstring opening at the top of the main pack compartment was more than adequate and saved the added weight and possible failure of the more complicated zipper access designs that seems to be the rage nowadays.
The Sandhill 65L seemed happiest with loads under 30 lb (14 kg) and once I dropped below about 25 lb (11 kg) the pack almost disappeared. I will say this, I’ve heard long distance hikers talk about getting their hiking legs after a few weeks on the trail. I think the same applies to hikers shoulders, and because my hikes were spread out and not all that long, I never developed mine. I was trying to hike regularly even if it was only for a long day hike a few times a week. However, my sore left foot, the weather, my job, and family obligations were determined to see I did not. Luckily, I’m a light weight (not ultra light) hiker and only went over 30 lb (14 kg) once. It was intentional to see how the pack handled a heavy load.
This concludes my testing of The Sandhill 65L backpack. My thanks to RedFox Outdoor Equipment and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.
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