Nice review Will, I agree with most of your points.
I think this pack is fairly unique with it's combination of low weight, good volume, carrying comfort and panel access.
There is no other panel loading pack near this light. Travelling with a panel loading pack is a real luxury, also I find them great for more relaxing walking trips with plenty of picnic stops, often when I want to carry gear for others, versus more non stop trips where I eat out of my pockets and only unpack at the end of the day.
You mention the dimensions are too large to qualify as carry on, actually this isn't true if you really tighten the front straps down all the way. Another trick is to wrap the hipbelt around the pack backwards, which helps compress the side pockets, and streamlines things a bit. I empty the side pockets and rely on the top zippered pocket when in 'travel' mode, the result of all this is the pack becomes longer and slimmer looking. If there was a way to compress the top of the pack it would be even better for this.
I'd reiterate the carrying comfort of this pack, while carrying gear for a group I've absolutely filled it to the maximum (15+ kg) and still found it very comfortable. The adjustable torso length probably helps here. I only use a single layer (not folded) nightlite cut specifically to fit into the pad pocket and this works well (I don't like bulky pads in the pack stealing my volume and pushing the weight away from me). The resulting pad is too small for a torso pad but works well as a sit pad (and easily retrieved at stops) or to keep lower legs off the ground in combination with a bigger pad. So using an inflatable pad with this pack can work, which is good because bulky foam pads are a pain when travelling.
The pack gives you tons of pocket space while walking. The zippered top pocket is well designed to expand to a good sized volume. The front pocket is a bit redundant to me, it ends up obstructed and crushed by the two straps tightened over the top. But the large side pockets are excellent, and more than make up for the small front pocket - you can easily fit a 2 person tent in the longer side pocket. I too had the same problem where the mesh wasn't properly sewn into the mesh in one pocket. I wish the mesh material was a little less plasticy and more like the softer (but still tough) mesh used by MLD. Even if sewed properly they aren't as tough as the full dyneema hems on the current MLD packs, which now also allow adjusting of the tightness.
Also I wish there were bungee attachment points so that you could keep the pockets from billowing out when they are empty (eg when using it as carry on on a plane). In fact in general the pack needs a few small tie out points, for example I missed not having any way of strapping a pad to the underside of the pack, or any way of attaching poles or gear to the back or sides.
So to sum up, if you changed:
- some tie out points to allow side pocket compression
- some way to compress the top of the pack (a few more tie outs to attach bungee cord might do)
- nicer mesh material with better integration into the elastic hem
- moved or dropped or otherwise fixed the front zip pocket
Then I think this would be getting near the perfect ultralight travel pack.