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Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW

A feature-rich, heavy load carrier, but it tries to be a bit too much for too many people.

Overall Rating: Above Average

While there is a lot to really like in this pack, its limitations are what keep me from giving it a Recommended rating. The solid build, load carrying capacity, and comfort make this pack a solid performer. However, the very limited usefulness of the pouches, the limited effectiveness of the compression system, and the design of the front pocket keep me from lauding this pack as much as I otherwise would.

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by Ken Knight |

Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW


Mountainsmith's PCT 45 backpack is a smaller volume cousin to their AT 55 backpack and part of their Treklite series (the CDT 45 - a backpack designed for women - is also in this series). It's a feature-rich backpack designed to carry good-sized heavy loads. With the CDT 45, Mountainsmith has tried to craft a pack that will suit the needs of both on-trail and off-trail users who need to carry high density/low volume loads. Perhaps they have also attempted to fill the perceived needs of too many groups of consumers. In trying to be a backpack for too many types it has missed the mark in some areas, but for many this may well be a very valuable backpack.

What’s Good

  • Comfortable fit
  • Good weight transfer to the hipbelt
  • Side pockets are accessible even when wearing the backpack
  • Tough body construction

What’s Not So Good

  • Top pocket is small and does not function well as a fanny pack
  • Without proper adjustment of the top pocket the main compartment can become quite exposed to the elements
  • Hip stabilizing straps add little benefit
  • The pouches on the hipbelt are very small and for most will be of little use
  • Front pocket is only truly secure when the top compression strap is very tight



Mountainsmith 2006 PCT 45


Internal frame, top loading, top pocket


Size Regular: 2624 ci standard (43 L), 2929 ci extended (48 L)
Size Large: 2685 ci standard (44 L), 2990 ci extended (49 L)


Regular: 3 lbs 4 oz (1.54 kg)* according to manufacturer’s specification; 3 lbs 8 oz (1.59 kg) per BackpackingLight measurement
Large: 3 lbs 5 oz (1.6 kg)* according to manufacturer's specification


210 High Tenacity Cordura™ nylon body fabric, 210 Ripstop nylon body fabric, 420d High Tenacity Cordura™ nylon reinforcement fabric


Removable top lid converts to a fanny pack, two side pockets, external front pocket for storing wet gear, one zippered and one un-zippered pocket on the hipbelt, two ice axe loops, sternum strap, internal sleeve for a hydration bladder, hydration port

  Volume To Weight Ratio

54.2 ci/oz (extended volume, regular size)

  Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

35 lb (15.88 kg)

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

10.0 (based on a 35 lb load and measured weight of 3.5 lb)



*NOTE: the kilogram values cited for the manufacturer's specifications come from their website and do not match the pounds/ounces measurement they cite. However, the kilogram value does come closer to the BackpackingLight measurement for the regular sized backpack.


This backpack follows traditional top-loading design trends featuring a main pack-bag, a top lid that can be removed and used as a fanny pack, two side pockets, and a modest front pocket suitable for storing a rain jacket or small tarp. There are also two very small pouches on the hipbelt that are just large enough to hold a snack apiece or a cell phone. While many readers may find these small pouches of use I do not because they are so small.

Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW - 1
The two hipbelt pouches are quite small and almost seem like an after thought. They're barely large enough to hold a decent sized energy bar each.

The two external side pockets can easily hold 1-liter water bottles. The front pocket is capable of storing a moderate amount of gear such as a rain jacket or small tarp. I do not believe it would serve well as a drying pocket since, like the side pockets, it is solid 210 denier nylon. While all the external pockets are slightly stretchy they do not self-seal. While this is not such a concern for the side pockets if you plan to put water bottles in them it can be an issue with the front pocket even when you cinch it closed with the top compression strap. While I never lost anything from the pocket I would like it to seal more snugly against the body of the backpack across the entire width of the top elastic of the pocket.

The PCT 45's top lid is not very large. It is designed to be removed and used as a summit or fanny pack. However, given its small size I do not think it serves this function that well. The straps used to secure the top lid to your waist are slender and so the weight distribution combined with overall stability are only average. I feel that his attempt to make the top pocket multi-functional was not successful. The backpack would be far better served with a more functional single-purpose top pocket.

Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW - 2
The front of the Mountainsmith PCT45 backpack (top left). The PCT45 backpanel (top right) includes all the features you would expect from a heavy load carrier including a padded lumbar support and a very stout suspension system that can easily carry much heavier loads than you could readily pack. The pack sports side pockets (bottom left) suitable for carrying 1-liter water bottles. The side compression straps are long enough to let you secure fairly substantial items to the side as well as provide some limited pack bag compression. It is key with this pack that you pay careful attention to the position of the top lid (bottom right). While this basic closure is common it does not close as tightly as I would like.

This is one of the most comfortable backpacks I have worn. Mountainsmith sells two sizes of the pack: regular and large which cover a torso length fit range of 17 to 23 inches. I tested the size Regular and found it easy to dial in a perfect fit for my torso length.

Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW - 3
The hipbelt is secured in a sleeve behind the lumbar pad. Heavy straps behind the backpanel are used to shorten and lengthen the pack torso length.

The rest of PCT 45's Load Dispersion Technology Suspension consists of a dual density molded foam framesheet and angled aluminum stays that connect to the load lifter straps and hipbelt. The suspension is flexible enough that the pack moves well with my body without becoming a floppy encumbrance. The load lifter straps do a very respectable job of bringing the backpack close to my body when the weight being carried is high. However, the hipbelt stabilizer straps (not to be confused with the heavy straps that secure the hipbelt) seem to have only a minimal effect on the overall feel of the backpack - bottom sway was not affected much whether they were used or not. I could not detect a difference with these straps in use or hanging loose even when carrying a 38 pound load on a day hike.

The backpack features four side compression straps and a top compression strap. While they provide some load control by tightening up the sides of the main pack bag, their overall effectiveness is not spectacular. The top compression strap does a fair job of controlling the top portion of the pack bag and since it must be tightened down to secure the top of the front pocket, I can always count on the upper portion of the main compartment to be fairly stable. Given the nature of this backpack, this is an area that I believe could be greatly enhanced. With a modest re-design of the compression straps and quick-release buckles, a straightjacket compression system - straps that span the entire width of the pack bag - could be made. This would give users much greater control over how they compress the main pack bag. Furthermore, a straightjacket compression system would let users effectively secure large items like snowshoes to the front of the backpack increasing the pack's utility as a winter backpack.

What’s Unique

The suspension is easily capable of carrying loads that would be generally carried in a much larger volume backpack.

Recommendations for Improvement

  • The hipbelt load stabilizers seem to accomplish little even with heavy loads which causes me to question their usefulness.
  • Re-design the top lid to be somewhat larger and just serve as a standard floating top lid.
  • I personally found the hipbelt pouches of little use and feel the pack would be better served if they were either eliminated or significantly enlarged. Their limited volume outweighs their usefulness.
  • Re-design the compression straps from the basic side compression to a full straightjacket compression system. A partial solution would be to reverse the position of the female buckles. But a more complete solution could give the backpack a full straightjacket compression without compromising side compression options if that is all that is required.


"Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW," by Ken Knight. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2007-04-03 03:00:00-06.


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Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW
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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW on 04/03/2007 21:41:35 MDT Print View

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Mountainsmith PCT 45 Backpack REVIEW