Rating: 5 / 5
We have TWO Traveler packs. Early in 2008, we were shopping for a new pack for my wife, who has a short 14-1/2 inch torso length. We drove out to Ron's house to try the SMD Essence, but it did not have an adjustable harness system so no go. However, Ron had the new Traveler prototype there and he was able to fit it to her perfectly. We placed an immediate order and so got one of the very first made a few months later. She carried it in Yosemite this past summer and dearly loved it. She let me use it for one day and even without re-adjusting the harness system for my torso or changing to a longer hipbelt, it was very comfortable. I was surprised. And it was 24 oz lighter than my big Mountainsmith Auspex.
I love panel loaders anyway, so when we bought her Traveler, I also got an extra (larger) hipbelt and harness so I could "borrow" it. Well, it worked so well that I just decided to buy another one for myself for my JMT trek this summer.
One advantage to panel loaders is the integral but separate top pocket which provides a large, totally enclosed rectanglar box in which to carry things you'll need during the day, but at a lesser frequency than what you carry in the two hip belt pockets, so the main pack bag remains closed. I use it to carry my lunch, first aid and repair kits, headnet, maps, route pages, 1 liter Platypus bladder, etc. The zipper for the top pocket is on the front side of the pack (like the panel) and so can not be reached while wearing the pack. It sounds wrong, but having had a pack that had the zipper on the rear where I could reach behind my head and access the pocket without removing the pack, I found things fell out easily - often unseen - if I wasn't very careful, and it was both awkward and hard to close the zipper completely. Ron did it right with the Traveler.
My 9x14 Bearikade Expedition bear canister will fit in the packbag vertically without straining the seams or zippers. The smaller 9x10 Bearikade Weekender will fit horizontally or vertically with room to spare.
The three side mesh pockets are strong with elastic tops to hold things in place. Access to the the front zippered and bellowed mesh pocket is tight because the opening is stitched to the access panel. This limits the size of what you can pass though it, but the pocket itself is big and holds a lot. My Gatewood Cape fits in there perfectly. The two compression straps across the front mesh pocket help secure the load but also limit access to that pocket.
The pad pocket is internal to the pack bag, but is accessed from outside. This means your sleeping pad can be removed to serve as a sit-upon without having to open or unload the pack itself. Something won't fit in the main pack bag? There are two daisy chains on the flat top so you can tie it on. Good candidates - a GG NightLight sleeping pad, a 72" Z-Rest pad, or an insulating jacket. Straps are not included.
Any negatives? Well, I'm not exactly wild about the purple color, but I'll adapt. Function over form any day.
Up-date 3/29/09: I spoke to Ron Moak at Trailfest 2009 yesterday. He has run out of the purple Dynema Gridstop fabric and the replacement fabric will be black. Now you won't be so conspicuous.
Up-date 4/07/09: Replacement fabric will actually be green. The black fabric will be used only for the new SWIFT pack.
and in response to some queries when my review was posted:
"Do you need to use a pad to provide extra support or cushioning to the back area? It seems pretty light for what you get, so I'm guessing that there must be either limited cushioning on the hipbelt or the back area."
There is no cushioning on the back area, just the 420 d packcloth, but it has a soft brushed texture (like Driclime) to it rather than a smooth one. The hipbelt is cushioned with 3/8 inch thick foam core. The length of that foam core increases as the size (length) of the hipbelt increases.
How many folks go camping without some sort of sleeping pad? That pad has to be carried someplace, so why not let it do double or triple duty? So, need? No. But in my opinion, yes, most folks will want some amount of added padding to cushion their back from the hard gear inside the pack.
One of the great design features of the Traveler is its flexibility. You can use it without the stays or pad as a totally frameless rucksack. You can add varying thickness of padding to both cushion your back from your load and to form a virtual frame to transfer weight to your hips. SMD states that above 35 pounds, you might want the two optional removeable aluminum stays (that adds 5 ounces total) to transform it into a true internal frame pack.
Only you can determine how much you can comfortably carry on your shoulders alone and when to add more pad or the stays. Personally, I leave the two optional aluminum stays in place all the time, but I routinely start with about 30 pounds on a 7 day trek. Your comfort level may vary.
"I tend to carry an inflatable 2.5" pad (POE) which I don't think would work very well with this sort of system. What do you use?"
I use two different pads, depending on where I'm going. Wherever possible, I too use a 2.5 inch Big Agnes inflatable pad. It fits the pad pocket nicely, although Ron has said that any inflatable will work - once it's in place, inflate it slightly and close the valve. His web site says:
3/4 Length: Closed Cell Foam
3/4 or Full Length: Inflatable Pads"
I am experimenting with putting a single layer of 3/8 inch foam between my deflated pad and the inside of the pad pocket, just to protect the pad from any hard gear in the pack bag. If it works, I plan to use the single layer as a sit pad in camp and at the door to my tent. My wife, who carries a much lighter load than her packmule hubby, uses both stays and two single pieces of 3/8 foam (4.5 oz) in her pad pocket, and carries her vulnerable inflatable pad in the packbag. If I don't have to carry that bulky bear canister, thereby giving me space in the packbag, I'll do the same.
I also use a closed cell RidgeRest pad where there's a lot of sharp objects everywhere and thus a good chance of puncturing the inflatable (like the desert sections of the PCT) or when I absolutely must cut another 18 ounces off my load. A 3/4 length 48" RR folded into quarters fits nicely. Be aware that whatever space your pad takes up, it removes from the interior depth of the packbag, so plan accordingly. With the 3/4 pad, I can still fit my bear canister (9" diameter)inside.
I just returned from 22 days on the PCT and JMT with my Traveler. Absolutely perfect performance that validates my 2008 short-term experience with this pack. My Bearikade Expedition bear canister fit vertically in the pack and with my inflatable sleeping pad in the external pad sleeve, carried comfortably for 200 miles over the 9 high passes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. With a 17 pound base weight, 8 days' food, and one liter of water, I was carrying 31 pounds on day one.
This pack is now my "go-to" pack for long distant hikes. It will definitely go with me in 2010 on my Colorado Trail thru-hike. Sorry Mountainsmith Auspex, you have been replaced.
If I had to say anything negative, it would be that I wish the hip belt pockets were located further forward. They are easy to open but tough to close where they are. Ideally, I'd have the hip belt buckle on one side rather than in front, which would allow the pockets to move to the front. But then, I'm wierd.....
God, I love panel-loaders.