Rating: 5 / 5
I love this pack. I find it to be very comfortable carrying up to about 20 lbs or so, but haven't packed much more into it to fairly judge how it would do with more weight. I like that this pack feels supportive, but not stiff, like many other packs I've tried. It strikes a great balance.
The external straps and attachment points are very handy and actually excessive (in a good way) compared to other lightweight packs. I usually pack my sleeping pad (ThermaRest ProLite 4 Womens Reg) in the bottom, with a sleeping bag or quilt system on top, and then add a shelter, clothing, and food above that. The bottom zipper is great for accessing the pad when you first get to camp to allow it to inflate after setting up your shelter. The bottom straps can be used to attach tent poles, sleeping pad, or othe long objects, and the back pocket is good for quick access items. The brain has a lot of room and can hold all your dishware, gloves, hats, and other small items while the pocket on the brain is perfect for a knife, headlamp, map, etc. The small shoulder pockets are great for quick access to small items, and the hip belt pockets are nice for this as well, although they are pretty small and can't hold a lot. The size pockets are just big enough to hold a standard Nalgene bottle, but the compression straps interfere with the pockets, as they do on most packs. The compression system is pretty effective otherwise.
The pack itself is fairly narrow, so packing wider items horizontally can be an issue sometimes, even with something as squishable as a Marmot 15 Degree Helium (Womens Regular) sleeping bag. Because its narrow, you'll also have trouble searching for items packed out of order without dumping the entire contents of your bag. Also, when not packed to its full capacity volume wise, the brain just slumps over the top of the bag, and the tiny straps that attach the brain slide off to the side of the frame. Not a big deal, but you loose some side to side stability with this.
The lightweight fabric is a lot more durable than it would seem. This was a concern of mine at first, but I haven't had any issues with it at all.
It has a pocket for a 3L hydration bladder, but I have not tried this yet, so cannot comment on its functionality. It also has 2 ice axe loops and fasteners, which do not appear to interfere with the external stretch pocket.
The back panel breathes some, but your back will still get sweaty on a tough hike or in the summer heat.
The zipper loops are fantastic. Very easy to find and grab, even with gloves on, and they look good too. The entire pack is very pleasing to the eye.
Overall this is a great pack. Its not SUL, but does have a ton of features that make the extra weight not a very big deal, as the pack is extremely comfortable.
Some minor changes, like larger hip belt pockets and maybe a way to make the brain less floppy, would improve the pack slightly.
As a final note, the pack comes in two sizes, S/M (<19") and M/L (>19") I have a 19" torso but purchased the S/M because the place I purchased the bag from incorrectly told me I have a 17" torso. I wish I went with the larger size. It would be nice if the two sizes had a bit of overlap so that those right in the middle, like me with a 19" torso, could have a custom fit bag that wasn't right on the brink of being too short or too long. It would also be nice to have a way to detach the brain and carry it as a hipbelt, but that would probably add weight and I doubt it's a common feature on lightweight packs.