Rating: 5 / 5
Age = 58
Weight = 175 lbs
Height = 6'3"
Build = Athletic
Waist = 34"
Backpacking Experience = 30+ years
Pack: Latitude Vapor
Weight = 42oz size large
Waist belt = Large (fits 34" to 38")
Cubage = 4200"
My MountainSmith Ghost died recently and I had to find a replacement panel loader. I did not even consider any other type of pack because I have become an avid fan of panel loading. It offers many advantages IMHO. Among these advanatages are the ability to find gear in the pack without having to dig through layers of other gear and the easy loading and organizing of gear.
This new pack in the Latitude line is a panel loader with a unique approach. The center panel has dual zippers both at the top and bottom which allows the hiker to unzip the panel from either the top or the bottom completely exposing the entire interior of the pack. It also has an internal pair of straps and buckles - one 1/3 of the way down from the top and one 1/3 of the way up from the bottom - which allows the hiker to open the external center panel while the interior remains cinched. This allowed me to open the panel and remove items without everything shifting or falling out of the pack. It also takes some of the strain off the zippers for the panel which are incidently listed as waterproof zippers.
I was amazed at the volume of stuff I could put in the pack and still cinch it up tight so that it carried as if it were a much smaller pack. This results in a pack that can carry an overnight kit or enough gear for 5 to 7 days and still remain close and tight to my back with no shifting of the pack or feelings of instability.
I took it out for a 4 day hike in the Jenny Lakes Wilderness. I carried a total of 23lbs including the pack which also included a 2 liter hydration cell and 80 oz of food. The pack's height came up to the middle of my neck, so it sits a little taller than the Ghost which comes up to the top of the shoulders in height. It carried as well as my ghost -- perhaps better because the waist belt is one comfy cushiony deal. It is not especially high tech as some belts have become, but the dual density foam and the shape felt perfect from the first mile. I did not have to adjust the belt even once during the first day (something I had to do frequently with the Ghost). I felt the same about the shoulder straps. They are also fairly straight forward in design but ergonomically structured to curve over the shoulder and down the side of my chest in a perfect arc. They supported the load effortlessly.
I was expecting a pack with load lifters similar to other systems I have encounter to lift the load off my shoulders and place it squarely on my hips. But this pack takes a different approach. the load lifters are attached to the bottom of the pack and do not so much lift the pack as snug it into the waist belt. By adjusting the waist belt, the shoulder straps and the pack stabilizer straps at the top of pack connected to the shoulder straps, I could achieve equilibrium between the weight on my shoulders and the weight on my hips. Most unusual but very effective. Once again -- once adjusted at the beginning of the day, I never had to adjust these components again. In fact it was a pleasure to find that I was not constantly fiddling with stabilizers and load lifters to achieve a comfortable carry.
The fabrics of the pack is of a type of grided ripstop nylon that has been extruded similar to the approach that Montbell takes with its fabrics which increase the tensil strengh without needing to increase weight. There appears to be several different types of fabric in the making of the pack -- a lightweight extruded codura, silnylon interior and a slightly heavier ripstop. The panel and the lining of the back pad and shoulder straps is a type of schoeller fabric. Very absorbent, durable and slightly stretchy. When I took the pack off these areas seemed to dry almost immediately. I never felt sweaty wearing the pack even though the ambient temps were in the high 80's. However, it should be noted that I did in fact find that my shirt was drenched where the pack and straps were in contact with my body. This was caused by the fact that the pack rides snug to my back most of the time allowing little ventilation in these areas. This pack hugs your back no doubt about it! But it was a good trade off none-the-less.
The pack has compression straps on each side of the pack which are a continuous Z shape down the side. One Pull on each strap and the pack seems to visibly shrink evenly to compress the load. These straps are also undone by a simple buckle arangement for quick release. The Schoeller back panel sits under another set of compression straps with buckles which cinch the pack's width as well. I placed my tent lengthwise down the exterior of the center panel and under these straps and cinched it tight. It made a very neat compressed carry.
There is a truly unique little design feature that I really liked. Inside at the top of the pack is a detachable "internal Lid" as it is described in the catalog literature. What this is is a draw-corded waterproof bag with a foam floor that clips into the interior top of the pack. It holds approximatly 650ci and can be removed quickly and taken into the tent. I found that into this one bag I put such things as my 1st Aid kit, personal kit, mosquito headnet,mp3 player,glasses case and all of the other small things I usually have scattered about the pack that I have to collect and take into the tent. A truly convenient concept that is well executed.
I suppose I should finally deal with the issue that most often comes up in reviews of GG Packs. The external pockets. It was my only hesitation in buying this pack. I always used to find that my ghost with its large easily accessed mesh pockets was the benchmark to measure pocket design. Well I still feel that if you carry your water bottles in a pocket then this GG pack will drive you crazy. You can't get at a water bottle from these pockets unless you work for Circ d'sole. I don't; so I don't carry water here. I put my tent poles and other items that I want outside the pack but "securely" held. The emphasis is on "Securely." Think of these as the place to put your fishing gear, your tent or tent poles, your snacks that you will eat when you take the pack off, the place you keep your rain gear,anything but water bottles. You could put a water bladder here (a bit lopsided in weight distribution) or put the water bladder inside the pack in the specially designed and bungy strapped pocket. Or you could put it immediately behind the external back pad where I put my 2L bladder which made it so much more accessible for refilling. I have never encountered a pack with so many options for water carrying. JUST NOT IN THE EXTERIOR POCKETS! OK! Enough about these Schoeller fabric pockets which are really designed to securely carry gear with an additional external compression strap halfway down the pocket just to make sure that whatever you do carry here will never ever go anywhere.
One of the best panel loader designs I have ever encountered. Clean lines, unique design features, terrific compression options, voluminous pack bag that shrinks down to nothing, very comfortable carry, simple adjustment that never needs re-adjustment, and, finally, a pack that seems very water resistant and extremely durable.