Rating: 5 / 5
I just used my new Absaroka pack on a 3 day 2 night outing in N. Alabama on a particularly cold weekend. Temps ranged from 14-40, and I encountered both snow and cold drizzle on the trip.
Ryan Jordan designed this pack with a specific purpose, and my rating of a 5/5 reflects this purpose. This is NOT the pack to carry your typical 15 lb. UL load. My pack weighed 22 lbs. at the trailhead, including 2 days worth of food and 48 oz. of fluid. I subsequently filled my 6L MSR DromLite and added it to the pack just for "test purposes," temporarily bringing my pack weight up to over 34 lbs.
Initial packing of the Absaroka is tricky, in that it is a relatively small volume pack vs. its weight capability. I initially had some trouble closing my pack with the 22 lb. load for instance! However, once I gave packing some proper thought AND effort I was able to fit almost everything into the pack, roll the top over 4 times and clip it shut. My shelter (Scarp 1) fit into one of the stretchable side pockets, and my 1 & 2L bottles into the other. I strapped a ThermaRest Z-Lite on top.
Inside the pack was 48 hours worth of food in an Ursack, a FF Swift bag, a MontBell ThermaWrap Parka and pants, 2 Equinox sundries bags, stove (GigaPower), 4 oz. IsoPro canister, squishy bowl and spork, a ThermaRest Prolite 3 women's pad, SnowPeak 700 mug, extra socks and baselayers. The DromLite when filled barely fit into the upper part of the main bag. Into the large side pockets went a headlamp, some Clif bars, water purification tablets, one of several lighters, etc.
The best part of this pack is how light it feels on you. 22 lbs. felt like nothing at all, and 34 lbs. was not stressful....both loads carried equally well. There are multiple options for dialing in fit with adjustment of torso, shoulder straps and hip belts. The hip belt is well-cushioned, plenty thick, and rides where it's supposed to. The shoulder pads are wide, adequately cushioned, and curved just right for me at least. The adjustable sternum strap is great too.
I added bungee cord through the loops on the front of the pack, which adds capacity- you could carry a small shelter back here for instance. You could also configure it to carry tools this way.
The pack proved VERY durable, as my misadventures found me doing some unplanned bushwhacking, falling into creeks, sliding down mud banks etc. and also led to the pack freezing one night along with my wet shoes. The Absaroka came through unscathed.
Two thumbs up to the ventilated backpanel, which never heated up.
Overall, this will be my go-to pack for intermediate volume loads of any weight in the future. For the UL backpacker, this may be the ideal pack for that 7-10 day through hike where you have to carry a lot of food (high wt. per vol.) or water. I have a feeling this is one of its target niches. For the mainstream UL hiker who carries a 15-20 lb. load, only you can decide whether the extreme comfort of carry is worth the roughly extra one pound. For me it is.