From overnighters to multiday tramps, our reviewers put these five packs through their paces
Black Wolf McKinley 75 $319.95
The Black Wolf McKinley is jam packed full of features, some that are useful and some that for me were cases of a product trying to be all things to all people.
The built-in rain cover was an interesting and useful idea but the need for a rain cover was perhaps even more necessary with this pack because of the zippered front access panel on the main sac. This wrecked the design integrity of the main sac for me, creating a weak point where the sac joins the standard top entrance which ends up being partly dependant on Velcro. Not good, and there seemed to be very little to gain with this design addition for what is still essentially a 75 litre top-loading pack.
On the plus side I found the side pockets well designed and useful and it was great to use a pack that at last has side compression straps that leave a generous amount of extension for strapping extra bits of gear on. The top pocket has some clever organisers built into it and I came to appreciate these more and more over my weekend tramp.
The harness is easy to adjust and I found it comfortable, but immediately I detected a problem with the shoulder strap and buckle arrangement. With a load of about 15kg, the buckles started slipping straight away under a walking load. I was left having to retighten the shoulder straps numerous times in the first hour of walking. Sadly, a good harness is let down by the lightweight adjustment straps not being properly matched to the buckles which can’t bite into the straps. The McKinley comes with a lifetime warranty and will presumably fix this should it be an issue for the customer.
The McKinley is not a bad pack, but I feel it is more suitable to drier climates – the front access panel make sit unlikely to cope well with wetter New Zealand weather. I also felt the oversupply of features was more to do with adding ‘sales features’ for the shop rather than getting the fundamentals right for the user. Weight: 2000g
– Rob Brown
Tatonka Isis 60 $359
This German brand has a range of tramping packs, Isis being the woman’s range and Yukon the men’s. The 60L Isis grew on me over the three 3months I used it. We had a number of adventures together: tramping Fiordland’s Hump Track, a snowy trip on the Kepler Track, snow shoeing along Bealey Spur in Arthur’s Pass, some rough boulder hopping down the South Island’s West Coast from Big Bay to Martin’s Bay and numerous shorter trips.
This is not a streamlined pack, sporting an initially alarming array of straps and compartments, that could mean you discover hidden treasures like car keys years after stashing them.
It comes in jolly red or hide-the-dirt grey and is constructed from tough looking textured nylon fabrics including Textreme and Texamid. I had no problems with leakage but have not tested the pack in very heavy rain. It comes with a rain cover, something I’ve never used before but have heard plenty of stories of them blowing off packs in rough weather. During a heavy snow storm it worked fine for me.
At 2900g it isn’t too bad weight-wise for a multiday pack. As one would expect with German engineering, everything’s been well thought out. One of its best features is the carrying system which Tatonka call V2 and is designed for carrying medium to heavy loads. It has plenty of adjustment features allowing it to be tailored to your body dimensions before putting it on and then easy fine tuning once saddled up. In addition to carrying it myself in different situations I also fitted it comfortably to both a larger and smaller friend. The hip and shoulder padding is excellent, making it a very comfortable pack to wear.
With a retail price of $359, including a two-year warranty, the pack is pretty good value for money. Weight: 2850g
– Beth Masser
Berghaus Verden 65+10 $249
Truly great outdoor gear should serve more than one purpose… but failing that, doing the same thing for different people is surely a close second.
That seems to be the big selling point of Berghaus’ Verden 65. This mid-sized pack features a Biofit harness that allows you to adjust the length of the rucksack in a matter of seconds. This means you can loan it to your mates or your spouse, or share it between siblings, or adjust it to kids’ heights as they grow.
Besides this nifty feature, the Verden 65+10 is a nicely put together pack. It’s positively bristling with features like a large map pocket, hiking pole loops, a hydration bladder sleeve, mesh pockets for trail snacks and an integrated pack cover. Despite all these bells and whistles, it weighs in at a very reasonable 2150g.
On the trail it proved comfy, well ventilated and stable – on the whole a good design. But surprisingly, the feature I really appreciated was the multiple ways to access the main compartment. This design allows you to get at your stuff through the top, the bottom and the side letting you pack heavy stuff like that spare camera lens low and close to your spine, but still get to it in a hurry if you need to. However, this could adversely affect the pack’s waterproofing.
It’s worth noting that the trade-off for the Verden 65+10’s light weight and feature-rich design seems to be a slight loss in durability. The Biofit system seems well engineered, but definitely not over-engineered; the fabric is ripstop, but fairly lightweight and the mesh side pockets certainly wouldn’t last long around lawyer vines. I tested this one out on some sections of the Routeburn Track for which it was perfect – but I wouldn’t recommend it for bush bashing or mountaineering.
On the whole though, as long as it’s used for its intended purpose it’s an excellent piece of kit. Weight: 2150g
– Mark Banham
One Planet Mungo $429
Promoted as lightweight, the 2500g Mungo is a pack that’ll last for years. Stiff and durable Waterloc polyester cotton canvas offers great water resistance and handles every abrasive surface it comes into contact with.
I found the harness to be supportive and reliable every time I used it, but Exact Fit doesn’t mean easy fit; it’s best adjusted off your back. The Exact Fit buckles are tricky to reach and would be better orientated with the webbing pulling forwards, rather than unnaturally backwards.
The hip belt cinches up snugly, and pivots well. Bottle pockets on the main sac keep weight low and water accessible without the need for a hydration reservoir, but sliding bottles back into place when the hip belt stabiliser straps are pulled up is difficult.
The lumbar pad is generous and tips the load towards your back for improved balance and airflow between you and the harness.
Pulling up the compression straps did little to stabilise my load. Only the top straps – attached too high on the pack – provide any sort of compression; the lower ones are positioned and effective only for securing a sleeping mat. The pack becomes a giant pear shape when partially loaded, with everything gathering at the bottom.
While the storm throat is very short, the flanks of the lid, effectively secured with a single buckle, cover it well.
Once ice axes are in their loops, their tips need to either tuck under the pack’s front shock cord, or through its side compression straps: there doesn’t appear to be any other means of holding them.
The Mungo is a great looking pack hindered by some basic design flaws, and it is heavy. Its published 60-litre volume feels more like 65 or 70, easily carrying all you need for a well-stocked weekend away, or relatviely lightweight multi-day tramp. Weight: 2500g
– Paul King
The North Face Terra 65 $379.95
This is reportedly one of the more popular multi-day hiking packs put out by TNF, and I use the term hiking advisedly. It is made of a polyester fabric that is much lighter in weight than the fabrics traditionally used for New Zealand tramping packs. This makes for a light and extremely comfortable to use pack. The harness and straps are particularly comfortable, and easy to adjust. A mesh system helps keep backs ventilated.
I stuffed the pack full and even secured a tent to the outside and still found it sat well on my shoulders while slogging up a big climb and descending steep ground. In my use of the pack there were no issues with ripping or tearing, but it didn’t feel like the pack would stand up to a lot of bush bashing. The pack fabric was a lot less waterproof than a harder canvas, although in New Zealand conditions you should have a pack liner anyway.
As with many packs these days, the Terra 65 comes with a separate sleeping bag compartment at the bottom. The main compartment can also be accessed by a long side zip. While this might seem like an innovation on the face of it, I found that these extra zippers were just another weak point to let water in and then because my gear was all inside a pack liner anyway I gained nothing from the side zipper or the sleeping bag compartment.
Because the side zipper takes up the whole side of the pack, this also reduces the number of external pockets, with just one tight pocket on the front to complement the generous lid pocket.
This is the kind of pack that would be great for someone who is going to walk the Great Walks and more popular tracks and wants a light and comfortable pack. It would also suit trekking style trips overseas. But I wouldn’t recommend it for hardcore bush bashing in New Zealand. Weight: 2300g
– Richard Davies