Name: Mark Verber
Torso: 20" (51 cm)
Height/Weight: 5'10" (1.8m) / 180lb (82kg)
Region: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Date: March 2, 2004
When I first wrote this review I said that the pack carried 20-25 pounds (9-11 kg) comfortably. This was in comparison to the other packs I have used: a Gregory Forester and a number of external frame packs. In the last two years I had had the pleasure to discover some packs which are so comfortable that I have actually forgotten I was carrying them. I would now say that the Speed is "forget you are wearing it" comfortable to around 17lb, and usable to 25lb. The hip belt is very effective at keeping the pack stable when you engage in a range of activities, but of somewhat limited value when it comes to transferring load to your hips. The shoulder strap padding is extremely minimal (mesh wrapper around a few millimeters of foam) but adequate.
The first thing you will notice is that the Speed pack is smaller than many other packs and slightly narrower in the middle (a slight hourglass shape). The claim is that the shape was designed so the pack wouldn't interfere with movement. I am not sure what to think about this claim since all the internal frame packs I have used for backpacking and climbing have not significantly impacted my movement. The Speed is arguably slightly better, but only because it's suspension isn't as ridged as some of the other packs I have used. To compensate for the lack of space inside the pack, there are 5 mesh pockets, two other either side and a larger mesh pocket on the back of the pack. There is a retainer for a helmet. The helmet holder is useful if you are engaged in an activity which requires a helmet... but is typically useless weight for me. I have noticed some people use the helmet holder for their foam pads.
My strategy for using the pack is that everything I don't need during the hike goes in the main body of the pack, and I use the mesh pockets and lid for anything I might need during the hike. I roll my therm-a-rest into a tube and insert it into the pack (the main body of the Speed is as tall as my therm-a-rest is wide). I place my sleeping bag at the bottom. Next I place my Platypus in the hydration sleeve, then clothing on top of the sleeping bag, my kitchen, and then food. The top section of the pack is just big enough to hold a Bearikade canister. Once everything is loaded, I let the therm-a-rest inflate to fill empty space. The hip belt is not padded and has small pockets on the sides. These mini pockets seem completely useless to me. I was unable to easily retrieve a water bottle from the mesh pockets while still wearing the pack, which is strong encouragement to use the hydration system which comes with the pack.
The Speed pack comes with a 3L Platypus hydration system. This was my first experience using a hydration system. Initially I was not sure it makes sense for me. Advantages of this system include easy access to water, the water stays cool in warmer weather, and balance is good since all the water weight is near your back. There are two downsides. First, you don't have visibility into how much water you have drank nor how much water is left. Most days it has worked pretty well (used up all the water approx 1/2 hour before the next water stop). This has not been a problem as I have become more experience. I have found that I drive a pretty consistent amount and now know approximate how much water I have left without looking. Secondly, when you are short of breath, having to suck on a tube to get water is a real pain. I found that if I leaned over a bit so the hydration pack was above my mouth that the water just flows out. You need to be careful to seal the ziplock top of the Platypus. I had no problem for the first six trips, but on the seventh, I must not have sealed the top well. As a result, some water spilled out inside the pack.
The back sides of the pack are padded. Some people have comments that this was a big help in keeping their backs cool. I am not convinced the padding added much comfort / cooling when I was hiking, but it was quite useful at night. I empty out the pack: cloths went into stuff sack as a pillow, food into bear canister, everything else went into a mylar roasting bag for nighttime storage, and I placed the pack below my 3/4 length therm-a-rest so my feet didn't have to rest on the ground.
Waterproof? So far the inside has been dry. Rain beads up and rolls off pretty quickly. I have never relied on a pack being waterproof. I line my sleeping bag stuff sack with mylar cooking bag, and other items which need to stay dry are stored in 1 gallon ziplock bags. One downside of the foam padding, it absorbs the rain water and then holds it next to you, giving it a chance to wet through material which isn't waterproof.
Durability? No obvious signs of wear after 1.5 years of use (but I am very careful)
Am I happy with the pack? Yes... especially for what I paid... $0. [A friend purchased the pack for adventure racing, got hurt before he even used this pack, stopped racing, and gave everything away :-( ] I have since sold this pack because I am no longer using it. I now use a Granite Gear Vapor Trail when faces with trips that I would have used the Speed in the past.
I did a lot of backpacking from 1972 through the '80s. I started by going to various destinations in Ohio, West Virgina, and Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Destinations expanded to include sections of the AT, the PCT, the Rockies (Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Tetons), The Big Horns, and various destinations in Canada. In the '90s my outdoor activities slowed down to make room for other aspects of life. Nearly all my backpacking was heavy-weight style. In 2001 I started seriously backpacking again... mostly in the Sierras. Over the next three years I switch from a heavyweight to ultralight to lightweight style. My three season base weight is now 8-11 lb (3.5-5 kg). Full carry weight including food and water is typically 15-25 lb (7-11 kg) depending on the length of the trip. Winter trips run a bit heavier.