Terra Nova Laser 20 Elite

, September 3, 2011

I’ll start by stating that I’ve a fair bit of experience with lightweight packs having run numerous mountain marathons over the past 10 years and gravitated gradually towards lighter and lighter packs in order to reduce the overall burden when running. However, in my work as an outdoor instructor at adventure aberdeen I also choose to use a lightweight running style pack by preference to some bombproof yet heavy alpinist sac. My choice of this type of pack for non-running activities is due to several factors. Firstly, I think that these sorts of packs mould better to your back (when well packed) than a whole army of well marketed back-systems. Secondly, running packs are designed to be used ‘on the go’. For example, the Laser 20 Elite pack, like most similar products, has zip pockets for food and accessories on the hipbelt and large elasticated mesh pockets on the sides that serve as further accessible storage.

In testing the Laser 20 Elite pack I decided not to use it for my usual running adventures but instead to wear it on a recent X-Scotland Mountain Bike Journey undertaken with Magnetic Junction blogger Jack Richards. I decided at the last minute to take this bag as the weight of my usual Camelbak Mule felt excessive for this sort of endurance trip where low equipment weight is critical to  enjoying the experience. As the Laser 20 Elite pack is so light it is extremely conformable and therefore fitted very well to my back, staying put through some fairly rough terrain on Skye and Knoydart. The waist pockets are very good but could be a touch larger to fit in the biggest of the current crop of energy bars. The side pockets were excellent and I did not lose a single item from them through the whole trip. Having lost the odd bar, gel and windproof top from other manufacturers packs I was quite pleased that they were so secure especially when ripping along on rough downhills on the bike.

The area of the pack I feel could see improvement though was the top closure and elastic compression. Unless the pack is filled to capacity the roll top closure has a tendency to undo and open. Also the elastic on the sides does a fairly poor job at compressing the pack to stabilise the contents when the pack is half full. There are loops to attach your own additional elastic to the pack, but I feel these would be better pre-installed. Much of this criticism is null and voided by the fact most people will purchase this pack to compete in mountain marathons where the bag will be full to the brim with lightweight equipment and food. In this circumstance I can testify the closure and compression does an adequate job.

After a tough 5 days being dragged across Scotland as well as several subsequent trips out running and hiking, the pack is showing only the odd tiny hole from falls off bikes, being lashed to bike trailers and being thrown on trains. This usage is not really in its design brief as it is manifestly an ultra-specialist lightweight equipment piece, but it bodes well for its durability over several mountain marathons. The kevlar/dyneema weave of the Ultra 20 is stronger still despite its lighter weight so may be the answer for harder users. Having handmade my last mountain marathon pack from an adapted old pack and patches of siliconed nylon, I can state that it is hard to make such ultra light packs durable. Much to my racing partner’s amusement, I have been known to beg other competitors for a sewing kit at the overnight camp to patch up my homebrew special. Terra Nova have succeeded here in making a pack durable enough for occasional hard usage as well as long-term usage for non-impact, low abrasion sports.

As a last word I would add that if you are searching for a tough, lightweight product you should compromise a little and look elsewhere to packs such as the excellent 410 gram Lowe Alpine Lightflight 28 or the larger 710 gram Golite Peak. However, if you are looking for one of the lightest packs out there and are prepared to put up with some very minor design issues and a reduced lifespan versus a standard backpack then buy the Laser 20 Elite, or if you have deeper pockets the Ultra 20, as weight wise they are in a league of their own.

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