Overall Rating: 4.5/5
My last pack was a Macpac Cascade which I’ve had for nearly 10 years. It has a thick canvas outer and is seemingly bomb proof, as proved by 4 months backpacking through South America, without looking like it has even been used. However, the strength and hardwearing nature of it comes at a cost and in this case, its the weight. For 2015 I felt I needed a much lighter (sub 2kg) pack so my research started. I identified a number of packs at the lighter end of the scale but still large enough for expeditions and went to visit shops and outlets to check the fittings. With my build I have less padding than I would like around the shoulders so I have always notice shoulder straps on bags. The comfort factor alone allowed me to rule out the Montane Grand Tour (due to the high density foam digging in), the OMM Mountain Mover (due to a lack of support and padding around the hip straps), and numerous other through weight.
Once I tried on the Zephyr and had weight added to the pack (the benefit of traditional shopping over online) the comfort was much greater than any other packs I’d tried on. Yes, it does look good (in Anthracite and Amber, apparently) but that did not factor in my decision. Without wanting to spend ridiculous amounts (it was originally £130.00) I was really pleased with my purchase.
Within days I was packing for my Mountain Leader training expedition and I became nervous about fitting everything in. I started to wonder whether the smaller 55:65 litre option might be the wrong one at this stage but my idea had been that this would force me to cut out needless extras. I did fit everything I needed in there with some old skills that Tetris fans would be proud of! I packed; 2 man tent, sleeping bag and therma-rest, cooking equipment and food for several days, first aid kit and all the necessary smaller pieces of kit. The numerous compression straps, lash points and large stash pouch on the front are really useful for squeezing in those last bits.
Every pack is going to weigh a decent amount when full but I found the shoulder and hip straps to be really comfortable even with the weight. After several days out carrying this in particularly hot weather I still could not complain about the pack in terms of comfort. The Axiom light back system keeps the bag off your back allowing air to flow in and keeping you as cool as possible while carrying a full load. Practically, I did like the side access zip but I can be frustrating trying to get items out as it is not a huge gap to find another layer or extra bit of food easily. The pockets on the hip straps are awesome and surprisingly large so extra snacks, a buff or hat and compass can all fit easily. When you get new kit it’s the little extra additions that you notice and enjoy and with the Zephyr it was features like the ‘Tip Grippers’ (to use Lowe Alpine’s language), to keep the tips of walking poles secure, the stuff pocket for the rain cover and hydration pack set up. This year has been a full one with the pack seeing multi-day expeditions in the Lakes, Brecon Beacons and Cairngorms and tested in all conditions from unseasonably warm to torrential downpours and has stood up well to them.
I would recommend this to the extent that I bought it again! After an accident in the home that saw the pack damaged beyond repair after less than six months rather than go out test find another one I was more than happy with the Zephyr and got exactly the same one again (in the sale for under £100).