The Exped Mountain Pro

27th Jun 2012

A review of Exped's Mountain Pro Rucksacks

 

This pocket would be better there, that buckle is hard to use and that strap’s too short……quality manufacturers realise the value of real world equipment testing because every outdoor person constantly appraises their kit every time they use it. 
 
So, a design process where several mountain guides are asked to sit in a room and design their ideal rucksack should create something interesting.  That’s exactly what Exped did when they wanted to produce the Mountain Pro rucksack series……….

Who are Exped?

Although a review for British users wouldn’t need a paragraph explaining who Mountain Equipment or DMM are, Exped is a company that probably won’t be so familiar to many people despite having been around since 1997.  They are a Swiss company producing a select but growing range of, as they describe it, ‘highest quality specialised gear for the active outdoor enthusiast’.  Their range currently includes a selection of down filled air mattresses, rucksacks, a wide selection of excellent drybags (which is what most people will know them for) and a few specialist tents.

Rucksack features

The Mountain Pro rucksacks are a very interesting design.  On first glance they look like large versions of Exped’s drybag’s with an added lid and straps.  However, when you start to look closely you’ll realise there’s a lot more to the design than first meets the eye. 

I’ve used the Mountain Pro 40 and Mountain Pro 50 for several years.  There is also a Mountain Pro 30 but I haven’t tried this one.  The 40 and 50 models are identical apart from the different capacity (and there’s also a long front panel pocket on the 50 model).  As everything else is the same I’ll discuss them together for the bulk of this review. 

The rucksacks have a main body made from TPU film laminated polyester with a rolltop closure made from taffeta nylon.  All the seams on the main body and lid are taped and the base is a double layer construction with a core of 4mm EVA foam.  The back panel is a fixed length (2 back length sizes are available) and has a simple foam sheet construction and an additional 3mm foam panel that fits into a sleeve inside the main compartment.   The hip belt and shoulder straps are simple but well shaped and comfortably padded.  They also both have daisy chain attachment points along them and a sternum strap and haul loop.  The hip belt is held in place by a nylon sleeve, which allows it to slide to and fro and also allows it to be removed easily by sliding the belt through the loop from either side.

The lid is a simple flap with a top pocket and another pocket under the lid.  The pockets have water resistant zips.  Inside the lid pocket is a small karabiner for clipping valuables and a couple of pen holders.  Around the edge of the lid pocket there is an elasticised edge that allows the lid to seal snugly when closed.  Down the exterior of the sack body there’s 5 daisy chains and the lid fastens with 2 small hooks that clip to the chains at the required loop.

There’s a hydration system exit point on the Mountain Pro 40 (no exit on the 50 model), a haul loop and 2 removable neoprene zip pockets that attach to the hip belt with Velcro straps and are sized for things like phones, power bars or compasses.  The Pro rucksacks come with 4 straps that can be used to attach items to the outside daisy chains and there’s hang loops inside the main pack to store them when they aren’t needed.  Finally, inside the main compartment there is a water resistant pocket that attaches by a zip and has a weatherproof zip.  The Mountain Pro 40 rucksack weighs 1390 grams but when all the removable bits are removed it gives a minimum weight of about 990 grams.  The Mountain Pro 50 weighs 1600 grams with a potential minimum weight of 1200 grams.

Usage

I’ve been using the Mountain Pro extensively for the last 3 years (infact the Mountain Pro 40 I’m currently using is the second one I’ve owned as I wore the first one out through intensive use).  This use has included winter climbing, scrambling, hillwalking, single and multipitch rock climbing, several Himalayan expeditions and a couple of ski trips.  Finally, because its roll top closure makes it very water resistant (if the hydration tube exit is closed), the sack has also had a few gorge scrambling outings.

How did it perform?

We had a phase with outdoor gear where everything was getting over complicated and rucksacks were no exception - space age frames, pop out pockets, gossamer thin fabrics and more straps and buckles than any user could ever fathom.  In recent years I had tried several complicated designs with varying degrees of success then I breathed a sigh of relief when Crux brought out their AK range.  A brilliant back and harness system combined with a simple single compartment, durable fabrics and very low weight - the AK47 was my first choice day and work sack for several years and it’s now the standard by which I judge all others.

The Exped shares the AK’s low weight and simplicity but has no frame.  I was really unsure whether the back system would be up to the job but several years down the line I am relieved to find that I needn’t have worried.  The sack has carried full winter day loads and heavy cragging kit without problem.  The back padding is firm and supportive and holds its shape even if you just stuff your kit in haphazardly.  The additional 3mm foam back panel insert is a nice feature but I’ve tried carrying loads with and without the additional removable panel in place and I really can’t notice any difference in carrying comfort.  At least having the removable panel means you can use it as a minimalist bivvy mat or an emergency splint.  On the other hand leaving it out will save a whacking 20 grams in weight!

I’m 5’8” tall and the single back length suits me perfectly but a while ago I wondered how taller users would find it to use.  A quick posting on UKC revealed that several people with a variety of back lengths have used the sack successfully.  Pete said ‘I know a number of people in the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team have used these for about a year and have been very pleased with them.  The people who have used them vary massively in size and body shape but they appear to fit most back lengths’.  Another poster wrote ‘I'm 6' 2" and it’s fine for me’.  Having said all that, if you are thinking of a purchase it would, of course, always be best to try one on beforehand and make sure the shop puts some weight in it when you get fitted.

The hip belt is well padded, simple, effective and fits well.  The two removable neoprene pockets seem like a good idea but I’ve found them not quite the right size for the stuff I might keep in them.  You’ll certainly fit a snack bar, standard mobile phone or compass in there but my sunglasses don’t fit and if you’re a Blackberry or iphone user you’ve got no chance - the pockets from my sack stay at home nowadays.  The hip belt can be removed in seconds and I used this feature a lot in Scotland last winter – walk in with the support of the hip belt then pop it in the pack for the route.  The ends of the hip belt straps, in common with all the other straps, have Velcro tabs that allow you to rollup and secure any excess tape.  This keeps things very neat but I suppose the downside is that there’s a little ‘bundle’ of rolled up tape that can easily get snagged on things.      

The buckles that adjust the shoulder strap length are an excellent design that I haven’t seen before.  They tighten as normal but to release them you press the bottom edge of the buckle.  I’ve had problems with straps gradually creeping loose on some sacks but these little terriers grip tenaciously.  Exped also fastened the bottom of the shoulder strap directly to the base of the sack, which they say is designed to pull the sack closely into the wearers’ back – a feature that really seems to work.  The daisy chains also extends under the sack base incase you need to strap extra kit on which I suppose may be useful if you are carrying bivvy kit.

The lid pocket is a simple design but again it works brilliantly.  You need to unfasten the lid to access the lower pocket but this arrangement does protect the zip and also maximises waterproofness.  The upper pocket has kept out a lot of water and are all sealed with water resistant zips and a zip cover flap. The upper pocket also has a small karabiner accessory clip and a couple of penholders inside which is a nice touch.

The lid closure to the main sack body is the classic roll top drybag style backed up by a pull closure draw cord and quick release buckle.  Inside the main sack there is a removable pouch style pocket that is designed for storing maps, guidebooks and other similar items.  This pocket has a water resistant zip and I’ve found it a great feature for storing client documents, guidebooks and similar paper items.  If you don’t use the sack as a ‘working sack’ then I still think you would find uses for the pocket although you might not feel the need to keep removing it.  No problem – it works just as well inside the sack or out.  The shape of the main compartment is slightly funnel shaped with a larger top entrance that tapers towards the base.  This makes it is really easy to pack and is a great design feature that seems to be missing on many sacks. 

The closure system on the main sack works by hooking 2 small buckles on to the daisy chains. This works well but has come undone a few times when it isn’t fastened tightly enough.  In the centre is a further loop and last winter I experimented with hooking a small biner through this and clipping this on to the daisy chain which worked really well – especially when you are wearing bulky gloves.  The daisy chain loops narrow towards the middle and stand out from the main body fabric on each loop.  This makes them extremely easy to clip and is the kind of attention to detail that typifies this sacks careful design. 

At the side of the main compartment there’s an exit point for a hydration system tube.  The design of this is rather strange because it provides a water entry point into the otherwise watertight main compartment and personally I’d rather they hadn’t bothered given the targeted users of this pack.  I sealed the one on my sack with seam grip.  If you use a hydration system there’s also no pocket for the bladder to be stored inside the main compartment unless you use the document pocket, which is also an oversight in my opinion.

The durability of the fabrics certainly seems to be standing up to my expectations.  The fabric lining has stood the test of having ice screws and crampons, rock climbing kit and trekking poles continually rubbed against it with no apparent sign of wear and tear.  The exterior fabric also looks nearly as good as new.

Apart from that, other bits and bobs are simply small examples of attention to detail and great design.  All the zips have pull toggles with easy pull plastic tabs, the interior pocket has sewn tabs at each end so it could be hung up or could even have a strap added to use as a simple waist bag.  The stitching and general build quality is excellent and so far the fabrics are standing up to daily use very well. At 42 litres I sometimes find the Mountain Pro a little tight on space (especially as there is no extension feature as I have on my Crux sack) but I am learning to think twice about what I carry and usually it all gets a space in there.

The new version of the Mountain Pro has seen a considerable price hike from the original version and you are going to pay about £140 for one - but its reassuring to know that it is backed up by Exped’s lifetime warranty.

Summary

This rucksack is aimed primarily at instructors so lets summarize for them first.  Packed with instructor friendly features, comfortable for daily use and various back lengths - this sack makes a great instructor option.  You’ll have to live with the limited capacity but then maybe you’re just carrying too much anyway?!

For other users I also think you should look very carefully at the Mountain Pro.  It works really well for mountain days, cragging, winter climbing and just about everything in between.  You’ll also benefit from it being exceptionally well made, a simple lightweight design and with the added bonus that it’s a very good looking sack too. 

Neither user group will go far wrong with the Exped Mountain Pro’s.