I just received this pack; what follows is a quick and dirty review, lifted from an email I sent my hiking buddy. (The remarks about the Exos and Atmos packs are good-natured ribbing we give each other, and are not intended as trashing those packs. He uses an Atmos 50 and is familiar with the Exos series, though he hasn't switched over yet. I thought leaving the references in might help readers visualize the Escape features.)
The Escape AC60 pack came today. Itís more of a rust than RED, so thatís a plus. I had just enough time at lunch to give it a five-minute inspection, load my gear into it quickly (which means weight distribution may need tweaked a bit), and put it on over my work clothes; I havenít played with the adjustable torso yet, and I havenít taken it for a walk.
Itís rated for 35 pounds, though I canít see myself ever needing to carry more than 25. Itís advertised as weighing 3 pounds, 2 ounces. I didnít have time to get it onto a scale, but I lifted it in one hand, and my Nimbus Ozone (3 pounds, 3 ounces, by my scale) in the other Ė they felt pretty equal.
Based strictly on the initial quck loading and wearing, this thing may just be a real keeper. The foam is more like the foam on the Exos hipbelt, in that itís about the same thickness (maybe ľĒ to ĹĒ?) and has some holes (ďAir CurrentsĒ Ė thus the AC) bored in it. The thin, solid sheet of foam has lots of little nubbies on top of it to keep it from resting flat on your back. (Unlike the Exos/Atmos, thereís actually foam there, not just a picture of foam.)
The whole thing is covered with light material thatís very much like the no-see-um mesh on a tent; unlike the Exos/Atmos, it covers the foam snugly rather than being a tensioned, external-frame style backband. REIís website has a good view of it. It should work just as well as the Vapor Trail/Nimbus Ozone when I use it as a pad extender at night. The framesheet is molded and shaped, fairly stiff (it may have a metal stay, though I canít swear to it from my initial brief inspection) and seems to fit my back very, very well indeed.
The straps came set in the longest configuration, and it seems to be fine (maybe a bit long Ė my pants belt may be keeping it from settling in like it should.) The shoulder straps follow my shoulders properly, and the load lifters come off at a 25 or 30 degree angle Ė which seems to be about standard for Granite Gear packs. I may need to set the torso one setting shorter; weíll see. It will be easy to do: remember the old Coleman packs, with the buckle that slipped in and out of slots in the frame? Same deal here.
As far as features: it has a zippered hydration sleeve inside the pack Ė no bungees-on-an-open-sleeve to snag gear as you load it in or remove it. Iím thinking it might be a nice spot to fold and slide my NeoAir into for packing, eliminating a stuff sack. The top pocket is huge, split by a left-to-right center zipper (instead of being at the low end of the pocket) Ė it holds my rather oversized first aid kit, my full roll of toilet paper, and my repair kit, with enough room left over for some other stuff, like keys, wallet, gloves, or hat. The lid is both floating and detachable, and there are a couple of webbing loops on the underside that would suggest it can be attached to the hipbelt (or at least a piece of wide, flat webbing with a buckle) to make a fanny pack; I havenít played with that feature yet, and may never do so.
There are two flat side pockets, like the Vapor Trail/Nimbus Ozone, but made of Cordura and not stretchy neoprene. One holds my Dromlite, the other holds my map and compass. Each pocket still has the little cutout corner, I assume to drain water; it might also leak little items like knives; I wonít have a problem with it, since I carry my map and compass in an envelope-style zippered stuff sack. On top of each side pocket, there is a water bottle pocket of stretchy neoprene. It holds a quart Nalgene bottle, but just barely Ė if the shockcorded top were an inch longer, it would be perfect. I found it secures above the neck of the bottle if I load the water bottle in before loading the pack; otherwise, the bottle doesnít always slide below the cuff, which raises a remote possibility that it might pop out on the trail. Thatís a minor nit, though, and more than offset by the fact that you can reach the pocket easily to get your bottle and to put it away. Thereís a pocket on each side; I put my water bottle on one side and the water filter on the other.
Thereís also a large back pocket, running vertically down the pack, with a small pocket below it to hold the pack cover. Iíve got my rain gear in the large pocket, where it fits perfectly, with a tiny bit of extra space (maybe enough for my Houdini windbreaker?) There are six lashing loops , 3 per side, on the side seams of the pocket. These could be used to lash additional gear on, though Iíd never need to do so Ė the interior holds all my gear, with plenty of room to spare. I shouldnít have any trouble carrying four days of food, plus down jacket, pants, booties and mittens, when we go to W. Virginia (assuming an early fall.) There are two tool loops at the bottom of the pack Ė but no corresponding loops at the top. They are in a direct line with the lashing loops, though, so it would be very easy to use a small cord loop to make a top loop to hold the tools in place. (This isnít an issue for me, since Iíve never used tool loops. On the few occasions Iíve carried my hiking poles on my pack, Iíve always used the side compression straps to hold them.)
The hipbelt is the standard Granite Gear hipbelt Ė except theyíve added some nice webbing loops for attaching things. (Chalk bags? Waistbelt pockets? Camera or glasses cases? Time will tell.) Of course, the hipbelt has the side stabilizer straps, and the shoulder straps have load lifter straps. Hipbelt and shoulder straps are the standard, well-padded (but not excessively so), comfortable variety.
The Line-loc compression system (cordage, instead of webbing) that worked so poorly on the Exos packs we tried seems to work better on this pack. Iím not sure, but I think itís a bit larger diameter cord, and perhaps a bit less elastic. The buckles that close the lid over the pack are small and light, fitting the cord well, but seem adequate and easy to use. All the compression points are sewn to Cordura panels, not to silnylon, and seem to be quite strong.
This is a step away from the minimalist approach Granite Gear has taken with its previous ďultralightĒ packs like the Vapor Trail and Nimbus Ozone, whose only nod to ďfeaturesĒ was the stretchy side pocket. Itís truly a nice pack; Iíll let you know how it works after Iíve used it on this weekís 12-mile Scout hike, carrying about 19 pounds.