The North Face Chimera 18
The Chimera’s integrated ‘Dyno Cynch System’ is pretty darn handy, allowing you to minimise the pack’s volume, and thus create greater load stability, all while you’re on the go. It essentially involves bungees on each shoulder – one with a toggled cinch on it – which both link up and hook onto the stretch mesh stash pocket across the pack’s front. If you’ve ever been moving fast on the trails and been irritated by a half empty pack bouncing around behind you, this nifty addition is a great, highly efficient, way to rapidly nip such issues in the bud. Together with the sternum clip and light strap around the waist, it creates a pack that will stay right against you even over the most uneven of terrain.
Instead of one big zip going from side to side across the top as you normally find on running packs, this one actually has two main zips (one on each flank). One takes you into the main gut of the pack, while the other takes you to a smaller, secondary, storage compartment. The main benefit of this design is that it makes accessing your kit while on the move a hell of a lot easier. You can just just drop it off one shoulder, swing it round and dive right into the pack via its side.
The front mesh pocket is a good size and a useful place to store additional layers and snacks and there are two stretch pockets for, say energy gels, on the shoulder straps, plus two side pockets near your kidneys which are positioned to allow you to slip your water bottle in and out while on the go.
Stable load carrying and on-the-go adjustment, good storage options
Slightly on the heavy side for its size
Also available in 24-litre size / integrated Dyno Cinch System / four pockets on harness / side stretch pockets / external bladder sleeve / front stash pocket / FlashDry foam back panel.
Selected for our Outdoor 100 product guide – Read our full North Face Chimera 18.
Get the latest price at:
Montane VIA Fang 5 (Best In Test)
The Montane VIA Fang 5 is an example of a backpack where everything just works. There are no superfluous extras, and there’s a clear reason for every element. The reason that it wins the ‘best in test’ however, is the fastening system. There are two straps, one across the chest and another across the belly, and they link with Velcro. Both are very easy to adjust and get just right. The elastication also means they keep tight as your breathing gets heavier. It’s a brilliant, simple system. The ‘Freelight Chassis’ is made from a mesh that is breathable and fast drying. We also love that it is treated with Polygiene, a permanent odour control.
As in all of these packs, there are plenty of pockets, including four stretch mesh pockets on the front of the ‘chassis’, one with a security zip. Two are designed to carry 500ml SoftFlask bottles that the bag comes with. These soft bottles can be compacted down when they’re finished, and you can also squeeze the air out of them so the water doesn’t slosh around. The Fang 5 is compatible with a hydration bladder too.
There are two stash pockets on either side of the pack harness for gels and the like. The main pocket is accessed through a zip, but it lies behind the external compression cord which means you need to undo the cord before you can open it up – a very minor niggle. There’s another smaller zipped pocket on the lower section.
Other features include an underarm pole attachment and another that allows the poles to be attached diagonally across the back. There’s also a whistle and reflective features. Overall, this is an excellent buy.
Excellent attachment system. Contains Polygiene odour control. Very comfortable. Includes water bottles.
Minor niggle, but the compression cord needs to be undone to access the main section.
5 litre / Polygiene permanent odour control / Front stretch hook and loop lower body adjustment / 2 x Montane SoftFlasks 500ml / 4 pockets on chassis / 2 main compartments / pole attachment.
Get the latest price at:
Salomon Agile 6 Set
Salomon was among the first pioneers of the running vest. It’s a company with a deep understanding of trail running – their shoes are excellent. The early vests out of their innovative S/LAB programme were game-changing but not flawless. There were lots of straps and fiddly attachments, and they could flap in your face. Fast-forward a few years and many of these issues have been resolved.
The Agile 6 Set is a slightly simpler running or cycling pack that pairs back a lot of the extras (including the price – it was on offer for £45 when we last checked). It’s a mesh construction that is comfortable and dries quickly. Harness-wise, there are two elasticated straps across the front that clip in. These clips are bigger than they used to be, but I still found them a tad fiddly in the cold. The straps seemed quite long (I chopped a bit off!).
There is one main compartment with a zip that opens all the way around the bag. Not only does this mean that you can open the lot up and easily access what you need, but also the two-way zip means you can just open the bit you want anywhere.
There are mesh pockets on either side for two 500ml soft flask waterbottles that are supplied with the pack. These are positioned so it’s easy to drink from them through a straw without taking them out. A final feature to note is the attachment on the back for storing poles diagonally. This pack comes in 2-, 6- and 12-litre sizes.
Waterproof resistant, low weight, long zip with easy access.
Slightly fiddly chest straps. Would be better with two more pockets for gels/snacks/phone.
6 litre / 1 main compartment / 3D Air Mesh construction / 100D Nylon Mini Ripstop, Waterproof 500mm / 2 soft flasks.
Get the latest price at:
Alpkit Artlu 10
Alpkit are known for making great gear at a very low price (largely because they sell direct). The Artlu is a 10-litre vest for running. It’s the largest backpack on test, and the one that feels most like a regular backpack. It was designed with the Fell Running Association minimum kit list requirements in mind, which include a spare thermal layer, emergency blanket, plus a waterproof jacket and trousers.
The fit is excellent, however, even fully loaded, the only thing to watch out for is if you can tighten the sternum strap enough. It’s certainly not the most minimalist, with a number of straps that need hiding away. Again, it may be worth attacking them with scissors once you’ve got them adjusted.
The main zipped section is compatible with a hydration bladder, but there’s also room for a soft water bottle in one of the front pockets that will balance the pack better. On the back, you’ll also find another zipped section and a large stretchy pocket for throwing in wet waterproofs. On the front there’s also a phone-sized zip pocket and two ‘envelope-style’ small pockets perfect for energy gels. Two stretchy side pockets are useful for throwing things into and there are loops for stashing poles that don’t require you to take the bag off.
Other features include reflective detailing, a light attachment loop and a whistle. If you need a larger pack for racing with a minimum list, this is an excellent option. While it’s not the snuggest one, it’s absolutely fine for those long races – especially for the super organised. And a great price.
Low price. Comfortable, spacious.
Lots of straps that need to be stowed away.
10 litre / zipped main pocket with hydration sleeve / large drawcord closure soft bottle pocket / secure zipped pocket for phone/GPS; 2 envelope style gel pockets; pole bungee loops / Nylon diamond ripstop fabric, water repellent, 1000 mm.
Get the latest price at: