I have been looking for a good winter backpack, or heavy load backpack for a while now. My heart has been set on the what I assume is excellent Hyperlite mountain gear porter 4400 packs – but I just couldn’t justify the price. (cost plus import to Sweden would push the pack to around $500) Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying for a good product, but as I won’t be using such a large pack year round, the cost couldn’t be justified.
After looking around a bit I ran across the Exped thunder 70L backpack, which here in Sweden at the moment is around $200, so I thought I would give it a shot. The pack is 70Liters with an adjustable frame that fits even my large torso (not always the easiest task to find). On top of that I have a lot of respect for the designers over at Exped as I feel that over the last couple of years they have really been making some ground breaking products… Just not ultralight.
The Exped thunder backpack is loaded with features – though not many unnecessary features like you would find on a lot of traditional backpacks. It has just the right amount of pockets, from two hipbelt pockets, lid pockets, mesh front pocket and inner pocket for those of you who use the water bladders. The backpack is also loaded with easy entrance large main pack zippers and slot for hooks and trekking poles. The material is a robust 210D Dyneema gripstop nylon (if you don’t know what this is, think: ridiculously robust for probably any use a human can put it through). The frame is made from a single curved aluminum shaft that is well placed in the middle of the pack that follows the spine for added comfort. The load capacity of the pack is around 25 kilos (55-60 lbs) and weighs 1560 grams (3.4 lbs)
Compression straps are simple and easy to use
As stated this pack weighs 1560grams (3.4lbs) which is not ultralight but still relatively light for such a large load capacity adjustable backpack. I think that if you are creative enough and want to hack off a few bits and pieces and can live without the lid you could probably get the weight down to under 1300grams or 2.8lbs. I haven’t tried this yet, but it will be my next step as I have already decided to keep the pack.
Like most of Expeds products the Exped thunder is superbly designed. It has all the features that most people want (side pockets, large front mesh, adjustable frame, frame and for me the large entries into the main pack itself). It also looks pretty damn nice as well, I have the black version which I guess is black.. though I would call it more checkered.
I love that big opening.. This is what all packs should have!
What good is design if it doesn’t function – This is where the Exped thunder really excels in comparison to other traditional backpacks. Though it has minimal design, everything it does have can and will be used. Everything is functional. The side pockets on this one a normal sized human can actually use. This is something that almost all traditional pack makers don’t seem to care too much about. I don’t know how many packs I have tried where I thought the design must have come from the 10 year old vietnamese kids who sew the packs. (Osprey, Fjällräven Kajka among others).
Hip belt pockets that can carry more than a single snickers bar! Progress!
As everything else with this pack the frame and hipbelts work in perfect combination with each other to create a pack that feels amazing on the back. Granted I don’t have 30 kilos of gear to test the pack with, but I have walked around 60 kilometers with 20 kilos on my back and it felt excellent. The aluminum frame on the exped thunder keeps the pack perfectly balanced on my hips with just barely touching my back. Meaning lots of airflow on my back, which in turn means no sweating and increased comfort for longer hikes. Compare this to a lot of packs that sit tight and snug on your back… I am usually drenched after just a few kilometers of walking. Not so with the Exped Thunder.
The exped thunder is easily adjusted
This pack is also unique among packs in the fact that it is a long, small pack instead of the typical short and fat pack. This is excellent in my opinion as it keeps the packs center of gravity closer to my core and upper body. Most packs traditional or ultralight, tend to be short and fat, which pushes the center of gravity further behind me making my lean forward more to keep my balance.
Also, because my packing is usually ultralight I find that when I pack everything in your traditional two frame pack (where there is support on the left and right side of the pack) certain equipment as a habit of poking me in my spine. The center frame keeps everything off my back without me having to care about how I pack it.
Long and small – keeps the center of gravity close to my body.
I think the Exped thunder 70liter pack is the best designed 70 liter pack available right now. I love the features and the large main compartment entry way. This just allows me to get at all my gear without having to unpack everything. On top of that for the first time in many years (as long as I can remember) I was able to walk long distance without getting pain in my shoulders. The pack just keeps all the weight off my shoulders without any discomfort.
Considering that here in Sweden the pack costs just $200, can be bought in most stores, adjustable frame, 25 kilo carrying capacity, 70liters and great design to boot. It’s hard not to like this pack, and for me with a few minor adjustments (taking off the lid, cutting off some extra cordage and so on) it’s actually on the short list of being my long term solution for my longer hikes and winter hikes where I need to carry more weight. I really enjoy having this pack on my back.
Heres my problem with the pack though: Like all of Exped’s products that are so close to being the perfect products, the Exped thunder falls short of being the ultimate 70 liter pack. If for nothing else than because of the weight. The Exped Thunder doesn’t really appeal to anybody: It is not green or camo, heavy and say “survivor” so it won’t appeal to the traditional Kajka geeks. It’s not light enough to appeal to any ultralight hiker, and from what I read it’s even more expensive than the American made Hyperlite mountain gear products in the USA. It seems to me that the designers made the ultimate pack and the spreadsheet geeks came back and said “wait, you have to add at least 500grams more weight so that this will appeal to a larger market”. It is such an odd pack that doesn’t really fit anywhere.
This pack for me is a work in progress: Hopefully the spreadsheet geeks will let the designers loose and create the ultimate 70 liter pack. This could be easily accomplished with lighter materials and less lid.
I have even made a video of this pack that you can view here: