Ultimate Direction is a brand concentrated on somewhat “niche” activities. Trail running, ultra running – these are getting more and more popular, but still quite far from being mainstream. They make everything you might need – except for shoes (for the time being 🙂 – backpacks, clothing, accessories ranging from water bottles to ultralight bivvy tarps. Everything very well designed and thoroughly tested.
Some time ago they have added a backpack to their line that’s reaching a little outside this niche. They called it “All Mountain” and indeed, it is a versatile piece of gear.
30 litres of capacity is quite a lot. You can easily pack for good few days, in winter that would require more effort and cutting corners, but is still doable. Interior is pretty simple – one compartment, that’s all. No dividers, no internal pockets – as basic as it only can be. At this size you probably do not need more. You can access the interior – obviously – through the top opening, and through the back zipper. It opens much like a suitcase and you have super easy access to all your stuff. This can also be used to open the backpack while wearing it which is sometimes more convenient.
The top collar has a traditional, intuitive opening/closing string with a loop to make it usable even In trick gloves. It’s not as well sealed as a rolltop (the one where you roll the fabric down and then connect both ends) – which is quite important for a backpack that is designed to be used in winter – but it should deal even with some intense snowfall. What’s quite unusual is the way the top pocket (the only pocket apart from the main compartment) is designed. It is part of the collar, sewn on top of it and acts as top cover. Quite spacious (ca. 2l), with water-resistant (not waterproof) zipper and a carabiner on a short leash inside. A nice idea, makes the design cleaner and construction simpler, but… In the “default” configuration, locking the backpack, you pull on the base of the top pocket/cover, not the end of it. This results in the end sliding along the tape. You can attach the tape to the edge of the cover to prevent this, but then you cannot use it to attach a rope under the lid.
I bet it could have been designed differently.
The construction of the collar and top cover in one also limits the actual capacity sometimes. If you load it “to the brim” you have no way to close the opening well, so your stuff inside is not really protected from the rain.
The ability to move, reattach, remove or add straps is the best thing about this backpack.
You can remove the waist belt (I should rather say – waist strap), move the bottom mounting point for shoulder straps or attach the lid closing strap in a different way. Additionally you get a kit for attaching your ski diagonally (if you want to carry them in “A” shape, you need another set of straps) and a piece of rubber string that you can “weave” on the front or use any other way to attach stuff like a helmet or a jacket. There’s quite a lot of webbing or loops – two rows along the front, there’s some on the sides, at the bottom and at the top of the lid. In all these places the fabric has some glued on reinforcement on the inside so it looks very solid.
Both shoulder straps have pockets, one with a zipper, the other one open with a cinch cord. Both are elastic and will easily hold at least a medium sized bottle. It’s quite important since – unlike their all other backpacks – it’s not been designed to hold a bladder. Yes, you can put it inside someway, use the zipper on the back to pass the tube but it’s not as ideal as it should be. Frankly, it’s quite strange they did not add this – pretty basic – functionality.
If it comes to adjusting how the backpack fits you, there’s – obviously – shoulder straps length adjustment, different mounting point for the bottom end of those which change slightly the angle of shoulder straps, you have your waist belt or strap and two movable chest straps. It’s quite easy then to adjust the whole system to your liking. However – the shoulder straps are not as soft and padded as they should be. In winter it’s not an issue at all, but in summer, when you have not much clothing on you to act like padding, the edges of those will most likely rub uncomfortably against your collar-bone. Not what you want for long hikes. I have the correct size so it’s not that. The good thig about the way straps are designed is that they don’t lie totally flat on your chest giving you some more freedom of movement.
There’s a little padding on the back, not much though – again, not an issue at all when it’s cold. The piece that’s used to stiffen the back can be taken out (and used as a seat pad for example) and the backpack still holds its shape very well.
The way poles or iceaxes can be mounted on the backpack is really clever. On top there are removable Velcro straps and at the bottom magnetic clasps / buckles. Would be great if both were more adjustable (bottom ones are not at all). Folded poles are too thick to fit, some ice axe handles may be too large as well. For carrying ice axes, the fabric is covered with rubber/plastic along the bottom adge where your axe sharp edge would be.
The fabric looks very solid and durable, it’s of course a ripstop fabric and it’s additionally coated for improved water resistance, however it is not completely waterproof. Very well made, mounting points are reinforced, all hardware looks and feels solid, all edges inside are covered with tape to prevent fraying, even a detail like zipper pullers was not left aside. The knots are protected with heatshrink plastic.
Concluding – it’s a great, almost all season backpack. You can adapt it to just about any mountain activity from climbing to skialpinism. In the summer I might find a good replacement for it, but when winter comes – it’s almost perfect.