Mountainsmith Approach 50 Pack Review
By Rick Shandley
For 2013, Mountainsmith offers a well designed and sturdy day or overnight pack in the Approach 50. With the capacity 50-liters, the Approach is a good choice to handle up to fifty pounds of gear. We have, and you can, use the Approach 50 for overnight treks or load it up with gear for a long day in the field.
In internal load-bearing frame design uses a single frame sheet that offers excellent padding across the lumbar section, mid back, and shoulder blades. Ventilation and use of materials worked nicely with the Mountainsmith Anvil Airway™ perspiration control system. On the trail, we liked how well the Approach 50 carried on some lengthy romps on trails in both Colorado and the Gila National Forest of New Mexico; some rough terrain. Load weight is evenly distributed and secure with the load straps cinched down and all harness hardware buckled up.
Three gauges of nylon material are used to build the Approach 50 (210d Duramax RipStop, 420d Duramax, and 210d RipStop liner). These nylon materials combine to provide good strength and load bearing integrity of a pack that should last you many years. Your choice of pack colors are Chili Red, Evergreen, Black, or the Midnight Blue such as the one you see here in our field assessment.
Approach 50 is a panel loading pack with a large primary compartment for loading enough gear to sustain you overnight. Our test pack is currently loaded with a single bivy tent, down jacket, down sleeping bag, a Klymit X-frame sleeping mat, stove, fuel, three-liter water bladder, one liter water bottle, gloves, first-aid kit, and food. This gear would not be considered ultra-light by any means; it’s standard backpack kit.
The second panel compartment at the outside of the Approach 50 is deep enough for quick access to your headlamp, maps, compass, and those items you will likely need to get to several times throughout your day. This second compartment offers separator pockets for pens, credential pack, pocket knife, etc. to secure your small items and keep them from rattling or getting jumbled in the pockets. It’s no fun fishing through a tangle of essential knickknacks on a short trail stop. We found this outer compartment to be a convenient storage space to stuff in the wind parka, glove liners, and those pieces of gear that provide warmth in the early morning, but eventually need to come off the body as the day, or activity, warms up.
Both large gear compartments feature quick access to your gear. Each large compartment uses two dual-direction heavy duty zippers that travel in an arc approximately two thirds the entire depths of the pockets. This design lets you expose the entire contents of either pocket like a clamshell so you can access whichever piece of gear you’re looking for without digging around too much and wasting time.
A third vertical pocket on the outermost face of the Approach 50 uses a single, vertical travel, medium-duty zipper. Your lunch, snacks, 550 parachute cord coil, or any item you’ll want quick access and no-doubt confidence where it’s located will be secure in this outer pocket.
Two relatively deep, zippered pockets on either side of the Approach 50 allow you two more options for storing your gear. Additionally, two mesh pockets on either side of the bottom of the pack are obvious pockets for storing water bottles, but you can use them for any items you choose to pop in there.
Four load straps, two on either side, cinch the pack load with a bear hug to keep gear stable and stationary while underway on the trail. Two cord loops on each side at the bottom of the Approach 50 facilitate your trekking poles when needed. A central strap loop in the bottom center of the pack exterior can be used to secure an ice axe with additional lashing of your own design.
Like most modern packs, the Approach 50 has a built-in reservoir pouch and exit hole at the top center of the pack for your water tube. It would be nice to have a clip or strap on the one of the shoulder harness straps to secure the water tube mouthpiece.
Shoulder harnesses are well padded and comfortably shaped for a large person. The adjustable chest strap works well under load, yet could use a little more strap length to accommodate a larger person or a hiker wearing multiple layers or jacket in cold weather. We like the design and comfort of the waist belt. The straps are designed as an upward wing shape that forms itself atop of the hips to distribute the load weight. Waist straps are comfortable and do a good job of staying snug using proven composite C-clip hardware. You can remove the waste belt altogether or tuck it away, but with a capacity of 50-liters, we always had enough gear onboard to justify leaving that waste belt right where it was meant to be. The load carrying design of the Mountainsmith Approach 50 worked great on every hike, no matter who was wearing it at the time.
At an MSRP of $109, the Mountainsmith Approach 50 hits the mark that adheres to
the company philosophy of providing rugged, well-designed, and cost efficient outdoors gear for folks who pursue activities like backpacking, hiking, camping and photography but want value for their investment.
The Mountainsmith Approach 50 is an excellent value for a pack that works for an extended day hike to an overnight or even a multi-day pack, depending on your need for re-supplies of food and water. The three pound, four ounce, base weight of the Approach 50 is not a big deal for us; it’s a sturdy pack. It would be nice to have more lash points on the pack, but if you really want them you can just modify according to your application. When you consider most multi-day backpacks are 55-liters up to 80-liter capacity for expedition length treks, the 50-liter capacity of the Approach 50 slide right in there. We liked this pack and can recommend it. The price is always a moving target, but the base MSRP is reasonable. It’s one of those under promise, but over deliver deals that are so rare in the 21st Century.