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Feature-packed, Bargain Backpack

March 30, 2011

We just made quite a bargain equipment purchase for our oldest…a new Outdoor Products Stargazer backpack from Walmart for $59.  It is a full featured pack of good size and fairly low weight without being cheap or fragile.  Outdoor Products warranties their backpacks for the life of the original owner.  In my experience most items from this company are a real value…typically they employ good, current design with quality materials.  But the materials are not quite cutting edge…they are reliable and adequate and affordable, if not the lightest.  (I commented similarly on Outdoor Products’ stuff sacks.)

Key Specifications:

volume: 56 liters (3440 cu in)

weight as purchased: 1,607 g (3 lbs 9 oz)

with the plastic/aluminum frame sheet removed: 1,346 g (2 lb 15 oz)

Minimum weight after trimming excess strap length, functionless mesh, and zipper pulls: 1,282 g (2 lb 12 oz) (plastic/aluminum frame sheet removed)

For this price point and volume, this is not a bad weight, and all of the straps are much too long.  I plan to trim them down and remove a few elastic strap keepers.  I will update this post with that weight savings.  If gear weight is kept low (a given for a 10 year old), the aluminum frame brace is not needed because the pack has another thin plastic frame sheet that can NOT be removed.  (The removable, aluminum-reinforced frame sheet is shown as it slides completely out.  The light weight plastic sheet I mention is completely enclosed in fabric and can not be seen or removed.)

Here are shots of the little elastic strap keepers that are just dead weight.

Also notice how the side pockets nicely swallow long, thin Smartwater bottles.

The pack also has the nice feature combo of being both top-loading and front panel loading via a full zipper behind the compression “wings.”  In the photo, I have our light gray colored sleep quilt stuffed inside and the panel load zipper open (the compression wings are unbuckled and flipped completely open).  This panel loading feature allows you to retrieve something from low down in your pack without pulling everything out the top to get to it.  This is handy at lunch or if the weather changes quickly while you are hiking.  There are also two small compartments to either side of the panel load zipper.  These are about the size of a pair of winter gloves or a rain shell…something stored for quick access but compressible behind the wings.

There is also a fairly small compartment in the very bottom of the pack.  It is wide and fairly flat.  This pocket would be good for something small and tough like a camp towel or maps.  Also worth mentioning about the pack’s bottom is its steep slope toward the wearer.  This encourages the load to stay snug against the wearer.

As is common with most packs today, the pack can be over-stuffed vertically, the drawstring closure and top pocket floating on compression straps can accommodate a lot of extra bulk.  The very top compartment is not huge, but it can hold a fleece or a dozen granola bars or a headlamp, camera and stocking cap.

The suspension system looks to be quite sturdy.  The padding is a little softer than I’d like.  In other words it feels nice when the pack is empty, but when the pack is loaded heavily the soft foam will tend to squeeze flat offering little cushioning.  But if we keep the gear weight low, this will NOT be a problem.  Outdoor Products has also designed some air circulation channels for the wearer’s back.  They cover the channels with a mesh fabric that is purely for looks.  The channels are supported by padding, but the mesh fabric is too soft to do anything.  We will probably trim it out.  From a distance it looks like a Deuter trampoline suspension, but it definitely is not.  But to be fair, the air channels do look very functional.  The shoulder straps are sturdy and well padded.  They have load straps at the top to pull your pack snug or drop it away as needed.  The sternum strap offers a large range of quick adjustment up or down the shoulder straps via smartly designed “sliding clips on piping.”  They are hard to describe.  The suspension stops short of torso length adjustment…that would add cost and weight.  I would estimate this is a small to medium torso length.  It will work for my oldest son and my wife but would not be an ideal fit for me.

In summary, this pack has several features found in high end ultralight packs that I am considering for myself….

  • large side pockets for water bottles,
  • both top loading and panel loading,
  • bottom sloping steeply toward the wearer,
  • horizontal and vertical compression / expansion,
  • and several designated pockets beyond the large main compartment.

And this pack offers all these features, that I consider very functional, in a durable, comfortable, fairly lightweight package at a price that I can justify for my son!  I highly recommend you check this out if you can find it at your local Walmart, or possibly Target.  At the time of this writing I can not find this pack at Walmart’s or Target’s websites.

You may want to compare this pack to some of the true ultralight packs out there….

As always, please post any comments or questions.

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From → Gear

3 Comments
  1. Cobalt permalink

    I happened to come across this pack at the Walmart in Helena Montana. I noticed the features and reasonable price and purchased it with the idea of seeing if it would work well for my daughter. She loves it! I will be getting more for the rest of the family. This pack actually fits me pretty well and I may experiment a bit with it my self.

    It is nice to find an ultralight blog that is more fucosed on making it affordable for the entire family.

    • Scott permalink

      Thanks for your comment. We just finished the pack’s inaugural trip (3 nights with friends). I will post some feedback on the pack as soon as we get unpacked and rested.

      • Cobalt permalink

        Used this pack for a quick trip in Great Falls. The padding is very soft and does crush down easily, however with a total pack weight of aprox. 20lbs, it was not a problem and very comfortable. The pack also works well with the frame sheet and top pocket removed for a super light configuration.
        Looking forward to your further evaluation as you use this pack.

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