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Aarn Bodypacks has introduced the world to a well thought out load bearing system that divides the weight you carry between the classic back carry and two front packs known as balance pockets. The military has been using systems much like this for years and from my experience it didn’t take much convincing before I was keen to try one of the Aarn packs out. For this review I received a Peak Aspiration with optional balance pockets.
Volume: 40L (45L large)
Weight: 1.55kg (1.57kg)
Volume of optional Balance Pockets: 12L (14L large)
Weight: 480gm (500gm)
Before we get to deep into this review you should know that initially when I carried this pack which was off the rack and onto the trail, I considered it just another pack. However once I had it fitted properly using the included instructions I went from carrying this pack to wearing it. And yes there is a definite difference.
The first thing I noticed was the removable Balance Pockets that are strapped to each of the shoulder straps, these are Aarn’s claim to fame and where a lot of their research has gone. You see by moving some of the weight out of the main pack and into the balance pockets you actually make carrying your load easier.
I know for most readers you have never used a system like this and are probably already throwing up flags about it being gimmicky or some other nonsense and without a pack in your hands I really can’t convince you otherwise…unless you do this simple test.
Go find two heavy objects in the range of 30lbs or so. Now grab one in one of your hands and walk around, you’ll notice that you tend to lean in that direction and the weight seems pretty heavy. Now grab the other weight in your other hand so you are carrying one in each hand, and you’ll notice how much easier it is to carry both rather than just one! Now you have just proven Aarn’s balance design!
The other benefit of the balance pockets is the accessibility of reaching your gear while hiking. You can carry snacks, your camera, maps, water, gps, and really just about anything you find yourself stopping for along the trail. These balance pockets are internally supported with an aluminum stay that you can bend to accommodate a variety of chest sizes, and they are supported by the hip belt as well. Because you can mold the balance packets to what shape you want there is not really much more of an issue with heat buildup than with a standard pack. The Balance pockets also can be strapped together to form a small day pack for summit bids or shorter hikes.
The pack itself is pretty bomber utilizing 750D, 500D and 210D ripstop nylon and the main compartment as well as the balance pockets does contain removable waterproof sacks. The bag is a classic top loader with a roll top closure that is fastened by a buckle much like a dry bag. The internal waterproof sack is attached to the top lip of the bag via a piece of Velcro that surrounds the entire lip of the bag. These waterproof liners actually work and I used mine both as a whole bag liner as well as a place to stash wet gear and I am certain it would make an effective way to hang food in bear country (it is not bear proof but it is a bag!). However I really think Aarn needs to rework its liner system with a beefier clasp and maybe a wider velcro strip to affix the liner to the inside of the pack.
Another thing that caught my attention is the very minimal hip belt, these days it seems like every pack manufacturer has a burly moldable heavy duty hip belt and too see this little piece of webbing called a hip belt on the Aarn had me thinking this would be a big detraction, I was wrong. The beauty of the system is that by balancing the weight and utilizing the “flow-mo” system you negate a lot of the hip weighted issues. To be clear there is a hip belt and it is sufficiently built but it is not overbuilt! A lot of hikers face the issues of unevenly weighted loads which cause them to either feel like they are being pulled backwards or being pushed over forwards. By balancing the load you negate these issues.
As a means to make this system more user friendly Aarn has designed the Flow Motion system of color coded straps that not only allow you to dial in the fit but also allows the pack to become a fluid part of your body by moving with you. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said the pack went from one I was carrying to one I was wearing. I am not going to go into great depth about the fit of this system but you should be prepared to take the time to dial it in because you will appreciate it.
I was a bit disappointed that this particular bag does not have a hydration sleeve with in the bag and no hydration hose port should you decide to rig one up. As a response to my inquiry concerning this I was informed that the packs are designed to balance a load and make frequently utilized things more accessible and as such, trail use water should be carried in the balance pockets. My 3L bladder did fit in the balance pockets I had but it was a squeeze. My Nalgene fit nicely.
If you are in the market for a new pack I highly recommend that you take a look at the Aarn line and I am sure they have a pack that will meet your needs from the ultra light to the expedition. Most of the packs in the Aarn line are compatible with a number of accessories ranging from ski and snowboard straps to rigid gear racks and tool quivers which will allow you to customize one pack to most if not all of your adventures.