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The Backpack

December 07th, 2011

Rands wrote about bags. I’m a bag nerd. Here’s my take.

I’ve been a bag nerd, in particular a backpack nerd ever since my black Jack Wolfskin Mr. Bike when I was 14. It was one of the best backpacks ever made. Unfortunately, Jack Wolfskin decided it would be a good idea to change it to a more modern layout and style and of course they blew it.

I’d still use it, if I hadn’t lost mine in the mist of time. I still miss that backpack.

Luckily, there’s Exped, and in particular the Exped Mountain Pro 20.

Imagine Swiss Alpine backpack specialists that have been at it for nearly thirty years, constantly improving their products and craft alike and who have the highest standards for functionality, design, durability and materials. All in one backpack:

Nerd Factor

The prime reason for me to try this one after a string of disappointing affairs with many sub-par backpacks was its looks.

It does have functional straps covering the front, which I’ll get back to in a bit, but aside from them, the design of the Mountain Pro 20 is minimalist, clear, straight lines and no unnecessary extras. Its form is a nearly exact box shape and avoids the usual pear shape that I don’t like (on backpacks).

To my eyes, this backpack reads “professional backpack” and I dig that.


The main compartment is a 20 liter rectangular box locked by a two-way rain-proof zipper. The cover lid holds a small zipped pouch that conveniently doubles as a fast-access or a variety collection space that opens flapping to the front. The front has another slide-in pocket that goes all the way down. A velcro cover keeps the front pocket’s contents dry and easy to reach.

When I bought the Mountain Pro 20, I carried a 13” Mac Book Pro which fits neatly into the slide-in pocket inside the main compartment. The new 11” Air virtually disappears, so does the occasional iPad.

The bulk of the storage space is good for anything between a go-to-work situation, a camping weekend or a hiking daypack. I once managed to attend 5 days of WWDC in San Francisco on only this backpack as my entire luggage. My US Customs Officer joked it was “not enough” (he also joked “WWDC, what’s that? Some kind of wrestling show?”).

The fixed front and side straps at first seem to violate Rands’ requirement on no dangling extras. It even comes with a handful removable and adjustable straps to tack all sorts of stuff on the front and below the backpack. Unused, they don’t get in the way, and if you want to carry something extra (and you will, at some point), you’ll appreciate the setup.

The back of the Mountain Pro 20 is sturdy, which keeps the whole backpack in form and ripped for better wearing comfort, even when your luggage is rather heavy. If you are going really heavy, you can slide in a comfortable and nicely adjustable hip belt.

The outer fabric a special mesh material constructed from what resembles the hexagonal pallets of a beehive. It is very sturdy, poke, rip and waterproof.

Ninja Moves

The Mountain Pro 20 allows me to mimic Rands’ routine at the airport security check. Sliding the backpack over one shoulder, I am one zipper away from the 11” Mac Book Air and optionally iPad. Zip up and I’m through.

Rain: I carried three passports through monsoony surprise rain in Nanjing, China in the lid pocket without any fear of damage. The zippers and seams are all water tight and glued and covered.

The compact form factor allows me to store the backpack close to where I am in any situation, even in tight spots on planes, trains or cars.

The Extra Smarts

Exped’s craftsperson-like attention to detail shows in a number of ways:

All zipper handles glow in the dark.

All length-adjustable straps have a T-shaped end with velcro opposites on each side. This allows you to adjust the straps and then roll up and fix the rest of the band to avoid any dangling.

Let’s look at the fixed front and side straps one more time. I also own an Exped Backcountry 35 for longer trips. It comes with a lot more straps that allow me to hook up the Mountain Pro 20 on the back of the Backcountry 35. I’m not sure this was intended, but it works quite well for situations where your getting through quickly depends on “one personal item only”. I call it the “piggybackpack”.

This allows me to move through air-travel without having to check-in anything while avoiding wrath of my fellow travelers by carrying enormous carry-on luggage. Mounting and dismounting takes anything between 10 and 30 seconds, depending how tight you set things up.

Next Revision

The Mountain Pro isn’t perfect, although it comes close. Here’s what would improve my use.

The biggest gripe is that when I open the top lid pocket as well as the lid itself, it opens to the front turning the lid upside down, causing the contents of its pocket to drip out on occasion. I can avoid this by closing the top zipper first. I don’t know how to solve this nicely.

The other models of the Mountain Pro as well as the Backcountry models come with a nice extension to all zippers: both sides of the zipper have a small rubber handle attached to them that allow you to pull firmly to straighten the zipper so it can be easily opened and closed when the pockets are packed. The Mountain Pro 20 lacks this and it would be a nice addition.

Again, on most other models, Exped avoids plastic clips to join two parts of one strap, but they do use them for upper-torso and hip belts. While they are still intact on my models, I know on other backpacks, they are often the first things to break. Knock on wood that these here are better, but in other places Exped uses an aluminium hook and tightly sewed-on straps for this. It looks a lot more durable to me. Again, a feature I’d like to see adopted wholly.

There are a few extras that are for serious hikers only. A future “City Edition” could remove those for me.

Unique Snowflake

You will have different requirements, but I recommend going through Exped’s product line and I’m quite certain you’ll find something you like, provided you agree with their visual style.