Exped Skyline 15
$129, 2 lbs. 5 oz.
Daypacks come in many sizes and designs these days, some for multi-sport use, some more specialized. But real technological innovation happens rarely in that market. Now comes Exped’s new Skyline 15, which, with one simple adjustment that takes a few seconds, essentially shape-shifts between two different types of pack. To see whether it really measures up to its promise, I took it out for a true test on a rugged dayhike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains on a day of hot temperatures and humidity.
I wore the Skyline 15 on a 12-mile dayhike over Cannon Mountain and North Kinsman Mountain, sweating profusely in the humidity on some notoriously steep and rocky trails, because it would test this daypack’s most unique design element: Exped’s Switchback suspension. With many daypacks, you choose between two basic designs: Either a suspension system with a gap between your back and the pack, maximizing air flow to keep you cool; or a spine-hugging back panel to deliver the most stability when scrambling off-trail or in any difficult terrain that demands movement more precise than simply walking a trail.
The Skyline transforms in seconds between both types of pack. An adjustable band, aligned vertically in the middle of the back padding, can be repositioned using a hook-and-loop strip to customize the amount of arc (or bowing) in the back pad—kind of like pulling back the string on a bow. The design allows you to either have the pack hug your spine for optimum stability, or create a gap for optimum air flow. And it works: I liked the air flow when I had the Switchback suspension bowed, and the stability on very steep, rocky trails with the suspension flush against my back. The one, non-adjustable size fits torsos 16.5 to 20.5 inches, and not surprisingly, fit my 18-inch torso well because I’m right in the middle of its range.
Weighing under 2.5 pounds, the pack carries at least 20 pounds comfortably, thanks to a flexible, plastic framesheet with spring steel reinforcement, and adequate—but not overdone—EVA padding on the back pads, shoulder straps, and the wide hipbelt, which distributes weight to prevent pressure points; that EVA padding is also mesh-covered to ventilate and dry quickly.
Access is fast, with a single, panel-loading zipper providing a wide mouth into the main compartment, which has space for food, a three-liter bladder, extra clothes, plus the DSLR and two lenses I carried. A second, door-like front zipper opens into the main compartment, so you can yank out a jacket instantly. The two side pockets are deep and wide enough for a liter bottle, with a compression strap that helps secure their contents. The two zippered hipbelt pockets may be the most voluminous I’ve seen on any daypack—holding multiple bars, or a large smartphone with room to spare—without getting in the way of swinging arms while hiking. On the inside, there are two zippered mesh pockets and two stash pockets for bottles or an ultralight umbrella. The pack’s also a good size for a plane carry-on.
Adjustable front attachments secure trekking poles or an ice axe. The included rain cover tucks into a zippered bottom pocket. PU-coated, 210-denier high-tenacity ripstop nylon fabric gives it a durable exterior.
The well-organized, streamlined Skyline 15’s innovative design offers great versatility for dayhikes of any distance (including ultra-hikes), mountain biking, one-day peak climbs, and bike commuting. I hope it’s not too techy for the hiking market to appreciate. The larger Skyline 25 ($139) is just an ounce heavier.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.