Review: Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL Backpacks

Ultralight Backpack
Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5
$250, 55L/3,356 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz./1.2kg
Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL
$250, 50L/3,051 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz./1219g
One adjustable size in both models
Aircontact Ultra 50+5: backcountry.com
Aircontact Ultra 45+5: backcountry.com

Many mid-size, lightweight and ultralight backpacking packs share more similarities than differences—because the design details they share have proven popular and work. Still, Deuter’s Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL distinguish themselves from some competitors for their adjustable, comfortable fit and smart design details that make a difference in your experience carrying it, as I found using the Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL on a five-day, late-summer backpacking trip in the Wind River Range and a three-day hike on the 22-mile Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow Loop in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in early October.

For starters, the Aircontact Ultra 50+5 is unisex and made for longer torsos, up to 21 inches (learn how to measure your torso in my “5 Expert Tips for Buying the Right Backpacking Pack”). The Ultra 45+5 SL is for men or women with slightly shorter torsos. I got the Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL on Deuter’s recommendation for my 18-inch torso length. While that pack fits me well and the hipbelt has plenty of fit range, I found the shoulder straps near their fit limit for me; anyone with a torso over 18 inches might prefer the Aircontact Ultra 50+5 (which may also have fit me just fine).


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Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL backpack.
The Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL backpack in the Wind River Range.

Deuter’s three-position torso-length adjustment system, located behind the back pad, enables a better fit than non-adjustable suspension systems seen in some packs in this weight class and is one of the easiest pack-fit adjustment systems to access and change I’ve seen. With each model, it provides for about two inches of torso fit range.

I started out in the Winds with over 35 pounds in the Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL and it initially felt overloaded. I found it comfortable with a max pack weight around 35 pounds or a bit under, even on days up to over 12 miles—consistent with Deuter’s recommendation of using it for loads of up to 12 to 15 kg, or about 25 to 33 pounds. That comfort comes thanks to a spring steel perimeter wire frame and a framesheet that offers slight flex, meaning it moves a bit with your torso but, unlike lighter, essentially frameless packs, it provides some structure to help support a load. Pivoting hip fins help steady the pack while hiking.

The three-dimensional layers of perforated spacer mesh in the back panel, lumbar pad, shoulder straps, and hipbelt rebounds when not weighted, pulling air into the mesh as you move—delivering nice ventilation and cushioning. Unlike the simple, wide, entirely flexible fabric hipbelts found in some packs in this category—which essentially rely on the belt’s width to distribute pack weight over the hips—the Aircontact Ultra’shipbelt, while flexible, features a little structure to help support some of the weight that the pack frame distributes to the belt. The shoulder straps have a bit of rotation where they attach at the top of the back panel, enabling the pack to move with your torso instead of feeling like it’s tugging against you.

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The Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL harness.
The Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL harness.

The top-loading Aircontact Ultra packs have an adequately spacious main compartment for outings of three or four days if, like me, you carry one or more “luxury” items like an ultralight camp chair; or up to six or seven days if you pack highly efficiently and carry light gear, with Z-compression straps on both sides. I found myself filling the Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL with gear and food for three days.

The six external pockets include a large stretch-mesh front pocket that can swallow a wet rainfly and a jacket and stretch-mesh side pockets that hold a liter bottle but are a little difficult to reach into for me (perhaps owing to me falling at the upper limit of the Ultra 45+5 SL’s fit range).

The two half-liter, zippered hipbelt pockets will hold four or more bars or a smartphone with room to spare. If you’re really counting grams, the removable, floating lid and its straps can be left behind to shave about three ounces/85g; but that lid pocket, voluminous for a pack of this size and weight, is worth its minimal weight for the quick access and space it offers. The front features six loops for attaching gear to the outside.

The 200-denier polyamide fabric provides a durable exterior that will hold up to hard use for years; the exterior parts most vulnerable to tearing, as with many packs in this weight class, are the stretch-mesh front and side pockets. Deuter impregnates the pack fabric with water repellency rather than using chemicals known as harmful to people and the environment.

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Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL

Comfort/Support
Fit
Access
Features
Weight-to-Performance
Durability

The Verdict

While among the heaviest ultralight backpacking packs, the Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL are comfortable packs with an adjustable fit, ideal for lightweight backpackers willing to accept several extra ounces for smart features and the support for up to 35 pounds.

4.1

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You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 backpack at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL backpack at backcountry.com.

See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The Best Ultralight Backpacks,” my “5 Expert Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack,” and all of my reviews of backpacks, backpacking gear, ultralight backpacks, and ultralight backpacking gear at The Big Outside.

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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

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 gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

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