One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I get the opportunity to test a lot of outdoor gear. I’ve been fortunate enough to put sleeping bags, hiking boots, clothing and much more through their paces, and in the process I’ve learned a lot about how those products differ and what distinguishes the good from the bad. After awhile, some of the gear starts to look the same, as one manufacturer copies another in an attempt to add new features or options to their equipment. That’s why it is so refreshing when you find new, innovative products that do something a bit different.
That’s exactly what I found in the AS-1 Pack from a company called OutThere, a start-up looking to challenge the big boys in the outdoor space. The AS-1 was designed by Mike Kloser, a world champion adventure racer, who has spent years competing in some of the toughest endurance events, in some of the harshest environments, on the planet. Kloser knew exactly what he wanted and needed out of a backpack, but since no one made what he was looking for, he went out and built it himself.
When using the AS-1 the word that kept coming to mind was versatility. The pack does so many things, and does it all so well, it is hard not to be impressed. Make no mistake, this is a backpack designed for the hardcore sport of adventure racing, but it brings a lot to the table for adventure travelers and backpackers looking to go light and fast as well. For example, the pack is made from lightweight, yet durable, water resistant fabrics, which help to protect the important gear inside, while shrugging off all the punishment that comes along with travel.The AS-1 features 30 liters of internal storage space, with room for an additional 10 liters in external stowage as well. It includes an incredible array of pockets of various sizes, all of which are easily accessible and help to keep travelers well organized while on the go. In fact, there are so many pockets, that I kept discovering new ones the longer I used the pack. You’ll also find both internal and external hydration bladder sleeves, trekking pole/ice axe loops, and two removable hip pouches that are perfect for snacks or a small camera. Integrated compression straps make it a snap to carry skies or a snowboard, while four mesh elastic pockets provide plenty of room for carrying water bottles too.
Of course, all of these options aren’t very useful if the pack isn’t comfortable to wear. Fortunately, the AS-1 excels in that area as well, thanks to a plethora of options for adjusting the fit. The easy to adjust shoulder straps, working in conjunction with a floating hip-belt and strategically placed compression straps, give you the ability to customize the pack to fit your body perfectly and once you have the fit set to your needs, it stays in place exceptionally well. The AS-1′s back panel is well padded and designed to keep air flowing between the pack and its wearer, a combination that will be much appreciated on those long days on the trail. All of this adds up to a backpack that can easily carry large loads, without sacrificing comfort.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the AS-1 Pack was designed for use in adventure racing, a sport, which mixes trekking, paddling, and mountain biking through remote areas of the planet. For that particular use, this is without question the best pack available. But I think active, adventurous travelers will appreciate its versatility and attention to detail as well. For example, I wished that I had had this pack with me on a trek through the Himalaya last year and I know that backcountry skiers, climbers, snowshoers, and other outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy it as well. The AS-1 is one of those rare pieces of gear that you can purchase and use in all kinds of ways, making it a bargain at $189.