The Mountain Hardware Kanza 55 is a great value if you’re looking for a lightweight but high volume backpack for general purpose backpacking, climbing, and winter mountaineering.
Fully configured this pack weighs 3 lbs. 2 oz. But it comes with a number of optional, removable components that bring its weight down to an impressive 2 lbs 11 oz, for three season use. That’s quite impressive for a 55 liter backpack (3,350 cubic inches) with a removable hip belt, tons of external attachment points, an excellent suspension and compression system, and a floating lid.
Whoever designed this pack at Mountain Hardware has their act together. It is a pity that Mountain Hardware isn’t shouting about this pack from the roof tops because it’s an excellent value for the money (MRSP is $175) and very competitively positioned with the Osprey Variant 52.
Backpack Suspension System
The Kanza 55 provides excellent load transfer to the hips and provides you with all the bells and whistle you could want to customize your fit. The most important of these is the fact that the hip belt is removable and replaceable with a larger or smaller sized hip belt, so you get the proper torso length – hip belt size combination that fits your body. It amazes me that backpack manufacturers don’t provide people with this option for all of their overnight backpacks.
The only gotcha with the Kanza is that the medium sized pack (based on torso length) comes with a medium size hip belt and the large sized size pack comes with a large hip belt, so you need to spend extra if the one that comes with the pack doesn’t fit you. But at least you have the option to buy one, although I bet you could get a retailer to swap them for you if you just ask. Mountain Hardware won’t do it for you if you buy the Kanza direct from them online – I called and asked.
The hip belt is firmly padded and uses the same kind of ergo pull webbing system that Osprey uses for tightening the hip belt on many of their packs. It also has load stabilizers where it connects to the pack body that you can cinch in to bring the back of the pack closer to your hips.
The Kanza has pre-curved and well-padded shoulder straps but they are a little hard when you first try on the pack and need to be broken in a bit before they become more comfortable. Each shoulder strap has a hydration hose retainer and a plastic loop above it, attached using a short daisy chain. These can be used to clip on gear like a GPS, a camera or small ad-on pockets. The straps also come with load lifters, attached to the back of the pack. An adjustable stern strap with built-in emergency whistle is also provided.
The Kanza 55 comes with a number of useful frame sheet and stay options that can be adjusted depending on how much weight you need to carry. Out of the box, the pack has a corrugated plastic framesheet and a metal stay. Both of these are secured in an inner pocket in the main compartment but can be removed to save weight.
The framesheet weighs 3.5 oz and the stay weighs 3.1 oz, so this can add up to a substantial weight savings. Unfortunately this pocket is not large enough to slip in another sleeping pad like a Gossamer Gear Nightlight. Personally, I don’t feel the need for the framesheet or the stay with three season loads, but they could be quite useful for winter when my pack weight shoots up to about 40-45 lbs including water, food, and fuel.
Storage Capacity and Compression System
In addition to a cavernous main storage compartment, the Kanza includes a large front pocket, a floating lid pocket, and two internal pockets for organizing gear.
The front pocket is large enough to store your rain gear or a pair of crampons in winter. It actually has strap holes in the bottom to let items like this drain if they’re wet. There also a daisy chain on the outside of the pocket that can be used to attach all kinds of other gear, including the top of an ice axe (there’s also an ice axe loop on the bottom of the pack).
The floating lid pocket at the top of the pack is great for storing items you want easily at hand. You can also stow gear under it, like a long tent, and hold it against the body of the pack using the webbing straps that hold the lid closed. These lids are perfect for winter hiking because you can balance extra gear across the top of the pack using them.
The floating lid is also completely removable, saving you another 3.8 oz. Doing this does not leave the draw string closure at the top of the main compartment open and exposed to rain. Instead, here’s a smaller pocket underneath the floating lid that folds over the hole and is secured using the same straps used to close the floating lid. It’s rather clever. Here’s a picture of these two top pockets options, side by side, with the small pocket on the pack and the floating lid on the ground.
The Kanza also has a separate hydration sleeve the opens via a zipper on the back of the pack, but the pocket does intrude on the main compartment space which can make refilling it problematic when the pack is full. There are no hydration ports, however, so the hose has to be threaded out between the top of the shoulders.
There are two very large side pockets on either side of the pack which can be used to store water bottles or additional gear. The pockets have an elastic side fabric that differs from the lightweight Cordura used elsewhere on the pack. Each pocket closes with a separate compression style strap, effectively giving you 3 sets of compression straps on each side of the pack. The compression straps are also long enough that they can be used to attach snowshoes to the side of the pack, making the Kanza suitable for winter hiking or mountaineering. Sweet!
Finally, there are another pair of straps at the base of the pack for securing a tent or sleeping pad. The amount of gear that you can hang off this pack is really impressive.
I’m impressed by the Kanza 55 and think it’s a great pack if you’re looking for a pack with an alpine style shape and lots of external attachment points. With its removable suspension options, it can scale nicely for lighter weight three season backpacking or heavier winter mountaineering loads. It’s also very competitively priced by retailers and often available below MSRP, making it a doubly good deal.
- Replaceable hip belt comes in two sizes letting you get the perfect fit
- Removable framesheet, metal stay and floating lid reduce pack weight to 2 lbs. 11 oz.
- Lots of external attachment points
- Compression straps are long enough to hold snowshoes, enabling 4 season use.
- Takes some patience to break in the shoulder straps and dial-in a good fit
- Pack is a bit busy with lots of compression straps and external attachment points
- Only 1 ice axe tool attachment
Disclosure: Mountain Hardware provided Sectionhiker.com with a complementary Kanza 55 backpack for this review.
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