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Sierra Designs Discovery 30 Backpack

I do a lot of day hiking and usually go  for a mid-day hike 3 or 4 times a week for 5-8 miles. It’s how I stay in shape and is a lot more interesting than working out in a gym and watching FOX news on a TV with the sound off. My day hikes also provide me with ample opportunity to test out new day hiking packs, like the Sierra Designs Discovery 30, shown below.

Sierra Designs Discovery 30 - Back
Sierra Designs Discovery 30 - Back

The Discovery 30 is fairly beefy for a day pack with a plastic frame sheet and wider hip belts, but man does it carry great. I’ve loaded it up with 15-20 pounds of gear and I barely notice the load. This is definitely a pack I’d recommend to a beginner day hiker, as well as someone who wants a more technical pack for off-trail scrambling or winter hiking/snowshoeing. It’s even big enough for overnight hiking, provided you know how to pack very compactly or are doing a hut-to-hut route.

Frame and Suspension

The Discovery’s frame consists of a rigid plastic framesheet and single aluminum stay. These are connected to the hip belt so that the weight of the pack rests mostly on your hips and not on your shoulders. The stay (the golden rod above, center) directs the downward force of the pack onto a curved lumbar pad which rests just at top of your butt when the pack is worn. This lumbar pad is more pronounced than what you find on a lot of other day packs and really makes a difference in terms of transferring the load to your hips and off of your shoulders.

The Discovery 30’s frame is also adjustable, which is a definite plus, because you can dial in a good fit. This is particularly helpful for people new to hiking because they can adjust the torso length to their exact physical proportions. Contrast this with pack manufacturers who sell a size M/L pack that fits people with torso sizes ranging from 18″-21″. That is a huge spread in terms of backpack sizing and is a recipe for an ill-fitting pack.

Front and Side Mesh Pockets
Front and Side Mesh Pockets

To adjust the torso length, you slip the plastic framesheet out of an inner pocket inside the pack which has slots along its length that correspond to different torso sizes. The ends of the shoulder straps slip into these slots: to make the torso longer you slip the ends of the strap into higher slots or slip the straps into lower straps to make it shorter. It’s quite similar to the system that Granite Gear uses on their newer adjustable frame packs.

Storage

In terms of capacity, The 30 liter (1830 cubic inches) Discovery is a good size for carrying the 10 Essentials with plenty of room for food, water and the comfort extras you like to bring along on a hike (most day packs are in the 30-40L size).

The Discovery also has 3 external mesh pockets for stowing all the gear you need fast access to during a hike: I always pack snacks, water bottles, my rain gear and map in these external pockets so I don’t have to dig around for them in the main body of the pack  when I stop for a quick break. All the other stuff I bring along that I’m likely to not need or need infrequently, goes into the main compartment, out of the way.

Top Loading Main Compartment
Top Loading Main Compartment

A top loader, the Discovery 30 doesn’t have a giant pocket in the top lid of the pack like many other packs, but it does have a mesh inner pocket large enough to hold keys, wallet,and your cell phone. On the plus side, the top pocket doesn’t sag backwards because it’s so top heavy and visual access into the main compartment is superb.

The pack also has two large mesh zippered pockets on the hip belt which actually large enough to be useful and can easily fit a digital camera, compass, bug dope, other littles that you want easily at hand.

If you prefer carrying your water in a hydration reservoir, the Discovery 30 has an internal hydration pocket including hooks to hang your reservoir so it does’t tip over. The pocket is also sized narrow to keep the reservoir upright. There is one hydration port at the center top of the pack, enabling the drinking tube to be attached to either shoulder strap using elastic keeper straps.

For longer trips or more challenging loads, the Discovery 30 has two tiers of external compression straps on the side that you can lash gear to, like a sleeping pad or small tent, in addition to rear ice axe/trekking pole loops for carrying additional overnight or winter gear. There are also sufficient tie out points on the back of the pack that you could rig up you own external lashing using elastic cord, something I actually do quite often when carrying snowshoes in winter.

Backpack Profile
Backpack Profile

Recommendation

I think the Discovery 30 makes a great day pack for both beginners and more advanced hikers who want a highly adjustable, well laid out pack for longer hikes and adventures. The pack carries superbly and close to the hips with a wide variety of loads, the top lid doesn’t flop over and pull the pack backwards when overloaded, there is a built in rain cover/pocket on the pack, and the front-pull hip belt provides for a superb fit. Although it’s a tad heavier than I’d prefer (by 8-12 ounces) this pack is so comfortable that you won’t notice the extra weight, even on long day hikes with a heavily loaded pack. If you’re looking to buy a new day pack this year, I’d definitely recommend you take the Discovery 30 for a spin: this pack has a lot of really great features that make it a keeper.

Likes

  • Adjustable fit
  • External mesh pockets
  • Excellent suspension and load to hip weight transfer
  • Front pull hip belt for an excellent fit
  • Non-intrusive, highly breathable back padding
  • Too numerous to list

Dislikes

  • Slightly on the heavy side at 2 pounds 8 ounces on the Section Hiker scale for a size m/l. Note this is 7 ounces lighter than the manufacturer spec below.

Manufacturer Specifications

  • Material: Cordura (100D), nylon (210D)
  • Support/Suspension: single DAC aluminum stay, HDPE frame sheet
  • Waist-Belt: yes
  • Hydration Compatible: yes
  • Reservoir Included: no
  • Rain Cover: yes, integrated
  • Access: top
  • Pockets: 1 front large, 2 side stretch, 1 security, 2 hip-belt
  • Snowboard Carry: no
  • Ski Carry: no
  • Climbing Gear Loops: 2
  • Shovel Pocket: no
  • Weight: (s/m) 2 lb 12 oz, (m/l) 2 lb 15 oz (the m/l  is 2 pounds 8 ounces on the Section Hiker Scale)
  • Torso sizing:  s/m fits torsos 16-18:, m/l fits torsos from 18-20″
  • Recommended Use: climbing, hiking, biking
  • Manufacturer Warranty: lifetime

Disclosure: Sierra Designs provided SectionHiker.com (Philip Werner) with a Discovery 30 backpack for this review. 

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13 comments

  1. Nice pack but not a beginner hiker price point! Strange its much lighter on your scale since weight is such a big selling point.

  2. Definitely on the pricey side, but it is easy to buy it on a discount if you plan ahead. I was also surprised by the weight discrepancy. One should note that this pack includes a rain cover, which probably accounts for another 4-5 ounces. You could always cut it off (it’s stuffed into a pocket under the front mesh pocket) if you wanted to drop a few more ounces.

  3. Hi there, I actually worked on this project and wanted to point out 2 things. First, the straps “cross-over” meaning that you can buckle the side compression from the left side over to the side compression on the right side to hold on snowshoes, etc. Second, samples sometimes get heavier or lighter (more rarely) throughout the development process as we add/change or remove features. Thanks for the heads-up to double-check our production versions and update our web copy. Happy Hiking!

    • Cool tip – I’ll have to try that. Don’t remember it being in the pack documentation..but I’ll have to check. This is a nice pack – I’m really pumped about the new products SD has come out with this year. Must be exciting times. -P.

  4. I really liked this review as well as your recent review of the REI Stoke 29. Between those two recent reviews, which do you prefer for a day pack? Do you prefer one feature over another between the two brands? Price-wise, I am wondering if the approx $50 savings is worth it on the Stoke 29 and if that would make a sufficient day pack. I tend to pack pretty light for my weekend day hikes, less than 15 pounds of gear plus 2-3 liters of water. I have a shorter torso at 17 inches.

    Thanks!

    • Also forgot to mention I would also like a pack that can lash my snowshoes onto the outside for winter day hikes. Wondering which pack has a better system for external attachment points.

      • I’d pick Discovery over the Stoke because it’s less floppy (top lid) and holds its shape better. On top of that, you’ll want a beefier hip belt than the one on the Stoke for that much weight. Also for your torso size, definitely the Discovery because the S/M fits a 16-18″ torso, where as the Stoke only fits torsos 18-20″.

      • Also – I mostly pick packs based on fit, not features. Pack fit is often like buying a suit. Suits from some companies or in some styles fit me better than others. Don’t assume that a pack will work if it fits your torso. Everybody’s body is different. Be choosey. If it doesn’t feel good, return it.

      • Thanks for the advise! I will definitely have to try a few on (loaded of course!) and see which ones transfer weight best and are most comfortable. Always looking to upgrade when I can afford it!

  5. CampSaver seems to be selling it at $135.96 … 20% discount

  6. Mmmm…Toblerone.

  7. Got this pack in May 2012. It’s seen light use but it’s held up quite well. Weight for the Large is just under 3lbs but the fit is so good you just don’t feel it in day hikes.

    Sadly, it seems Sierra Designs has gotten out of the pack business – I don’t see packs on their website. A shame, because the Discovery 30 is really well designed and it’s something I’ll keep till it dissolves.

    In 2012 I paid $136 for this pack at Campsaver, but it’s on closeout right now at REI for just $87. Grab it while you can, it’s a steal at that price.

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