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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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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