Terra Nova Quasar 55L Ultralight Backpack

Terra Nova Quasar 55L Backpack

Terra Nova Quasar 55L Backpack

The Terra Nova Quasar 55L Backpack is a new alpine style ultralight backpack from the UK built using cuben fiber (which Terra Nova has rebranded as “Ultra” fabric) with heavy-duty Dyneema Grid/Cordura at high abrasion points and black silnylon for visual appeal. Complete with an optional top lid, dual ice axe loops, and dual compression straps, this pack is designed for rugged hill walking, scrambling, and mountaineering with an emphasis on weight reduction for both day hikes and overnights.

It’s also worth highlighting that the main pack body on the Quasar 55 (and the smaller Quasar 45L and 30L) is sewn out of multiple fabrics. Cuben fiber backpack specialists Zpacks.com and Hyperlight Mountain Gear take a very different approach, making the main pack body entirely out of cuben fiber fabric, including the high abrasion areas at the bottom of their packs and under the side pockets.

Multiple Fabrics

Multiple Fabrics

Pack Components/Storage Capacity

The Quasar 55L backpack has many optional components making it a quite versatile pack depending on conditions and your preferences. The minimum pack weight including main compartment, shoulder straps, and hip belt, side pockets, haul loop and climbing rope attachment strap, two tiers of external compression straps and mesh reservoir pocket is a meager 17 ounces.  To this. one can add any of the following components, which are all included with the pack.

  • Optional hip belt pockets: 1.2 ounces
  • Optional floating lid pocket: 3.7 ounces
  • Optional mini lid: 0.9 ounces
  • Optional foam pad: 3.1 ounces
  • Optional plastic frame sheet with center stay: 8.5 ounces
My preference is to carry the pack (which closes with a draw string) with the optional foam pad and frame sheet, but without a top lid or the hip belt pockets. I found that the top lid pocket has a tendency to collapse down the front of the pack and pull the pack backwards away from my spine, a tendency I’ve noted on many other backpacks with this type of top lid/extension collar top. It’s not so bad when the lid floats over a large load and one can use the extension collar, but it starts to fail as you eat down your food and reduce the volume of the contents inside the main pack compartment.
Configured without Top Lid Pocket

Configured without Mini Lid Pocket

For smaller loads, a mini-lid is offered to cover the drawstring hole at the top of the pack, but it just doesn’t seem worth bothering with  if you’re going to line the inside of the pack with a plastic garbage bag to keep your gear dry anyway, other than the fact that it “captures” the two orphaned straps left behind by the floating lid. You do need to line this pack with a garbage bag, because the seams do leak when exposed to water, even though the pack is partially made out of cuben fiber. In all fairness, all cuben fiber packs leak the same way.
Mini Lid Option

Mini Lid Option

The Quasar also comes with two optional hip belt pockets, probably the smallest ones I’ve ever seen on a backpack of this size. They’re barely large enough to carry a powerbar. I prefer much larger hip belt pockets that are large enough to carry a digital camera, a compass, personal locator beacon or headlamp.
Optional Hip Belt Pocket

Optional Hip Belt Pocket

There are two side pockets on the Quasar 55L,  a tall one approximately 22 cm deep and a short one approximately 11 cm deep. The tall pocket can hold an 1 liter plastic bottle securely and the small one can’t. I have no idea why there is a difference in the pocket sizes, but the short one’s usability suffers markedly by being so small.
Tall Side Pocket with 1 liter bottle

Tall Side Pocket with 1 liter bottle

Inside the pack, there is a very large mesh reservoir pocket with a small hang loop above it, including  two hydration ports on either side of the back panel for hydration hose access.

Compression System

Compression is particularly important on the Quasar 55L, because the main compartment tends to bulge out when the pack is stuffed full of gear and food, and balancing your load takes some patience.

The Quasar 55L has two tiers of side compression straps, with the lower tier sewn inside the pockets, so that the pockets are still usable. Vertical compression is provided by the floating lid/mini lid and the front straps that connect it to the base of the pack.

Custom lashing for carrying snowshoes

Custom lashing for carrying snowshoes

Additionally, there are lots of lash points along the front and back side seams of the pack for setting up your own external compression or gear attachment system. I’ve used these extensively during testing, for carrying snowshoes on winter hiking trips in the White Mountains, as the side compression straps and side pockets make it difficult to attach snowshoes to the side of the pack.

Backpack Suspension

When I unpacked the Quasar 55L, the first thing that caught my eye was the hip belt, which seemed minuscule for a 55L / 3,356 cubic inch backpack. I don’t mind lightly padded hip belts, particularly on ultralight packs, but this seemed a bit extreme and proved to be uncomfortable for extended hikes with just a 15 pound load. For a pack with this much of capacity (close to a Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus in size), I’d expect, even recommend, wider hip belt wings with more padding and a wider canvas webbing strap.

Minimalist Hip Belt

Minimalist Hip Belt

While both the foam pad and the plastic framesheet with stay are optional, I found them quite comfortable to use together. While I suppose you could just use the foam pad an internal framesheet, you really can’t just use the plastic framesheet without some sort of pad to hold it in place in the internal pocket used to hold both components inside the main body of the pack.

Bivy Pad and Framesheet/w Aluminum Stay

Bivy Pad and PE Framesheet/w Alloy Stay

The shoulder straps on the Quasar are quite elaborate with all kinds of attachment points to hang gear or water bottles from. I’m actually astonished by the amount of fabric ornamentation on them and reckon they must take a lot of labor to sew.

Elaborately Ornamented Shoulder Straps

Elaborately Ornamented Shoulder Straps

Conclusion

The Terra Nova Quasar 55L is a fairly large capacity ultralight backpack that is made using silnylon, cuben fiber, and Dyneema Grid / Cordura for improved durability in high abrasion areas. On hindsight, focusing on the use of cuben fiber in this backpack is probably a mistake, given the fact that the pack weighs 33.3 ounces, or over 2 pounds, when configured with the foam pad, frame sheet, floating lid, and hip belt pockets. In fact, the use of cuben fiber on this pack provides very little functional benefit at all.

Instead, the modular construction of the pack and it’s ability to be configured for different kinds of “missions” is its greatest strength, although it is significantly hampered by a limited maximum load weight topping out at about 15 pounds. This could be easily fixed by providing the pack with a wider, more padded hip although I suspect that the Quasar pack design is more functional for the smaller versions of this pack, the Quasar 45L and the Quasar 30L.

The MSRP of the Terra Nova Quasar 55L is $300.

Likes

  • Lightweight (17 ounces), when used without any of the optional components, including top lid, hip belt pockets, foam pad or plastic frame sheet. If used with the foam pad and frame sheet, the Quasar 55L weighs 28.6, comparable to similarly sized ultralight backpacks made without cuben fiber.
  • Extra gear loops on shoulder straps make it easy to hang additional gear
  • Extra tie out loops along pack sides (both front and back) make it easy to lash extra gear to the sides and back of the pack

Dislikes

  • Top lid flops over main compartment and pulls back of pack away from wearer’s back.
  • Hip belt width is too small on a pack with a 55L volume. No padding is provided.
  • Main compartment bulges awkwardly when packed with a lot of gear; perhaps the cuben fiber is not thick enough on the front of the pack prevent this.

Features

  • Removable lid with double pocket and reinforced crampon attachment points. Includes second low weight “Mini lid” option
  • Extendable main compartment
  • Multiple gear attachment points
  • Rope attachment strap and haul point
  • Differential sized side pockets with drain holes
  • 2x removable belt pockets
  • Shoulder strap load adjustment
  • Fully adjustable chest strap with hi viz whistle
  • Double water bottle attachment points on shoulder straps
  • Internal hydration pocket with double hydration tube entry points on main pack
  • PE sheet with single alloy strut

Disclosure: SectionHiker.com (Philip Werner) received a free Quasar 55L from Terra Nova’s US Distributor for this review. 

The following retailers sell this product.

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4 Responses to Terra Nova Quasar 55L Ultralight Backpack

  1. Glaswegian April 12, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    I was thinking about getting the 45 litre pack but on reading your review I’ll give it a miss, it shows promise but I think I’ll wait for the Mk II version. The hipbelt is too insubstantial, the munchkin sized hip pockets look pointless and once you start adding the optional extras it’s not really that lightweight for a cuben pack anymore. The different sized side pockets are bizarre, it’s a pity they hadn’t copied the side pockets on the Osprey Hornet 46 as I think they work really well. I guess I’ll be buying a HMG Windrider instead.

    • Earlylite April 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      I think it’s a mistake to regard this as a cuben pack, especially since most of the surface area is – near as I can tell 500d 1/4 inch Dyneema Grid / Cordura. Bomber, but overkill for a lightweight pack where 210 or 140 d Dyneema would provide the same effective level of abrasion resistance.

      • Glaswegian April 13, 2012 at 4:13 am #

        That’s true, I was expecting it to be mainly cuben fibre with some lightweight Dyneema so the use of so much 500d fabric is a little strange. I have an OMM Villain which I’m guessing as using 210d Dyneema and it’s very rugged so the 500d is overkill like you say. I’ve happily owned a number of Terra Nova items so I’m sure the next version will be more evolved and dialed in.

  2. Aaron April 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Great review. That’s really an interesting combination of fabric choices. I’ve never had any durability problems with the 210d Dyneema fabric, and it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to use an even heavier grid here and then paired it with cuben and silnylon. It would seem as though modeling the hipbelt in the same fashion as the shoulder straps may have improved the overall comfort and usability of the pack. However, when in minimal mode 17oz for 55L is pretty impressive if you need that much space and were able to make the comfort factor work.

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