I really like the Deuter Spectro 38 backpack. At 2,320 cubic inches (38L) capacity, it’s a great pack for longer day hikes, hut-to-hut routes, or fast and light overnight backpacking trips.
If you’re not familiar with Deuter (pronounced Doy-ter), you should check out their backpacks. A German company, they’re not as well known as Osprey or Gregory, but they’ve been making packs for over 100 years and are quite popular in Europe and Canada. If you want a first hand look, Deuter packs are carried in EMS and REI stores, and also sold by Backcountry.com, MooseJaw, and other online retailers.
The Spectro AC 38 is the first Deuter backpack I’ve reviewed, but I will be testing more of their packs later in the year. I decided to start with it because it is very lightweight, weighing just 2 lb 9 oz, and I’m very interested in the sub-3lb, lightweight packs that backpack manufacturers are now bringing to market.
A Panel Loading Backpack
Backpacks that have panel pockets are pretty rare these days and I wish more manufacturers included them. They’re extremely convenient because they let you access gear at the bottom of your pack quickly and eliminate the need for you to unpack everything from the top. The panel flap on the Spectro (shown above) opens using a zipper, which runs around the perimeter of the the mesh kangaroo pocket on the front of the pack. You can also stuff gear into this pack normally from the top.
Panel pockets are perfect if you want to brew up a cup of tea on an afternoon hike and need to dig out your stove, or you want to get at your first aid kit, which always migrates to the base of my backpack, under all my other gear!
External Attachment Points
One of the features I always look for on an overnight backpack are external attachment points for securing a sleeping pad or a tent, and the ones on the Spectro are very good. In addition to an ice axe loop and rear loops to secure hiking poles, the Spectro has top and bottom compressions straps on each side of the pack. The strap lengths are adjustable and long enough to secure an accordian style sleeping pad or a long winter tent, nearly doubling the carrying capacity of the pack, if you factor in the size of these items. If you are an ultralight backpacker, it is possible to get all of your gear into the internal compartment and still carry 2-3 days of food, but you have to pack your gear very carefully, and really minimize your load, to manage this.
Unfortunately, the side compression straps are not long enough to attach snowshoes to the sides of the pack, but I had to try anyway.
In addition to the mesh kangaroo pocket on the front of the pack, there is a medium size pocket on the outside of the top lid which is large enough to stow several small bags of gear, including wallet, keys, maps, compass, GPS, snacks, and hats and gloves. The Spectro also has two side mesh pockets that can easily fit 1 quart bottles with room to spare, even when the main compartment of the pack is filled with gear. Very nice.
The pack also has a hydration pocket in the main compartment and a velcro tab that you can use to keep your reservoir upright. There are also hydration ports on both sides of the top lid to run a drinking hose through, as well as elastic keeper loops on the shoulder straps.
Unfortunately, that’s really it for pockets. There aren’t any on the hip belt on the inside of the top lid. I usually add my own, large waterproof hip belt pockets to packs anyway, so it’s something I can live with.
Deuter AirComfort Frame and Suspension System
The Spectro AC 38 has a trampoline frame with a mesh back and curved air space behind it, to eliminate the back sweat that can built up on the back of your shirt in warm weather. This area has open sides, so it can’t be used for extra storage capacity, and it’s not accessible from the inside of the pack, like some Osprey packs.
The pack’s shoulder straps are attached directly to this mesh panel with heavy reinforced stitching. The shoulder straps also have load lifters, which are properly attached to the frame of the pack and can be tightened to bring the back panel closer to your back if the mesh is not touching your shirt.
The Spectro has a very rigid, but lightweight steel frame that provides it with excellent stiffness and load control. Although it’s curves out behind the mesh back, you don’t feel like your load is pulling you backward at the shoulders, which can be a problem with this kind of suspension system on higher capacity packs. I think the overall geometry works in this case, because the main compartment is narrow and not very deep, so that the load rests on your hips, and you can put your heaviest items at the bottom of the pack, where they belong. It’s really quite a nicely designed pack.
The hip belt also has a novel design that supports the weight of the pack on hip fins, anchored to the mesh, that press along the back of your hips along the sides of your lower back. This removes the load carrying pressure away from the sides of the hip belt and is much more comfortable to carry as you add more weight to the pack.
The hip belt itself is very easy to adjust and even has control straps on it, that are attached to the frame, and let you control the amount of much lateral sway you want in your stride.
Both the hip belts and the shoulder straps are anatomically curved for maximum comfort and are mesh backed to promote ventilation. The sternum strap adjusts on a rail like system by sliding up and down the the shoulder straps, so you don’t have to unbuckle it to get an optimum fit if you reload it or let someone else borrow your pack.
Based on my testing, I’d put max load at 25 lbs.
The Spectra AC 38 comes in one size, with a torso length of 17-19″ and a hip belt size up to 36″. I know this because I have this pack in front of me, but if you try to look up the sizing information at an online retailer, you’ll either find incorrect sizing information or no sizing information at all.
Deuter’s just started selling packs in the USA, so I attribute this to growing pains in their distribution channel, and I’m sure they’ll fix their catalog feed eventually. However, be forewarned. If you find information that says that the Sprectro AC 38 will fit someone with a 17″-22″ inch torso, don’t believe it. This pack just fits me, and I have a 18.5″ torso. Maybe you could stretch that to 20″, but I think 22″ is just plain fiction.
Section Hiker Recommendation
I have been testing the Deuter AC 38 backpack for several months now and I am very impressed with it. It’s very comfortable to carry and you can really load it up with a lot of gear for overnight trekking, or more casual day hiking. It very well designed and engineered and quite affordable if you’re looking for a smaller capacity or lighter weight backpack for 3 season hiking. I’d really give this pack serious consideration if you’re looking for a smaller capacity lightweight backpack, but giving the sizing uncertainly I describe above, make sure you try it on before you buy it, or that you can return it if it doesn’t fit.
Disclosure: Deuter USA provided Sectionhiker.com with a complementary Spectro AC 38 backpack for this product review.
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