Mountainsmith Apex 80 Backpack Review
The Mountainsmith Apex 80 Backpack is a high volume, expedition-style appropriate for long backpacking trips where you need to carry extra food or technical gear. With an adjustable length torso, the Apex 80 is loaded with all of the features you’d expect on a high volume top-loading pack, but it is surprisingly lightweight (4 pounds 13 ounces) and far less expensive than competing packs from other manufacturers.
Organization and Storage
The Apex 80 is configured like many expedition sized backpacks with a floating top lid and high-capacity main compartment, including two zippers that provide access to the contents of the main compartment so you can access buried gear without having to unload the entire pack.
The first zipper is located on the front of the pack and opens into a mesh compartment where you can store frequently accessed items. The mesh pocket has a rear zipper running down the middle which provides access into the main compartment to anything stored in the top half of the pack. The mesh provides better visibility into the contents of the pack, but you wouldn’t want to store wet gear here.
Another zipper is located at the base of the main compartment where most people are likely to store a sleeping bag. However, instead of a sleeping bag compartment, there’s a flap inside the main compartment which can be used to create a shelf between a sleeping bag and the gear stored above it. The shelf is suspended by webbing hooks inside the main compartment but can be folded out-of-the-way if you prefer not to use it. This gives you a lot more flexibility in how you pack your gear.
While you’d think having a separate sleeping bag zipper at the base of a high-volume pack would be a good thing, I’ve never understood why backpack manufacturers encumber a pack with extra zippers (which jam and fail) if they can be avoided. Particularly since most backpacks seams are not waterproof and packs must be lined with a plastic bag to keep their contents dry, blocking external access.
The Apex 80 features a generously sized top pocket and floating lid which can be used to attach more gear to the top of the main compartment and held in place by cinching the lid tight or simply strapping it down with the piece of webbing that provides top compression. In addition, the pack has a long extension collar capable of swallowing an additional 16 liters of gear, bringing the pack’s total extended volume to 96 liters (5858 cubic inches).
Finally, the Apex 80 has two large zippered side pockets and two mesh bottle pockets on each side of the pack. While the bottoms of the mesh pockets are covered with heavy fabric for better durability, large weave mesh pockets like this are quite prone to tearing when caught on vegetation.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Apex 80 is an adjustable frame backpack that gives you the ability to adjust the torso length, something you really need on a heavily laden expedition pack to ensure that most of the load rests on your hips and not on your shoulders.
The torso length is adjusted by raising or lowering the height of the shoulder straps which slide along two exposed aluminum stays in the back of the pack. The adjustment is controlled using simple webbing straps which are tightened or loosened, providing a no-fuss solution. Still, you’ll need to experiment with the fit because there aren’t any predefined torso length markings provided if you already know your torso length.
The aluminum stays are augmented by a plastic sheet sewn into the body of the pack that forms the pack’s frame. A mesh woven fabric covers padding on the back of the frame with a deep, central air channel that helps dry perspiration. When carrying a heavy expedition backpack, you perspire considerably more than when carrying a lighter load.
The base of the frame has an articulated lumbar pad which catches onto your sit bones and enhances load transfer. While some people like lumbar pads and some people hate them, the lumbar pad does an effective job of bringing the load closer to the powerhouse at the top of one’s hips. That’s one of the things that I really like about this pack, that it really hugs your back closely, making load-carrying by your big core muscles considerably more efficient than a pack that pulls you backward.
The body hugging fit is further enhanced by load lifer straps which can be adjusted to match the pack’s torso length. Most lower volume backpacks have load lifter straps that can’t be repositioned at the point where they attach to the front of the shoulder, rendering them useless for long torso lengths. But the front load lifter buckles on the Apex 80 can be raised or lowered down the front of the straps if you change the torso length, ensuring a 30 to 45 degrees strap angle. You only find this feature on expedition size backpacks, which is unfortunate, because many backpacks in the 50-65 liter range would be substantially improved if they had it too.
Unfortunately. the hip belt wing on the sides of the Apex 80 has a tendency to sag when you crank up the load over 50 pounds. The wing pads are cut so that they can move independently of the lumbar pad. The resulting gap between the two areas of padding can result in hip belt slippage in people with squarish hips, transferring the weight off the hip belt and onto the shoulders.
Compression and External Attachment System
The compression and external attachment system on the Apex 80 is fairly simple and straightforward. There are two tiers of side compression straps, above the bottle pockets and above the top pockets, that do an excellent job of pulling the load closer to your pack. However, these compression straps have limited utility as external attachment points when the top pocket between them is full of gear.
There is a second pair of webbing straps that runs under the sleeping bag compartment and can be used to hold a cylindrical sleeping pad or tent. However, the straps cannot be removed if they’re not needed.
Short daisy chains are provided for lashing gear on the outside of the pack, just above the top of the sleeping bag compartment.
Finally, there is an ice ax loop and trekking pole loops at the base of the pack along with keeper straps higher up to secure the shafts.
The Mountainsmith Apex 80 is one of the lightest weight expedition sized backpacks available today (4 pounds 13 ounces) and while it has a number of features that minimalist backpackers might sneer at, it’s a relatively streamlined backpack, unencumbered with many of the unnecessary features that weigh down other high volume packs in its class. With a lightweight, but adjustable frame and excellent perspiration ventilation, the Apex 80 provides a comfortable body-hugging fit, although people with squarish hips may experience some hip belt slippage when carrying heavy loads. Priced at just over $200, the Apex 80 is an excellent value for the money, and well worth careful consideration is you need a high volume backpack for remote adventures.
- Lightweight, easy-to-adjust torso length
- Form-fitting pack shape hugs your body
- Extension collars adds another 16 liters of capacity, bringing the total volume to 96 liters
- Much lighter weight than other expedition packs with comparable volume and features
- Side mesh pockets are more prone to tearing off-trail
- Sleeping bag compartment serves no function if the inside of the pack is lined with a waterproof liner.
- Parallel Y-Frame adjustable suspension
- Load distributing Lumbar Control Point pad
- ICS Cup waist belt fitment (ICS – Iliac Crest Shelf)
- Anvil Airway perspiration control system
- Dual density shoulder straps
- Delta Wing Compression™ belt adjustment system
- Front panel pocket fits Ten Essentials with zippered access to main compartment
- SlingShot™ detachable top lid converts into a lumbar pack or shoulder sling
- Side panel mesh pockets fit most water bottle styles
- Zippered side panel accessory pockets
- Separate sleeping bag compartment with internal divider
- Bar tack reinforcements
- YKK® Zippers
- 3M™ Reflective Cord
- Twin T6 1” 6061 concave aluminum stays
- 210d Duramax™ Junior RipStop Nylon
- 420d Duramax™ Nylon
- 210d RipStop Liner
- 28” x 11.5” x 9.5” / 71 x 29.25 x 24 cm
- Waist Belt Webbing: 1.5″
- Volume: 4882 cubic inches / 80L
- Extended Volume: 5858 cubic inches / 96L
- Up to 75 lbs
- 4 lbs 13 oz / 2.2 kgs (verified on the SectionHiker scale)
- Torso: 17″ – 22″
- Waistbelt: 30″ to 54″
Disclosure: Mountainsmith provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample Apex 80 backpack for this review.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and some sellers may contribute a small portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
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