Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Arc'teryx Spear 20

I mentioned to my contact at Arc'teryx that I'd be cycling to work and was on the lookout for a new rucksack to fit a few small items into - laptop, kindle, notebook, shirt and sundry other bits. She asked me to use the Arc'teryx Spear 20 and see what I thought. I agreed.

When the Spear 20 arrived, it initially took me rather by surprise. I confess to hating the peat colour, but colour has never really mattered to me. So, to the pack. I have used it every day on my cycle to and from work for the last month. I do 11km in c.25mins, each way, and so I am riding at a reasonable pace given traffic lights/junctions. The pack remains in position, does not move around and has been comfortable throughout. Wet weather has not seen seepage into the pack and, although it is not waterproof, the fewer zips for water to get in, the better. Nothing within has been even damp after rainfall. For cycling it is actually very well designed as it keeps its shape and it reasonably aerodynamic.

It has a unique Rolltop opening that I've not seen anywhere except on a drybag - certainly not on a rucksack. I immediately loved this and I have not changed my opinion. On my old North Face Recon pack, I was forever fuming with frustration at the zip opening not having enough tension without two hands and always getting caught on the storm flap. This system - roll the top twice and pull two webbing straps to tighten - is really easy. Also, it means the opening is wide but not obtrusive. So far, this has worked well for me and I applaud Arc'teryx for this little innovation. 

The backsystem is very specifically moulded, curving away from the the back and the shoulders at each end, and into the back in the middle. I confess to being somewhat sceptical about this, not at all sure whether it would be comfortable or whether it was a gimmick. My experience of Arc'teryx is that innovation is their watchword and nothing is included that does not have a well-considered purpose so I reserved judgment. After a month, I have found that if I do not overtighten the shoulder straps, the curved bottom of the pack sits perfectly in the small of my back. If you start with getting the curve in the small of your back, and then adjust the shoulder straps and then move the sternum strap so that's comfortable, I'll wager you'll get a perfect fit. Again, this is a nice touch which moulds the pack nicely to the curve of your spine.

The pack is advertised at 1kg and that's almost exactly what mine weighs. The pack outer material is manufactured in two separate 420D weaves - a plain weave (back and sides) and a basket weave (top) and is therefore tremendously rugged. There is a limited padded Spacermesh airflow back with the Arc'teryx logo stitched into the middle - I sweat when I am cycling (wind and hills, bad combination) so the middle part of the back is always wet. It dries quickly enough so I don't really care much. There is a top pocket with a key clip and an Arc'teryx closed zip to keep water out (although these are not the Watertight Zips Arc'teryx invented). I keep my phone and wallet in here - no problems so far even in the wet. The zip pulls all have a nice, long toggle. The shoulder straps are anatomically shaped with padded Spacermesh and a 410D top fabric with formed edges. They also have load level adjusters, a small hoop, and the sternum strap is adjustable in the same way as the new Kata series - unclip it and move it down a notch rather than struggling to slide it up and down as you would with other packs. The outside has daisy chain webbing and an outer pocket which is slim but runs the length of the pack. The hipbelt is a simple webbing belt but I cannot see that you would need more - again, this is a 20 litre pack and so heavy loads are not likely.

There is also a grab handle - a long, black padded strip, which is also useful for using as a point to hold whilst tightening the rolltop closure. There is also another, smaller, grab/hang loop under the rolltop. There is a hydration pouch with hanging clip which will accommodate a MacBook Air 13" or an iPad. The bottom tapers to a narrow point, as I have said, which does rather mean that the pack falls over when stood up against anything. A small irritant but I usually just lay it flat.

I am not convinced that, with the weights this diminutive pack will be carrying, load-level adjusters are necessary nor do I foresee using the daisy chain webbing much. However, given the added weight for these two minimal additions, and the fact they might well be useful for some unknown eventuality, I don't see the hardship in having them. This is a reasonably minimalist pack but it is not meant to be UL - it is meant to stand the rigours of everyday use over a variety of mediums. You could quite easily use this every day on your bike, as I do, or the train/bus and then grab it for a short day hike. It will take a battering. However, I wish it were lighter - for a pack of this type, I wonder whether Arc'teryx should introduce a lighter version, with exactly the same profile, with 210D material and no superfluous load adjusting straps/webbing and a single skin rather than two layer interior and exterior fabric? The shoulder straps could be lighter as well. I think a lighter version would be very popular. For me, however, this is still a superb pack and I will continue to use it for cycling and the odd fast day hike.


  1. Considering buying this pack, and this was really helpful

  2. I just bought one. Can't wait to use it. Thanks for the nice writeup and pics. I can see much more detail in your review than anything else online.

  3. Great! This is very helpful!