Mountain Hardwear Fluid 26 Pack

I love packs. In fact, I currently have ten of them in my closet of varying shapes, sizes, and functionality. I was more than happy to add the Mountain Hardwear Fluid 26 to my quiver and see what it had to offer.

The first thing I noticed out of the box was how bright the pack is. I like colorful gear – I have a plantain yellow Nano Puff, bright red mountaineering boots (may they rest in peace), a plethora of colorful beanies, and even my ski boots are a snazzy red, white, and black color wave. This pack does not disappoint in the color department. For some the blue may be too bright (if it is, there are many other colors to choose from) but personally I dig it!

©Chad Lauterbach

Storage
The Fluid 26 is brimming with pockets. There are three main zippered compartments, one of which is a cavernous water bladder storage area with two wide openings to route the tube through (so you can pick which side to have the bite valve on). The other two compartments each have zippered spaces inside and the outermost compartment includes three internal mesh pockets. There are also generous side elastic pouches for water bottles as well as two hip pocket storage areas. With all of these options you can fit a good amount of gear into this pack.
With a bit of creative packing I can fit my MSR snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, extra jacket, 70 ounces of water, food, heavy mountaineering gloves, trekking poles, and still have a little room leftover. The front compression pocket is a great feature and comes quite in handy when packing bulky items like snowshoes or a helmet.

Use
All of the zippers have pulls on them which makes it very easy to get into the pack even with heavy gloves on. However, the compression pocket strap is very difficult to remove, especially with gloves on. That one small caveat aside, this pack is great. It packs down small so you can easily stuff it into an overnight pack if you are planning small day trips from your “basecamp.” One feature that I really liked was the adjustable sternum strap which allows you to slide the strap up or down about four inches. There are four compression straps, two on each side of the pack and the bottom ones are linked to the waist belt in an ingenious pulley system with long pull tabs marked with bright orange loops at the end for easy on-the-move adjustments.
The pack does not come with a rain cover, so if you plan on hiking in the rain regularly I would recommend getting one. I was once caught for over an hour in a torrential thunderstorm while wearing this pack. Strangely, everything in the outermost compartment was dry while everything in the larger middle compartment was wet. I was a bit surprised by this as I assumed the contents on the outside of the pack would be soaked. The pack material is quite water resistant but the double zipper on the larger middle compartment allowed the rain to get inside.

©Jeff Orgill

Problems
Over the testing period I had two problems with the pack. The first problem surfaced only once, on my first time out with it. I was traversing a ridge line and the zipper on the smaller main compartment completely failed. My best guess is that it happened while passing under a low hanging branch. Luckily I did not lose anything even though I did not notice the open pocket until I stopped to don my wind breaker. After zipping the zipper several times it finally caught and closed. I have not had any problems since then but I do stop more frequently now to ensure that my pack zippers are closed and not allowing the contents of my pack to spill on the trail behind me.

The second issue I had was with sizing the waist belt. Mountain Hardwear sent me a size M/L. Typically that is the correct size for my body type (eighteen inch torso). However I cinch the waist strap almost to the buckle on my thirty-two inch waist. This leaves fairly long straps hanging from pack and while they have not caused me any problems it is still a small annoyance. If you are much skinnier I would opt for the small sized pack but this will reduce your carrying capacity by over 100 cubic inches.

©Isaac Tait

Pros
Lots of room
Great colors
Great adjustment on pack load, carry, and weight distribution
Big zipper pulls
Great water resistance

Cons
Sizing runs large on the waist belt
Zippers
No whistle on the sternum strap buckle

After several months of testing the Fluid 26 it looks as good as the day I got it. The materials and workmanship are outstanding. It is comfortable, durable, good looking, and can easily carry varying load sizes and weights. If you are in the market for a day pack for medium to long adventures the Fluid 26 is a great, versatile, and capable backpack and is certainly worth looking at.

Manufacturer: Mountain Hardwear
Date available: Currently available
Manufacturer’s Website: www.mountainhardwear.com
MSRP: $120
Listed Weight: 1 lb – 13oz
Materials: Ripstop Nylon
Size/Model tested: M/L
Warranty info: Limited lifetime against defects in material or workmanship
Colors Available: Blue Chip, Flame, and Black

Photo courtesy of Mountain Hardwear
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