The Prospector is the flagship pack from the British company Atom Packs. Each pack is hand-built to order by owner Tom Gale in the United Kingdom, and the packs are made either as a standard configuration or are fully customizable. The basic model weighs 22.9 oz (650g), is made-to-measure for your back length and offers a wide variety of options for customization. You may be familiar with my first looks review of this pack; this review is more comprehensive, based on much more field experience.
Tom seems very open to discussing your requirements and built me a pack that I would not have been able to custom-spec elsewhere. The Prospector is made to order so depending on the demand at the time of order, it could be a while; at the time of the authorship of this article, the wait time is 8 to 11 weeks. The pack will be made to your specification so it can be as minimalist or full of features as to appropriately suit your requirements. I had all the options possible and more to test which meant I could walk all day without taking my pack off. I probably had more storage than I needed, but it was nice to have choices. The only pocket missing was the water bladder pocket which was not available with my pack.
- Available as a standard model with preset options as defined by the manufacturer, or as a build-to-order, customizable, bespoke lightweight backpack.
- 45 L volume (standard model) that can comfortably carry loads of up to 35 lbs (15 kg).
- 35 L and 55 L volume options also available (My customized pack is 60 L, so larger packs are also an option).
- Side pockets (2.5 L each) with drain holes that are easy to access and deep enough to hold plenty of gear.
- Roll-top closure.
- Removable top and side compression straps.
- Sternum strap.
- Ice axe loop.
- Customizable options:
- Shoulder pockets: 0.5 oz (13 g) each.
- Bottom snack pocket: 1.1 oz (30 g).
- Removable internal pocket.
- H2O port (comes as standard, but can be removed if you don’t want it).
- Load lifters.
- Hip belt pockets.
- Weight (base model with no add-ons): 22.9 oz (650 g).
- Main body fabric: VX21 (standard); customizable as VX07 for 1 oz (28 g) weight savings.
- Heavy-duty bullet mesh front pocket.
- Side pocket fabric: VX21 (standard); customizable as VX07 for 0.4 oz (12 g) weight savings.
- Base: VX21.
- Frame: 1mm HDPE sheet with a removable and moldable aluminum stay.
- Body back panel: 500D Cordura.
- Back panel padding: 10 mm closed cell foam.
I have seen many changes in the backpacking kit over the last 40 years and have watched weights come down dramatically, which is a significant consideration when outfitting a new kit. However, I believe that ease of use and durability are also important, especially on a hike lasting weeks or even months when a failure could end your trip. I will, therefore, be focusing on these factors as well as weight-savings in my review of the Prospector pack.
I tested the pack immediately after receiving it with a 3-day hike in the UK, carrying 30 lbs (14 kg). The pack was comfortable from the very start, and I had no issues whatsoever. The only concern I had on my first inspection was the hip belt clip for a pack built to carry up to 35 lbs (15 kg) seemed a little small; however, so far it has been perfectly adequate.
I then tested it more rigorously on a month-long trip on the TGO Challenge coast-to-coast across Scotland, two weekend trips in Wales and Derbyshire, and a number of day hikes in the Austrian Alps. I found it performed perfectly with no signs of wear, and was comfortable throughout apart from some slight shoulder pain when I overloaded the pack with one week’s food. This discomfort disappeared as I reduced the weight in the pack below the 35lbs (15kg) which company owner Tom recommends as the rucksack’s maximum weight.
On the TGO Challenge, I was carrying between 22 and 37 lbs (10-17 kgs) over 300 miles, camping rough every night for three weeks. For those of you that are thinking the TGO Challenge has to be completed in two weeks, you are right, but I spent extra time walking into my start point. The pack was a pleasure to use throughout this trip; the design and all the materials used seemed hard-wearing with the main body material being reasonably thick. The pack will stand open while packing or unpacking, and this combined with being mostly white inside, makes it really easy to see and access the contents.
The pack was also perfect for me in Austria during a sweltering July with my family, as I used it as a hiking daypack. I was able to remove some straps and the hip pockets, further reducing the weight and simplifying the pack. I had to carry up to 6 liters of water on these hikes, and I liked having the weight mostly on my hips instead of my shoulders which made it possible to loosen the shoulder straps, slightly shifting the pack off my back and allowing extra airflow so my back was not sweating as much. The pack has a simple back design with no mesh or fancy designs to aid airflow but this worked fine for me, as it has just enough padding at the bottom of the back.