MontBell is a Japanese company with a subsidiary in America, and websites for each. At the time this review was being prepared they were having some problems with hackers on both websites, so it was hard to get all the data. Apart from that, the company has a fairly good reputation for being somewhat innovative in their designs, and these Versalite packs reflect that. The harness design on both packs is good and quite robust and comfortable, while the fabrics used on the rest of the pack are very light – silnylon even! The seams are double sewn for strength – a single line of stitching would simply not be enough with silnylon, of course. There seems overall to be a fine attention to detail. I don’t think I would want to take one of these packs through heavy Australian scrub for fear of damage – although my silnylon poncho manages to cope in the wet. The base of the pack looks like 210 denier packcloth or maybe a little lighter, while the sides seem to be 70 denier nylon. The two packs share the same harness system: they call it a ‘Super Wishbone’ design.
When we started this survey both packs were listed on their website. After the hacker attack, I could only find the Short version listed, but it seems unlikely that they would have discontinued the ‘normal’ length one, so we have included both here.
MontBell Versalite 50 Pack
|Versalite 50||Recommended||Very comfortable harness|
The photo on the left is one I took myself as I could not find a photo of the ‘standard’ one on the MontBell website after the hacker attack. I will add however that the two packs look identical, except for the colour.
The weight of this pack is medium, but the fabric is light silnylon in places. So where is all the weight? It seems to be in the Superwishbone harness and shoulder straps. Indeed, both of us found it to be very comfortable to carry, with Sue declaring it to be a keeper. The design is simple: a main bag with short side-pockets, and a zigzag lacing across the back. The throat is silnylon of adequate length – in fact all the red bits are silnylon. That said, all the attachment points are well reinforced, and main seams have been double-sewn for strength. The lid has a small but adequate pocket on it, with a zipped security pocket inside. Unfortunately the lid is not large: you don’t want to over-fill this pack. It covers the throat very well, but you shouldn’t try to fit a large tent under it. That seems curiously… Japanese. The fact that the measured weight and volume matched the claimed values goes along with that impression (precise).
MontBell Versalite 50, 1.33 kg (2.93 lb), 50 L (3000 cuin).
The frame is sheet plastic with a single aluminium rod down the middle. The curvature can be altered in the field. Both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are quite well padded, even solid. The load lifter straps have thumb loops at the end – and they work. I found it very easy to carry.
The left photo shows the pack somewhat overloaded, with a bit more than the Test Gear load in it. It actually managed to contain all my gear for an extended trip in the Australian Alps. It could have carried this load (just), but I didn’t subject it to that (I took another). The right hand photo shows the pack in the rain without a cover: there was just a little bit of leakage near the bottom. Some of the stuff sacks were just slightly damp on the outside. Yes, the rain got on the camera lens as well: a ‘special’ effect for wet weather. You would need to use a rain cover on this pack in bad weather, like on most of the packs surveyed (the UK ones excepted).
MontBell Versalite 50 Short Pack
|Versalite 50S||Recommended||Very comfortable harness|
Really, there seems to be very little difference between this pack and the previous one. There is a difference in the measured volumes, but it might be that with a bit of jiggling I could have got this one up to 50 L as well. Mind you, the right hand photo suggests that the pack was well-filled with the Test Gear! One big difference I found was in the length of the torso: at a bit under 500 mm (20 in) this one is about 50 mm (2 in) shorter than the previous one – as the model names suggest. An exact measurement is not really meaningful as there is no top edge to the ‘torso’ or frame. Another difference may be found in the exact shape of the hip belt wings: the Short is a bit more rounded at the tips. A very minor difference, which is absolutely Japanese precision, is in the colour of the bar tacks on the shoulder straps. On the standard model the bar tacks are red, matching the red silnylon. On this Short version the bar tacks are pale grey, matching the pale grey silnylon. Mind you, the packs are sewn in Vietnam, not Japan.
MontBell Versalite 50 Short, 1.13 kg (2.49 lb), 46 L (2800 cuin).
What we did notice was that the pale grey silnylon was almost transparent. As you can see in the right hand photo, the colour of the stuff sacks inside the pack is quite clear. Actually, the same almost applies to the red silnylon, but the red colour does block a lot of transparency. Does this matter? Probably not.
In addition to having a good throat there is a webbing strap over the top of the throat to help keep it all together. Inside the main bag there are some little toggles and a loop of cord near the top edge: I am not sure what one is meant to do with them. I guess you could hang small stuff sacks off them, as a sort of security pocket. The zigzag lacing is 3-mm nylon cord, not bungee cord. Each of these packs has one conventional fitting for an ice axe, plus there are similar fittings above the side pockets. The latter may be designed to hold a bundle of tent poles.
This is a mini-review in the 2010 Lightweight Internal Frame Pack State of the Market Report. The articles in this series are as follows (mini-reviews can be found in Part 2), and a subscription to our site is needed to read them.
- Part 1A covers the very basics and lists all the packs in the survey.
- Part 1B covers the frame and harness which carry the pack itself.
- Part 1C covers the main bag and all the other pockets, plus the all-important question of comfort.
- Part 2 in this series covers the individual packs tested.