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Review: Sierra Designs Flex Compactor 40-60

Posted: Sat Feb 22, 2020 12:17 pm
by Wandering Daisy
I am returning this pack that I bought at REI. I wanted the pack to work because it has a really nice plush lumbar pad and was very comfortable and the bear can fits horizontally very nicely. It seems well made. Evidently Andrew Skurka had a hand in the design. Sierra Designs is known for taking risks on innovative designs. It weighs 2 lb, 9oz. The pack got a lot of good reviews from lightweight backpacker forums. The suspension system is supposed to work for up to 50 lbs- but that probably means 35-40, but that is all I need. However it was on deep discount in the REI winter sale, so reviews are suspect. Really great packs do not go on sale like that.

Deal breakers included;

1) did not fit well because it is only offered in unisex, 2 sizes. Ok for more average sized people.

2) Too much of the volume is in small somewhat useless pockets. The realistic capacity is more like 50 L.

3) Lid is useless. When fully packed the lid squishes so that you really cannot use it. Lid is not removable.

4) Compression straps are too short for tying stuff to the outside; their main function is to make the pack smaller when you have smaller loads. If I tied the tent to one side, there was not strap length to tie on Crocks and fishing pole on the other with my sit-pad tied to the back. Also way too many so it is very fussy to use. In addition compression straps do not work well for tie-on straps- separate straps for tie-on would work better.

5) main bag zipper closure - sticks and is fussy. Interesting concept if the flaps did not always get in the way of the zipper.

6) The final deal breaker was, at least on me, very poor weight distribution. Even when only loaded with gear but no food, it felt top-heavy. This may be due to the fact that it did not fit me well.

Perhaps with time Sierra Designs will fix some of the flaws. An actual usable, removable lid with more volume and separating the compression straps from tie-on straps would be big improvements. I packed it with what I use for a 10-day trip; it may work for shorter trips. UL hikers with more compact gear may find it adequate.

For comparison, my current packs are a Bergans of Norway 55 L (comfortable but worn out, held together by many repair jobs), and a Granite Gear Crown Victoria 60 (good pack except that the back is hard-as-a rock, and I have to put a foam sit pad between the pack and my back or I am rubbed raw). Both of these packs are women-specific. I do think that as a small woman, I need that. Unisex just does not work.

Re: Review: Sierra Designs Flex Compactor 40-60

Posted: Sun Feb 23, 2020 1:13 pm
by Snowtrout
WD, your critiques of the SD Flex pack are nearly identical to my wife’s. I’ve had the pack for two seasons and it is way more comfortable compared to my previous Osprey Aether. With the current discounts, I had her try mine on. She liked the waist belt but the pack was too big for her. I have a 17 1/2” torso, wife’s about 16”, so didn’t fit right. She also likes a floating top pocket, so this pack did not make her list. [-(

You are right. The top pocket area is diminished when the main area is full. Putting stuff into it first does seem to help but it seems to be a flawed design.

I strap only my fishing pole, tent poles and crocs on the outside. The poles go in the left side pocket and the crocs are connected to a strap by a carabiner.

Currently, I’m in the process of creating a small stretch pocket that will attach to the back. I really did miss this extra feature most packs have. It should add a little more capacity.

My wife just sold her loved Osprey Ariel. We went to REI to check packs out and the Granite Gear Blaze 60 stood out to her: it has all the options she wants, was more comfortable than it looks and weighs 2lbs less than her previous Ariel. The pack they had was too big but gave her a good idea about fit and features.

WD, if looking for a new pack, might add the blaze to your list.

Re: Review: Sierra Designs Flex Compactor 40-60

Posted: Sun Feb 23, 2020 7:14 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Evidently when this pack was first introduced they had S, M, L sizes but it now is only available in the two sizes. Frustrates me no end that a lot of the good packs are not made for smaller women. The S-M size I tried has a 16" back length as its smallest. The hip belt worked now that I have on my winter belly but it would not likely cinch down enough for my typical end-of-season belly. I have the same problem with my GG Crown Victoria- the hip belt does not go tight enough. I officially measure as a women's x-small, a size that has never worked for me because the reduced volume is just not sufficient. I have one woman's small pack which gains its 55L volume with a huge roll top which gets horribly top heavy when fully loaded. So I limp along with a woman's medium, a bit less comfortable but it works. Women's small or medium packs that fit a bear can horizontally are few and far between. For longer trips I still have my old Kelty external frame. Not used much nowadays because I seldom do 14-day trips anymore and no longer carry 25 pounds of climbing gear.

I am somewhat envious that the Flex Compactor fits you. The price is good so having to do a few add-ons or fixes is worth it.

Re: Review: Sierra Designs Flex Compactor 40-60

Posted: Tue Feb 25, 2020 7:44 pm
by rayfound
Not sure how the fits would be, but after considering the Flex Capacitor, I settled on a Granite Gear Crown VC 60 (I have version 1, they now have version 2), and have been quite pleased... frankly my experience is that the roll top closure is better at adapting to different fill levels than compression straps. Seems you like yours also.

The price was very attractive... they are routinely ~$150 but occasionally hit amazon close to $100 if you're ambivalent about colors. I have been quite pleased with mine and my Brother in law has had his for a few years and likes it.

Re: Review: Sierra Designs Flex Compactor 40-60

Posted: Thu Feb 27, 2020 3:39 pm
by Wandering Daisy
As I mentioned above, my current pack IS the Crown Victoria 60, woman's medium. The main issue with this pack is that the back panel is hard as a rock and rubs me raw. I do not see how anyone except a big guy with a beefy back can be comfortable. I have to put my foam sit-pad between my back and the pack but I get soaked in sweat. Otherwise, the CV is a nice pack. One thing I liked about the Flex Compactor was that it had comfortable back padding. The Osprey packs are very comfortable, but weigh too much and non of them my size fit a bear can horizontally.

I just did a short trip the last few days with a friend who is triple crown thru-hiker and has done tons of long routes world-wide. We both agree that nobody has yet made a really good woman's pack. She was again trying her Mariposa to see if she wanted to toss it or keep it. I was trying an older Mountain Hardware pack that I gave up on, for the same reason - keep or toss. The search continues!

Re: Review: Sierra Designs Flex Compactor 40-60

Posted: Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:32 pm
by rlown
WD, I'm surprised you haven't built a prototype of what you want in a pack and either sewed it up, or sent it off to a pack maker to build it for you.