Packs are one of those pieces of gear that I just can never have too many of. I love having a pack that serves a specific purpose perfectly. Unfortunately that means I have a wall of packs that see very little use. The Deuter ACT Zero 50+15 is a backpacking pack geared towards thru-hikers who aren't interested in the ultralight/ultra-expensive options. The pack is designed to be a solid backpacking pack and also compact enough to use for gear intensive day hikes while out on the trail.
Initial Thoughts- The Deuter ACT Zero 50+15 pack weighs in at a 3lbs 6oz. Not exactly a lightweight pack, but still respectable for a backpacking pack. Deuter kept the weight down by eliminating unnecessary features. Starting from the top the lid is completely removable. Inside the lid you will find your standard exterior access pocket (behind your head) and a smaller zippered pocket on the bottom (sits above the packs collar). On the top of the lid there are four small tie outs that would easily accommodate 1" or smaller straps. The lid tie outs would also work excellently at housing a small solar panel. The real beauty of the removable lid is that it comes with a strap system that can be engaged. This transfers the lid into a makeshift daypack that can be used for packing peaks or a quick explorative jaunt while in the backcountry.
Moving down the pack, the collar expands to create the additional liters of this pack. Because the lid floats, the collar can be extended to accommodate resupply, additional water, or for gear intensive trips. The collar has a cinch at the top and one lower down at the base of the top of the pack. In addition to the upper cinch, there are two buckles that can be connected to to the straps that ordinarily connect to the lid. This creates a closure and secures the collar when using the pack without the lid.
Running down the front of the pack you will find a gigantic expandable compartment that easily swallows rain gear, insulating layers or even a helmet for mountaineering. One one side of the exterior you will find a bungee style system for storing trekking poles, as well as a ice axe system on the opposite side. Towards the bottom of the pack you will find a tie out system that houses a sleeping pad, tent or other bulky items. The hook system Deuter used is easy to remove and secure. If weight is concern you can remove these completely and only reattach them when needed. Each side of the pack has stretch pockets that can accommodate water bottles. Also located on the side are two compression straps that can be used to help secure the load, but are expandable enough to store a closed cell foam pad.
On the back of the pack Deuter used their Air Contact system which is designed to keep the load close to your back, while also funneling air up through the channel. Two strips of heavily padded foam run the length of your spine and provide contact. There is a generous torso length adjustment system that uses hook and loop closure to make for quick adjustments on the trail. The shoulder pads and hip belts are both heavily padded with a firm foam that holds it's shape when not in use. When wearing the pack there is one hipbelt pocket on the right side, but nothing on the left. I assume this was to reduce weight, but that is just speculation. The hipbelt pocket is floating which allows the hipbelt straps to be rerouted behind it and tucked out of the way. The hydration tube exit point sleeve is located near the top of the pack and there is a loop for the hydration tube on the right shoulder strap. All your normal adjustment straps are present, to get a dialed in fit.
Finally the interior of the pack is devoid of many features. There is an oversized hydration sleeve and necessary hanging loop. Other then that the main compartment is just one giant space. Simple.
Use- In Arizona there are times when you need to carry massive amounts of water. Two of our most recent trips involved dry camping and required 8-10 liters of water to be carried in. The Deuter ACT Zero met the challenge of the additional weight very well. When I purchased the ACT Zero I was looking for a simple pack that could transfer weight to the hips. Seems easy enough, but it wasn't. I could find all sorts of packs that had endless features (and weight) but would specifically state that they maxed out at 40lbs. In a perfect world I would never need to carry that amount of weight, but between desert trips and packing in photography gear that weight limit can easily be passed. Although Deuter doesn't list a specific weight limit for the pack, I have tested the pack with a 50 pound load that required a 600' climb in a mile. All the weight was transferred to the hips. In fact this pack does such a good job that I find myself readjusting to balance the weight between my shoulders and legs. The Air Contact system is not the best at keeping your back from sweating, but it does a great job of supporting the load. It does let some air up along the spine, but nothing amazing. probably less then they claim.
I mentioned the simplicity of the features on the pack to save weight. Everything that is on the pack is used or easily removed. I found that the trekking poles holder on the back is perfect for securing a tripod to. The removable top lid allows me to use the pack as a day pack (while on trips) without having to pack an additional backpack.For overnight trips the top lid also doubles as my food hang bag. The side pockets are sort of useless when using the compression straps. The straps are located on top of the pockets, so I reserve those for soft items that I don't need to access too often (bathroom kit, early morning layers, etc.). The expandable front pocket does a great job of swallowing the peeled off layers in the morning and at night. The pocket is compressed via separate straps so it does not effect access to the lid or main compartment. I thought I would hate the single pocket design of the hip belt, but it turns out that my camera holster fits perfectly. It allows the weight of my heavy camera to be carried on the waist which has really helped. For reference I use the Capture Clip from Peak Designs. I do wish this pack had a rain cover pocket, like many of the Deuters do.
Durability wise I see this pack lasting quite a while. Although the weight of the pack is low the reinforced bottom and durable outer material make this pack tough. I have dragged the pack along some rather sharp rocks and noticed no wear.
The inside hydration pocket is excellent for use with my favorite water storage bags. The MSR Dromedary/Dromelite. Because the pocket is oversized (actually stretches from one side of the pack to the other, internally) it can easily accommodate a 10L Dromedary filled to capacity. Additionally if using the pack with with less water in the same sized Dromedary the water is easily displaced and takes up less internal space. Although I probably will never have this pack close to its 65liter capacity, it is nice knowing that it is there for certain trips.
Final Thoughts- The Deuter ACT Zero 50+15 is not a fancy, flashy gear whore's wet dream. Rather it is a well designed and solidly build workhorse that will have your back for many miles. The combination of weight saving, smart features and load transfer make the ACT Zero an excellent backpack for moderate to heavy loads. The low price point makes the pack even more attractive, and helps you to except the color pattern. If you are looking for an overnight+ pack that will handle multi-day trips but not bog you down, this is your pack. Love going lighter weight, but not willing to sacrifice subpar load transfer? The ACT Zero has you covered. You can find out more about the Deuter ACT Zero 50+15 and other excellent products from Deuter at their website.
*This product was purchased for testing.