In a never ending quest to find the perfect pack for.......everything I came across the Out There! AS-2 pack. After my last pack purchase (See the OMM Classic 25 Review) I was ready to sacrafice some weight savings for a bit of structure. After getting a peak into the adventure racer's gear closets I decided to stay in that niche sport.
Enter Out There! (yes the exclamation point is included) gear. The company is owned by Mike Kloser, a very accomplished racer. I know nothing about the adventure racing world but according to my friend Google, Mike is a pretty decorated guy in adventure racing. Anyone who has even remotely explored the sport knows that these guys demand a lot from their bodies, as well as their gear. Finding a pack that is lightweight, functional and comfortable is hard to find a world of packs. Now mix in that these guys (and gals) are going non-stop, sometimes multiple days and you are really setting the foundation for some solid gear design knowledge. Mike has taken his years of experience in the sport and is now focusing on building packs that really deliver.
Initial Impression-The Out There! AS-2 pack is 42oz of organization. The pack boast 30 liters of storage internally, plus an additional 10 liters of pockets, and storage externally. This pack has so many nooks and crannies for storage, I actually contacted Mike to find out what they all did. The main compartment of the pack houses a sleeve for a hydration bladder, plus a slightly wider and shorter pocket for keeping things organized internally. Mike stated that he uses this second pocket for storing a Laptop during travel, or base layers when on the trail. The main compartment of the pack is accessed from the top cinch opening with expandable collar or from a side zip. The side sip runs vertically up the left side of pack. The pocket is designed for quick access and makes loading the pack easier. On the right side of the pack there is another vertical zipper. This zip opens up to a shallow pocket that is ideal for stashing clothes or maps. Think flat and big items. In the middle of the two zips is a mesh compartment that expands. Above this mesh compartment is another small zippered pocket (quart sized ziplock size). Below the mesh compartment there is a zippered compartment that houses a raincover (not included), a tab for a towline (it is an adventure racing thing, Google it) and a stowable mesh helmet holder. This helmet holder also could double to hold wet clothes, tarp, or food. On the very bottom of the pack are two water drainage holes and four tabs for connecting 3/4" webbing further extending the capacity of the pack. Additionally on the front of the pack there are multiple tie outs, two trekking pole supports, and ice axe holder. Heading to the sides of the pack we find two identical mesh 1 liter water bottle pockets (left and right side). Above these are two nylon pockets nearly identical in size. Between these pockets there are two compression straps per side. These also function to support poles, skis, tripods, or sleeping pads. The lid of the pack has two mesh pockets. One is smaller then the other and is ideal for small, flat items. The second pocket (directly below the first pocket) is larger and can accomedate bulkier items like headlamps. As you have probably come to realize this pack has so many features, more then any pack I have ever used or seen. Near the hipbelt there are two more water bottle pockets (think 26oz bottles). The hipbelt houses two more pockets that are ideal for quick access items. One of these pockets is made of waterproof material, while the other is mesh. Both shoulder straps have two mesh pockets that can accomidate small bulky items. Directly below these there are two more tiny pockets. The pockets are capable of holding a few gel packets, or a pocket knife. The last pocket to mention is the one directly against your back. The pocket houses the foam frame as well as provides a second location for a hydration bladder. This was a huge selling point for me as I never understood why bladder access was only available from inside the pack. Both the heavily padded shoulder straps and hipbelts are adjustable to fit nearly every body. The pack is highly featured and was obviously given a ton of thought.
Initial Use- I was very excited to try this pack for a multitude of reasons. I loved the organization, and easy access. The pockets along the sides easily housed my tarp, 1-4 person first aid, rain gear, and other spare clothing. The straps designed for a ice axe worked perfect for my tripod. This was very impressive as I have always had difficulty finding a good way to attach the tripod. The bottom tabs worked well in conjunction with my Sea to Summit eVent Compression sack. I found it uncomfortable to use my MSR Dromedary with 4 liters of water in the external hydration sleeve. It tended to round out the back of the pack to much. After doing some experimenting I discovered that using a larger dromedary allowed the water to occupy the previously vacant space in the pocket. This created a flatter back surface and made the pack more comfortable when full. The adjustable straps/hipbelt held a lot of promise for a customized fit. After using the pack on a couple of short outings I was becoming frustrated with the inability to transfer the load to my hips. After micro adjusting the shoulder straps I was able to get the pack to carry how I desired. For a frameless pack the load carries very well. The pack handles best at loads up to 35lbs. Effort must be taken in packing to extend the range of weight up to the mid 40s. The pockets on the hipbelt/shoulder straps allow the user to pack them full without creating pressure points. All the side pockets are easy to access with the pack on and are secure in keeping the contents contained. The most exciting discovery was that the two pockets designed for 26oz water bottles do a excellent job of holding my DSLR with the lens. By placing the lens in the pocket, and then running a strap through the chest strap I can securely carry the camera. It also allows for quick deployment of the camera, while staying out of the way. The packs materials seemed to be holding together well. The bottom of the pack shows no wear from being set down on sharp AZ rock and all the stitching on the straps seem solid. Longterm use will give a better indication of durability, but I have no reason to expect any issues.
Final Verdict- The Out There! AS-2 is quickly becoming a favorite item among my gear. I find myself choosing to use the pack for more then just backpacking. The pack has a great design, it is durable and is highly adaptable to any outdoor discipline. The more time I spend tethered to the pack, the more I realize how well Mike did. The AS-2 is a second generation and improvements have been made, but there is always room for more. In regards to fit I wish the pack came in at least two different sizes. Trying to cover the wide spectrum of users is very difficult in a one size fits all package. I also would love to see the pack incorporate a removable frame built from a more supportive material. I find the foam support is just not sufficient when pushing the limits of the pack.
The AS-2 is highly recommended for the type of person who is a jack of all sports. If you are in the market for a pack that can do just about everything you throw at it, this is the one. The pack feels right at home on a overnighter, at the crag, or strapped to your back for a bike packing trip. The well thought out design, coupled with the organization should have other pack manufactures getting nervous. If Mike is capable of designing such a top notch pack on the second try, who knows what the future holds.
*It should also be noted that unlike major manufactures you can actually contact the designer directly. Mike has made himself available to answer all my questions, and even worked with me in attempting to find a used pack at a discount. Mike took time from his busy lifestyle to thoroughly answer my questions regarding the features and even provided a personal contact number for further clarification. As a reader of this blog you should know that I am highly appreciative of quality customer service, and Mike's company has been added to that list.
*This pack was purchased through a used gear consignment store.