ProView – EXPED Explore 75

Let me preface this review by saying that my search for a replacement multi-day pack has just about pushed the boundaries of friendships, store clerks and maybe even manufacturers. Whether it’s that I have somehow grown into in-between sizes that makes me un-fittable, durability questions, or something as simple as the inconvenient location of the hydration sleeve, one thing or another has caused me to kick to the curb over 15 seemingly worthy, at times expensive, and undoubtedly good packs.

I expect a lot for my gear and I am willing to spend what it takes to get the best quality. And even happier to spend less. So, take it from a self-admitting persnickety pro, if you are very patient with fitting your pack and you are a light load multi-day adventurer, the EXPED Explore 75 is a solid choice at an eminently reasonable price.

I tested this gear in some of the toughest conditions that 210D ripstop nylon can handle; the sharp granite edges and cacti spines of the Sonoran Desert and the sandpaper sands of Utah’s Escalante River gorge.

The Fit

The Explore 75 sat on my hips like no other pack I have owned/tried on. The lumbar pad set right into the sweet spot of my back and along with the hip belt, they both held the vast majority of the 48+lbs I was carrying. That was great. But the pack is rated to 65lbs and I wouldn’t want to test that limit as I already felt the pack was a few pounds over its max: it was beginning to slide down my waist and even when properly fitted, the thinly cushioned shoulder straps were quite uncomfortable.

And while a pack-fit is truly a case-by-case situation, the Explore is designed to fit a wide swath of torso lengths from an extra-small clocking in at 16.1” to an extra-large 22.8”. At 6 feet tall and with an 18” torso, I was able to get a decent fit. Yet weighing in at a buck seventy—which for my height translates to slim but not thin– the waist belt was cinched down to its minimum of 33.1” and just barely felt tight enough. I guess I’ll have to stop sharing my two serving backpacker meals and perhaps add an order of bangers and mash at the pub. If you have a smaller waist, I would take the waist belt size into serious consideration.

The Specs

When it comes to brambles, thorns, and narrow slot canyons, I won’t hesitate to plow forward. This pack took some serious scrapes and I couldn’t find any evidence of wear or tear. Weighing in just shy of 4.34 pounds the Explore doesn’t quite cut into the ultralight market. Not by a long shot. But while my ultralight buddy was picking up pieces of trail mix that fell out of the ribboned-remains of his paper thin, but light pack, my gear was snoozing away behind the kryptonite safety of the 210D ripstop nylon.

The hip belt has two perfectly sized pockets on either side. I love how I can fit my GPS/phone—not a tablet in size but also not quite as compact as my old Star Tac phone (for all y’all Gen X’ers out there)— in one, and a small camera flash in the other. I took one spill, very short in duration, into the waters of Death Hollow canyon. Though the hip belt pocket was completely zipped, my flash got very wet. Even though EXPED doesn’t advertise the fabric, zippers or the pack as “waterproof,” if it were raining lightly, I would be concerned about the enclosed contents remaining dry.

The Closures

Every pack I have owned uses some form of a plastic side-release buckle for the lid and compression straps. This pack uses aluminum Rapide hooks that are purportedly more durable. It’s been an adjustment period using this hook system but it isn’t worth getting hung up (wink) about. I’m sure it will become second nature in time.

The main compartment can be accessed from the top (under the lid) but also from a prone position. The whole front compartment peels open revealing your carefully packed items. On the one hand, this is a great feature that provides me a whole new world of organizing capability. It also offers easier access than a simple top load to those things that would require digging your hand in between stuff sacks and other random chaos in search of that tube of ChapStick that you know is melting somewhere down on the bottom near the marshmallows and graham crackers.

However, despite the benefits of this feature, with a burgeoning load for one of my multi-night outings in Escalante, I found the thin zippers made it pretty hard to close the compartment. The zippers appeared so fragile and maxed out that if I yanked too hard, it felt like they could rip… and ChapStick and graham crackers would be yardsale’ing all over the desert floor. I think this is a case where a beefier zipper (perhaps waterproof too) would instill more confidence for me. Either that, or just don’t max the pack out. That way you’ll save hours of time wasted hand-jamming your way down the cracks of your packed gear by being able to simply open and close the main compartment zipper. Voila!

The Extras

Speaking of the zippers… they have some nice glow in the dark pulls attached to them. I can’t think of a use for these since I pretty much sleep with my headlamp on. Luckily my partner is pretty creative in these regards; she pointed out that it could come in handy if we were caught in a violent midnight thunderstorm, the pack was in the tent, and I didn’t want my light to wake her up while searching for my stuffed unicorn. She has a point there. But that never happened on either one of my recent trips. Instead, the glow in the dark pulls looked like one-eyed pixies peering into my tent through the vestibule mesh on a very hot and dry evening.

When backpacking in the desert, absurd water redundancy is a must. Therefore, I bring at least one full 3L bladder in the hydration sleeve – a great hydration sleeve with a nice Velcro strap to keep the bladder from slipping down – plus two 32oz. bottles on the side of the pack. Side pockets seem to be a tough one for manufacturers to figure out; on the Explore, the bottles stick out enough that I had to secure them to the side compression straps with a mini biner. Not a big deal, but worth noting if you want to avoid littering the landscape with water bottles.

The Final Word

The Explore 75 isn’t lightest or most compartmentalized pack I have tried. But while the UL folks would probably shave pieces of their boot soles off before taking on the extra two ounces that the glow in the dark zipper pulls and copious daisy loops add, I find these additions acceptable and may one day be quite helpful; in a severe thunderstorm or when I have to strap my stuffed unicorn alongside my trowel onto the daisy chain loops.

Most of my concerns were a matter of getting use to a different system—Rapide hooks instead of buckles and the like. I’m adaptable and will look forward to sorting out these qualms. And again, I feel this pack is rated a bit high in terms of the load it can hold. So, carrying a full pack on day one through three was a bit tough. By the time I had eaten my way down to a ~40lb load, the true merits started to shine through.

For the time being, my friends can breathe a sigh of relief because the Explore 75 has put my search on hold until my next high-weight winter adventure. If I had to rate this pack on a scale of 1 to 5 glowing zipper stars, I would give it a bright 4 out of 5. For the low-weight multi-day backpacker, this is a bomber bag that is both snazzy looking and customizable to a wide variety of human shapes.

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Serge J-F. Levy is an award-winning photographer and writer whose work has been exhibited internationally. Though he grew up in New York City and worked there as a professional magazine photographer (ESPN The Magazine, New York Times Magazine, and others), he currently calls the Sonoran Desert his home. He is a professor of photography and is working throughout the Southwest on book projects that relate to the outdoors as a metaphor for the human emotional landscape—and other light topics.

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