The Gear Junkie Scoop: Terra Nova Laser 20L backpack
By STEPHEN REGENOLD
Map in hand, a hydration hose hanging out from the corner of my mouth, I am a self-contained survival unit, highly-mobile and unstopping, bushwhacking for miles alone and on the run offtrail in search of a checkpoint flag. It is hour three of a 20-mile orienteering race, swamp crossings and hill sprints behind me, a ridgeline traverse and a trail run to the end still to go.
On my back, in a flop of fluorescent yellow, the polyurethane-coated nylon of a British running rucksack floats and flexes with every stride. The pack, a minimalist model made by Terra Nova Equipment Ltd. (www.terra-nova.co.uk), holds water, food, a rain shell, first aid and little else. Pockets on the hip belt — zippered pouches stuffed with bars and gel — serve for quick access to refuel as I run.
Developed in the United Kingdom for endurance athletes involved in sports like adventure racing and mountain marathons, the to-be-released Laser 20L is an esoteric outdoors item marketed as the “best in class for weight, features and fit.” On my scale, the unsupported empty pack folds into a football of fabric and prompts a readout of 12.1 ounces on the digital display.
Terra Nova Laser 20L backpack
But fill a hydration bladder with water and put it inside, and the Laser 20L takes shape as an ergonomic A-frame of a pack. A center-stitched vertical zipper provides access to a large main compartment. Three small zip pockets, crisscrossing bungee cords, and several swaths of mesh add storage for items stuffed on the go and small adventure accoutrements like a compass, headlamp, and a clue sheet for the race you’re trying to win.
Loads of up to 20 pounds are about the max for staying fast and light on a daylong mountain climb or while backpacking ultralight for a weekend getaway. The Laser 20L, which has about 20 liters of capacity, can be used for these pursuits, but its forte is for sports that involve running with gear. The pack hugs the body and moves as you move, the hip belt and sternum strap providing some support along with its minimally-padded back panel.
A full hydration bladder keeps the Laser 20L stout and supported when you start. Slurp the water away and the pack begins to sag against your back more and more as the liquid disappears and the bladder looses shape.
You must pack carefully with the Laser 20L. Hard objects like headlamps will press and poke through the thin back panel if pressured by another object, making for an uncomfortable run.
Run, trek or climb — this pack is made for fast-and-light adventures
For easy access to food while on the go, I am a proponent of the zippered hip-belt pockets now common on pack models from many companies. For the Laser 20L these pockets, combined with the two mesh pockets that sit further back on the hip belt, have enough capacity to stow a half-day’s worth of endurance food.
One gripe on the zippers: In the woods, where branches grab and tug, I have had zippers snag and pull the hip pockets open inadvertently. Terra Nova — and other companies marketing to the adventure-sports crowd — should reverse zipper direction on hip pockets to open by pulling back to front, eliminating the chance of items lost from accidental openings.
Overall, the Laser 20L is a neat little pack. It performed great on my race, and despite the paper-thin fabric and wire-width bungees it has held up to the abuse of three orienteering events and a month of use.
The pack has a limited market, but for racers and other converts to the fast-and-light phenomenon, Terra Nova has produced a product that will not disappoint.
Bonus: When the pack starts selling in the United States in March it will go for $70, which is a relative bargain. If you can’t wait, or have a big race looming on the horizon, it’s on sale now at www.springfield-camping.co.uk for £45.