The Terra Nova Laser 20L pack is a lightweight frame-less backpack designed with a “lightweight-but-full-of-features” approach for day use or overnight hiking trips.
- Manufacturer: Terra Nova, UK
- Model: Laser 20L Backpack
- Weight: 11.6oz (328g)
- Measured Weight: 11.4oz (323g)
- Capacity: 20L
The pack is designed with a single main compartment, accessed by a long, vertical zipper centered in the back of the pack. In addition to the main compartment, there are seven smaller pockets and a couple of extra features:
- Two small zippered waist belt pockets
- Two open-top waist belt pockets (for water bottles)
- Two small mesh “stow” side pockets
- One zippered “quick-access” pocket in upper right of the main compartment
- Internal hydration sleeve
- Two hydration tube ports
- Sternum strap (removable) with emergency whistle
- Twin side bungee cords
- Top lifting handle
Picking up the 20L when it’s empty is quite a strange feeling, it weighs almost nothing. Don’t let the weight fool you though, it is deceptively tough for its size and weight. I like that the 20L rolls up very small when it is empty, making it easy to pack as a spare day pack or summit pack on longer hiking trips.
The overall quality and build appear to be exceptional, with nearly all of the exposed seems being properly taped. The 20L is a frame-less pack which means there are lots of stress bearing points, all of which have been given additional sections of strong bar-tacking to accommodate the extra load.
As mentioned the main compartment of the pack is accessed via a long vertical zipper located in the middle of the pack. This struck me as somewhat unusual as most mid-sized packs these days opt for top opening design. The long zipper makes it very easy to access gear that has been stored at the bottom of the main compartment without the need to dig underneath everything that’s on top. Also, the fabric of the pack is slightly translucent making it easier to see the contents, or at least see where things are generally located inside the pack.
The main zipper is weather-proof but not water-proof, so there is a possibility of getting water into the main compartment of the pack at any point along the zipper, not just through the top as in top-loading packs.
All of the zippers on the Laser 20L are extremely stiff to use, even after several weeks of use. I found that I had to use two hands to open them, one to pull the zipper tab and the other to hold the zipper taught. Despite the stiffness of the main zipper, I’ve gotten used to the vertical style and really like the improved accessibility. I’m going to apply a light coat of McNett’s Zip Tech™ Aquaseal zipper lubricant to see if this helps make them easier to use.
Just behind the right shoulder strap, in the upper right corner of the main compartment, is a zippered “quick-access” pocket. This is only accessible from the outside and provides just enough storage space for a small camera, keys, or other item that you may want to grab quickly but is too large to fit in the pockets of the waist belt. Unlike “key” storage pockets on most other packs, the 20L does not include a snap fastener or lanyard to attach your keys.
I had expected the two side water bottle pockets to be the only water storage components to this pack and to be honest I would have been satisfied if they were, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 20L came with a full-size internal hydration sleeve and two hose ports. Oddly enough this was not mentioned anywhere on the tags that came with the pack when it shipped.
Straps and Waist Belts
As you would expect with a lightweight pack, a lot of the components have been stripped down to the bare minimum in order to shave off a little extra weight. This is especially true of the waist belts, shoulder straps, and back panel. The foam padding used in these sections is very thin and provides little in the way of comfort. Ironically, or by clever design, the straps are all extremely flexible and easily adjustable so they are not uncomfortable at all. With minimal adjustment I was able to make the 20L sit very comfortably with a full load.
As you can see in the photo below, even the height of the sternum strap can be adjusted to four different levels. You can also see that the shoulder straps each have two very sturdy fabric loops that can be used for attaching things to or as hydration hose keepers. These are a simple alternative to bulky D-rings.
However, the flexibility of the straps mean that the only way to really control the load is by very careful packing to distribute the load and thus maintain the shape of the main compartment. The bungees on the back panel are great for securing stored items in place, but I found them more helpful to compress the volume of the main compartment or stabilize it.
The sternum strap is removable and comes with a blaze orange emergency whistle/fastener. I’m not a big fan of these types of whistles or in the use of sternum straps in general (don’t hate me) so I tend to attach a Fox 40 Micro or ACR WW-3 whistle on to all of my packs, but it’s a nice added feature if you have nothing else.
I had heard that small, lightweight, packs like these can cause sweating because of the thin back padding, but even on the longest of day hikes I can say that I did not experience any issues – which may be largely due to the fact that I don’t often use the sternum strap so that pack has a little bit more room to breathe.
The zippered waist belt pockets are easy to reach and not located too far back from my hips as they are on some of my other larger packs – which I have never quite understood. These are almost perfectly placed and just large enough to store a few of those small essential items that you want to have quick access to like your compass, headlamp or pencil and paper.
Just behind the small zippered waist belt pockets, on each side, are two water bottle pockets. These are equipped with short lengths of shock cord that can be tightened to securely hold a water bottle in place. As with the small waist belt pockets, the water bottle holders are located far enough forward to allow easy access and still within my field of vision so that I can easily replace a bottle when needed.
I may have been a little overly zealous when pulling on the shock cord that tightens around the water bottle pockets, because the knotted end completely popped out of the small hole of the fabric that holds it in place.
A hastily tied double overhand stopper knot fixed the problem which seemed to be caused by the original basic overhand knot being too small to function effectively as a stopper and stop the shock cord from pulling through the hole that was supposed to be securing it. So far the larger stopper knots have worked fine, but if necessary I can attach a small pony bead to the shock cord as a stopper.
The two rear side compartments, which double as the compression system for the main compartment, are also within easy backward reach, but definitely too far out of sight for replacing any items of gear.
Despite its diminutive size, I found that I was able to stuff an amazing amount of gear into this mid-sized day pack, enough so that it could comfortably be used an an overnight pack. I was concerned that the some what flimsy shoulder straps would mean an uncomfortable load, but with a little adjustment, some careful packing, and not overloading (about 20-25lbs is the max) the Laser 20L was surprisingly comfortable.
I’ve heard other reviewers say that this pack sits very low down on their back, more toward their hips than their shoulders, but that was not the case for me. I have a 20-inch torso and the 20L sat just slightly below my shoulders where I would expect it to be, even with the waist belt securely fastened. One of the few examples where being short (5ft 10″) is actually an advantage.
My most recent trip out with the Laser 20L was during some steady snowfall that we had over Christmas. The weather-proof zippers kept out the snow that had formed on the surface of the pack and begun to melt. The thin fabric also did good job of keeping out the moisture but I wouldn’t push it much further than that. I don’t expect it to do quite as well in heavy rain, but I will test it soon to see how well it holds up under more strenuous conditions.
Smaller packs are definitely gaining more and more interest as people begin to recognize the logic in reducing the weight of their pack alongside the gear that will go into it.This is definitely going to be a pack that will I get a lot of use out of and I’ll be sure to follow up with a long-term review to let you know how it goes.
Disclosure: Sport-Hansa provided Brian’s Backpacking Blog with a complementary Laser 20L to review.