Weight: 82Kg (180 lbs)
Region: Sierra Nevada, Spain
Type of Terrain: Mountains, above the tree line, usually above 3,000 metres.
Experience: Newcomer to hiking, started less than a year and a half ago, Always in Spain, many day hikes, about a dozen three day (two night) outings. A year round hiker.
Rucksack on test: Terra Nova Laser Elite 20L
Advertised Weight: 210 grams
Actual Weight 218: grams.
At 218 grams (7.37 ounces), the Laser Elite 20 is a fairly lightweight bag, that carries all of the features I value in a rucksack, and omits the things which, for me, are superfluous. A frameless pack, made of a nylon type fabric, it has no structure of its own, and may be rolled up to about the size of a soft drinks can when not in use. This makes it handy for summiting, as a secondary bag if you wish to day hike from your fixed camp, or just for taking your laundry into town. It is a top-loading bag with a single load space, and no hooks or internal hydration pouches or pockets. Closure is the hook and loop, roll-top method, similar to your standard dry bag, and there are two small tabs to aid with opening. Once sealed, the corners are drawn down and clipped to the sides of the bag, leaving a very neat appearance, and preventing rain from gathering or entering. On the outside there are two side pockets that can each carry a 1.5 litre water bottle, or you could even manage to (just) fit the Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 tent into one of them. Above the pockets, a criss-crossed, lightweight, side-compression shock cord serves to control longer items e.g. walking poles, fishing rods, tent etc, and can reduce the pack’s volume a little, when carrying less kit. The 55mm (2 1/8”) mesh shoulder straps are lightly padded and their ‘S’ shaped contour enables them to sit comfortably on the shoulders without the use of a sternum strap. Adjustment is via 18mm (¾”) webbing. There are three elasticated loops on the right-hand strap, and one on the left, which are large enough to carry a mobile phone or GPS, although for security I think the use of an additional lanyard would be prudent. There are also two small, vertical webbing loops on either strap, which would allow for the fitting, and small height adjustment, of a sternum strap. The waist belt has a Pocket on either side, large enough to take a few snacks, or a compass, iPhone, money, sun block etc. They are fairly spacious, for such a light weight pack, and are equipped with waterproof zips. While the belt is unpadded, it is comfortable in use, and works well to support the weight of the bag. Terra Nova say they have ‘developed a pack that's as close as possible to carrying nothing at all’, and I’d say they’re pretty much on the money
The construction of the bag seems to be to a high standard with straight, well stitched seams, and no unsightly, trailing strands of nylon in evidence. The shoulder straps and waist belt are all secured well and, as yet, have given no cause for concern.
THE RUCKSACK IN USE
Since buying the Laser Elite 20, it has become my most used rucksack. I am usually up the mountain for three days at a time, and find it the ideal size for three season use. As with all frameless rucksacks, it benefits from careful packing, which usually involves using a sleep pad to provide support. I carry a thin, cheap foam mat, mainly to protect the Thermorest Noeair from sharp stones and plants, and find that by rolling this into a large diameter tube, it makes a useful stiff inner wall. When the rest of the kit is loaded inside the tube, the result is a very neat and tidy looking bag that holds it’s shape well, and is easy to find things in. The sleeping bag is the first item in and, being loaded without a stuff sack, it is able to expand to fill the space left as you consume food during the trip, thus ensuring that the bag always looks good and carries well. Of course if needs be, it can be pressed down to make a little extra room for a jacket etc. As a poncho user, my Laser Elite 20 has never been exposed to rain, so I am unable to comment on its water resistance. However being a ‘belt and braces’ type, any kit that could suffer by being wet is loaded inside a lightweight plastic bag anyway, thus preventing any problems. I carry a .75 litre bottle of water in the right hand pocket, and am able to reach back for it, and replace it, without removing the pack, though it must be said I am still fairly flexible, and others may find it harder, or easier, to perform this manouver.
At weights of about 5 kilos the bag carries well. The waist belt is comfortable, and puts much of the weight where it belongs, on the hips. The shoulder straps can be loosened a little from time to time to get the bag away from your back, and thus reduce sweating, which as yet has not been a major problem. I consider this rucksack to be lightweight kit, and as such treat it with some respect. When being put on, it is always picked up by the lifting loop, not the shoulder straps, and I take care in undergrowth or near brambles. It’s not a ‘delicate’ bag, but whilst I have no concerns about it in general use, if bushwacking is your game, you might want to examine it for yourself, before buying. I’m not saying it won’t stand up to that kind of activity, I just have no field of reference. For winter use, with the extra clothing requirements and the possible need to carry a tent, I think I would find the Elite 20 just a tad on the small side, though an ultra light backpacker might disagree.
The physical dimensions of the bag mean that it can be carried on most, if not all, European airplanes as hand luggage, and mine will be accompanying me to Patagonia in January. Were it not for the fact that I will need to take a riding hat, it would be my only luggage.
In conclusion, I love this little bag, and would particularly recommend it to anybody looking to dip their toe into the world of lightweight backpacking, without breaking the bank. It is much cheaper than most bags of this weight, and the belt pouches and water bottle pockets are really useful features that make this rucksack stand out from the rest. It seems to be well made, looks good and is comfortable and stable in use. Would I buy the same bag again? Oh yes, though I would first have to have a look at it’s more expensive brother, the Terra Nova Ultra 20, with an advertised weight of 136 grams (4.8 ounces), including sternum strap. Almost twice the price, but almost half the weight and, as we always say, you pays your money, you takes your choice.
Pros : Inexpensive, Lightweght, Belt pockets, Waterbottle pockets, Good looks.
Cons : It’s not as light as the Terra Nova Ultra 20.
Other rucksacks I own : Osprey Exor 42, Zpacks 30 Blast, OMM 6 waist pack.
Disclaimer. The Terra Nova Elite 20 was purchased with my own money. I Neither work for, have ever worked for, nor had any contact with Terra Nova or anybody representing them.