Friday, 24 May 2013

Montane Medusa 32 Review

I have both a Talon 22 and a Talon 44. The 22 is great for summer walks and the 44 for winter, when more equipment is needed. But I decided that something between them would be good for longer summer walks, where I would be carrying more water. Also something with a slimmer profile for scrambles and getting through the annoying 'hook on to your bag any way they can' gates and stiles. Montane released a range of packs last year and decided I would have a look at the Medusa 32. I tried one out at the local outdoor retailer and decided it was worth a try. At 32 litres it fell nicely between the packs I already have.
 
 

First Impression

The Montane Medusa 32, on first inspection, is very light but with a fairly rugged feel. The shoulder straps and hip belt are of solid foam construction, no weight reducing cut outs. The pack is very basic looking, quite a deception really. Montane have maintained some rather clean, narrow lines with quite a few innovative features hidden away. My bag is the Moroccan Blue with Shadow webbing. My personal choice is that it looks nicer than the Shadow coloured bag, although it may show dirt more easily.
 
 
 

Construction

The main material for the Medusa is Raptor TL, a very tough nylon with a high tensile strength. The material on the bottom of the pack is Raptor UTL, a 500 denier material with the qualities of a 1000 denier material. It's supposed to be tough and abrasion resistant. Unlike many packs, Montane also claim a that their pack as a good DWR coating, so maybe reasonably water resistant. Something I'm sure will get tested at some point here in the UK. The shoulder straps, back padding and hip belt padding are made of CONTACT Mesh which is supposed to be comfortable, but importantly, abrasion friendly to jackets when worn with heavy packs. The side pockets are made from GRANITE Stretch and the pack lining is HALO, an extremely light rip-stop nylon.


 
Features

To make it easy, I'll work from the top to the bottom of the pack to look at it's features. The lid of the Medusa is stitched onto the pack, so unlike a floating lid, you won't get as much underneath it. This may or may not be an issue, so worth keeping in mind. For me it was not an issue. In the top of the lid is a large bowel type pocket, a 'Buddy Pocket' with a zip lid. The positioning of the pocket means that a climbing or walking partner can reach into the pocket. This is useful in groups, not so useful to someone like myself who regularly walks alone. But a good idea well executed. The pockets stays upright, meaning things shouldn't fall out when un-zipped. The underside of the lid has a small pocket with a key loop, so handy for little items like keys, a wallet and other small stuff. The lid is fastened down with a single webbing and buckle system which is adequate enough to do the job.
 
 
 
 
Under the lid is a dual draw, or 'Cord Lord' as Montane call it, entry into the main compartment making it easy to get into the main compartment with gloves on etc. You pull each end with both hands and you are straight in.
 
 
 
 
There are two compression straps on either side of the pack. The top strap on each side has a quick release buckle and a double loop of webbing to permit the retention of walking poles or ice axes. The compression straps are not excessively thin like others, they are substantial enough to do the job expected yet the pack weight has been kept quite low. The buckles on the side straps, like the others on the pack are bright orange and not easily missed. All the buckles work smoothly, and cinching the bag down is simple.
 
 
 
The carry system for the bag, including the shoulders traps, hip belt, sternum strap and back pad is of a high standard. The padding on the shoulder straps, hip belt and the back pad use CONTACT Mesh which is specified by Montane as a low abrasion type. I've used the pack for a month or so now and find it slides on and off very easily. I have noticed no additional abrasions on my softshell jacket as of yet. My softshell has received some abrasion on the back and around the hip belt area from one of my other packs, although not excessive, but it is a little worrying. I think it must be the use of mesh on the back pad of the other pack which rubs against the material of my jacket. The back pad on the Medusa uses no mesh, it simple has a series of deeply cut grooves to allow some air flow. It's a sort of semi-rigid panel, so it doesn't fully support the pack, instead offering a compromise between support and weight.
 
 
 
 
The sternum strap uses a unique system. Firstly, it fastens off to the left side, great for me, given my situation. It's fully elastic so tends to offer support rather than being overly constrictive. And the quick release system, as long as it lasts the distance, is a great idea.
 
The hip belt has a forward pulling adjustment, dare I say it, pretty much like the Osprey system, and just as good. This is a major thumbs up from me. The hip belt also has a small zipper pocket on the right side and a gear loop on the left. The pocket will take a couple of Clif bars or other items of a similar size, such as my LED Lenser P3 and a small tube of sun cream. The gear loop happily accepts my ice axe and I would imagine a large variety of other items.
 
 


The shoulder straps of the pack are contoured to help place the weight correctly on your shoulders. The CONTACT Mesh does a good job of cushioning the weight on your shoulders. There are loader straps at the top to help cinch in the pack, and there is a clip on the right hand strap for securing a hydration bladder tube.
 
The one possible negative of the pack is that it isn't length adjustable. So it really is a case of try before you buy. I'm 5' 10" and the pack fits me fine. But if you are a lot taller or shorter, it's worth checking first.
 
The sides of the pack have two mesh stretch pockets, pretty much standard issue on most modern packs, so nothing new, but does the job. They are a good idea for most packs to give you somewhere for quick stowage of water bottles, rolled up maps etc.
 
 
 
 
Internally there is a sleeve for a hydration bladder with an exit on the right of the pack for the tube to feed over and into the clip on the shoulder strap.
 
Montane have also included a length of bungee cord that can be feed through some loops on the front of the pack to make an extra area to store damp clothing etc. It's a good idea as you may not need this function, but it's there if you do.
 
The pack also includes a unique system for carrying either Ice Axes or walking poles. The double loop on the side compression straps will hold the shafts in place. At the lower part of the front of the pack is a dual bungee system that can be concealed behind a flat sleeve when not in use. If needed, the bungees can be pulled out and used to lock your walking poles, or lock your Ice Axes as they have their heads secured under the sleeve.
 
 
 
 

In Use

The Medusa 32 falls into the forget it's there category. With everything cinched down, there is no movement of the pack, it feels comfortable. The back system works pretty well. I was out in a fairly warm day in the Peak District at the weekend which would have cause me an extremely wet back due to slightly humid conditions. But I found only the lower part of my back, around the hip belt was damp....result!
 
Loading, unloading and accessing your gear in the pack is not too bad. The pack is fairly narrow so a little fore-thought is required when packing. Anything bulky needs thinking through, small items not so. I've had packs that were really bad for access due to heavily curved back systems. This isn't an issue here as the pack is straight up and down.
 
Funnily I haven't had to test the DWR on the pack very much, but when there has been a light shower it has done well. I do tend to put my gear into stuff sacks so water ingress shouldn't be much of an issue. But some level of DWR should be on all packs in my mind. A soaked pack would be considerably more heavy and definitely an issue for ultra light backpacker.
 
Finally, the pack feels robust. I feel less nervous about throwing this pack around than I would my others. So using it is a pleasure, it does the job, and I can get on with enjoying my walks and not worry about how my gear is doing no matter the weather.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Medusa 32, but would advise that you make sure it fits first. If it fits, I can't see you not liking it. It's not cheap, but not overly expensive, middle of the road in cost. Prices range from £63-£80 looking around on the Internet, so prices can vary by nearly £20. So shopping around is a good idea. If you have one, or buy one, please comment on your findings.

Spec (As quoted on Montane's website)

Fabric: RAPTOR TL
Reinforced base fabric: RAPTOR UTL
Back pad / shoulder straps / hip fins: CONTACT Mesh
Side pockets: GRANITE STRETCH
Lining fabric: HALO

Colours:
Moroccan blue / Shadow webbing
Shadow / Black webbing

Weight: 913g / 32.2oz
SIZE: ONE SIZE
FIT: Active Mountain
Activities: Fast Alpine / Rock Climbing / Ice Climbing / Mountain Walking / High
Trekking / Backpacking / Travel