17 liter sidecountry ski and winter day hike pack
The new out of bounds pack from CamelBak is also ideal as a half day winter trekking pack. The lumbar-based hydration system is purpose-built to prevent freezing, and the Phantom LR 20’s heavy-duty fabric withstands icy abrasion that DXs a thin-skinnned three season pack in short order. Lash points abound—a set of upper compression straps combine with ski slots, front straps, and a retractable cable to externally stow down an ice ax, trekking and Whippet/Condor style poles, and/or a camera tripod. Packs with this feature set typically come no smaller than 45 liters, and practically never at a price point of $130 (hydration reservoir included!).
Internal organization: wet/dry compartments and goggle pocket
The Phantom’s internal layout is simple and straightforward. Front to back, there is a wet room with probe slots, a dry compartment that includes an essentials pocket with key fob, and a fleece-lined goggle pocket. Both the wet and dry compartments feature dual zippers with glove-friendly zipper pulls. The placement of the essentials pouch combined with the full length opening on the dry compartment makes for convenient opening when there are a few items stashed in the pouch providing a little weight.
Hydration: insulated lumbar and shoulder strap compartments
The pack is built around a 100 ounce baffled lumbar reservoir. I’m not going to go so far as to say that CamelBak has built a better mousetrap by putting the bladder down low, but it’s definitely more than a marketing gimmick. The placement helps put weight into the wearer’s hips and off the shoulders and traps. When filled the reservoir acts as part of the suspension.
There is no getting around the fact that hydration bladders become less attractive as the temperature plummets. But with a couple of basic techniques the issues involved can be mitigated. I have used the Phantom LR 20 set-up—which features an insulated bladder compartment and covers the hose in a neoprene sleeve and runs it through an insulated and zippered right shoulder strap—without any problems in temperatures down to 12℉/-11℃. Anytime the air temp is below freezing I clear water out of the hose after drinking by blowing it back into the bladder. I also try to begin my outing with warm water in the reservoir whenever possible (which not only helps avoid the water freezing but also feels great on the lower back!).
Ski and snowshoe carry options
Snowshoes lash easily onto the front of the pack.
The pack is designed for both diagonal and A frame ski carry depending upon preference.
Unless you seriously overload the Phantom you shouldn’t have to worry about sagging. A sewn-in HDPE framesheet does a nice job of providing support. Buckled stabilizer straps on the belt help keep things steady, and the reservoir doubles as a lumbar pad, at least until it begins to near empty.
Niggles and praise
A couple of niggles, just because everyone’s a critic. First off, the Phantom LR 20 is available in only one size. I have a short torso at 17 inches/43 centimeters, and the length of the pack works for me so long as the bladder is full and the interior is filled out with a few pieces of clothing and gear. Otherwise, the fit is not optimal for me. This is unlikely to be an issue for most would-be buyers, but females in particular might want to make the trip to a brick-and-mortar store to try the pack on prior to committing. Secondly, different colored zipper pulls for the wet and dry compartment openings would make for a quicker visual ID in the field. It’s easy enough for an owner to switch one of the two out, but it’s a shame to have to lose the non-replaceable, glove-friendly cord ends in the process.
Overall, though, I have to applaud the designers of the Phantom LR 20 for creating a piece of winter kit rather than pasting a couple of features onto a hiking backpack. The choice of a zippered rather than mesh belt pocket (that is apt to rip apart the first fall a wearer takes) is one nice little touch that shows they knew their consumers’ needs. And not all of the touches are little. By forgoing a more traditionally shaped hydration reservoir in favor of the lumbar bladder, they have managed to find plenty of space for 100 ounces of liquid while also leaving plenty of space open around the neck for use with a helmet.
Where to find out more
The Phantom LR 20 is expected to retail at $130 and to be on the market by October 2014. Keep an eye out for it at http://shop.camelbak.com/packs/winter/browse-all/l/140.