I have recently received a Montane Cobra 25 rucksack from outdoorkit.co.uk.
Overview: The Cobra is a 25 litre, lightweight, all round mountain day pack with a single, large, zip closed main compartment and three smaller zipped pockets; one inside and the other two on the outside. There are also two stretchy side pockets, double side compression straps, ice axe/walking pole holders and a number of loops and extra handles.
Looks: The first thing you will notice with any piece of gear is how it looks. Nobody wants their new piece of kit looking like it was made in a shed and luckily the Cobra doesn't. It has a very clean rounded outline with no protruding flaps or bulges, something I really like. The straps also neatly tuck away. The overall look is pretty sleek. Mine is in a grey colour called "Shadow" and I think the contrast with the orange back panel and straps is pleasing to the eye.
Fabrics: The fabric which a rucksack is made from is probably its most important aspect. There are 3 major types of fabrics used in its construction. The main body of the pack is made from a very tough and water resistant nylon. This beads well in rain, and probably means that in the majority of situations you wont require a rain cover (I haven't at least in this fine British summer). The back panel is made from a soft fabric which is claimed to be non-abrasive on waterproof clothing. The side pockets of the pack are made from a stretchy fabric allowing you to squeeze that water bottle in even if you completely stuff the main compartment. All of these fabrics have a nice quality touch.
Build Quality: A mountain rucksack needs to be able to withstand lots of abuse whilst full of kit. The last thing you want to worry about is dropping the contents of your rucksack down an ice route in a storm because you yanked on the zip with a bit too much zeal while trying to get your head torch out. The Cobra rucksack appears to have all its major attachment points sewed on well making a durable and reliable outer, and the zips are solid and easy to handle even while wearing gloves.
Ice axe/walking pole holders: There is a technical holding system on the sack which allows two axes or walking poles to be attached and kept out of the way of limbs.I have tested this function with my Petzl Nomics and it seems to hold them securely enough (it feels more secure if the adze and hammer are fitted).
Chest and waist straps: Most lightweight rucksacks I have seen do not have very comfortable hip belts, but the Cobra does. The padding isn't particularly thick but it is wide, distributing the weight of the pack over a large surface area. The hip belt also features a gear loop and a zipped pocket which is useful. The chest strap is made of an elastic strap with a new type of clip at one end which I hadn't seen before. The clip, being at one end, prevents any hard plastic digging into your chest. I was a bit dubious of this clip to begin with, but after abit of thought and use, I think it is actually good. There are less moving (bending) parts than in a conventional closing system so should be less likely to break. In addition to this, as the shoulder strap stays largely in one place all the time, it is easier to clip and un-clip with one hand. The clip is nicely designed which allows it to be used easily with a gloved hand, which can sometimes be hard with a conventional system.
Comfort: I have used the pack everyday since getting it and it has worked well in all roles. It sits very nicely on my back and the padding makes carrying loads easy. The sack is easy to adjust and largely stays in one place even during more high tempo activities.
Other: The inside zipped pocket has a little hook which you could attach your keys to. There is an internal hydration bladder pouch with a hole in the lid and a slot to hold the hose on the shoulder strap. There is a large heavy duty loop on the back of the sack which Montane claim is to allow you to help your partner on scrambles. It can also be used to carry the sack if it is being used as hand luggage.
Conclusion: I do like this bag, however it is hard to define its main use, and therefore isn't perfect for anything. Its got some features which aren't really needed for a lightweight bag, like waist belt gear loops and pockets, but they are nice to have. It also isn't really big enough for extended multi-day expeditions, although you'd probably be OK for the odd nights bivying (I'm sure someone from UKC will tell me otherwise though). This bag is truly a jack of all trades but a master of none. I give this 1 tumb up, but if you want a do it all rucksack which isn't really very heavy at all then you will struggle to do better.
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