Deuter ACT Zero 50 + 15 Backpack Review
November 22, 2015
The Deuter ACT Zero 50 + 15 backpack is the Batman of backpacks. It’s not the backpack I want but it’s the backpack I need. My friends know that when it comes to any single piece of gear my backpack is the thing I’m most picky about. I own roughly 10 various backpacks and of those there are very few that I’m truly happy with. They always have great redeeming features that encourage me to use them in a particular application but are missing that one thing that would push it over the top to earn a full recommendation across the board. The ACT Zero follows that trend. It comes close to perfection but it still struggles to fulfill my list of requirements.
For a multi day trip I’m a fan of backpacks that are lightweight yet can still haul 40+ lbs. comfortably if needed. It needs to have all the right pockets for organization yet not be overloaded with so many pockets that I forget where I packed something. It should have nice compression straps that are at least 3/4 in. wide but not be cluttered with straps all over the place. Being a top loader with expansion collar is key but side entry should also be included so that you can pull your tent or sleeping bag out of the bottom of the pack without needing to take everything out first. This is just the start of the list. I could go on and on about the key things a backpack needs to have. The Deuter ACT Zero 50 + 15 does many of these things right.
The best thing I can say about this backpack is that it’s comfortable. More than any other feature you look for in multi day backpacks comfort when fully loaded is the number one thing to pay attention to. Any hot spot or slight irritation you notice after wearing it around your local outdoor store for 10 or 15 minutes is going to become the only thing on your mind when you are three days into a five day trip. Comfort is one of the things Deuter is known for and this pack is no exception. The shoulder straps have a perfect amount of padding, the hip belt is supportive and again has great padding and the back panel is also perfectly padded with just the right amount of lumbar support. Not only is the padding excellent but the Vari-Quick system designed to allow you to adjust the back length means you can dial in the fit to perfectly match your body. I’ve never used a variable length backpack before and without a doubt this feature is one of the key reasons this pack fits me so well and is consequently so comfortable.
The pocket situation on the ACT Zero is good but not great. I really appreciate that this pack has both side water bottle pockets as well as a hydration pouch. I prefer to use a bladder to carry water and the side pockets to hold tent poles or a fishing pole. Many packs these days ditch the side pockets and that bothers me. The hip belt includes a single, moderately sized pocket on the right side. This is great but why not include the same pocket on the left side as well…? I remedied this by adding a clip on pocket to that side of the hip belt. The head pouch is great. Its got your traditional main pocket as well as an underside pocket to hold items you don’t want to lose like your wallet. What makes it stand apart from others is a unique strap solution provided with the backpack that turns the head pouch into a summit pack. I like that they chose to make the summit pack into a true “pack” that uses shoulder straps rather than a fanny pack worn around the waist. One kind of odd thing is the way they made the head pouch removable. The normal webbing straps, ladder locks and buckles are used but they also use a velcro strip and flap of fabric. I think the point of this is to keep water from leaking into the pack if you have the expandable collar stuffed full but even in that case you are still covered from the head pouch covering any opening in the draw string closure of the collar. Deuter also included this same “feature” on the ACT Lite line that I reviewed previously so they must think it’s important but I still can’t figure out why. The flap ended up just being a hassle to deal with when I attached and removed the head pouch so I cut it off. My final comment about the pocket situation on this pack is in regards to the lack of side entry. This is a huge requirement for me and I wish it was a standard feature across the board on every pack. If this backpack had this single feature I’d consider it pretty close to perfect. But it doesn’t. So it’s not perfect. It’s just an ok pack… Sigh…
The frame of this pack is excellent. A metal “X frame” really allows the weight of the pack to transfer effectively to your hips. I loaded it up with 40 lbs. and was shocked at how well the weight carried. Even though I advocate for lightweight backpacking there are times when you need to carry more weight. You might be on a long stretch through an area where water is tough to come by and you need to pack your water with you. Or you might The X approach also allows for more “twist” in the pack which translates to the pack clinging to your back and following your movements more precisely than a traditional frame design. While this works to an extent I’ve found that once your pack is fully loaded there isn’t much “twist” capability left. An empty pack on the other hand shows off what the design is supposed to accomplish. I’d rather see something more along the lines of the active suspensions Black Diamond and Millet employ as they work regardless of how stuffed the pack is but I wouldn’t consider the lack of this feature being a dealbreaker.
Other things to think about when considering this pack – its not waterproof but after a day of hiking in the rain the contents of the pack were still dry without using a pack cover, you can carry ski’s in an a-frame configuration using the compression straps (which are just the way I like them – substantial but not overboard and cluttered while providing just the right amount of compression), the back panel breaths relatively well but you might consider a different pack for hot weather backpacking, ice axe and trekking pole attachments are included, and finally there is a front stash pocket to easily hold an extra jacket. Overall, this is a solid backpack offering by Deuter.
While there are some features I think are lacking with the Deuter ACT Zero 50 + 15 backpack I have never worn a more comfortable multi day backpack. If you are looking for a reasonably lightweight pack that can comfortably support 40+ lbs. this is probably the pack for you.
UPDATE: It appears Deuter no longer lists the ACT Zero on their website. I’d pick it up now if you were considering buying one. Hopefully Deuter replaces this line with a new one addressing the issues I talked about above.