Out of all the items we have reviewed from this season, the Trailblazer has been the most difficult to make a decision on. There is so much we liked, a few areas we disliked, and in between a variety of design elements we had not seen featured before that left us confused as to what we thought of them! It’s easy to say that the Trailblazer isn’t your usual pack and combines elements from lightweight trekking to ultra-mountain marathons.
Montane describe the Trailblazer 30 as, “designed for rapid, long-distance mountain trails, where low-weight, stability and quick access to your kit is essential.” With a 30L capacity we would consider Trailblazer to fit as either a large day pack or as a multi-day pack with lightweight equipment. The overall weight is just 840 grams so makes this a very light pack indeed. This low weight usually results in a pack that needs a great deal of care to keep it in good shape. The main body is surprisingly tough using a mixture of Raptor Cross Lite 70 Denier fabric and Raptor Resistance 210 Denier base panels. This meant that worries about overloading or placing the Trailblazer onto coarse rock or heather wasn’t of concern. As with many packs of this type, a lot of mesh is used to reduce weight and increase capacity. We don’t necessarily see this as an unwelcome addition and often find mesh pockets are great for stuffing in awkward shaped items or wet gear. Obviously, these areas are more prone to wear and with the Trailblazer using a lot of mesh throughout, expect these to show signs of wear first.
When looking at the rear of the pack it has the appearance of a regular mountain pack. A large single internal pocket accessible through a lid which also offers additional storage. A large rear mesh outer pocket can easily hold a helmet, wet clothing, or tent. The sides include a couple of compression straps with wrap around zippered mesh pockets located at the hips. A secure zipper meant we had quick access to items such as gloves, hat, compass, etc, without the need to remove the pack.
The front of the Trailblazer is where the innovative elements are more noticeable. An easily adjustable ZephyrAD back system is a great addition to have on any bag as you can fine tune and make adjustments to suit the situation. Add to this, the addition of the body-hugging Covalent harness and the Trailblazer really sets itself apart from the ordinary. On first appearance it is very similar to that of a runner’s vest. The shoulder and waist strappings are made from very thin, wide mixture of fabric, mesh, and low bulk webbing. At first this had us worried as to how supportive the design would be with the weight of a full pack, especially with the 30L option using a plastic stiffened back panel rather than an aluminium frame. The result was quite the. The shoulder straps extended under the arms with a clever pull design to quickly lock in place. An ingenious function is that the compression straps from the rear of the Trailblazer follow round and match to the waist and shoulder/chest straps creating complete support throughout the entire pack evenly distributing weight. Whilst on multi-day adventures on steep climbs in the Cairngorms we really packed the Trailblazer to its limit including heavier items such as a camera. The Trailblazer never felt unbalanced and on particularly tough ground balancing over boulder fields, the harness kept the pack secure, minimising unwanted movement. This also proved to be a great feature whilst travelling by mountain bike where any shifts in weight could have made for an uncomfortable ride.
You would think all this support would be ideal for everyone but, the Trailblazer certainly divide opinion among our guides. Being a unisex pack, everyone managed to get a feel for how the Trailblazer performed and it was interesting to hear a range of likes and dislikes. The most notable one was regarding the Contact Open Mesh back panel. The design of the straps meant that although the pack felt secure is certainly isn’t a good breather and could, at times, become quite warm. The same can be said for the shoulder straps and chest harness which are quite wide and when worn for extended periods of time can create a similar problem.
We then move onto the two off-centre Montane Click and Go chest harness straps. Something we haven’t used before and too be honest feel are not sure they are needed. They can be positioned to offer support to the chest harness when carrying extra weight but often get in the way of a jacket pocket and take some time to get used to. Some of our guides found the extra support really helped, whilst others removed the straps finding them unnecessary; one for personal choice. What we did all agree on was that the Click and Go element is a great feature and made for quick fastening and removal without the need to readjust the webbing.
The pockets located at the chest harness are large enough to store items such as a compass, phone, small map, or a collapsible water bottle. Whilst using a water bottle you can extended the straw to drink on the go and for many people this might work fine and is now a common use among runners. For us it just felt a bit out of place and we preferred to store low bulk items in the chest pockets more related to navigation.
There are many additional features including a front and under arm pole carry system, daisy chain with reflective detailing, bivi opening with cord lord quick release adjustments, and much more. Again, this is what divided our guides with quite a lot of the elements never being used.
There is no doubt that Montane have produced a pack that is generous in size, including large mesh pockets that we believe take it over the 30L label. At only 840 grams it’s almost unnoticeable until filled and also backs itself up with an excellent build quality. The body-hugging Covalent harness provided us with some of the best support we have ever used from a pack without a frame, even when packed to capacity. The Trailblazer 30 can be regarded as a highly technical pack with lots of innovation and a multitude of features but, this can also lead to it be a bit confusing at times with our guides truly divided on this one. Simple can often be the easier option for life in the outdoors and with cords and straps dangling from all directions it all comes down to personal taste. Certainly, this will appeal to anyone undertaking high paced multi-day activities in which precious time can be saved with access to items without the need to first remove a pack.
Trek Scotland is a small family business based in the picturesque village of Tomintoul in the North East region of the Cairngorms National Park. They provide bespoke Mountain Guiding for Single Day Walks and Lightweight Multiday Trekking experiences, including wild camping, in the stunning Cairngorms wilderness and surrounding areas. Whether in the high mountains or lower valleys, their Multiday Treks are equipped with high quality, lightweight camping and trekking gear. They only work with small groups and, whatever your ability, pride themselves on designing your outdoor experience completely to your needs and with professional guidance and expertise. Adventure is waiting...