The Lightning is a stripped-down trekking pack that's designed, according to Exped, for "any multi-day trekking adventure where minimal weight and functionality are essential". Two sizes are available: a 45 litre version that's well suited to short overnights, and a 60 litre pack (£175) for longer trips. Both come in either a men's or a women's fit. Limited UK stock at the time of this review meant that I had to settle for the men's version, but in the event this wasn't a show stopper.
A lightweight lidless pack with a simple functional design, it best suits more minimalist weight-conscious uses. Those looking for a more traditional workhorse of a pack for lugging around heavy loads in comfort will probably prefer something with more structure and more features, though they're inevitably going to pay a weight penalty for that. On the other side of the coin the Lightning prioritises lightness - and this too means compromises as well as gains.
The Lightning 45 has an adjustable back system, and is built from durable ripstop nylon. The extendable roll-top closure and long compression straps are useful for varied loads, making this a versatile pack for overnighters as well as more lengthy trips. On the downside its minimalist back system is a fiddle to adjust, and there are definitely more comfortable and supportive packs out there for load carrying. Its chief advantage is probably its lightness.
Weight, Materials and Build Quality
The quoted weight for the Lightning 45 is 1.13kg, which is a fair bit lighter than my usual go-to camping pack – Osprey's Tempest 40 (approx 1.4kg) – and, on first impressions, it's also a whole lot less faffy (fewer straps and loops, actually less of everything).
Supported by an aluminium T-frame, the hip belt and shoulder straps, made with dual density foam, feel sturdy and well padded. The main body of the pack is built from 210 denier ripstop nylon – the bag's base is a tougher 630 denier fabric – and is reinforced by Dyneema (the white thread seen in a criss-cross pattern across the pack).
The pack has a polyurethane coating, giving it a fair amount of weather resistance (1500mm hydrostatic head), and with its Oeko-Tex 100 certified durable water repellent coating it's able to handle most rain conditions, so water should bead off and not soak into the pack, making it feel heavier. The coating also boosts protection against abrasion.
I have Exped dry sacks and an Exped down sleeping mat, both of which are pretty durable, so had high expectations for the Lightning 45. Stitching is thus far solid. However the stretchy side pockets already have a few small holes after only a dozen or so uses (I am pretty clumsy though).
- The pack itself feels nice and light - ideal for minimalist uses
- If you like simplicity and not too many add-ons, you get it here
- The airflow is a joy
- Generous size for the stated capacity
- Easy to use compression system and loops for attaching more kit
What's not so good
- The fiddly back length adjustment system
- It's not the most comfortable or supportive carry with heavy loads - less of a general all-round trekking pack for non-lightweight trips
- There's no handy, easy access pocket to secure a map
- A zip to access stuff from the bottom of the pack would be useful for a lot of users
Fit and Comfort
I'm 168cm tall (about 5 feet 6 inches) with a back length of 51cm. Though I was sent the Men's Lightning 45, the back system, Exped say, is 'adjustable to fit users between 165 and 195cm in height.' No problem, I thought. But silly me; like I expect to just turn a key for the car to start, I banked on the backpack fitting perfectly when it came out the box. So when I hauled it on for the first time my initial reaction was, 'Aw, no!'. I attempted to adjust the padded yoke bar, but the curved part of the aluminium strut, that runs the length of the spine, was digging in, it was not at all comfortable and the prospect of having to trial it felt dismal (I need to confess here it was a poor effort on my part).
Off I went to Moidart for a summit camp on Rois-bheinn. It was steep, rugged and mainly pathless mountain terrain and the pack annoyed me all the way. The sensation of the strut pushing into my spine had kind of settled, but now I felt I was being choked by the chest strap and thought, 'this can't possibly be right!' Of course it wasn't.
It was as I frantically grappled with the strap, combined with the force of suddenly tripping, that I realised the buckle the strap is attached to actually moves up and down piping stitched into the shoulder harness – therefore the chest strap can be suited to different body frames (yes, I was rolling my eyeballs at myself too.) So keen I was to escape for a Corbett camp that I'd not concerned myself with the minor (actually, major) detail of backpack comfort. But once pitched, I gave it better attention. Exped say it's an 'elegantly simple and quickly adjustable T'Rex suspension system' but it took me quite a bit of time in adjusting and readjusting to find which position felt most comfortable. I'd had to pull off the velcro-ed base pad and then mess about with the lash strap and a buckle (hidden under the hip belt) which, in my opinion, was a total pain.
Once set up correctly, however, the back system is effective. Its minimalist design gives you padding in the lumbar region and across the top of the shoulders, but nothing at all elsewhere. These pads hold the main body of the pack away from your back, creating a nice ventilating gap, and without the usual full-back-covering stretchy/meshy type padding in place there is excellent airflow. This results in a slightly less sweaty Sarah, which has to be a good thing. The minimalist design clearly also helps make the pack lighter. But it comes at a cost.
What padding there is, is generous, and the ergonomically shaped shoulder straps and hip belt give an unrestrictive fit. The minimalist back system feels unusual, but though it's a sensation that you get used to as you walk, I don't find it as comfy or cradling as a design with more substantial padding and more body contact might be. For carrying heavier loads, most people are likely to prefer a more supportive model. The Lightning 45 is all about saving weight, which of course comes with both pros and cons.
Cinch straps at the top help pull the weight of the pack forward into your shoulders, giving the pack a more secure fit. With the correct adjustments, the Lightning 45 provides a stable fit even with a heavy load; however I do find myself having to re-tighten these straps through the day.
Exped say the Lightning 45 can carry up to 24kg – a bigger weight than I'll ever have on my back - but I suspect at that weight the limits of the back system may be apparent. The smaller version of this pack that I've been using is suitable for overnighters/weekend trips and comfortably accommodates a two person tent, mat, sleeping bag, stove and all associated paraphernalia on the inside. You've also got the option of strapping tent, mat, etc to the exterior.
There are generous pockets on the hipbelt which are large enough to hold a GPS unit, a mobile phone as well as other bits and pieces. I use the stretchy pockets on the pack sides for stashing my water bottles; each pocket can take a litre bottle plus a 500ml bottle – so pretty large. I do wish there was an outside pocket big enough to carry a map though.
What makes this pack different to any other I've had before is that it has no lid. With a roll top closure this is a top loading bag with one big open space to store all your belongings and, actually, that's okay, you just have to be an efficient packer and organise your kit accordingly. I use a dry-sack to keep socks, gloves, hat etc separate from my other gear, and use another for my powerbank, headtorch and stuff. There is a deep, internal mesh covered pocket that would be useful for storing important things you wouldn't want to lose – it also has a plastic clip for attaching keys. I don't like using this other than to keep the car key safe. This inner sleeve is also accessed externally – so basically two pockets for the price of one – but, again, I don't bother putting anything in here because, on the occasion that I did use it, my hand got stuck inside when I was trying to rummage about.
As it's hydration-bladder compatible, there are two H2O holes either side of the pack, and underneath the internal mesh pocket, stitched above the T-bar, is a velcro fastening which, I assume, is for attaching a water bladder. There is also a water tube access hole in the external two-for-one pocket, though I'm not sure exactly how practical that is considering the outer zip is waterproofed and would need to be open in order to use the pipe. I prefer water bottles so haven't trialled this feature.
The Lightning 45 has a full pack, zig-zag, compression system which is really handy for varied loads and simple to operate – just pull the cords to tighten everything up. There are two daisychain loops which I use to thread damp clothing through, or suspend jackets when I can't be bothered opening up the bag. There are four base loops; two either side of the hip belt, and two slightly smaller ones attached to the front of the pack under the two compression straps – for attaching a sleeping mat or tent if you wanted to store other gear in the internal compartment. For tool users there are two ice axe and trekking pole loops.
And a removable top compression strap, with an aluminium hook over the roll top, is useful for either compressing the pack or for securing items like a jacket, mat, waterproofs etc. The top roll closure adjusts the pack volume and can be secured either by vertical straps or stuff sack style. It's a minimalist pack, but the few features there are on the Exped Lightning 45 have a useful role and are, in the main, easy enough to use.
See a video of the Lightning packs in action in the Cairngorms here: