UKC

Montane Azote 32 pack Review

© Dan Bailey

New for 2021, the Azote is billed as an all-rounder. With a really well-vented carry system, and a design that's clearly aimed at walkers, it would be right at home on the UK summer hills. Available in both a male and a female version, in two sizes apiece, and with an adjustable back length, its key feature is its versatility. But I have to admit to very mixed feelings about this pack.

It's light and airy, ideal for summer heat  © Dan Bailey
It's light and airy, ideal for summer heat
© Dan Bailey

What size?

For men, the Azote comes as a 25L zip-top, or a 32L with a lid; for women it's 24L and 30L. With Scottish spring in mind, a season where you might want winter clothing and crampons one week, and shorts the next, I went for the 32 litre version to give myself a bit of leeway. However, I'm not sure that was the best choice. For me, the back system simply feels too floppy to support the larger capacity and lidded design, whereas with the smaller zipped alternative I can see that same softness proving to be an asset rather than a drawback. I'll look at this in more detail below.

A women's version is also available  © Dan Bailey
A women's version is also available
© Dan Bailey

Its 32 litre size is good for general three-season hill use    © Dan Bailey
Its 32 litre size is good for general three-season hill use
© Dan Bailey

Weight and fabric

The 100 denier ripstop nylon fabric that most of the pack is made from feels both light and tough, and build quality seems good. I've carried the Azote 32 a lot over the last couple of months, and it still looks basically new. A proportion of the fabric, and the mesh used on the back system, comes from recycled sources, which has to be a good thing.

Montane quote a weight of 925g, while I make it 915g. This is more midweight than truly lightweight, and you can certainly find lighter packs of around this size. However the weight seems fine for the all-round use for which it was designed; it's not a running or a climbing specialist after all.

Fit, support, and comfort

Many day packs come as one-size-fits-all, which might be fine for anyone roughly middle sized, but will almost invariably fail to suit smaller or larger users. At 1.83m/6 foot, and with a reasonably long back, I frequently find daypacks with a fixed back length to be a little short on me. This only tends to matter when I want to use the hip belt to take a bit of weight, a situation that begins to arise with a larger daypack such as the Azote 32.

For me, then, the big selling point of the Azote series is its adjustable 'ZephyrAD' back system. Using simple but sturdy Velcro pads, the back length can be quickly altered from Small to Large, a range of about 10cm. To get the hip belt to sit right on me, I have to extend the harness to maximum; on my wife Pegs (5'7) the men's 32 fits at about Medium. Clearly the Azote isn't going to be ideal for anyone XL or above, and if you're much taller than me then you might well want to think about larger alternatives.

When adjusted to fit a larger user, it sits quite low on the back  © Dan Bailey
When adjusted to fit a larger user, it sits quite low on the back
© Dan Bailey

There may be exceptions, but in general by the time you get up around this sort of capacity it can be good to have some structure within the back of a pack. With the Azote 32 my big issue as that the back system feels too minimal for the size of pack, with no frame sheet or wire to add shape and support. As a result, unless fully loaded it tends to become saggy and untidy, and when part-full I find it quite hard to compress to a neat-looking pack (I defy you to get it looking like the pictures on Montane's website).

With no firmness at the top of the back, just soft foam, the lid has a tendency to droop forwards if you're storing anything remotely heavy there. Worse is that the pack also feels saggy on the shoulders, tending to slump backwards - an effect that naturally seems more marked when the back length is extended, though Pegs noticed it at a shorter length too. Montane have put a gap for a water bladder between the back system and the body of the pack, and this makes the two parts feel rather detached from one another. Thanks, in my view, to this sloppy interface between shoulder straps and weight, the centre of gravity is far back, and the load feels poorly balanced. I find it uncomfortable after a couple of hours, and will not be using the Azote 32 after this review.

At 183cm tall, I'm at the upper limit of the Azote 32's size range  © Dan Bailey
At 183cm tall, I'm at the upper limit of the Azote 32's size range
© Dan Bailey

On the plus side this is one of the coolest and best-ventilated packs I've used, with plenty of cut-outs in the foam cushioning on the back and soulder straps, and all points that come in contact with the wearer covered with light, airy mesh. In fact the hip belt and harness are so breathable that you can literally breathe through them (a little test I always like to try with packs). In the recent run of hot weather, which even made it to Wester Ross, I've really appreciated the air flow offered by the Azote, and the fact that your back and shoulders are not swimming in sweat.

The padding has a nice firmness, while the sculpted straps and belt hug the body closely, without restricting arm movement. Dual adjusters on the hip belt mean that you can keep the buckle well centred, and are not left with a single length of spare tail; however the webbing does still seem rather long, so instead you get two hanging tails - and no way to hold them neatly. The chest strap is easily adjusted for height (though not on the move), and features a 'Click and Go' buckle that pops into a plastic rail on one of the shoulder straps. It's good not to have a buckle in the middle of your ribcage, though I do find the elastic chest strap itself is a bit too giving, so when the pack is heavily loaded it doesn't do a lot to help hold the harness on your shoulders. 

Stretchy front pocket is good for maps, or bulkier items  © Dan Bailey
Stretchy front pocket is good for maps, or bulkier items
© Dan Bailey

Stretchy side pockets are big enough for a 1 litre bottle  © Dan Bailey
Stretchy side pockets are big enough for a 1 litre bottle
© Dan Bailey

Features

Entry to the Azote 32 (and women's 30) is via a traditional lid, with two plastic buckles. Under this is the usual drawcord. While it's possible to remove the lid to save a bit of weight, I don't think this pack really lends itself to the minimalist approach since you can't also remove the hip belt. If, as I do, you like keeping things such as sunglasses and hats easily to hand then the zipped over-lid pocket is really pretty roomy; you also get an under-lid pocket with a key clip. For quick jelly baby access without breaking stride, reach for the stretchy zipped pockets placed on each fin of the hip belt. These always make sense on a walking pack, and being at least 50% fuelled by jelly baby on a typical hill day, I use them a lot.

Additionally, a really big stretchy pocket is provided on the front. I've found this handy for a light shell and a map, but I'm not keen on its slightly odd hooked closure, which only seems to work properly when the pack is well-stuffed; a plastic buckle would've been more secure. Stretchy side wand pockets are good for securing your poles on the side of the pack (tip upwards), and roomy enough for a 1 litre bottle. Twin compression straps are provided too, and if you're lugging something bulky like a camera tripod (how did you think I got the gear selfies?) then these are very handy. For use in spring, when you might want to carry an ice axe, there's a simple attachment system for a single axe.  

The Azote 32 on a dank spring day on Fionn Bheinn  © Dan Bailey
The Azote 32 on a dank spring day on Fionn Bheinn
© Dan Bailey

Summary

I have a bit of a love/hate thing going with the Azote 32. Love: the back system, for its adjustable length and superbly effective ventilation. Hate: the back system, for its lack of structure and saggy carry. In the larger size 32 version, the latter is a deal breaker for me, though other users - probably a fair bit smaller than me - might get on with it. I'd strongly advise trying it on in a shop. 

Montane say:

Versatility without compromise is central to the Azote 32 making it one of the most functional, go-anywhere, do-anything packs for the core outdoor user on long mountain days or minimalist overnight adventures . Constructed with the lightweight and tough, RAPTOR Eco 100 denier Robic Nylon fabric, a full but clean feature set and the extremely comfortable, close fitting yet highly breathable ZephyrAD size adjustable back system, this pack is built to perform whatever the adventure. With recycled fabric content this pack also boasts an environmental foundation.

  • Weight: 925g
  • RAPTOR Eco 100 denier Robic Nylon main fabric with 78% recycled content
  • CONTACT Air Mesh Eco with 35% recycled content
  • CONTACT Open Mesh Plus back panel
  • Halo lining
  • Size adjustable ZephyrAD back system with ventilation channels
  • Montane off-centre Click and Go chest harness
  • Articulated hip fins and shoulder straps with form-fitting design
  • Zipped hip fin pockets
  • Extendible and removable lid
  • External and internal lid pockets with key clip
  • Side wand pockets and front stretch pocket for external storage
  • Adjustable pole / axe attachment
  • Side compression straps
  • External bladder sleeve

For info see montane.com



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