UKC

Deuter AC Lite Daypack Review

Being a small woman, I have searched high and low for a suitable small day bag. It seems finding a good balance between lightness, adequate space, fit and comfort is no mean feat. I have recently been trying the Deuter AC Lite range, which includes models designed specifically for women and has a lightweight but supportive back system, functional storage, and good ventilation. Is this the pack I've been looking for?

Hitting the small-to-medium day pack remit, the AC Lite range includes quite a number of models at various capacities, from 14 litres up to 32 litres. There are longer packs better suited to men, and shorter back lengths (denoted by the suffix SL) which are aimed at women. You also get the choice of a top-loader design with a lid, or in the smaller sizes a zipped entry. I went for one of the latter, the AC Lite 21 SL, which has a zipped opening right down the front of the pack.

Capacity

The AC Lite 21 SL features just 21 litres of space to fit all your belongings. It is not a big day pack, and the curve on the backplate and the fact that it is loaded from the front make the usable space less than the volume of the bag might suggest. If you're using a bladder, that also cuts into the main pack area. On days when I've been climbing, where I needed to carry my harness and shoes on top of my hill walking gear, I have found it very difficult to get everything in the pack. This size is best suited to lightly loaded day walks. There are separate pockets for your valuables or a water bottle on the outside which can help to free up space in the main compartment.

A handy pocket for easy access to waterbottles etc  © UKC Gear
A handy pocket for easy access to waterbottles etc

The front zipper allows a good view of all the contents of the bag  © UKC Gear
The front zipper allows a good view of all the contents of the bag


Fit and comfort

The Aircomfort system is one of the key features that contribute to fit and comfort. This design has been a big selling point for Deuter for many years. The flexible spring steel frame is extremely durable and along with the black mesh creates a ventilation space between the pack and wearer that allows moist, warm air to dissipate. When I was traversing Aonach Eagach, I found I was still able to scramble without feeling like the bag was putting me off-balance, so the design manages to avoid putting the centre of gravity too far back, which is often an issue with big air spaces. It was an extremely hot day, but having the ventilation system kept me cool and comfortable.

Compared to other rucksacks of similar size that I've tried, I find this more suited to a female build. The hip-belt sits on top of my hips whereas those designed for men tend to sit much lower on me and therefore more weight goes through my shoulders. However, I am very slim and if I'm only wearing a thin shirt, the hip belt is not actually tight enough around my waist; a greater range of adjustability would suit me better, though not all users are going to find this a problem.

The shoulder straps are well sculpted for a close and unrestrictive fit, while the comfy sternum strap can be adjusted easily.

Shoulder staps with good ventilation and a comforable fastening system  © UKC Gear
Shoulder staps with good ventilation and a comforable fastening system

Weight and build quality

Weighing 890g, this is a heavier pack for its size, although Deuter (who do not make notably ultralight packs) claims it is lightweight. Much of its bulk is down to the metalwork in the Aircomfort system, but in use I find that this is so well designed that it disperses the weight to give it that feeling of being lightweight. Compared to my other light day bag that has no frame in it, I feel having the steel frame of the AC Lite 21 creates a better fit and you therefore don't notice the difference in weight.

Deuter have a well deserved reputation for making tough packs. This model uses high tenacity nylon in high wear areas, while elsewhere it's a tear resistant 600D polyester fabric. The overall result may not be particularly light, but it is very durable. Both fabrics are PU coated to help shrug off showers. Other than a single winter day, this bag has seen extensive use in all the other seasons and it still looks nearly new. I have been scrambling and climbing with it and the durability of the fabric really shows. All three colours available are fairly light, so it may just show the mud a bit.

Althought not a winter bag, if you're packing light, the AC Lite proves it is capable  © UKC Gear
Althought not a winter bag, if you're packing light, the AC Lite proves it is capable

Features

For a small model, it packs in a lot of features but they have been clearly thought out with functionality being the main focus. The two main features are the front access zipper and the Aircomfort system which have already been touched upon.

Despite its minimal look there are many different storage options. The main front area has the capacity to fit a hydration system or there is the option to house a water bottle on the outside of the pack. At the top of the bag, there is a valuables pocket that can hold your phone, wallet and keys. This pocket doubles as an SOS label providing basic emergency rescue information. There is also a small side pocket that can be accessed while still wearing the pack. I quite like storing my phone there so I can easily access it to take a picture; it could also be handy for gloves or a snack.

You can attach your poles or helmet to the bag with various loops. A helmet holder can also be added. There is even a sunglasses holder on the chest strap. The underside of the bag contains the rain cover, which can be removed if you want to save a bit of weight.

It's good to have the option of a rain cover on a very wet and miserable day  © UKC Gear
It's good to have the option of a rain cover on a very wet and miserable day

Ethics and environment

Deuter has for many years been a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, an independent verification initiative cooperating with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for workers producing clothing and other sewn products, especially in low-wage countries. In contrast to many brands, who often change between manufacturers and production sites, the company has worked exclusively with one factory in Vietnam since the 1990s.

To help reduce the environmental impact of production, Deuter are aiming for all their products to fully meet Bluesign standards - though currently not all of them do. As with all their packs, the materials in the AC Lite range are PFC-free.

Summary

Coming in various sizes, the AC Lite range is a great day pack for users who love being in the hills, but don't need a more technical climbing-focused model. With several female-specific models, the range has plenty to offer women as well as men. The Aircomfort system keeps you cool and comfortable but still provides great maneuverability. In the smaller size I've been using there is some space lost with this feature and the front access zipper, but for lightly equipped hill days I've found you can still get everything you need packed away. Although a minimalist look, it still packs a ton of features that are ideal for being in the hills. Given its overall quality, the £80 price tag looks like good value.

Deuter say:

The new AC Lite, also available in a women-specific version, is the ideal companion for day hikes. Our popular hiking pack is now even lighter and, thanks to the Aircomfort carry system, has highly effective ventilation. A long zip opening at the front provides excellent contents oversight. Your smartphone or snacks are easy to access in the stretch side pocket. And a helmet holder can be added using dedicated docking loops on the front.

  • Volume: 21 litres (AC Lite 21 SL)
  • Weight: 890g (AC Lite 21 SL)
  • Fabric: 2100 PA, 600D PES / 1300 PA High Tenacity, 600D PES
  • Front access zipper
  • Rain cover
  • Stretch inner compartment
  • Valuables pocket
  • Side pockets
  • Sunglasses holder
  • SOS label


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