There are plenty of brands to choose from when it comes to selecting a running vest / backpack. However, I hadn’t heard of Instinct, the French brand, so was keen to test out their XX20-24 litre pack.
- Looks good
- How many zips?!
- Large zipped main compartment
- Zipped 3 litre bladder compartment (bladder not supplied)
- Water resistant roll top compartment
- Clip on (removable) rear pouch with mesh and zipped compartments
- Small zipped pocket on outside of main compartment
- 2 small vertical zipped pockets on front shoulders
- 2 large mesh soft-flask pockets
- 3 mesh front pockets
- 2 large zipped front pockets
- 2 large horizontal lower rear mesh pockets
- Lower rear strap and clip (to carry tent etc)
- 2 chest straps
- 1 elasticated abdomen strap
- Elasticated tensioners to adjust fit
- Several elastic bungees for poles, axes etc.
- Cordura© Nylon 6.6 ripstop fabric with 3mm EVA padding
- Weight – 620g
- Capacity 20 – 24 litres
- RRP – €255 including 2 x 600ml soft-bottles
The two 600ml soft-bottles are optional extras. The rear compartment has capacity for a 3 litre bladder (not supplied).
The XX20-24 is a one size unisex pack.
I tested the pack for 4 weeks both fully loaded for overnight “fastpacking”, carrying tent and camping kit and also partially loaded for trail running.
Initially I found the storage options a bit overwhelming; the pack has no fewer than 8 zips! When I used it for my first overnight camp it took me a while to find everything as my equipment was spread out in the multiple pockets. Over time I developed a system, remembering which pockets I’d put which items in, but to be honest I prefer a simpler bag with fewer places to put things.
The main compartment unzips all the way round rather like a suitcase to allow easy access. This means that you can get to everything and nothing is hidden underneath anything else. Within this compartment there are also 3 flat mesh pockets. I didn’t really find a need to use these. On the outside of the compartment there is another zipped pocket that could be used if you wanted to store something easily accessible, such as a small first aid kit or torch.
With the main compartment filled up the pack feels like a large race vest. However further storage capacity is achieved via a roll top pocket at the top of the pack. I used this when fastpacking and needed more storage, then simply rolled it down when carrying less kit. Both of these compartments are constructed of water resistant material, but you would still need to pack your kit in dry bags if you wanted to guarantee it stayed dry.
An additional pouch can be attached to the upper rear of the pack with 4 clip buckles. I used this for my toiletry kit and head torch when camping, but found it surplus to requirements when running so took it off the pack when not used.
At the top of the pack a zip gives access to storage for a 3 litre bladder with hose openings on both left and right shoulders. I didn’t use a bladder but used the compartment to carry my folded air mat instead. A full 3 litre bladder would slightly restrict the space in the main compartment of the pack.
My pack came with two 600ml soft-bottles which fit easily into the top, front mesh pockets. I was pleased that I didn’t need to struggle to get the bottles in as is the case with some packs. The bottles did slip down into their pockets as they became empty but I found a way of tensioning the elastic to stop this happening. The two lower pockets can also hold soft-flasks so it would be possible to carry more than 2 litres of liquid on the front of the pack if you wished.
The zipped front pockets are large enough to fit a reasonably sized phone whilst map, compass, hat, gloves and food can all be stored in the other front pockets. I was a little sceptical of the usefulness of the two zipped pockets on the shoulders, thinking that whatever you carried in them would dig into you. However, the 3mm foam padding on the shoulder straps gave adequate protection and I actually used the pockets as a secure place for my keys without feeling any discomfort.
The rear, horizontal mesh pockets were useful. When fastpacking I used them for my tent footprint to keep it apart from other items once it was wet / muddy. When not carrying a tent I used the pockets to carry my waterproof jacket to enable easy access to it. It is harder (although not impossible) to access these pockets if using the rear straps to carry a tent. I don’t tend to use trekking poles but I did use the attachment cords to carry the pole for my tarp.
The pack is one size fits all. Across the front there are three straps with adjustable clip fastenings. The top two are non stretch whilst the lower one is elastic and all three can be moved up or down to get the best fit. The front and rear sections of the pack are attached to each other with elastic cord. This, along with the lower elasticated strap across the front, allows the pack to be worn snugly whilst not being too restrictive as the elastic allows for stretch.
There is plenty of scope for adjustment but I found that once tightened the spare elastic cords dangled and annoyed me whilst I ran. I resorted to tying knots in them to prevent this, but that then meant that I couldn’t loosen the cord. It may seem like a minor irritation but if I was paying a lot of money for a pack I wouldn’t want any irritations!
I’m sometimes reluctant to comment on fit and comfort of products because it is subjective and dependent on individual body shape. I’m small and slim for a male and occasionally I find items too big on me. However there were no such problems with the Instinct pack. The design makes it more of a race vest than a backpack and the elasticated cord that allows the pack to be tensioned meant it felt like I was wearing it rather than carrying it on my back.
The pack has straps on either side that allow the main compartment and roll-top pocket to be compressed if not full. This reduces the volume and means that it doesn’t feel like you are running with an empty pack on your back. I found the pack stable, so even fully loaded with tent and overnight kit it was possible to jog without things bouncing around. The pack has a 3mm EVA foam back panel that helps prevent items digging into your back, although it would still be best to pack items such as pot and stove thoughtfully to minimise discomfort.
The pack looks and feels well made but that means it isn’t cheap, coming in at over £200 including two 600ml flasks. As such it isn’t the sort of item that you’d want to mis-treat and so you’d need to be careful, particularly in terms of caring for the zips, keeping them clean and avoiding over stressing them.
- Lots of storage options.
- Easily adjustable.
Dangly elastic cords.
Maybe over engineered with too many zips and clips.
The Instinct XX20-24L pack is well made and versatile with lots of storage options. It is roomy enough to carry the gear needed for a lightweight camp yet doesn’t feel too big if you are carrying less kit for trail running. The pack would make a good pack for multi-day events such as the Dragon’s Back or Summer Spine where you are required to carry more equipment than a normal trail race. It is also good for excursions where you want to travel fast and light whilst carrying enough kit to be safe and comfortable.
Although expensive, it could be that the pack fulfils the roles of both a smaller and larger pack meaning that you don’t need to buy both.
Personally, I would choose a simpler, less expensive pack, but if you can afford it and are the kind of person who is well organised and likes a place for everything then the Instinct XX20-24L pack is definitely worth considering.
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About the author:
Dave Taylor is an experienced, competitive fell runner based in the Peak District and runs for Dark Peak Fell Runners. He is a UK Athletics coach specialising in fell and mountain running: Fell Running Guide