Deuter ACT Trail 38 EL Backpack review
Germany based Deuter has been making well made, thoughtfully designed packs at a reasonable price for many years and I was excited to test their newest all around hiking pack, the ACT Trail 38 EL. The EL stands for Extra Long and this version was designed specifically for taller people with longer torsos. Deuter wanted to create a series of its packs that would meet the needs of longer torso hikers/backpackers without sacrificing features or comfort. The ACT Trail 38 EL is the perfect size for a daypack/overnight trip hybrid and incorporates some great features. NOTE: the Deuter ACT Trail 32 is the exact same pack with a slightly smaller capacity and a standard length. I tested this backpack on several trips to Moab, Utah to get a feel for it.
I like to start with the suspension system when talking about a backpack because no matter how great a bag is, how it sits on your back is paramount. The ACT in ACT Trail 38 is short for deuter’s Aircontact System, which is the name they apply to the shoulder straps, hip belt and padding. The system is designed to keep a good airflow going along your back and reduce sweating. Open-cell foam padding is covered with mesh at all contact points and I found this to provide a good deal of comfort while hiking through the hot desert sun of Moab. A large air channel down the center of the back padding did allow air to move through what is usually the sweatiest part of my back. After hiking up and down rocky and sandy terrain for 4 miles to get to the far side of a canyon, I took the pack off and noticed that I didn’t have as much of the tell-tale sweat lines on my shirt along the backpack’s contact points with my torso. As for load carrying comfort, the ACT Trail 38 did an adequate job supporting my day hike load including food, change of clothing, rain jacket, climbing harness, camera, and first aid kit. I was able to adjust the moderately padded hip belt to direct a good portion of the load to my hips and did not feel excess pull on my shoulders over 8+ miles. Having been spoiled by pivoting hip belts on some other bags, I will never be fully satisfied with the load stability of traditional hip belts but the ACT Trail 38 did a decent job while I was scrambling up a canyon. The suspension system offers good adjustability with hip belt stabilizer straps, height adjustable shock absorbing sternum strap, and shoulder stabilizer straps.
The Deuter ACT Trail 38 has a well designed and organized pack bag that makes it easy to store and access your gear. On one side is a very large zippered pocket that is good for storing a water bottle or other gear you want quicker access to. Hiking pole / ice axe loops are available for those in need of them. Thankfully, Deuter included one of my non-negotiable features in a hiking pack and put an elastic front compartment that is perfect for a jacket or climbing gear. The top lid of the pack has a good size outer pocket for small items like cameras, lights, keys, etc and an underneath pocket that is good for quick access items you want to keep out of the rain in a drizzle. As is standard on all packs these days, a hydration sleeve accommodated my water bladder without issues and a hose pass through put the drinking spout where I needed it. A common challenge with stuffed top loading backpacks is getting to your gear that is buried at the bottom and deuter took the front zipper approach to solving this. A two-way zipper surrounds the front panel and allows you full access to the pack back even with the top lid closed. I found this extremely convenient when stopping to pull out food or clothes as well as for organizing the bag before setting out. Rounding out the features is another thing that I wish all packs came standard with and that is a rain cover with a dedicated pouch. The waterproof pack cover had an elastic band that kept it tightly on the bag as I sloshed through a creek for miles.
Overall, the deuter ACT Trail 38 EL is an excellent daypack/overnight option for longer torsoed hikers and backpackers. It offers a well rounded feature set and a good fit. Comfort proved to be solid on a variety of terrain and should make a nice all around pack for many people.