Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Last spring, I looked for a new backpacking backpack for my 12-year-old. She had outgrown all our junior backpacks and needed a larger backpack to carry enough stuff for one or more camping trips. To have enough space for clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, snacks and water, I figured that 50L was a good start. The challenge with her is that she has a narrow upper body, making fit at shoulder and chest level quite tricky with adult backpacks.
After a Decathlon store opened on Kensington High Street in London, I went looking, wondering if I would find the right backpack. That’s how I ended up buying the Forclaz Trek 700 50 + 10L Women’s Mountain Backpack. We’ve used it many times in all types of weather now and I am sharing my review.
Opening the Forclaz 700 50 + 10 Women’s Mountain Backpack is a breeze. It’s done with two zippers in the front and you literally open up the whole backpack from top to bottom in a second. Like peeling an orange, the backpack opens as little or as much as you want and you have direct access to all layers inside the backpack. It’s a very welcome change from standard backpacks with top openings where you struggle to find the one piece of kit that’s lodged at the bottom. This is what it looks like, open.
Pretty neat, right?
If you are really in a hurry, just pull on the top clip and peel the opening panel down. It opens up without having to even having to use the zippers. My daughter loves this! The front panel includes a zippable mess pocket that she uses for toothpaste, hairbrush, headlamp and other small items.
Exterior gear loops provide storage for hiking poles or ice axes, and two zippable side pockets can hold 1-liter water bottle or flip flops/light shoes. An internal pocket makes good storage for a Platypus-type 2L water pouch. The top pocket with zippered security pocket inside for valuables (or to quickly access snacks and sunscreen) is a nice touch.
The one item of design that still baffles me is two side pockets whose use I cannot comprehend given the angle. They are like small baskets with a drawstring opening. Small water bottles maybe? It’s unclear.
It may not matter where you live but in the United Kingdom, a non-waterproof backpack is going nowhere outside. The Forclaz Trek 700 backpack is made of 300 denier polyester with a reinforced base, which makes it durable and not subject to abrasion for starters. As all backpacks sold in the UK, it comes with its own rainfly that comes out of a pocket in the top compartment. I tend to prefer rainflies that come out of the bottom of the bag (as you just pull them out and fit over the top of your backpack) but this works too.
When fully covered, the backpack looks like this – it’s the grey backpack, bottom left, in this picture. If anything, the rainfly is slightly too large, allowing for extra stuff on the outside of your bag, such as tent or gear. We haven’t tested the rainfly in extremely windy situations (think, Scotland in winter) but my guess is that it might flap around. You’d need to tighten it really well and secure the rainfly to one of the backpack loops with the small plastic carabiner that’s attached to it.
Empty, the backpack comes in at 2 kg/4 lbs 4 oz which isn’t light, but given the volume, this is not a backpack for ultralight backpacking and camping anyway. This is the type of backpack that you use when you want some comfort on the trail. When loaded for my daughter for 2 overnights in the Lake District, it weighed roughly 10 kg including sleeping bag, sleeping mat, ultralight 1-person tent, 2L water pouch, clothes, snacks, headlamp, book, toiletries and lightweight sandals.
Both the waist belt and the shoulder straps are well padded and when fully loaded at around 8 to 12 kg, it feels very comfortable and doesn’t cause any strain on the neck.
I mentioned that my daughter has a narrow frame. Even at its smallest, the waist belt doesn’t sit on her hips. It doesn’t hang completely loose either but that means that she carries most of the weight on her shoulders. Hence the importance of a good fit around the shoulders and back. The adjustable back is the feature that really won me over as she is still growing. It’s currently at the XXS setting but it can grow (with her) all the way to L or I can also borrow her backpack and adjust it to the length of my back.
I’ve found that this backpack is so convenient, with its front pull-down opening design, that I’ve taken it to the beach for a picnic, to an apple farm to pick apples and to a swim and hike in the River Thames with friends. As you can see, it’s a good all-around backpack that goes beyond mountains and wilderness.
As with most Decathlon gear, the price is very reasonable for the quality you get and I bought mine for £69.99 (basically £70).