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Hands-on Gear Review

Deuter Compact EXP 12 Review

Deuter Compact Air EXP 12
Price:   $135 List | $87.75 at CampSaver
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Excellent organization, supportive, comfortable
Cons:  Heavy
Bottom line:  A beefy hydration pack that is the most substantial in our test.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Deuter

Our Verdict

The Deuter Compact EXP 12 is a do it all hydration pack with a multitude of advanced features geared toward mountain bike riders who are in for the long haul. With three liters of liquid carrying capacity, the largest adjustable cargo capacity of our test packs, and extras like a rain cover, it's easy to see why this was a favorite. Keep reading to find out why this pack was a frontrunner along with the Osprey Raptor 10, Osprey Syncro 10, and Platypus Duthie A.M. 10.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Hydration Packs for Hiking and Biking


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jason Cronk
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday
July 15, 2017

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The Deuter Compact EXP 12 is made for long days in the saddle, eating up mile after dirty mile while carrying everything you'll need. The pack has a ton of extras and bike-specific features, as well as things like an integrated rain cover. The one place this model does suffer a bit is its weight in comparison to other similar competitors.

Performance Comparison


Check out the chart below to see why the EXP 12 (shown in blue) was such a strong contender for our favorite larger hydration pack this year.


Ease of Drinking


The Compact EXP 12 stores up to three liters of water in its Streamer 3.0 hydration bladder which delivers the liquid through a quick disconnect fitting into the Source drinking tube and out to the twist closure Helix bite valve. The bite valve is a soft silicone material, which makes drinking easy.

Shown here is Deuter's bite valve.
Shown here is Deuter's bite valve.

While the flow rate isn't quite as high as the CamelBak bite valves, it's more than adequate, more similar to the flow rates we experienced with the Osprey Raptor 10, Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, and Osprey Syncro 10. We found the effort needed to drink was pleasant, other than when our testers were really huffing and puffing uphill. One reviewer summed it up well: "The bite valve for the hydration hose is more restrictive than what I'm used to. I tend to chug a few gulps of water rather than slowly sip. The slower water output makes that more challenging when I'm out of breath." At a time like that, we did experience some awkward animalistic nose breathing and grunting while trying to satisfy our thirst. The simple twisting locking on/off valve was efficient and easy to manipulate, even with riding gloves.

The valve is easy to manipulate - even when wearing gloves.
The valve is easy to manipulate - even when wearing gloves.

Ease of Filling


While some work is required, filling up is relatively easy. A more natural to fill pack, the Osprey Syncro 10, won out over the Deuter. The Compact EXP 12 can be easily filled by opening the hydration system pocket; there is a full-length zipper that spans the entire length of the right side of the pack. Once opened, the hydration bladder is completely accessible. Deuter provides a Streamer 3.0-liter hydration bladder that incorporates hooks for hanging, a heavy duty construction and full opening on the top end.

Fully opening bladder for quick and easy filling
Fully opening bladder for quick and easy filling

The drinking tube attaches securely with a quick disconnect at the bottom of the bladder.

Convenient quick disconnect fitting
Convenient quick disconnect fitting

The tube can be routed through the upper portion of the shoulder straps via hook and loop flaps that make access easy. To keep the tube in place, Deuter put hook and loop keeper straps on the fronts of the shoulder straps.

One of the widest openings in our test  the Compact EXP was easy to fill and clean.
One of the widest openings in our test, the Compact EXP was easy to fill and clean.

After the bladder has been removed (at least partially from the pack), you'll need to slide the beefy orange clamp across the top of the bag, fold the bladder back off itself, and add water. With its fully opening top, the hydration bladder can likely even be filled by a fire hose!

A beefy sliding lock keeps things sealed
A beefy sliding lock keeps things sealed

Once you're filled up, burp the air from the bladder, fold it over, and slide the locking clamp back across the bag. From there it's a quick process to slide the bladder back into its dedicated hydration compartment and velcro the top of the water bag into the keeper loop of the pack. Zip the hydration compartment back up, and you're done!

No drips after sealing the bladder
No drips after sealing the bladder

Comfort


When we put the EXP 12 on, we immediately noticed how supportive the pack felt; this was comparable to the sensation we felt when putting on the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, exactly like the packs were hugging our backs. Deuter utilizes a dual flat steel frame, which stays as the foundation of the pack. We wondered if this may be overkill, which would make the model feel stiff, but were pleasantly surprised to feel the overall flexibility. The stays are internal, and behind the Airstripes, back pad, which Deuter claims (the dual mesh-covered and raised foam back panel) increases airflow to riders' backs to 80% of the back's surface area. While we didn't measure the exact size of the Airstripes versus our own backs' surface areas, we can attest to the excellent ventilation the pack provided while riding, hiking, and even spring skiing.

This Compact EXP 12 is even comfortable with spring skiing loads too! No matter your adventure  this model has what it takes in terms of storage.
This Compact EXP 12 is even comfortable with spring skiing loads too! No matter your adventure, this model has what it takes in terms of storage.

After using and comparing packs, our testers felt the Compact EXP 12 provides the most supportive feel. This competitor also includes a supportive and comfortable waist belt, beefier than most of the others in our hydration pack test, and similar overall to the Osprey Raptor 10 and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. The belt is anatomically shaped and is relatively wide, made with mesh wings. Adjustability of the belt is through sliders on both sides that have been routed the opposite of other waist belts. That means instead of pulling the belt webbing toward your back, you'd pull the webbing forward. It doesn't sound like a significant difference, but we found it to be easier to pull and achieve a snug fit.

Shoulder straps are also anatomically curved and made with the same breathable mesh material as the waist belt, other than the upper portion of the straps that provides most of the support. The uppers are padded lightly with foam and covered with a softer breathable mesh. We found that the wide cut of the shoulder straps provided great support, especially once we weighed the pack down with more gear.

Happy gear testers out for a Tahoe springtime hike with the Osprey Syncro 10 and the Deuter Compact Air EXP 12.
Happy gear testers out for a Tahoe springtime hike with the Osprey Syncro 10 and the Deuter Compact Air EXP 12.

Overall, our testers enjoyed the comfort of this pack, rating the comfort level among the frontrunners in our hydration pack test this year with a final score of 9 out of 10.

John testing the pack's comfort even while loaded down for a long ride.
John testing the pack's comfort even while loaded down for a long ride.

Storage


Along with great comfort, easy filling and drinking, the storage of the EXP 12 was also one of the top rated packs in our fleet. The bike specific features are comparable with the Editors' Choice Platypus Duthie A.M. 10, Osprey Syncro 10 and Osprey Raptor 10. At 12 liters, the overall storage volume of this pack was the highest in our test, with an option for expansion up to 15 liters (via opening a dedicated zipper that creates the additional space).

Out for a spin with one of the largest storage capacity packs in our test  found on the Compact EXP 12.
Out for a spin with one of the largest storage capacity packs in our test, found on the Compact EXP 12.

At first glance, we noticed the deep U-shaped zipper that opens the entire front panel of the pack. Once opened, there is a key keeper clip and full-width zipper secured compartment that is approximately 6" deep located in the top section. Stitched to the front is a 5"x5" panel type pocket with an elasticized pump keeper loop that worked well for keeping our air pumps in one place.

This pack has several pouches suited to mountain bike riding.
This pack has several pouches suited to mountain bike riding.


Next to this pocket is a smaller 2.5"x5" pouch with a velcro flap closure. Immediately below this assortment of pockets and loops are two 5"x3.5" open mesh pockets that were ideal for stashing energy bars and food.

John's glad this pack has good organization for all those bike tools and pump while fixing a flat.
John's glad this pack has good organization for all those bike tools and pump while fixing a flat.

Immediately below the front panel is a small horizontal zipper that accesses a small pouch that stores a mesh helmet keeper. The helmet mesh is attached with elastic material at the lower portion and is stretched up across the entire front flap of the pack, securing with simple hooks to two corded loops up top.

Storage for a standard helmet!
Storage for a standard helmet!

We found the helmet storage worked for typical all mountain helmets as well as having enough stretch for our larger full face helmets.

The helmet storage expands for full face helmets.
The helmet storage expands for full face helmets.

At the bottom of this model is an additional zippered pouch much like the helmet keeper area. This lowest compartment houses a safety yellow waterproof rain cover that stretches over the entire pack, keeping it clean and dry. Deploying the rain cover was convenient; open the zipper, pull the cover out, stretch it over, and secure the cover with two small clips to the upper portion of the shoulder straps. For those of you in frequently wet areas, you may find this is an excellent option.

The pack has an easily deployed rain cover to keep your gear dry.
The pack has an easily deployed rain cover to keep your gear dry.

On the lower portions of the sides of the pack are two stretchy pockets that measure approximately 7"x3". Compression straps can be found located on the tops of these extra stretch pockets - which should help keep your gear more secure. The two top compression straps are attached with quick release buckles and when opened, give access to the large main cargo compartment. This is the biggest load carrying portion of the entire model, and we found it large enough for extra layers, soft pads, etc. There is a large zippered mesh pocket on the front flap side of the compartment and a nylon section on the backside of the pouch, which helps keep your gear organized.

Shown here is the storage in the large gear compartment.
Shown here is the storage in the large gear compartment.

Behind this main compartment is the hydration sleeve that houses the Streamer 3.0 liter hydration bladder as well as the expansion compartment zipper. This zipper runs around the entire pack, other than across the very bottom, which creates an additional three liters of cargo carrying capacity by expanding the main compartment. If you're someone who likes to bring it all, this is a great feature! For extra small items, Deuter places a stretchy zipper secured pocket on each side of the waist belt, which is ideal for things like energy gels, lip balm, sunscreen, etc. With so many convenient storage features, the Deuter came in with a score in this category of 9 out of 10.

The hard charging Deuter pack in action!
The hard charging Deuter pack in action!

Weight


It seems like that with many things in the gear world, there are negatives with the positives and the Deuter Compact EXP 12 is not immune. We weighed all of our test packs and found this pack came in as the heaviest at 2lbs 12.8oz, nearly a pound heavier than the comparable packs like the Osprey Raptor 10 and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. However, keep in mind that it does offer a decent amount of storage.

If you're an ounce or even a gram counter, this may be the tipping point for you, pushing you into one of the other packs. A couple of our testers didn't mind the extra weight when compared to the overall comfort and storage features. Keep this in mind when you're making gear comparisons and maybe offset the difference in weight by eating one less donut?

This was the heaviest pack in our test  but was still decent while climbing.
This was the heaviest pack in our test, but was still decent while climbing.

Ease of Cleaning


The effort required to clean the pack's hydration bladder was easy with the dedicated hydration sleeve and quick disconnect tube. This pack was on par with other contenders like the Osprey Raptor 10 and the Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. As with filling, we didn't experience any issues with cleaning and found it quick and easy to dismantle the hydration bladder and shove our hand inside with our favorite cleaning devices. We found the Deuter Compact EXP 12 was similar to the Osprey and Platypus packs in regards to cleaning and keeping our microbiology experiments to a minimum.

Full access for easy cleaning!
Full access for easy cleaning!

Best Applications


The EXP 12 is your go-to pack for all day mountain adventures whether on your bike or in your trail shoes. This pack is a do-it-all pack for trail riders, runners, hikers, and has enough space to function as a respectable general daypack too. If you're looking for reliable comfort and don't mind an extra few ounces, this is one to consider.

The Compact EXP eats up the miles and vertical and proved to be a solid performer.
The Compact EXP eats up the miles and vertical and proved to be a solid performer.

Value


While not significantly cheaper, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 is a few dollars less than the Osprey Raptor 10 and the more expensive Platypus Duthie A.M. 10. While we didn't evaluate long term durability of our packs, this bag seems to be built for the long haul and should last you several years. Should you experience any manufacturing issues with the pack, Deuter also provides a limited lifetime warranty.

Conclusion


If you're someone who spends a lot of time on the trail, riding, hiking, and running and want a long-living pack with all the latest bells and whistles, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 may be your go-to all mountain pack of choice.

The Compact EXP 12 proved itself on even the longest days.
The Compact EXP 12 proved itself on even the longest days.
Jason Cronk

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Most recent review: July 15, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (4.0)
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