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Hands-on Gear Review

Deuter Compact EXP 12 Review

Compact EXP 12
Top Pick Award
Price:   $135 List | $94.50 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Good storage, cool back panel
Cons:  Poor hose management, lack of stability
Editors' Rating:     
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  • 5
Manufacturer:   Deuter

Our Verdict

This hydration pack from Deuter is the sturdiest of all contenders. It reminded us of a quality backpacking pack with its full internal frame, making it feel like a pack among sacks. Despite its robust feeling, the Deuter Air system is a favorite for staying cool when temps rise and an ideal choice for hot summer missions.


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84
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16 oz 610 cu in / 10 L 100 oz / 3 L
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$135
Top Pick Award
32 oz 610 cu in / 10 L 100 oz / 3 L
71
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14 oz 2 L 70 oz / 2 L
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42.4 oz 700 cu in / 11.47 L 70 oz / 2 L

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Tommy Penick
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
May 18, 2017

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The Compact Air EXP 12 vs. the EXP 10


Deuter revisited the design of the Compact EXP for 2017. The main changes take place in the shoulder straps, hip belt, and a brand new back system. These updates impacted the weight and price of this pack, increasing both. Check out the side-by-side comparison of both hydration pack. The new Compact EXP 12 is on the left and the prior Compact Air EXP 10 is on the right.

Compact EXP 12
Deuter Compact Air EXP 10
 

Here's a summary of the key differences:
  • Shoulder Straps — Deuter claims to have improved the fit of the shoulder straps for greater freedom of movement.
  • Hip Belt — The latest version boasts a new Auto-Compress hip wing construction, going for a more compact, tight fit around the waist.
  • New Airstripes System — We appreciated the back ventilation on the previous model, and Deuter aims to improve a good thing. This new back system reduces back contact, allows precise adjustments, and optimize load distribution, according to the manufacturer.
  • Graphic Design and Colors — No product update is complete without new colors and graphic design changes, and this model is no different. The new colors also have great names, such as steel-papaya (blue and orange) and black-granite (black and gray).
  • Weight — The new EXP 12 weighs six ounces more than the Air EXP 10.
  • Price — The latest iteration in this product line costs $135, which is an increase of five bucks on its predecessor.

We are currently testing the Compact EXP 12. Until we complete our comprehensive review, the assessments below continue to reflect the older version.

Hands-On Review of the Compact Air EXP 10



Comfort


Detail of the Deuter Compact Air EXP 10's back panel that allows for heat to escape.
Detail of the Deuter Compact Air EXP 10's back panel that allows for heat to escape.

The most visually apparent aspect to this pack, the full suspension internal frame, is the single most important aspect to its comfort. The suspension frame makes carrying more weight in this pack possible. Many hydration packs forgo rigidity for bags that resemble knapsacks more than backpacks, leading to a bulging pack that sits awkwardly on your frame like an overstuffed high school backpack. In addition to its obvious fit and carrying benefits, the frame without a doubt carries much cooler than any other pack we tested. Not only does this mean you're more comfortable in the heat, but it means you're going through less water which also means you're carrying less, and moving faster. If ditching heat is a real concern of yours, take an extra second to check out this pack.

Though we were disappointed in the shoulder material  we did appreciate the way the straps met the pack's frame.
Though we were disappointed in the shoulder material, we did appreciate the way the straps met the pack's frame.

Despite all that nice stuff we just said about the comfort, there definitely are drawbacks. In their efforts to keep the pack lightweight and cool, they skimped a bit of comfort out of the straps. A lot of comfort. While every other manufacturer used some mixture of open and closed cell foam to make cushy and supportive straps, Deuter opted to use a thick, rubber coated mesh. With little to no load, these work alright. But as the load increases, so does the discomfort. Additionally, the straps have a tendency to roll up or fold over on themselves, crease, and not lay flat until you manually put it back in its natural position. In addition to this material being used on the shoulder straps, it's also used in the hip belt, rendering it almost useless.

Detail of the Deuter Compact Air EXP 10's thin shoulder straps.
Detail of the Deuter Compact Air EXP 10's thin shoulder straps.

Stability


Though the spine of the pack supports weight well, unfortunately, the appendages connected to the body do not. Between the scrawny hip and shoulder straps, the pack's ability to carry a load is significantly compromised. Additionally, the extremely slick back panel makes for a slippery surface that slides up and down and left to right while being jostled around. There were a few times we felt like the pack was going to come over our heads during rough parts of the trail. Though a solid hip belt should calm the movement, the insufficient hip belt of this pack leaves us wanting more.

Adding onto the pack's tendency to bounce, the hose management for this pack is also a bit lackluster. We were hoping to see more options for wrangling the long hose to keep it from bouncing into our faces at all the wrong times. Instead, we were continually frustrated with how much spare hose was getting in our way.

Though we were disappointed in the stability of the pack, it's important to really be critical of your uses. If you're using the pack just for hiking (which Deuter recommends for this pack), then stability really isn't a huge issue, and the benefits of the AIR design might outweigh others.

Ease of Drinking


Deuter's Source hydration bladder is right around par in terms of the suction needed to actually access the water--we saw nearly no difference between this and the Osprey or Camelbak bladders.

In terms of hose access, the lengthy hose which bothered us while riding does, however, make accessing it to drink, very easy. With a quick release clip and a velcro strap that allows even more hose extension, it's even easy to give a buddy some water when in need.

Ease of Filling


Deuter was one of the first companies to start utilizing the Source hydration bladders, which have been a fan favorite due to their ease of use since the beginning. Utilizing the quick release hose, we would pop the hose off and leave it attached to the pack, fill the bladder, and hook it back up. This really speeds up the process and avoids a lot of headache and spills.

Bladders fall more or less into two categories; top fill, and side fill. The Source bladders are top fill, which makes filling the pack with a hose or a deep sink very easy, but with a shallow sink more difficult/impossible. The top fill, however, are easier to handle, easier to clean, and easier to fill when vertical height isn't an issue. Take a look at how you fill your current bladder. Is it with a garden hose behind the bike shop? Or in your kitchen sink? This might make your decision for you. And don't forget, you can always mix and match packs with bladders.

Weight


Though the pack weight of the Compact Air EXP 10 is almost twice our Editors' Choice, the Osprey Raptor 10, we hardly felt the difference. For the extra frame features included, we were pretty impressed with how light Deuter kept the pack, weighing in right at 32oz.

Durability/Leakage


While we saw no leakage issues with the bladder, we had a few duds with the bite valve. While we had one bladder we used for five years with no problems, we had two delivered that had air leak issues. When biting to drink, air would seep into the line, and make drinking more difficult. We found this to be a quality control issue more than anything else. The design works great if you get one that works, but be weary of purchasing one from somewhere without a decent return policy.

Ease of Cleaning


One of the hands down biggest advantages of the top filling design is its ease of cleaning. With the massive opening, you can easily reach down inside the bladder with a simple paper towel and wipe out the interior. Drying the bladder is a huge plus, too. We prefer this design to nooks and crannies where moisture can get trapped and lead to mold. The Source bladders air out wonderfully.

Storage


The Compact Air EXP 10 has some of the best storage features we've seen, second only to the Osprey Raptor 10. The overall design of the pack allows this to be the roomiest 10 liter pack tested, allowing us to carry spare clothes and food during longer days. Additionally, the pack is chocked full of smaller compartments that make organization easier.

Other Versions and Accessories


Deuter Speed Lite 20
  • Cost - $90
  • Lightweight design
  • Slightly larger than this pack - 20L capacity
  • Well designed for carrying while active
Tommy Penick

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: May 18, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 100%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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