Patagonia Nine Trails 18 - Women's Review
Cons: Shoulder straps too close together, many usability flaws
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Previously tested in the 26L size, we retested the Nine Trails in the 18L. It's made of 210D Cordura ripstop nylon with DWR treatment and comes in two sizes; S/M (which we tested with a 16-19" torso and 28-36" waist) and L/XL (19-22" torso, 32-42" waist).
This pack earns one of the lowest scores in our review for comfort. Though it has ample shoulder and hip belt padding, the shoulder straps are uncomfortably close together. The previous version was even closer together and less comfortable, and though this latest model is slightly better, it's still not our favorite. Unless we wore the pack much lower than it's intended to be worn, the straps rub uncomfortably against the sides of our necks. We had several friends test it out too, to make sure it wasn't just a complaint of our main tester, and they all reported having the same issue. Though women's daypacks typically feature more narrow shoulders, this is a little too extreme for our comfort.
The Nine Trails, on paper, has all the same pockets as most similar-use daypacks. However, at just about every turn, we discovered these pockets aren't as user-friendly as they ought to be, which diminishes the bag's overall versatility. The bike light loop is vertically oriented when nearly every other bag's is horizontal to help ensure the light doesn't fall off. The side pockets fit regular 1L bottles just fine, but are so tall they're nearly impossible to access while you're wearing the pack. When you put a hydration bladder in the interior sleeve, threading the hose through either one of the very tight holes above the shoulder straps is a struggle. And once it finally is in place, the hose ends up covering one end of the poorly place internal zippered pocket. However, we do appreciate the ability to remove the sternum strap if you don't want to use it (or if you need to move it up or down in placement). Though if you do remove this strap, the hose clip for your water bladder leaves along with it.
At 25.25 ounces, this bag is on the lighter end of average of the packs we tested. While it doesn't come with a rain cover, the material is DWR treated with a polyurethane coating and does a pretty good job keeping your things dry from light to moderate rain. Though prolonged exposure or intense precipitation events will eventually get the best of this coating and wet the pack.
Ease of Use
Patagonia makes this bag in two sizes and two capacities. We tested the S/M for 16-19" torsos and 28-36" waists, and it also comes in L/XL for 19-22" torsos with 32-42" waists. Our main tester is 5'4" with a 17" torso and the S/M is about just right for her. Yet again though, this is about where what we like about this bag ends. We once again find the Nine Trails is lacking a lot of extra adjustment features we've come to appreciate. While the 26L version has load lifter straps, the 18L version doesn't. A single side buckle is all it offers for load cinching, which often just isn't enough to stop contents from bouncing around. The hip belt also tightens by pulling the tails backward rather than forward, which is much more challenging to get an even fit.
This pack is also surprisingly challenging to pack correctly and very difficult to dig around in effectively. The top opens with a U-shaped dual zipper that easily catches going around the tight corners of the squared U-top. Though it opens the entire top of the pack, the zippers don't extend down the sides at all. This means you have to perfectly plan your packing strategy every time, as unless you pull out all the items on top, it's nearly impossible to reach the jacket you crammed in the bottom. We tried using this bag as a crossover commuter/travel bag, just to see how it handles those contents. It does fit a full-sized laptop in a sleeve, but it's a bit awkward. In fact, the more awkwardly shaped objects we put inside this bag, the harder it was to pack effectively. When preparing for a trip using this bag as a personal item carry-on, we packed it with a laptop, notebook, magazine, Kindle, charging cords, extra layer, water bottle, etc., and could barely fit it all in. It was also exceptionally challenging to locate what we needed on short notice through the narrow top opening, like looking down a long, full tube trying to see what's at the bottom.
This is where the Nine Trails shines brightest. The outside is made of 4.2oz 210D Cordura ripstop nylon and treated with DWR finish and polyurethane coating. The interior lining is 3.3oz 200D polyester and the bottom of the bag is reinforced with a thick panel. It does have the typical, exposed mesh outer pockets on the sides and front, but we didn't have any issues with them snagging or tearing during our several months of testing. Patagonia also backs their products with free lifetime repairs, which is an excellent policy for any piece of outdoor gear.
Though less than the 26L version by a good margin, the Nine Trails 18 isn't cheap. Considering our testers pretty universal dislike of the comfort of this pack and numerous issues with its usability, we just don't think it's worth your hard-earned money. Even if you're a die-hard Patagonia fan and are excited about a durable bag, we think there are far better options out there - and most of them cost less too.
As much as we wanted to like the Patagonia Nine Trails, it just doesn't impress us. It's particularly lacking when it comes to comfort and ease of use - and doesn't even have a price tag that might make it more worth consideration. We hope future iterations of this bag are more comfortable and user-friendly than this one.
— Maggie Brandenburg