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Deuter Compact EXP 12 Review

A beefy hydration pack that is the most substantial in our test
Deuter Compact EXP 12  Spring 2018 colorway
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Price:  $135 List | $135.00 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Excellent organization, supportive, comfortable
Cons:  Heavy
Manufacturer:   Deuter
By Jason Cronk ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 7, 2020
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 14
  • Ease of Drinking - 20% 7
  • Ease of Filling - 20% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Storage - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 2
  • Ease of Cleaning - 10% 9

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, one of the largest adjustable cargo volumes of our test packs, and extras like a rain cover, it's easy to see why this is a favorite. This 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 a few extra ounces, this is one to consider.

New Colorways
Since we got our hands on this hydration pack, Deuter switched up the colorways, but the change is limited to aesthetics.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

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


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.

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 hose and out to the Helix twist closure 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 some other top-ranked bite valves, it's more than adequate. The effort needed to drink is pleasant, other than when you're 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 is 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. 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, heavy-duty construction, and a full opening on the top end.

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

The drinking hose attaches securely with a quick-release button at the bottom of the bladder. The hose can be routed through the upper portion of the shoulder straps via hook and loop flaps that make access easy. To keep the hose in place, Deuter put hook and loop keeper straps on the fronts of the shoulder straps.

Convenient quick disconnect fitting
Convenient quick disconnect fitting

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!

One of the widest openings in our test  the Compact EXP was easy to fill and clean.
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, like it was hugging our back. 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 panel (the dual mesh-covered and raised foam back panel), which Deuter claims increases airflow to 80% of the back's surface area. While we didn't measure the exact size of the Airstripes versus our own back's surface area, we can attest to the excellent ventilation the pack provides while riding, hiking, and even spring skiing.

This Compact EXP 12 is even comfortable with spring skiing loads too! For a plethora of daytime activities  this model has what it takes in terms of storage.
This Compact EXP 12 is even comfortable with spring skiing loads too! For a plethora of daytime activities, 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 hip belt, beefier than most of the others in our hydration pack test. The belt is anatomically shaped and is relatively wide, made with mesh wings. The adjustability of the belt is through sliders on both sides that have been routed the opposite of other hip 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.

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.

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

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 its great comfort and easy filling and drinking, the EXP 12 receives top scores for its storage. At 12 liters, the overall storage volume of this pack lands in the middle of our lineup, but has an option for expansion up to 15 liters (via opening a dedicated zipper that creates the additional space). At first glance, we noticed the deep U-shaped zipper that opens the entire front panel of the pack. Once opened, there is a 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" x 5" pouch with a velcro flap closure. Immediately below this assortment of pockets and loops are two 5" x 3.5" open mesh pockets that were ideal for stashing energy bars and food. 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 an 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. The helmet storage works for typical all-mountain helmets as well as having enough stretch for our larger full-face helmets.

Storage for a standard helmet!
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 is 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, 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 are 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 pack, 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 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 hip belt, which is ideal for things like energy gels, lip balm, sunscreen, etc.

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 weigh all of our test packs ourselves and found this pack came in among the heaviest in the lineup at 2lbs 12.8oz, nearly a pound heavier than the comparable packs.

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.

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, but keep this in mind when you're making gear comparisons.

Ease of Cleaning


The effort required to clean the Compact EXP 12's hydration bladder is easy with the dedicated hydration sleeve and quick-release drinking hose. As with filling the bladder, we didn't experience any issues with cleaning it and found it quick and easy to dismantle the hydration bladder and shove our hand inside with our favorite cleaning devices.

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

Value


While not significantly cheaper, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 is a few dollars less than the priciest models in our lineup. While we aren't able to evaluate the 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.

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.

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