Deuter Compact EXP 12 Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Deuter Compact EXP 12 is made for big days of hiking or mountain biking. This pack has the largest variety of storage pockets that we have ever seen in various shapes and sizes. There are bike-specific features, such as a helmet carry, and more general-purpose extras such as a rain cover and bite valve cover that add value to this pack. The pack supports heavy loads quite well and is comfortable on the back. But, all of the extra features come with a weight penalty as this is the heaviest pack in our line-up.
Ease of Drinking
The Compact EXP 12 comes with Deuter's Streamer 3.0 hydration bladder with a quick connect at the base of the bladder. The large, round silicone bite valve twists open and close and has a cover attached to the hose with a string.
The bite valve does require sucking or sipping and has a decent flow rate when it is fully open. However, it was not our testers' favorite, especially when 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."
The plastic bite valve cover is a nice feature that we never gave much thought to until we had one. Before we put our pack on the ground, we would cover the bite valve, which prevented sand and dirt from sticking to it, something we came to appreciate.
Ease of Filling
While some work is required, filling up the bladder is relatively easy. The Compact EXP 12 bladder has its own side-loading pocket that unzips the entire length of the pack. Once opened, the Streamer 3-liter bladder is easily accessible and hangs from an orange piece of velcro that threads through the bladder's orange clamp, which is easy to undo but more difficult to thread back through the clamp.
The Streamer 3-liter bladder is unique in that it has built-in hooks for hanging. The blue bladder is heavy-duty construction and opens its entire width, which makes filling a breeze. The drinking hose attaches securely with a quick-release button at the bottom of the bladder, and the hose can be routed on either side of the pack's shoulder straps.
Removing the bladder from its compartment takes a bit of care, as you need to unfasten the orange velcro strap and then pull the bladder from the pack. Once the bladder is removed, you can disconnect the quick connect hose. The bladder is held shut by an orange sliding clamp that does not have a leash, so we recommend placing it somewhere where it won't fall and get lost while filling the bladder.
When we put the EXP 12 on, we immediately noticed how supportive the pack felt. Deuter utilizes a dual flat steel frame with stays as the foundation of the pack. The stays are internal and behind the Airstripes mesh 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.
The Compact EXP 12 has a supportive feel that is also partly due to its wide hip belt that wraps the sides of the torso. Adjusting the hip belt is relatively easy, and instead of pulling the belt webbing toward your back to tighten the hip belt, you pull the webbing forward. Even with heavy loads of over 20 pounds, our testers found this pack incredibly supportive and comfortable, making it a great choice for long days with lots of gear.
Our shorter tester felt the pack's length was a touch too long on her torso and prefers packs that sit slightly higher on the back. We recommend trying this pack on for size if you have a smaller torso to make sure the fit is comfortable for you.
Along with its great comfort and easy filling and drinking, the EXP 12 receives top scores for its storage. This pack has a ton of pockets and is a great choice for those who like to be organized. At one point, we even asked ourselves, can you have too many pockets? We'll leave that up to you. At 12 liters, the overall storage volume of this pack lands in the middle of our lineup but has an expandable compartment that increases the volume to 15 liters.
The front of the pack has a storage compartment with five smaller compartments and an elastic loop. These smaller storage areas are great for multitools, knives, bike pumps, keys, wallets, snacks, and more. The main storage compartment has a yellow zipper and unzips about halfway down the pack. Inside this compartment is an additional stretch pocket and a full-length mesh pocket. The mesh pocket is handy for thinner items such as maps, while we liked the stretch pocket to keep dirty items separate from cleaner items. To increase the storage volume of the main compartment, unzip the zipper that runs the entire perimeter of the pack and voila, an additional three liters of storage.
At the base of the pack below the light clip is a small zip pocket that holds a helmet carry. This is useful for mountain bikers who would prefer to climb the fire road sans helmet or those who carry a chin bar for rowdy descents. The pack even has an integrated high vis rain cover found in the pocket below the helmet carry. The rain cover has a blue retention strap that secures it to the pack so it does not blow away while you're trying to put it on. We did test the rain cover on a hike and were pleased with its ability to shed water.
The sides of the pack's main body feature two stretch mesh pockets with compression straps. The compression straps are great for making bulky loads lower profile or for securing trekking poles to the pack by placing their handles in the mesh pockets. Another great feature of this pack is zip-close mesh pockets integrated into the hip belt. Our testers love this location for storing quick-access items like lip balm and snacks.
With many things in the gear world, there are negatives with the positives, and the Deuter Compact EXP 12 is not immune. The pack and bladder weigh 41.6 ounces (2.6 pounds) on our digital scale, which is 0.2 pounds more than the next heaviest pack in our lineup.
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 hands inside with our favorite cleaning devices.
The Deuter Compact EXP 12 is a few dollars less than the priciest models in our lineup and does offer one of the best storage organization systems of all of the packs. It is also one of the few packs in our lineup whose hose can be routed on the left or right side of the shoulder strap.
If you're someone who spends a lot of time on the trail riding or hiking and want a large volume hydration pack with plenty of storage pockets, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 may be your pack of choice.
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