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When asked to review the VAUDE Asymmetric Backpack, which the official product page describes as “[uniting] carrying comfort with spacious storage,” I make it my goal to test this pack along one of the least comfortable trails in my proverbial backyard: the BCMC.

Steep, strenuous and unrelentingly uphill, this North Vancouver hike runs adjacent to the notorious Grouse Grind. As a hike, there’s nothing all that enjoyable about either trail. They’re tedious routes that unfurl one repetitive step after another, squeezing sweat from every pore. It’s a pulse pounding, chest heaving and arms-affixed-in-right-angles-at-the-hips-to-keep-your-airway-maximum-open type hike. (There isn’t even a good viewpoint along the way.) The fact that the BCMC makes you strain for each step qualifies it as the perfect route to put Asymmetric through the gears.

The VAUDE Asymmetric Backpack I’m testing is a women’s style 38+8. It has a volume of 38 litres and can be expanded by an additional eight (for a total of 46 litres) via a height-adjustable lid. This volume of pack means Asymmetric is best suited to day hikes or multi-night trips where lodging is provided, like hut-to-hut hiking.

backpack imageJennifer Hubbert

Before setting out on the BCMC, I familiarized myself with the backpack at home. Slipping the frame onto my back, the first thing I notice is the length of the packit’s short. Upon closer inspection, I notice the back length can be adjusted. On the “minimum” length setting, the tail sits a few inches above my tailbone, which I appreciate. The lofty clearance means the pack doesn’t rub or obstruct the movement of my torso. Releasing the adjustable suspension system to the “maximum” setting seems to add nine centimetres of length to the pack. What’s this feature all about? Well, VAUDE describes the women’s Asymmetric as “engineered for the female form.” The shorter back is the first clue.

Next, I adjust the shoulder straps and affix the clips. The placement of the chest strap stands out. (And not just because it doubles as a safety whistle.) The strap runs across the sternum, which I like because it does not compress or constrict my bust as some packs have done in the past. Plus, I’m going to need all the oxygen I can get on the BCMC.

At the hip, the belt is thick (12.7 centimetres at its widest, tapering to 10 centimetres toward the buckle), relative to the 38+8 volume of the pack and generously padded. (It looks to rival hip belts of overnight bags.) 

Last, I adjust the shoulder straps, leaving them extended rather long (at 5’11”, I’m taller than average), while taking note of them being overall on the shorter side. VAUDE describes its ErgoShape shoulder straps as “adapted to the female anatomy” and “[fitting] comfortably without constricting for optimal freedom of movement.”

backpackJennifer Hubbert

The day I perform the gear test, summer rain cascades from a blanket of low clouds shrouding Grouse Mountain Regional Park. The muggy air hangs thick and the trail is slick.

From the tailgate of my van, I slip two water bottles into two stretchy exterior pockets, feeling confident that anything stored there is safe.

I stuff snacks and a few extra layers into the main compartment and, for the sake of adding weight, pack a few errant items lying about the vehicle. I load the items from the top, but this chamber is handily accessed by a zipper on the front, too. (Rummaging through a carefully packed bag is never a good lookon a hike or at the airport.) In the main compartment there is dedicated space for a hydration reservoir and a tube opening.

As far as accessible zippered storage, there’s an exterior pocket on the front of the pack and a pocket on the hip belt. Still fairly accessible (but you’ll need a friend to assist if you want anything while wearing it) is a zippered chamber within the lid. Within that pocket is a zippered, mesh sub-compartment.

After filling the pack, I use two exterior compression straps on each side to cinch the load. (There’s a third compression strap inside, too.)

I load the Asymmetric onto my back and set off for the trailhead.

The BCMC gains a staggering 853 metres elevation across its three kilometres of uneven, varied terrain. From steps to scramble to foot bridges, the forested route ascends without much forgiveness.

hiking the trailJennifer Hubbert

Most hikers I encounter carry nothing with them, save for a water bottle or lightweight pack. By all accounts, I’m overloaded. But this is a gear test, after all.

The trek is not easy but despite the weight I’m carrying, I’m not uncomfortable. Sure, I’m out of breath, but I’m not straining or buckling under the load. Asymmetric is ergonomic; back-friendly, even. In fact, the frame of the pack isn’t flush pressed to my lower back. It’s a feature called the Tergolight Comfort Space suspension system and it’s a relief in terms of load (the recesses in the lower back to reduce pressure on the sacroiliac joint), but also temperature. Air flows through the vented pocket between pack and back.

 

The Takeaway:

Asymmetric’s smart design provides hikers with a technical pack loaded with features. The Tergolight Comfort Space and short/adjustable back length are the reasons I’ll keep reaching for this backpack over others. During this hike, water bottles stored in the exterior stretch pockets were not as accessible as I would have hoped. (I released the sternum strap to better reach them.) In the future, I’ll use a hydration pack instead. Hikers who like to have their phone handy might find the zippered hip belt pocket to be a bit small for their device. If so, I recommend wearing pants or shorts with a deep pocket for accessible phone storage.

 

VAUDE Asymmetric Backpack W 38+8 Fast Facts

backpackJennifer Hubbert

Handy additional features: exterior gear loops/daisy chain, attachment loops on the lid, an attachment point for one pole, a rain cover, informative graphics beneath the lid for alpine emergencies.

Weight: 1,480 grams

Dimensions: 65 x 30 x 27 cm

Materials: face (100% polyester), coating (100% polyurethane 600D), lining (100% polyurethane 150D coating)

Eco-friendly construction: Certified bluesign®; offset for climate neutrality, primarily made from recycled materials and recycled PET plastic bottles and crafted through resource-efficient production and fair manufacturing. VAUDE’s water repellant Eco Finish is manufactured without the use of environmentally harmful fluorocarbons.

Similar products: VAUDE Asymmetric Backpack 38+8 is available in a men’s version and also in a larger 42+8 volume.

  

This article was sponsored by VAUDE

Thinking with foresight. Being considerate in our dealings with others. Acting from the heart. This is how we can move forward. In outdoor sports. In everyday life. And in the development of sustainable products. Because future generations will only be able to enjoy the mountains and a pristine planet if we conserve what we love.