I won't be out this weekend - lousy weather and many commitments - so here you are. HTML at http://tinyurl.com/a5d479d
LONG TERM REPORT - December 5, 2012
At the beginning of October I carried the Mercury 75 on a two-night, two-day backpack in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, a backpack-fishing combination. More of the same boring, marvelous backpacking weather - daytime highs about 75 F (24 C), nights down to 25 F (-4 C), no appreciable wind and utterly no precipitation. The morning temperatures in the Park were however well below the dew point and there was frost everywhere and lovely mist on the water. I hiked about five miles (8 km) to camp, gaining about 600 feet (180 m) in elevation along the way. My pack weight was about thirty pounds (14 kg) including food, water, and fishing kit.
Next use was an overnight car-camping trip along the West Boulder River near McLeod, Montana, following an eight-mile (14 km) day hike to the meadows up the trail, following a very gentle uphill route on the way in, for a picnic and some fishing. Temperatures during the hike were 70 F (21 C) on yet another cloudless, windless day. I did packhorse duty on this trip, carrying the picnic lunch for the four of us plus two liters of extra water andchildren's rain gear and related items. Lunch included a bottle of wine so my overall load was about thirty pounds (14 kg). All items fit easily inside the main pack bag, except sunscreen and fly box in the top pocket, energy bars and multitool in the hipbelt pockets, and fly rod tube on the right side (as in the photo in my Field Report).
In mid-October I carried the Mercury 75 on a ten-mile (16 km) day hike on the South Cottonwood Canyon trail in the Hyalite Range, just south of Bozeman. The hike was generally flat, though we did follow South Cottonwood Creek upstream most of the way. Without children or picnic paraphenalia my load was much lighter, perhaps fifteen pounds (7 kg) thanks to a vacuum bottle of hot Acli-Mate Mountain Sports drink (see separate Test Report). Temperatures varied from 30-40 F (-1 to 4 C), with occasional very gusty winds, creating a misery index well below the actual temperature. Noteworthy on this hike was my use of the side compression straps to cinch the pack down, very effectively keeping the limited contents from bouncing about.
My Mercury 75 made its debut on skis in early November on an overnight trip along the Blacktail Divide trail in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Winter kit included a group stove, most of the group food, a second sleeping bag, and an expedition weight down jacket, bringing total pack weight to about forty-five pounds (20 kg). We skinned in about three miles (5 km) to our campsite, gaining 800 feet (240 m) to about 7000 feet (2000 m), skiing out back down the same trail. There was insufficient snow cover for any downhill ski runs (a gross understatement). Though clear and with little wind it was very cold, -3 F (-15 C) at the trailhead dropping to -12 F (-24 C) early the following morning. (Now you may understand why I packed that extra sleeping bag, which was used as an overbag.) This trip was the first time I used the straps below the front pocket, item (f) under Additional Straps in my Initial Report. They secured a rolled-up foam sleeping pad.
I don't have much to add to the test results, likes, and dislikes reported in my Field Report. A few random notes -
On my recent Yellowstone fishing trip I again detached the top pocket for storage of my fly box, floatant, tippet, and split shot, and was just as pleased as before with the results. A pleasant bonus for a backcountry fly fisherman.
Again the front zipper to the main pack bagcame in handy, on two separate occasions for two different reasons. It made access to kids' jackets and our lunch easy on the picnic, and it permitted similarly easy access to my down vest and wool cap at frequent breaks on the ski trek occasioned by photo ops, wildlife near the trail, and trail conditions changes among snow, ice, and frozen mud. If I remember to place an item I expect to use near the zipper, something easily done by packing that item last using the front zipper, I have an easy way to keep something not waterproof or too bulky to hang on the outside of the pack ready to hand. When I first examined the pack I didn't expect to use this zipper much, but now I consider it an extremely useful feature, certainly worth the extra weight.
My final commendation for a feature goes to the zippered mesh pocket inside the top of the pack. This is a very handy spot for spare energy bars, bug spray, sunblock, or other gear that I don't expect to need but just might.
After five months' use of this fine pack, among its many attributes I rank BD's suspension system at the top of my list of likes. The suspension alone makes this pack a big-time winner in my book. The pack rides as well on my hips as any large pack I've ever worn. Separating the movement of the pack from the hipbelt makes for a truly comfortable carry. (Well, as comfortable as one can be with a forty-pound [18 kg] load.) If anything this system is even more suited to use when on skis, as the kick-and-glide of skinning and the short turns while descending on a trail cause greater pack movement than hiking on dirt or scree. As with straight hiking the pack bag's movement while on skis took some getting used to, and the separated motion is more pronounced on skis because of the greater range of body motion. Just as with hiking though, once I became used to it I didn't give it another thought.
My high opinion of the suspension system is not intended to denigrate the Mercury 75's many other good points, however. I'm happy to report that experience has borne out my first impression, noted in my Initial Report: The Mercury 75 is a fully-featured but not over-featured pack. My ordinary use of the pack has involved all the features listed there, without just contriving to do so for reporting purposes. All work as advertised, and all have been useful. Equally importantly, I wouldn't add much if anything to what is there even if I could design this pack from scratch. The only feature on any other pack that I've owned that I'd like to have is a zippered side pocket for winter storage of a hot drink-bearing vacuum bottle. I've only seen such a pocket, however, on a pack that I did design from scratch; see my Test Report on my R² Telemaster Pack. Hence its absence on the Mercury 75 is excused.
Not even on my winter conditions ski trip did I use all 77 liters (4700 cubic inches) of the pack's listed capacity, though I probably would have come close if I had scrunched the foam pad inside the main pack bag. If I were reading instead of writing this Test Report I'd probably opt to purchase the Mercury 65. Of course that is not criticism of the product, merely a reflection of my own backpacking preferences and style, as is the comment in my Field Report about desiring larger pockets on the hipbelt. In fact it's intended as a backhanded compliment, as the pack's design delivers extremely efficient use of all available space, inside and outside the pack bag.
Once set the suspension system hasn't needed adjusting, so I haven't had to fiddle with the Allen wrench and the Mercury's tricky system for connecting bag to belt. Given my praise for the suspension system it should be obvious that I consider the initial manipulation well worth the trouble. I do hope however that BD clarifies its instructions on how to do it.
My Test Report ends here, with sincere thanks to Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Mercury 75, a pack that has quickly become my favorite for larger loads.