Every so often, a product comes along that makes you think “I wish I thought of that”. That is exactly what the Paxis Mt. Pickett backpack series represents. After a spring and summer of using the Paxis Mt. Pickett 20, it has become my go-to fly fishing backpack. I occasionally guide fly fishing clients in Rocky Mountain National Park and each trip I conducted this year, I used the Paxis pack. From the moment I pulled on the shuttle pod release lever and the lower pod swung around in front of me, my clients would do a double take and ask “what is that?!”.
Paxis manufactures the Mt. Pickett in the 18 model and the 20 model. Don’t be confused thinking the numbers represent the capacity in liters, the numbers represent the overall height of the pack. For the Paxis Mt. Pickett 20, the upper unit measures 14”H x 12”W x 7”D, yielding approximately 19.3 liters of storage capacity. The lower shuttle unit measures 6”H x 12”W x 7”D, providing approximately 8.25 liters of storage room. The total storage capacity of the Paxis Mt. Pickett 20 is around 27.5 liters, which is comparable to a small day pack or hydration pack.
As day packs go, the Paxis weighs slightly more than the average due to the aluminum ARC swing technology for the lower pod unit. The Mt. Pickett 20 weighs in at 5.5 pounds. The total weight capacity of the lower unit, per Paxis, is 5 pounds. I’ve loaded the upper unit with approximately 12-15 pounds of water, gear and food. While not measured, I estimate the top pack load I typically carry for a fly fishing guide trip to be around 18 pounds, plus the pack weight of 5.5 pounds, totaling a pack weight of 23-25 pounds.
In the “fit-n-form” department, the suspension frame of the Paxis 20 is amply apportioned with padded shoulder straps and a 3-point padded solid backplate which places three 1” pads behind the shoulder blades and lower lumbar area. A lightweight padded waist belt and a chest clip secures the pack on or above your waist, as to your preference, in a very stable and comfortable fashion for a pack this size. Note that most similar day packs and hydration packs do not have padded backplates that offer the cooling airflow like the Paxis provides. Overall, the frame and suspension system allows for heavier loads like camera gear or specialized day hike gear to ride comfortably on your back. For my typical load of 20-25 pounds for a guide trip, the pack handed the load with ease, although I do think 25 pounds is excessive for a pack like this and I wouldn’t recommend extended day hikes with such a load in this pack. For personal day trips, I carry around 15 pounds (raingear, fishing gear, water, food, first aid), which is in the pack’s sweet-spot for load carry.
Working from inside-out in the “function” department, the upper pack has interior sleeve pockets to give quick access to frequently used items. On top, ahandy lined pocket for sunglasses can be found, which has an exterior access waterproof zipper enclosure. The lower shuttle unit has a zipper lid which exposes a soft lining of the entire interior of the shuttle unit box. On the lid are several layered pockets, much like a small filing system or wallet, which can accommodate lens filters, cleaning cloths or fly fishing leaders and small tools.On the outside, the pack has several small features that can often go overlooked. The inside bottom of the upper unit has a sturdy lightweight aluminum plate that stabilizes the floor of the upper unit and prevents the bottom from sagging down onto the lower shuttle unit pod.
The exterior zipper for the upper unit is sturdy and waterproof. The entire pack is made of NYLAR™ Ballistic Fabric Technology, which is hydrophobic and highly water-resistant. This is a good thing for the photographic crowd wanting peace of mind that gear is being kept dry during a sudden rain shower.
The pack has four small loops stitched on the exterior outer edge which can be used to affix paracord or stretch cord, latching additional gear to the outside of the pack. Although, I would not recommend attaching much more than a rain jacket or something light, as the loops may not be able to handle heavy loads. Down the middle center of the pack, a series of webbing loops are provided, which can be used to latch small gear items with user-provided paracord or stretch cord. The webbing latch loops are more of a novelty on this pack than ultimately functional, as a pack this small really doesn’t require them. If two parallel webbing latch loop strips were provided instead of one, the loops would be more functional in strapping gear to the outside.
The lower shuttle system is what ultimately makes this pack unique and highly functional for photobuffs, flyfishermen, snowboarders, skiers and first responders. It is truly handy to enable the shuttle system to swing around in front, having quick access to necessary items, without having to remove the pack. The shuttle lock and release system is robust and simple to use. Pull on the easy-to-reach release T-bar located on the right side shoulder strap, and the lower pod releases to freely swing around to the front of the waist.
When in the deployed mode, the lower pod unit extends forward from the back of the pack by 12 inches. This is to say that if a wearer has a girth thickness of more than 12” from the back to the front of the lower waist, this pack will fit very tight and uncomfortable. My waist back-to-front is 10”-11”, so the pack fits perfectly for me. Another consideration is if you are wearing a heavy coat, adding girth, the lower unit also may not swing around and rest comfortably in front of the waist.
To keep the lower pod in place while hiking or bending over, a snap-buckle webbing strip is affixed to the left side of the pod, which snaps into the matching buckle on the lower frame. The strap is adjustable. When not in use, it can be stored away in a handy webbed pocket. I sasy this is handy because left to dangle, the strap will get caught on something as you hike about, trust me on this one!
While the pack is entirely functional and well-apportioned as is, a good review isn’t complete without a few wishes for future designs:
- Provide a Velcro latch tab in the middle of the lower pod unit lid, allowing the lid to be zipped open but secured with Velcro. I have found it difficult to open the lower pod unit lid zipper with one hand when the other hand is tied up with holding gear or otherwise.
- Place two zippers on the lower pod lid, allowing it to be open or closed from either side or middle
- On the upper unit main zipper, extend the zippers all the way down to the bottom of the upper unit, allowing the upper unit to be opened wider giving easier access to contents. Currently the zipper line stops 4.5” above the bottom of the upper unit, which creates a small inner “bowl”. While this idea may cause controversy with some, I believe having easier access is more convenient than the current design which limits the zipper travel.
- Replace the outer webbing loops in the center of the pack with stretch-cord lattice strapping to be able to affix a rain jacket or other light items to the outside of the pack
- Place the outer pockets used for ski poles, fly rod tubes or camera tripods, on each side, not just one side.
From the moment I saw the Paxis Mt. Pickett 20 pack at a trade show last year, I immediately envisioned the ideal application for fly fishing and photography. And, after nearly a year of frequent use for day hiking and guiding fly fishing trips, I have confirmed that this is my go-to pack for these applications. I keep it ready-stocked with leaders, flies, tippet, tools, bug dope, and other necessary items to trek in the high country for a day. I can even see me using it for open-air concerts (where allowed) to pack food on the top and a few bottles of adult libations packed on ice (in a plastic baggie) in the lower unit. In summary, the water-resistant design, the comfortable load harness and the utilitarian novelty of the lower shuttle pod make this pack the workhorse multi-tool of the day-pack genre.
Author – A Fly Fishing Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
Co-Author – A Fly Fishing Guide to Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness Area