Last month I received the “Vaude – Uphill 9 LW” as a present. It is supposedly a cycling backpack but would work well for anyone looking for a small bag packed with little design features to make your life easier. I really like the way that Vaude have customised various features that are available on most backpacks and managed to make them simpler, smaller and stronger while keeping production quality high and the price surprisingly low at £56.

Let’s start with materials – this pack only weighs 325g which is ridiculously light. Vaude call the material used “siliconized 40D Rip-Stop,” whatever it is it’s also tough, breathable and water repellant. The fabric has a plasticised finish making it feel similar to a waterproof jacket, however it’s much thinner and feels stronger. The shoulder straps and back padding are incredibly comfortable and yet simple, complimenting Vaude’s already minimalist design; with the help of chest and waist straps the pack remains in place despite vigorous body movement during cycling or running. To top off all of this, Vaude have used environmentally friendly materials and resource-conserving production throughout the pack so that it fits into their “Green Shape” sustainable range.

Now shifting onto design features, Vaude have inserted plenty of little tweaks that I like. To start with, the outer drawcord is much better than on other backpacks I’ve owned (pictured above): the cord itself isn’t elastic which means that it retains tension around whatever object you’re holding in (helmet, jacket etc), it also serves to compress the contents of the pack during use so as to avoid annoying movement of items within, finally the toggle which tightens the drawcord is quite cool – instead of the typical multi-piece toggle with a spring (which wears out and slips) Vaude have come up with a single-piece molded toggle which not only saves weight but is actually more effective at keeping the drawcord tight. Secondly, there is a small mesh pocket on the front right shoulder strap, while I’m sure that Vaude aren’t the first company to come up with this I think it’s incredibly useful. It would be perfect for a cereal bar to keep your energy up but also stretches, making it just as good for easy access to your phone. This pocket (along with all the other compartments in the Uphill) is closed using a zip; while this may seem like an obvious statement, I have found that zips are the first thing to break on most backpacks so inspecting zip construction and quality is actually surprisingly important. The zips themselves are made out of tough, durable plastic that is sewn tightly onto the surrounding fabric on both the inside and the outside (which significantly lowers the chance of the zip tearing off). The zippers are quite small, they are made of metal and the pulling attachments are paracord. I rather like this design, not only because it simplifies the bags construction (and uses less plastic), but also because it just looks better; no heavy zippers which dangle and catch on branches or break.

Another feature of the uphill is the adjustability of the chest straps. While other designers use different ways of moving these straps up and down, Vaude have developed a sliding mechanism. Before you assume the word “mechanism” implies over complication and therefore less durability, Vaude have kept simplicity and strength in mind throughout. A thick bendy cord runs along the shoulder strap (like a train track) and the plastic buckle slides up and down this with enough friction for to stay in place once adjusted. It’s one of those simple ideas which doesn’t make that much difference to the overall functionality of the backpack, but something that a backpack connoisseur would definitely appreciate. My only complaint (and I admit it isn’t really reasonable) is that the shoulder and waist straps are so adjustable that there is in fact too much excess strapping. Vaude have attached elastic loops to tuck the ends of the straps into but I still find them mildly irritating, however in the interest of compatibility this is probably a good design idea as it means the pack will fit most people despite it’s small size and this problem is easily fixed with a sharp pair of scissors and lighter to burn the ends (to stop them from fraying).

In terms of actual storage space (of course the backpack has 9 litres) it’s quite good: it has 2 outside rear mesh pockets, a mesh pocket on the shoulder strap, a small top pocket and the main compartment is split into 2 sections by a small divider. I would never use the outside pockets on any backpack (the ones with no zips on) because you can never be sure of the safety of anything you put into them without worrying that it might just fall out at any moment. Seeing as I’ve already covered the shoulder pocket let’s move on; the top pocket is a decent size and is perfect for your phone, keys, wallet or other small items you might want safely tucked away while being sewn onto the roof of the main inner compartment which prevents it from bouncing against your back (or items stored inside the main part of the pack). The main compartment has obviously been designed with a hydration pack in mind, there is a Velcro strap to hold the hydration pack upright, a specific sleeve to separate it from other contents of the pack and a link to the shoulder strap which allows the drinking tube to be attached within easy drinking distance. This would be perfect for anyone considering a backpack for long-distance running or cycling where a hydration pack is a necessary extra (however it is worth noting that a hydration pack is not included with the Uphill).

To sum up then… I would recommend the Vaude Uphill 9 LW for anyone looking for a small backpack no matter what the use. Vaude have come up with a number of interesting solutions and improvements to existing functions but they have also managed to cram them all into a tough, extremely lightweight and affordable pack. I believe my Uphill will continue to make my life easier and compliment my outdoor activities – I think that’s something all pieces of equipment should strive to do…