Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II Review

   05.19.15

Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II Review

I have spent years hiking with my Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II (PFII), first just my wife and I, then my first son, and now with my second son. We have done short hikes, climbed small mountains like Mt. Monadnock, and gone on multi-peak hikes in Acadia. The pack has been with me for years. In the meantime I have tried probably a dozen different packs of various designs, from modern updates on traditional klettersacks to ultra modern designs. In the end, even in the face of some serious competition, the Pygmy Falcon II still rules the roost and is a true benchmark for packs of all kinds. Unless you are planning a hike that needs powder for your hands, a belt full of carabiners, and those weird climbing shoes, the PFII can handle just about any short term hike.

Description

The Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II is a small 18L day pack produced by Maxpedition. It’s called an “Assault Pack Military Tactical Backpack” because apparently “Day Pack” or “Backpack” is just too sissy for Maxpedition.

It is available in a wide variety of colors, which for so called “tactical gear” means black, gray, green, some kind of camo, and a tan. Fortunately there is also an orange PFII for those who don’t want to be mistaken for GI Joe. The pack has a sternum strap, a compression strap, two cinch-top water bottle holders (no place for a water bladder, which is a plus for me on short hikes), a large main compartment, a medium size organizer compartment, and a small stash pocket on the outermost layer of the pack

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There is ample back padding covered in mesh.

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There is thick vinyl material on the bottom of the pack. Additionally there is a net of shock cord under the secondary compartment on the bottom rear of the pack.

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The entire pack is covered in PALS straps. The pack itself is made of 1,000 denier nylon that is both water resistant and abrasion resistant. The material is thick and sturdy enough that the pack holds its shape reasonably well when empty.


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Testing

Boy I have beat this bag up: miles and miles and miles of short hikes, ridge to ridge hikes in Acadia, climbing smaller local mountains, heck we even carried it as man-acceptable diaper bag. It has done it all and it has done it all very well. In fact, in the seven or so years I have owned the PFII it has never had a problem of any sort and never let me or my wife down. And, best of all, it looks almost brand new. Here is a shot a few years ago before we really put some miles on it:

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Here is a shot today:

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This PFII has probably 500 or 600 miles of day hikes on it and you could hang it on a retail rack and no one would notice. Damn good.

Design

The overall design of the PFII is really great. It is very modular thanks to the compression strap, the superb water bottle holders, and the ample (perhaps too ample) PALS webbing. The size is perfect for a single person on a day hike or, as it has done for the past five years, three folks on a two or three hour hike.

The pack is quite heavy, even when unloaded, thanks to all of the straps, doodads, and heavy denier (which is a measure of fabric weight) material. Even the grab handle is overbuilt:

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The PFII clearly has the Humvee styling of consumer tactical gear. I am not a fan of the GI Joe look, but the PFII’s core strengths help you ignore all of the marketing nonsense.

The key to the pack’s design lies in three things: the right size, the right layout, and very good minor features.

This pack looks fine on an average sized dude. I am 5’10” 185 pounds and it’s small but not Japanese-girl-band small. In fact, it looks just about right on me. On my wife, who is considerably smaller, it still works. And when fully loaded with water bottles and stuff in the shock cord net, the pack looks even bigger.

It also happens to be laid out impeccably well. Everything is balanced (one water bottle holder on each side, for example) and the organization is ample without being overboard. The main pocket is big, and thanks to a full three side zipper, it’s easy to pack. The organization pouch is good as well, though I wish there was a padded slot for a modern smartphone.

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The placement of the PALS webbing is just right. I can carry a blanket, a jacket, a large fixed blade, and a water bottle on the exterior of the pack and not feel like I need a V8.

Finally, the PFII gets the little things right. The Keyper key attachment in the organization pouch is actually quite good. I especially like the mesh water bottle holders. Not only do they cinch at the top, but they are also fairly breathable, allowing wet or sweating bottles to shed water easily.

Implementation

Though coarse in appearance and feel, there is no doubt that the PFII is made well and uses good materials. There are bar stitches where needed (these are reinforcing stitches of various patterns, sometimes making an “X”). There is very good and breathable padding on the straps and back panel. I will note that as a sweaty Italian, it couldn’t keep me totally dry, but then nothing can.

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The material is exceptionally coarse. This is the backpack equivalent of Cold Steel’s G10 (which is fitting because Maxpedition is, in many ways, the Cold Steel of the pack world). This isn’t an ultralight pack or even a pack made with high tech like you’d see from Tom Bihn or ArcTeryx, but the robust build quality and excellent design allows the coarse and relatively primitive PFII hang with bags that are much more refined and use much more sophisticated materials.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a day hike pack, a small backpack, or a bag for EDC, the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II is probably one of the best choices on the market. I have tested a number of similar bags over the years, and they fall into two camps: clearly worse than the PFII or clearly more expensive. Only the Tom Synapse stands as a true competitor, and even it is 50% more money.

You can get this look from a cheap Wal-Mart bag, but trust me, you’ll pay for that bag in ways other than money. And you can get nicer, like the TAD Fastpack Litespeed or the Go Ruck GR0, but those packs are 300% the cost of the PFII and about 15% better. It’s a bit overbuilt, looks very tacticool, but the PFII is probably, all these years later, still the best choice for an all around day pack.


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