Aarn’s website has one page devoted to the Peak Aspiration, which describes the main features of this pack and lists the Aarn accessories which are compatible with it. Beware, though! As of April 2008, that page isn’t completely up to date. The 2008 model, the one you can purchase today and described, in this moment, only in this review, is slightly different. Apart from size and material of the external pockets the 2008 Peak Aspiration doesn’t have, for example, internal pockets or tube holes for Platypus-like hydration systems as that page says.
Even this other review, which is two and a half years old, is useful to have a general idea, but not to understand what the current pack exactly looks like. A Peak Aspiration user manual is also available: it gives all the necessary details you need to know to properly adjust shoulder straps and belt.
The Peak Aspiration indeed looks a well made pack: light but strong, able to last for years if used with a minimum of care and attention. The balance pockets, which will be described in detail in another article, are attached to shoulder straps and belt in a very clever way, which keeps them in place thanks to weights and counterweights, without stressing too much (or, in other words, requiring heavier materials) any of the attachment points. The same is true for the shoulder straps themselves.
Therefore, not only the starting theory looks great, meaning that there is no doubt that walking without bending forward is both healthier and less tiring, but the body-pack concept seems an excellent way to put it in practice and the Peak Aspiration a great implementation of that concept. Field tests, whose results will be obviously published on Strider, will tell whether this is true or not.
Even before starting to hike, however, there is one thing to say about the Peak Aspiration which, I guess, is true for all the packs from Aarn: this is a pack which requires more care than others. Buckles, clips, straps and other components are well made, but the overall system is sensibly more complex than any normal pack. Therefore, it is necessary to pay more attention when the pack is not on your back. This includes both the initial adjustment of shoulder straps and belt and transfers, that is every moment when you put pack and pockets in your car trunk or in the luggage compartment of some train.
The parts I like less in the Peak Aspiration, even if they are well made and many backpackers will surely find them quite useful, are the cord-loc system and the three external stretch pockets. This is mainly due to personal taste or, if you will, obsession: both for aesthetic reasons and, above all, to avoid any risk to lose or break anything, I always make a point to never have anything “outside” the pack, that is either strapped to it or placed inside open pockets. In addition to this, the least “hooks” there are for low branches, train door handles and such, the more comfortable I feel when bushwacking or moving in otherwise cramped quarters.
Considering the presence of front balance pockets and the waterproof liner, it would be interesting for backpackers wishing to reduce weight as much as possible, if the whole lid were removable, or if there were no lid at all. As a matter of fact, Aarn sells another pack, the Featherlite Freedom, is made just in this way, and therefore is lighter than the Peak. The great advantage of the latter is that, unlike the Featherlite, it is compatible with Aarn’s bigger front pockets, the Expedition ones. As already discussed in the introduction to Aarn body-packs, it doesn’t make much sense to buy a bodypack if you don’t mean to use it as Aarn suggests, that is with the biggest possible front pockets.
What is missing? Comparing the Peak Aspiration with other packs of the same size, the instinctive answer may be: compatibility with hydration systems, an opening on the bottom, internal dividers. The truth is that none of these things is necessary when using a mid-size body-pack, or in any case you should miss them much less than with a traditional pack. In a private email, Aarn Tate explained to me that they_ “encourage people to use the Balance pockets for water. Hydration systems were really invented because bottles are awkward to get at on the pack. Hydration systems are easy to use but awkward to remove and fill from a full pack”_. For the same reason, that is the usage of big front pockets, many backpackers won’t need packs so big that it is almost mandatory to have a bottom opening, and many objects that are needed often will fit in the pockets anyway.