My New Running Pack Mistress: Terra Nova Laser 20L Review

Terra Nova EquipmentCall me a traitor, an adulteress, as I probably deserve it. In 2009, I raced the Marathon des Sables in an Inov-8 Race Pro 22, and I loved every minute of my week in the desert with that pack. When I returned home, I wrote a glowing pack review, professing my undying love for and commitment to it. I concluded my article with the following remark, “I’m elated to say that I’ll be returning to the 2010 Marathon des Sables, and I look forward to racing in an Inov-8 backpack.”

Terra Nova Laser 20L pack*awkward pause*

I took the Terra Nova Laser 20L pack with me to the 2010 Marathon des Sables and I don’t regret it one bit.

*ducks, swerves, looks away*

If you’re still here, I hope you’ll stick around long enough to hear me out. First and foremost, I haven’t retired my beloved Inov-8 pack. In fact, since its inaugural voyage to the Sahara Desert, it has spent time fastpacking in Canyonlands National Park, on a winter hut-to-hut-to-hut Yosemite National Park snowshoe trip, and it just went with me on a fastpack along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. My Inov-8 Race Pro 22, proudly hanging front and center in my gear closet, was simply repurposed.

Second, I learned at my maiden MdS voyage that I brought with me too much crap. To be competitive at a race in which you carry all of your stuff on your back for 150 miles means you have to bring with you as little as possible. When I did the math on what was coming with me in 2010, I reasoned that I needed something smaller than a 22-liter pack, and that I needed something in the uber-ultralight category.

That was when a press release for the Terra Nova 20L pack landed in iRunFar’s email inbox and, shortly thereafter, into my hands. Lust at first sight, I felt. I wanted it. I had to take it with me to the Sahara Desert this year. Luckily, Terra Nova obliged a pack sample with which I could fall in fast love.

Pack Description and Specifications
Terra Nova Laser 20L pack with 1 water bottleThe Laser 20L has one main storage compartment with a built-in back panel sleeve for perhaps a skinny sleeping pad or hydration bladder. One accesses the main compartment via a sturdy (for this pack) front zipper, which eliminates the extra weight of the material of an open top as well as a top flap and its clasps. On the outside of the main compartment are two mesh stow pockets with great stretching range and a small pocket with the most minute of zippers. Two small compression cords on the front allow you to regulate the main compartment’s size and further support the goods of the mesh stow pockets.

The back panel, shoulder straps, and waist belt have an added layer of mesh for a bit of padding and moisture transfer. On each side of the waist belt lies one of two mesh bottle pockets controlled at their tops with mini-compression cords. Two zippered storage pockets make their home on the front of the waist belt. The pack possesses a lightly stretchy, adjustable sternum strap with an included emergency whistle. All of this, according to the manufacturer, weighs in at 328 grams (11.6 ounces)!

Training and Racing with the Pack
I was scared to death of this pack’s small size when it came out of the box, so my first training runs with it were ensconced in trepidation, not head-over-heels love nor even one-run lust. Slowly, surely, after a number of training runs, I grew more comfortable with the pack, appreciating its short torso and widely adjustable waist belt for my body’s little frame. The weight rode well, right where it’s supposed to in the smallest part of my waist, with very little bounce.

Meghan Terra Nova Laser 20L

The author training with the Terra Nova Laser 20L.

I began to modify the heck out of the Terra Nova Laser 20L pack to make it most applicable to me. Under modification, it not only survived but also thrived, and this is what sealed the love deal. My first modification was to add shoulder strap bottle holders. I had success last year with Inov-8’s bottle holders, and they, too, fit well on the shoulder straps of this pack. In the 10 days or so before leaving for MdS, the Laser 20L experienced heavy modification for the purpose of making the pack even lighter. (If you’re interested in these gritty details, check out my “Appendix for the Backpack Geeks” below.).

The Laser 20L served me real well in the desert, and I came home feeling as in love with it as I was over the Inov-8 Race Pro 22 last year. As with any piece of gear that gets used long and/or hard, however, I discovered small difficulties in the use of this pack. First and foremost, the shoulder straps could use some reinforcement to make them a bit stiffer, as they currently buckle into narrower straps. (In corresponding with Terra Nova, they’ve not previously heard of this issue. They further noted, “we have tried to get the best fit and comfort for the lowest weight which is a bit of a balance and may not be right for all.”) Second, I experienced partial failure at the location where the sternum strap connects with the shoulder straps, so this also needs some reinforcement. (Terra Nova reports that they’ve corrected this problem.) The hip pockets are made of nylon with no stretch, and I’d love to see them made of mesh for easier zipping and greater carrying capacity.

What I’m trying to say here is that I’ve come to dearly love this pack in the time I’ve so far had with it. Though wonderful, it isn’t perfect, but, then again, none of us are and someone still manages to love each of us. If you plan to be a fast Marathon des Sables runner, or you’d like a heckuva day or overnight pack, this is the real deal. Uber-ultralight and well-constructed, I’m proud to call it this year’s new running pack mistress.

Call for Questions and Comments
As always, we’d love to hear feedback from others who have used this or similar packs. Also, feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions about the pack.

Appendix for the Backpack Geeks

Manufacturer’s published weights:
Terra Nova Laser 20L, 328 grams
.
Inov-8 shoulder strap water bottle holder, no specified weight from Inov-8.

My pre-modification weights:
Terra Nova Laser 20L, 330 grams
.
Inov-8 shoulder strap water bottle holder, 42 grams.

My post-modification weights:
Terra Nova Laser 20L, 279 grams
.
Inov-8 shoulder strap water bottle holder, 36 grams.

Weight-saving modifications I made to the Laser 20L:

  1. I cut all straps to my size, including 2 shoulder straps, 1 waist strap, and 1 sternum strap.
  2. I cut off 1 reflective strip on the pack’s front.
  3. I removed 1 of the mesh stow pockets and the small zipper pocket on the pack’s front.
  4. I removed the sleeping pad/hydration bladder sleeve inside the main compartment.
  5. I removed 1 of the hip belt’s mesh water bottle pockets.

Weight-saving modifications I made to each bottle holder:

  1. I trimmed unused Velcro.
  2. I cut off a tag inside the holder.
  3. I cut off the compression strap and 2 small loops that held it.
  4. I cut off pulls for adding/removing bottles.
Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.