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's Managing Editor 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.

There are 13 comments

  1. Mandy

    Megan – I loved the review and am thinking of getting the pack for my upcoming adventures – if my foot would heal. LOL. Am going to link to the piece on my site.



  2. Meghan

    Mandy, thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I hope to engage Terra Nova's gear in future adventures as well. Uber-lightweight and great design! Heal up and get out there!

  3. Emily Baehr

    I'm looking to start running to work and on errands. Any smaller pack suggestions, say for a small lunch, a change of clothes and a few gizmos?

  4. Meghan


    This pack *might* work for some run commuting stuff! Don't let my review of it for the multi-day Marathon des Sables confuse you, as this is a race where you carry almost nothing. :) 20 liters is a pretty small pack, and it has a couple of compression cords that allow you cinch the pack down as well. If you're carrying around a change of clothes that have some bulk, I can see this pack working well.

    Terra Nova doesn't make any smaller packs, though, so my next recommendation would be packs made by Inov-8. They are similar in design, though they have a bit more beef to their construction, not quite so minimalist, and they do have choices in size. I'm partial to their Race Pro line, and this line has both 12 and 18 liter packs.

    If the Inov-8 packs don't look quite right for you, my next recommendation would be something made by Osprey Packs. The Talon Series is well-liked and used by outdoor enthusiasts, including iRunFar's Bryon Powell. The smallest Talon Series pack is 11 liters.

    Hope this helps and don't be afraid to shout out any other questions you might have!

  5. Sean

    Wow, a 22L pack for the MdS! Good work. I'm doing the MdS in 2013 and was considering the Inov-8 Race Elite 25. Not sure it will be big enough and the lack of foam back concerns me a lot. You have any experience with that pack?

  6. Meghan Hicks


    Thanks for the note!

    I did MdS this year with the Inov-8 Race Elite 15 (with a 3-liter front pack, so a total of 18 liters). I'll be reviewing the Race Elite 15 here on iRunFar in the next month or so, but I really loved it both for training runs and racing MdS. It fits my body well and I really like its contour for the way it keeps the pack's volume/weight close to my body.

    I'm a small woman looking to race MdS as fast as I can, so the smaller and lighter my pack, the better experience I have. 18 liters is very, very small, so I wouldn't recommend going as minimally as this to all but the few folks looking to finish at the front of the race.

    However, I think most folks can do MdS on 25 liters worth of stuff. Honestly, a person doesn't need that much stuff for a week of running. Lots of healthy food and a comfortable sleeping bag are key, and that's about it! :) An unnecessarily heavy pack will slow you down and keep you on the course longer each day when you could be recovering in camp.

    In any case, I've not used the Race Elite 25, but I'm sure it's almost identical in quality and function to the Race Elite 15. In the end, though, you have to pick a pack that works for you, and this may mean buying and testing several models. If you can do several long runs with a pack that has weight inside of it and your shoulders, back, and hips feel good, the chances are good that it would be a good MdS pack for you.

    I'll be at the 2013 MdS, as well, so perhaps we'll meet. Until then, happy training and preparations!


  7. Sean

    I purchased the Aarn Marathon Magic 22 yesterday. 22l + 3l in front pockets I think should give me enough room (15+3 is crazy small!). I sacrificed a bit of weight for comfort and functionality (about 300g extra)

    You're right; only training runs wearing the pack ill tell me how it fits, hopefully very well, but if I can get away with smaller (once I have purchased all my equipment), I might see if I can squeeze it into an 11+3.

    Too much choice!

    Hope to bump into you in the desert in 2013!

  8. Meghan Hicks


    Thanks for the comment. I can't say with 100% confidence that the internal bladder sleeve can hold a three-liter reservoir, as I cut my sleeve out to save weight and can't look at it myself.

    However, I *believe* it'll hold reservoirs that are vertically-aligned (taller than they are wide) of up to that size and smaller. There's a little hook above the sleeve to which you can attach the bladder so you can use bladders of various sizes and so none of them will slump to the bottom of the pack. And, yes, there is hole for the drinking tube.

    I hope this helps!

    1. Milosh

      Well, your review convinced me to buy this pack anyway. :)

      I'll add a comment when I get a chance to try it with a 3L bladder.


      1. miloshwp

        My new Platypus Big Zip LP 3.0L (100 oz) has just arrived and I confirm that it fits perfectly in the bladder sleeve of the Terra Nova Laser 20L.

  9. Cameron

    I recently purchased the Terra Nova Laser 20 and I’m looking to add bottle holders. It looks like your Inov-8 bottle holders have been discontinued, not sure if the replacement ones will work which I found here:
    Any other ideas for bottle holders? I’d like to add a holder that would hold a 500ml softflask or potentially a bottle with a longer straw such as the ones made by Inov-8 and/or UltraSpire.
    I’m also hoping to do some similar lightening of the pack, but will wear it around a bit first…thanks for any help…

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