I got to try this pack on a Mountain Hardwear-sponsored hiking trip for a group of us media types. We each got to try a pack from the 2009 line, and since our hike was to take us softies to 10,000 feet, there was a bit of a skirmish for the smaller packs. I lost that battle, but ended up winning in the end because I got to try out the Nalu, which is one of the best-fitting women’s packs I’ve worn. Admittedly I was too much of a sea-level dweller to actually put a lot of weight in the pack for a hike at altitude, but I was impressed with how well the pack fit so I wore it despite it being nearly empty. If I had more stuff to carry, though, the Nalu could do it, with an impressive main compartment and lots of convenient stash pockets elsewhere. The waist and shoulder straps are light and comfortable, which is nice for me since I really dislike thick, heavy pack straps. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find enormously thick waist belts to be any more comfortable, and quite frankly I think they are just too clumsy to be comfortable. If a pack is well-balanced, like the Nalu, you just don’t need an inch of foam to pad your hipbones.
The simple hook closure makes fooling with your stuff quick and easy, so sandbaggers might be disappointed with how little time they can waste fiddling with pack closures. As a matter of fact the lack of insane straps all over the damn place makes this pack streamlined and functional, and you don’t feel like a total noob with pack straps flapping everywhere. We’ve all had that experience with a pack, trying to figure out what goes where and how to stash the strap ends somewhere, and why in hell doesn’t this clip fit into this other clip exactly opposite from it, and who needs to strap that much stuff onto their pack anyway? No, the Nalu is designed for things to be carried IN it, not ON it, which is my preference anyway.
My only issue with the pack was that the lumbar pad was made from a non-breathable fabric and therefore led to some serious under-pack sweat issues in that area. The MHW pack designer said that the nonbreathable panel was there for strength and structure in the pack, and that had I bothered to wear proper (technical) clothing fabrics on the hike I may not have had that problem. Still, he agreed to think it over and maybe make some changes to the design in future. If I weren’t from Alaska and dealing with temperatures that day that before I’ve only experienced in the tanning bed or on the beach in Mexico, it probably really wouldn’t have been a problem, and I wouldn’t hesitate to wear the pack again in a climate I’m more used to.
It was able to compress down pretty well, for a gigantic pack carrying only a banana and some water, and I really didn’t have any issues with the fit even with the light load. Despite my begging, I wasn’t able to take the pack home to load it up in an oxygen-rich environment to test it further, but honestly if I needed to carry a big load, I would reach for the Nalu because of how well it fits. With a true women’s fit, lots of room, and lightweight construction, this pack is sure to be a winner.