The first pack review HAD to be a Maxpedition bag. There are better bags out there, more flexible stuff, but Maxpedition has done a very good job of producing well-made, well-designed products for a while now, establishing themselves as something like the Surefire of the pack world.
Their ownership/leadership is a little more aggressive and juvenile than most other companies, well Cold Steel excluded. They are the destructive teenage boy of the gear world, as this thread proves. They also did asinine things like purchasing the domain name edcforums.net just in case you mis-type the domain name of THE EDC forum on the net.
All that bullshit aside, they make great gear and their antics don't effect the performance, design, price or availability of their stuff, so I am going to merely note it and move on. It is a shame I have to even note such stupid behavior, especially when their stuff is so nice, but it is only fair: if you act stupid, you get a reputation for acting stupid.
The first pack I am going to review is the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II. It is a day pack or, if you are not a minimalist and carry a bunch of gear, your EDC pack. I guess it would fit a small or medium sized laptop in a sleeve, but that doesn't seem to be its purpose. It is too small to be an overnight bag, really. It is also too small to be a well-stocked Bail Out Bag. But as a bag to stash your gear in for a day or two hike, as a bag for your carry-on during a trip, or a bag to bring your big EDC, it is the right size. I could also see it being used as a backpack for school or college.
Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here is a video review. Here is a written review of the Pygmy Falcon I. Here are the Amazon reviews, with an average of 4.375 stars from 8 reviews. Here is an really excellent set up in a Pygmy Falcon II.
Here is my PFII:
The PFII does a lot well and most of that comes from its on-paper design. It is just the right size for its intended use. It is not too big that it feels unbalanced on your back, even when loaded, and it is not too small that you feel hamstrung packing it. Each of the pockets and carrying devices is well positioned and sized. The straps are nice as is the back padding. Even when stuffed full, like it was on my recent trip to Acadia, I never felt unbalanced or loaded down. Everything, down to the key clip, exudes quality and thoughtfulness.
Fit and finish: 2
The stitching is well done and tough. It is beefy where it needs to be, like on the top handle. There the handle is held in place with a nice, sturdy stitch and the seams are almost always reinforced with a bar tack stitch. The mesh seems to be a bit hardier than normal mesh as I have yet to rip mine during use. I also think the strap and back padding stuffed into the right places correctly.
The joy of the right sized pack. The goldilocks size of the PFII makes it a joy to carry. I never felt weighted down and the weight I was carrying felt evenly distributed. I really like carrying this pack, even when fully loaded (i.e. something in all of the pockets, the shock cord, and the compression strap).
The nylon is stiff, but that is okay, any softer and I would worried that it would lose its shape over time. The padding in the straps and the back pad are nice as well. All of the snaps are made of sturdy plastic as are the buckles. Also there is a nice rubberized coating on the bottom of the pack to prevent it from getting wet when it is put down.
One of the drawbacks of easy packing is that when you really stuff this sucker making the bottom hard to reach. If you pack thoughtfully you can avoid this problem by using the bottom for things you don't need often, but still, this can be an issue.
Ease of Packing: 2
Great pack to load up. Plenty of pockets and lots of places to stow things. A three side opening zipper is really nice. The back of the pack flops open and you can cram in a TON of stuff.
You will he shocked when you see how much this little guy can carry, especially if you use all the pockets, the water bottle pockets, the shock cord, the MOLLE, and the compression straps.
The PFII did not have as many pockets as expected, but the number is okay. The real issue is twofold: the lack of specialized pockets and the fact that many of the pockets are too small or tight to use for things larger than a pen or batteries. I think a specialized, reinforced and fleece lined pocket for a smartphone is a must on all current bags, though I have never seen one done well. Here the "cellphone" pocket is another in a series of small pockets in the middle pouch. These pockets are so small that even CR123a batteries have a hard time fitting into them. They work, but it requires a good deal of planning. One thing about the pockets I really liked was the pocket in the inside of the main pouch for "quick access" stuff. I also really, really like the water bottle pockets with their mesh and drawstring. See here:
I have never lost a thing out of those pouches even when I am not using them to carry a water bottle.
All of the snaps are classic Fastex clips, as are the buckles. The zippers are large tooth YKK zippers that start easy and zip smoothly even when the pack is full. I have had no problems whatsoever with the pack in the three years I have owned it, even under hard use conditions.
Straps and belts: 2
The straps are all nice. They are moveable and adjustable. Also, the shoulder straps are nicely padded.
MOLLE on the outside of the bag is about all you get. There is a good deal, but that is it.
Compared to the insane customizability of a Kifaru, this is a pale imitation. That said, I am not sure how much I would use this stuff. It sort of like adjustable shelves on a bookshelf--once they are set correctly how often do you actually move them on purpose? Never.
Overall Score: 17 out of 20
This is a great little bag. It is not too big, not too pricey, and never feels like it is going to fail. I have used it to travel with, hike up mountains with, and carry my infant son's clothes and diapers. It did everything well. I don't think a person could live out of this packs and there are more flexible packs out there, but this is a really nice piece of gear. It is a tad overkill for a bookbag, but it would work there too. I think for a bookbag, though, I'd prefer a Tom Bihn Synpase. If you really want a hydration system, and can't tolerate bottles, you'll need to look into a Camelbak, but for my purposes, general all around toting and a single day hiking pack, the Pygmy Falcon II is really great.