The 4,800ci Mountain Hardwear Solitude is a tough pack to review. At the end of the day, it’s kind of like dating a redhead: you’ll either love it or hate it.
The designers obviously put a lot of thought into this pack: weatherized zippers, intelligent tool loops that you can remove tools from without taking the pack off, wand and bottle pockets, hydration compatibility, top pocket that converts to shoulder bag, very cool velcro keepers on all straps, and the usual bomber MH construction. All of this works and works well.
Where MH might have been too clever by half is in the design of the Exodus Cruiser suspension, part internal and part external frame, designed for long treks with big loads. The issues begin with assembly: the pack needs to be carefully fitted out of the box, and the somewhat lengthy and tricky process will frustrate those who are not prepared for it. A second issue is that the shoulder straps and waist belt do not collapse flat but form a semirigid exoskeleton, making storage and traveling more difficult than with a traditional design. A third issue is the highly engineered – some would say overengineered – design itself, with multiple points of potential mechanical failure.
These issues are by no means insurmountable: if you buy the pack from a retailer they should be trained on fitting it for you. Once you understand the process you can get quite good at it, breaking it down and re-fitting it in under ten minutes yourself. The pack hasn’t been out long enough to make any statements about reliability.
The bottom line is that you should definitely try before you buy. Some people will love the hybrid suspension and the fact that it carries big loads so well with its pivoting waist belt and unique harness construction. If you’re spending a lot of hours with big loads on easy to moderate terrain and don’t mind complexity in your pack, the Solitude may be just the ticket. On the other hand, if you place a high value on ease of use, are concerned about long-term reliability and/or are looking for a design that stores and travels with minimal fuss, you may want to take a pass.