Alpha One Niner Pathfinder: Review

A few years after inception and the Alpha One Niner Pathfinder finally gets to see the light of day.

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Visitors to The Perfect Pack should be no stranger to Alpha One Niner. The Evade line of backpacks have received accolades around the pack communities for their value and feature rich design, including a recent win for Best Everday Bag in the Carryology Carry Awards. Their latest pack, the Pathfinder, has borrowed many of the proven features from the Evade, while adding it’s own take on an all-purpose backpack. It has been almost two years since Helmie Ashiblie, the founder of Alpha One Niner, started talking about this pack. Was it worth the wait?

Tech Specs

Height19.5″49.5 cm
Width12.5″31.8 cm
Depth7″ (5.5″ for the main
compartment, 1.5″ for the back)
17.8cm (14 cm main,
3.8 back)
Weight4.6 lbs2.09 kg
Capacity1526 cu. in.25L

Quality and Comfort

The Pathfinder’s built quality is excellent. Alpha One Niner has their own manufacturing facilities in Vietnam and their quality control is very good. I cannot find one loose thread or one misaligned stitch anywhere on this very complicated pack.

The Pathfinder uses high end hardware everywhere, and a lot of magnets. The sternum strap clicks together with a Fidlock V-buckle. The side compression strap buckles are Woojin magnetic buckles. The ends of the shoulder straps have plastic webbing organizers to keep them dangle-free. The laptop pocket has a small strap with another Woojin magnetic clasp to hold the laptop in, as well as a built in magnetic closure in the tablet pocket. This is a good time to like magnetic buckles.

The Pathfinder is currently only available in black X42. There is sometimes a perception that bags made with sail cloth fabric, or X-Pac, are lighter. That is not always true. X42 is heavier than 500D nylon and fabric weight on paper accounts for a very small portion of the over all weight of a bag. The bag is lined with 210D ripstop nylon, with a choice of grey or red.

The total weight of the Pathfinder is 4.6 lbs / 2.09 kg.  It is, by the numbers, not a light weight pack when empty. However, when putting the pack on with another 10 pounds of items in it, the pack is comfortable to wear. The harness system, together with the frame sheet and padding, makes it comfortable even under heavier loads. The padding is dense enough but not too thick. There is a center channel for airflow, as well as a luggage ‘this-is-not-a-handle’ strap. Note that there is no waist belt available on this pack.

This bag has a lot of structure to it. In fact, the bag stands up on its own with or without content inside the bag, and it holds it shape well.

Organization and Access

The Pathfinder has 6 compartments for organizing your items, plus 4 mesh pockets on the inside of the main compartment and two water bottle pockets. Let’s start from the front of the pack, where there is an ambidextrous side access compartment with zipper access from left and right. Personally, I am not a fan of side access pockets because when the bag is up right, how can I organize loose items inside the space without them falling out of place, or worse, out of the bag? Most packs with this design have sewn in pockets with side openings, which just never works well for me.

The Pathfinder instead has a full loop wall on the back where you can attach your own hooked back organizer, including the type 1 or type 2 organizer made by Alpha One Niner. This allows me to try and find the right setup to have some items more securely placed inside. In the end, I chose to just put a pouch inside for storing smaller items. The new SURGE tech pouch from Alpha One Niner fits that space very nicely.

This front pocket has clever design – the pocket is pleated. When it is not full, the front looks slim and smooth. When I put the thicker tech pouch inside, the compartment expands forward to make some volume of its own. With this design, you can stuff a small jacket easily inside. If the jacket is too large, you can open both zippers and have the jacket hang in that space, like a modified beaver tail.

Most packs that have a separate compartment for laptops do not have enough room in that compartment for many other items. Then you are forced to put other work related items like your charger, cables, and mouse in a separate area. The Pathfinder has a much better solution – the back laptop area is deep, with very flexible organization.

The back compartment is 1.5 inch deep but it can be pushed into the main compartment a bit to steal more space if necessary. The laptop pocket on the back wall has a design that I have not seen a lot – a pleated laptop pocket. That means a slim MacBook Pro will take up little space, but you can also slide in a large gaming or workstation laptop and the pocket will hold that without problem. The strap that holds the laptop pocket is of course fastened with a magnetic buckle. The front of that pocket has a smaller padded pocket that can take a large iPad Pro easily, and that has a sewn in magnetic closure as well.

The front wall of the laptop compartment has a large loop field that holds the included type 1 organizer from Alpha One Niner. That organizer gives me a good mix of pen slots and a zippered pocket to hold my stationary items. Below that are two slightly elastic mesh pockets that are perfect for a mouse and a charger.

I have my complete mobile office setup in that one compartment. I can either open the back panel and have it lay flat on my desk if I have the space, or I can leave it partially zipped up, engage one of the compression straps, and have that compartment open part-way. This allows me to get to the insides without taking up a lot of room on the floor or desk. Clever and flexible.

When I first saw the specs on the Pathfinder, I was worried that I would not have an area in the front to put random smaller items, but most of my concerns didn’t come to pass. There is a lined pocket up top that is designed for a phone or sunglasses. A19 added two side wing compartments on the Pathfinder that open vertically with two small pen or EDC type pockets inside, as well as a cord pass through for a charging cable. I was disappointed when I first dug into these compartments. Those internal pockets are deep and narrow, so they are only good for pens or taller items with clips. Smaller items like lip balm will fall deep into the pocket and are hard to get out. Since the wing compartments open vertically with the zipper going all the way down, I am always worrying that things may fall out of the compartment when I’m not paying attention. I would not want to put my AirPods in there. So, I ended up using if for things like tissues and snack bars. I think a different zipper opening would have made these pockets a little more accessible.

The main compartment of the Pathfinder is a mostly-typical clamshell-style main compartment. There are two mesh pockets on the flap side like most packs. The back wall has a double band of vertical loop material for customizing with hook backed accessories. You can customize this area as you see fit. There are three D rings at the top of the back wall designed for hooking in MATROSKYA pouches. If you have not tried them, check them out. They are an easy way to keep smaller items organized.

There are two side meshed pockets on the side walls. These pockets are narrow – the obvious use is to store a battery pack and thread a charging cable out to the outside wing pocket. But they are also useful for storing perhaps lesser used small items.

There are two water bottle pockets on the outside of the pack. Some people have complained about the wide mouthed, somewhat floppy bottle pockets on the Evade. On the Pathfinder these pockets are held flat with a small elastic band but can be stretched open to fit a large Nalgene. Another use of a clever pleated fold.

What’s Perfect

  • The X42 material and all the high end hardware makes this a premium feeling pack.
  • The bag stands up nicely on it’s own loaded or empty, and maintains shape very well.
  • The back laptop / mobile office compartment works very well, at a desk, or at a coffee shop.
  • The harness system is very comfortable, making this a bag that can be use for travel, commute, or a day hike

What’s Not

  • I am not a fan of the side wing compartments – a slightly different pocket or zipper configuration could make them more useful.
  • While I appreciate that the side-entry front compartment may work for some, personally, just adding a D-ring or two would have let me attach other items more securely in that compartment. A feature that exists on the Evade.

Wrap Up

The Evade is a hard act to follow. With the Pathfinder, Alpha One Niner created a bag that has the same characteristics of an extremely flexible, feature rich bag, with a new look. When I pick up the Pathfinder, it reminds me of some of my old Tumi bags – and I say that as a compliment. This bag looks at home in the boardroom, the airport lounge, and on the trail.

I know the pack community is going to ask for a “lite” version, or a version with Cordura, or other variations. I always enjoy their releases, so I hope I don’t have to wait another two years before seeing the next new pack from Alpha One Niner.

Video Hands On

Disclaimer: The Pathfinder was purchased privately for the written portion of this review. The contents of this review was not shared with Alpha One Niner prior to publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.

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