Light, simple, comfortable, versatile–for $150 you get all the above in a backpack that’ll last you years. The Deuter Guide Lite 32 will do just about anything you want it to, rock or ice cragging, get off the ground for some multipitch, ski-mountaineering, but out an overnight if you really have to. The Guide Lite takes the popular Guide series and lightens it up considerably (2 lbs. 11 oz. on my home scale), making one of the best all-around do-it-all packs I’ve ever used.
First off, the Lite goes on a diet without sacrificing function or performance. You still get durable ski slots (though not adjustable, but they fit my Black Diamond Drifts–122mm tail–no problem at all), dual “modern” slots for ice tools, a floating top lid (it’s more like a 40L pack in reality), daisy chains, loops for a helmet holder (sold separately), removable bivy mat, gear loops on the waist belt, and a delrin “frame” that gives the pack shape, but also helps carry a 25-pound load comfortably.
There’s a 50m cord (8.6mm), three sets of crampons, a liter of water, medium-sized puffy jacket, med kit, three harnesses, a couple cordelettes, and an energy bar in there. Collar not extended, rode comfortably, great quiver-of-one pack!
The top lid comes with an extendable collar, but I’d just as soon cut it off and make the top lid fully removable. I didn’t do this, but it would drop a few ounces from the pack and give you the option of leaving the top behind. You can also remove the bivy mat along the back and with some care, you could probably get a half-length NeoAir slotted in there. Sad that the waist belt doesn’t come off, because you could save some ounces there, as well–but more on that later.
In terms of design, one of the Lite’s strengths is its simple, old-school rucksack design. Nothing fancy, no weird “improvements,” just a 32L sack with an extendable collar (both have drawstrings) giving you the option to keep the rope and helmet inside, overstuff the thing, go overnight, whatever. The frame starts to whimper if you pack the thing towards 30 lbs., but I think most people buying the pack will know this going into it. This is a great alpine, go-huge pack that swallows gear walking into a climb, or just packs enough for an enormous day in the hills.
Ice tools sit securely in modern-style holders. They held my aggressively curved C.A.M.P. X-All Mountains, as well as more traditional tool (see pic above). The slots for the picks are reinforced a bit and withstood 10 days in service quite happily. Up top, tool shafts tie down with a fixed bungee/ziplock rig. Secure, simple, light.
There is no dedicated crampon patch or attachment. You could easily rig shock cord through the daisies, but I prefer crampons on the inside anyway, so I didn’t miss this detail.
I’ve used six or eight different Deuter packs and all of them have ridden very well, including our “kid carriers.” The Lite uses Deuter’s “Alpine Back” system, which relies on two raised padded sections down the back, leaving a little air channel in the middle. Cooler? Maybe, but I’m such a sweating beast of adipose tissue I can’t tell. You decide. The “frame” of the pack is a delrin rod around the pack’s perimeter. Stiff enough to give some shape and lend some support up to 20 or so pounds. Beyond that and the Lite uses a generously padded, wrap-around waist belt. Super comfy, with standard stabilizer straps to pull the weight of the pack into the belt. Gear loops on the waist belt offer racking options, but I just tend not to use those (on the Lite or any other pack).
One quick gripe on the suspension/construction is the lack of lower compression straps on the pack body. I didn’t notice it for packing/compression, but more for securing a rope when it’s draped across the top of the pack and under the lid. Walking it’s merely an annoyance as the rope swings back and forth. Skiing, though, I found it disconcerting to have any weight swinging back and forth, particularly when steep skiing.
My only other significant complaint–and this one is significant for me–is the inability to remove the waist belt. It’s padded, comfortable, and durable, but it’s simply too big to be workable with a skimo harness like the BD Couloir or C.A.M.P. Blitz. The Lite is plenty big enough to take into a bivy or base camp, but I generally prefer to remove the waist belt and use my Blitz harness when alpine climbing or ski mountaineering. With the Lite, you’re left to either buckle the waist over your harness or (what I chose to do) buckle the waist belt around the back of the pack, keeping it out of the way of your tie-in. It’s a clumsy compromise and one easily solved by making the waist belt float and Velcro to the pack beneath the lumbar padding (like the Guide series packs).
Other than those two gripes (which might not matter to most folks), the Deuter Guide Lite 32 is near perfect. Durable, carries well, does almost anything you want it to in the mountains, and comes with the no-BS Deuter warranty/customer service. For $150 it’s reasonably priced, in the same ball park as the BD Speed packs and slightly less than CiloGear’s models. The Lite is a great choice if you want one pack to do just about anything. Maybe splurge on a ski pack and you’re set, year-round. The Lite is a near-perfect quiver of one.