The quest for the perfect pack…a journey as storied and timeless as the search for the perfect pizza. Once you’ve had “the best”, you’re right back out there looking for its superior. I probably have a dozen backpacks of every variety out in the garage as we speak. Packs for backpacking, rock climbing, skiing, cycling, traveling. Oh, how I long for one pack that could do it all in the mountains.

A buddy of mine showed up for a trip to Canada with a Detuer ski-specific pack, the Cruise 30. I borrowed it for a run or two and liked the way it carried. I returned home and surfed the Deuter website, deuterusa.com, to see what else they might offer. I’ve already reviewed one of their cycling packs (the Race EXP Air; $135; http://tinyurl.com/253qs7p), but I spied a lightweight do-it-all model called the Pace 30 ($99) and thought it looked like a worthy contender for alpine pursuits.

I’ve used the Pace several times skiing, loading a full “guide pack”, meaning I carried a rescue sled, tarp, med kit, splint kit, and small repair kit, in addition to my regular gear. I’ve liked the way it skis thus far, without being too stiff or “plankish” on my back.

The Pace uses a thin, Delrin rod around the backpanel for its frame. Minimalist…and light! The pack itself weighs a scant two pounds, nearly a full pound lighter than the more heavily featured Cruise 30, and at least two pounds less than my Arcteryx ski pack.

It’s a traditional top-loader, with an adequately sized top compartment. Above you can see I fit my goggles and beacon easily, as well as a couple energy bars. Unfortunately the top pocket is NOT floating, meaning you can’t comfortably overstuff the pack. Bummer! This is one of my perpetual gripes with packs these days–if you do overstuff the Pace 30, the top pocket rocks forward and will spend the day Chinese-torturing the back of your head, particularly if you’re wearing a ski helmet. I’ll definitely take this into the repair shop to get it cut and transformed into a floating top pocket.

On the outside-back of the pack is a thin, stretch pocket. I managed to fit my oversized shovel blade in there, which tells me you can fit a ton of stuff back there. Wet jacket, bivy sack, whatever you need. You can also slot a shovel handle and probe in the sleeve (see pic), though I still prefer to keep that stuff inside the main compartment to avoid anything getting lost in the event of a tumble or during a transition. Stretchy material on either side of the pocket keeps the pack’s profile trim, which I like for bushwhacks or while climbing.

I like the hideaway ice-tool attachments for the same reasons mentioned above–it gives the pack less to snag on and a cleaner line, and as little as I carry ice tools it’s nice to have the option without snagging the loops on anything. Stretch pockets–again, clean and low-profile–adorn the outsides of the pack. I tend not to use these, but some folks love ’em for energy bars, or a lightweight soft-shell. I don’t mind ’em on the Pace and I bet they only add a few grams. No complaints here.

In the photo above, you can also see the ski holders, which are pared down to the bare minimum. They’re small patches of Hypalon-style material, but time will tell if they adequately protect the pack material against ski edges. I carried skis a short way up the melted approach on Dry Gulch one day, but nothing more. There is no diagonal ski-carry on the Pace, though you could probably modify one of these ice-ax loops to accommodate tails and then rig something for the top of the skis.

The waistbelt on the Pace is a perforated, rubberized material which allows it to breathe against your skin. The left side features a single gear loop (stout webbing) and the other a mesh, zippered pocket for sunscreen or energy bars. I like the waistbelt for stability, but don’t think it’s going to transfer a ton of weight to your hips. I’ll throw my two cents here, too, that if you’re carrying more than 20 lbs. in this backpack, you’re traveling way too heavy. With my full kit (see pic below), the Pace 30 couldn’t have weighed more than 15 lbs.

The Pace’s shoulder straps are also ventilated and so far have been comfortable. With just a t-shirt on (think summer approach to Hallet’s), I expect they’ll be perfectly comfortable, but keep in mind I was ski touring with a baselayer and soft-shell on, so any chafing issues wouldn’t have appeared. I’m hopeful, though, because the Pace 30 felt great throughout a couple longish tours, flexing enough during activity, while carrying my gear easily.

I like the Pace 30 because it’s light, simple, and functional. Factor in its $99 price tag (I paid for mine; full disclosure) and I’m not sure you can beat it in terms of bang-for-buck.

Gripes? They’re minor: float the top lid and how about small sleeves on the inside to keep a shovel handle and probe stashed on either side of the main interior compartment? A ski-specific version with an insulated shoulder strap would be sexy…but then we’re getting specialized and heavier…and that’s not what the Pace 30 is for.

Loves: Lightweight. Simple. Inexpensive. Just enough features to keep me interested.