Over the years I have tested a variety of waterproof backpacks, but never one that really floated my boat. Most delivered on the waterproof claims, but few were designed well enough to make for a comfortable carry. Almost all of them had too few or too many features. I recently had the chance to not just test Sea to Summit’s Carve 24L waterproof pack, I effectively lived out of it for a consecutive twelve days in one of the more weathered climates on Earth. It performed so well I traveled with it for an additional two weeks as my primary travel bag, and as I write this review, it sits at the edge of my desk. It would appear we are inseparable, and frankly I’m okay with that.
Sea to Summit has been designing and manufacturing premium outdoor products and accessories for years. Their line of waterproof bags is comprehensive and served as a springboard for the Carve 24L. Constructed of heavy duty 420 denier waterproof fabric, the Carve 24L has the heft and presence of a guide-grade river bag. The roll-top closure, a foolproof means of sealing out water, is easy to use and opens like a giant mouth swallowing volumes of gear with no awkward wiggling or fiddling to get items fitted within. The aluminum hardware endures all the abuses frequently found at water’s edge with no threat of breaking or popping loose. As a dry bag, it is positively bomber.
Crossing more than 50 rivers almost assured I would fall in one of them––which I did. All my feathers and electronics in the Carve survived easily.
More than just a water thwarting bag, the Carve is a proper backpack. The shoulder straps are well padded, nicely shaped, and have a full range of adjustment to assure everything stays put. The waist belt, while simple and unpadded, is adjoined to the pack via two lumbar wings that help keep the pack properly positioned. The sternum strap is affixed to the shoulder straps with small aluminum buckles again adding to the simplicity and durability of the pack’s vital components. It is sublimely simple and in that, is very effective.
One of the more unique features of the Carve 24L is the addition of a dedicated hydration pocket separate from the main waterproof compartment. Many waterproof packs forgo such luxuries, and in doing so limit their utility. I was able to slide a three liter Platypus hydration reservoir into the secondary compartment without any fuss or alteration to the pack’s surprising comfort. That comfort was augmented by the simple, yet adequately padded foam back panel. As a mountain biker, I appreciated how thin that padding was, keeping the pack close to my back for optimal balance. I can see how that back panel could be warm and even a little unpleasant on a hot day, but there are some concessions to be made in the name of waterproofness.
As if Sea to Summit knew what I needed in a pack, they had the foresight to fit the the Carve with a series of external attachment points. For my needs, these were ideally situated to accommodate my carbon fiber tripod. I am often weary of such lash-points as they often appear to be more cosmetic than functional. Such is not the case with the Carve’s hypalon daisy chains. I may have tested them far beyond their intended purpose, but they held fast, unfazed by my abuses. The other feature I could not have done without is the oversized grab handle at the top of the pack bag. This made for a more balanced and secure grab point when simply shuttling the bag around during travel. And with that, the designers at Sea to Summit seemed to know that was enough. Designers often fail to self-edit, and add too many doodads and extras. The Carve offers all that you need, nothing more.
Over the years, Sea to Summit’s products have served me so well, there wasn’t a moment’s doubt the Carve would live up to its brand legacy. Fording rivers up to my waist in torrential downpours for days on end with $4,000 worth of camera gear safely stowed in my pack wasn’t so much a matter of trust, it was just the most logical thing to do. The proof is in the pictures within this piece. Had the Carve 24L not fended off buckets of rain, sea spray, and river water, you wouldn’t see them. MSRP: $159