Blue Ice's Dragonfly 18L Packable Backpack (pre-2019)
Preface: Dragonfly 18L v.2 (2017 - good), v.3 (2019 - not good)
2019 (v.3) - The Bad
I hope we're not going to have to add Blue Ice to the list of "cost-cutting, self-sabotaging, once-excellent brands". The 2019 release of the previously superb Dragonfly (and Warthog packs too) have undergone such a major downgrade of their core materials that we think it's almost fraudulent to use the same name (i.e. they're transferring the goodwill and positive reviews of older models onto a cheaper and lesser pack).
Blue Ice have moved their manufacturing from Vietnam to the Philippines (bad news when Vietnam is too expensive) and more importantly have completely removed the base and front panel 420D ripstop Cordura (i.e. the expensive stuff) which is what gave this pack its structure and made it extremely tough and usable as a light climbing pack. They've also got rid of the daisy chain webbing loops that ran down each side (which were extremely useful). Blue Ice, by playing the cost game are now going head to head with companies like Lowe Alpine and their much cheaper Fuse 20 (same materials, same weight, similar opening, and daisy chained webbing, all you really lose is the face zipped pocket) - not a smart move.
We still recommend the Blue Ice Dragonfly but only the tough versions released prior to the 2019 model (pictured right). We'll start looking for alternatives if Blue Ice decide to stick with this downgraded model.
2017 (v.2) - The Good
V.2 of the Dragonfly was released in 2017 (pictured below right) and came with a number of improvements. Overall, a tidier package with less exposed cord and strapping to get snagged. An improved opening provided a little more protection and the AeroLight breathable back panel was a major plus, resulting in a less sweaty back. The re-design and simplification of the rope attachment system was also a plus, however it meant that the handy horizontal webbing loop across the face of the pack disappeared, which was useful for fixing all sorts of stuff along the vertical axis to the outside of the Dragonfly and as a carry strap, however due to the daisy chained loops it's trivial to add your own (some paracord and a carabiner would do it, or one of these).
The other minor negatives were: a) the v.2 was £5 more expensive; b) was a fraction heavier (~30g) and c) and less importantly, was not as distinctively funky looking. Given the choice of one versus the other ...? I'd actually go for the 2017 version - it was a minor improvement on what was already an outstanding pack. The improvements though were substantive whereas the negatives were just superficial. We've amended the score to reflect these changes. The 2017 release is our top pick in this category (however the 2019 version is most certainly NOT).
If you can, pick up either an old 2015 or 2017 model, but we recommend you avoid the 2019 release.
Here, we're looking at the Blue Ice Dragonfly (versions 1 or 2) from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Dragonfly 18L Pack (2015)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Front + Base Material (Green): 420D rip-stop CORDURA®||100%|
|Side, Back + Top Material (Blue): 100D high-tenacity rip-stop Nylon||100%|
|Treatments: PU coating and DWR finish||-|
|Weight (non-stripped weights: measured / specified)||v.1 = 330g / 325g, v.2 = 360g|
|Manufacturer RRP (v.2)||£50.00|
|Scramble's Price on SYSTEM (v.2) Free UK Delivery||£36.00|
Introduction: A Spartan Gem
We absolutely love this pack, it encapsulates Scramble's ethos (lightweight, durable, starkly functional) and simply put, we can't praise it enough ... but we'll try.
The Dragonfly is exactly what a small climbing / hiking pack should be: a top-loading, protective container with super fast access, that hugs the upper back and sits comforably on the shoulders.
Blue Ice have really thought this through and have excluded anything non-essential. What's left is a tough, lightweight (without sacrificing durability), sublimely functional, fuss and gimmick-free, highly versatile, top-loading climbing pack. An absolute gem.
The foam back pad, hip belt and sternum strap can all be removed. This is handy, and inadvertly (most likely) Blue Ice have created a superb side pouch for the Karrimor SF Predator 30 (Scramble's top rated 30L+ pack, which can happily accommodate the Dragonfly and an Ortlieb 22L Dry Bag on either side, to extend its volume to 70L - the Predator is remarkable for its ability to take on additional loads without detriment to comfort and stability).
When travelling, this is very handy, as the Dragonfly can detach from the main pack, becoming a day pack or hand luggage, as required. If supplies have dwindled sufficiently, the Dragonfly can be zipped up into its own pocket and packed away (see product images below).
The Dry Bag Compartment
A simple cinch and pull system opens the pack - there's no fiddling with buckles, straps, lids etc., here you just pull and it's open. To close, you simply hold the tab and pull the cord. When closed, it's almost entirely sealed, but not quite, and where there's a way in, water will find it. So, this pack certainly requires the use of a dry bag / pack liner (Karrimor's 15L and 25L are both perfect fits, and we'll get on to this later). However, not everything one requires access to has to be protected from the rain: water filtering kit, waterproofs, cooking gear etc. so the dry bag functions to compartmentalise the inside of the pack; separating that which must stay dry, from that which can get wet.
Being a top-loading pack with no lid, allows one to extend the capacity of the pack when required; the Dragonfly is really just a tough container for your pack liner. So, with a 25L Karrimor dry bag, I've used the Dragonfly for treks of up to 5 days, carrying all food and supplies, shelter, equipment and spare clothes.
For such trips, the pack's base weight is around 8kg. In my experience, the Dragonfly can handle a total weight of up to 11kg without issue, and packed sensibly remains comfortable across the back and shoulders when hiking for 12 hours per day.
Note, in the picture above (left image) the horizontal rope attachment loop on the face of the pack is used to secure the bivvy. This loop is not featured on the newer model, though can easily be recreated with a paracord loop and mini carabiner or with a 10mm webbing strap like Sea To Summit's.
No lack of attachment
Blue Ice (based in Chamonix Mont-Blanc) state the Dragonfly is "designed for minimalist climbers looking to carry just the essentials". Well climbers carry quite a bit of gear, and this is perhaps why so much attention has been paid to the attachment points on the pack. There is a useful rope attachment system on the top of the pack, which can be used for plenty of things besides rope (from jackets to hooped bivvies). The "rope attachment" can be tucked away into the bag's hydration slit.
Daisy-chained attachment loops run down both sides of the Dragonfly. These are heavily stitched into the Cordura fabric and make for secure attachment points. They are also ideally spaced when serving as compression strap loops should the pack be used in "side pouch mode" (as per above).
In addition there are two attachment loops at the base of the pack for ski / trekking poles, ice axes etc.
Material Placement: The ideal balance between weight and durability
There are many ultralight packs in the ~20L category, some weighing less than 100g! These, in my view, are fine for the packed lunch, flask carrying "day packers"; however, if you're off the beaten track or just hanging off the side of a mountain, the backpack is one of those bits of kit you cannot afford to fail.
Blue Ice have armoured the two areas most likely to take a hammering: the base and the front face (that's the bit you land on, if you're lucky, when your foot hold crumbles from under you - don't ask). These (green) areas are reinforced with heavy duty 420D rip-stop Cordura, and give the pack a spine.
Any Other Business?
On the inside of the pack is a sleeve which holds a slim foam pad, which affords ones back a degree of protection from the pack's contents. This sleeve can also accommodate a hydration bladder which slots in next to the pad. A small hydration slit is situated between the shoulder straps. This is common to many packs and works as expected.
The removable hip belt and sternum straps work well to secure the pack tightly to the body. Though not intended as a running pack, I have run with the Dragonfly and it's pretty comfortable with not too much movement.
The Dragonfly's only pocket, situated on the front face, is a good size: 20cm deep and 18cm wide; providing plenty of room for valuables, snacks and whetever else you may need quick access to.
Well, this is a stretch; I'm having to locate my inner carper. The foam back pad is quite thin (obviously to keep weight down) and provides pretty minimal padding. Some may regard this nod to comfort a little on the spartan side. However, it's trivial to pack your soft stuff on the back side of the pack, et voila, you have a very comfortable pack. So, unless you're carrying only rocks, this really shouldn't be an issue, but it is something one has to think about, so to placate the carper, we'll dock a half point for function.
Conclusion & Rating
Whether solo or paired with a Predator30 ...
Well, we pretty much summed it up at the beginning: Blue Ice, in excluding anything non-essential, have created a minimalist masterpiece: A durable, lightweight, sublimely functional, fuss and gimmick-free, highly versatile, top-loading climbing pack. One which packs away to something the size of a paperback, and can double as an easy access side pouch (for larger packs). An absolute gem indeed, and Scramble's top pick in the ~20 Litre Pack category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 06/08/19