A Spotter Up Review and Adventure!

Months previous, we started planning. We gathered our gear, planned our route and as the weeks crawled by, we drew closer. My favorite time of the year, early summer, is here. Early summer for me means that there is a backpacking trip coming. This early summer is no different. We had decided on the Black River again. Great fishing, great weather and a ton of wildlife to experience, the Black River is one of my favorite places to backpack. With months of planning under our belts, we are ready. The day before our trip, with our packs loaded with gear and our minds packed with dreams of reeling in massive Small Mouth Bass, the news breaks. The reservations elect to close the Black River. Audible time. We do some research and my buddy plots out a route along some of the small creeks near the town of Mogollon, New Mexico. It’s finally decided. Go time.

In preparation for this trip, I reached out to Kyle at Alps Outdoorz and coordinating some product testing. They sent over the Alps Outdoorz Commander X pack and frame and the Alps Mountaineering Mystique 2-person backpacking tent.

The Commander X Pack and Frame:

  • 1680D Nylon Ballistic and Robic™ Nylon Fabrics for unmatched strength
  • Pack bag attaches to frame with zippers or compression straps when frame is loaded
  • Improved waist belt includes pockets, anti-sway straps and accommodates clip-style holsters
  • Improved side fleece-lined spotting scope pocket with large opening for easy access
  • LED light included with pack
  • Rifle and bow drop-down pocket
  • Top loading with spindrift collar
  • Top pocket converts to a fanny pack
  • Front pocket can be removed for extra gear
  • Extra-large lower door – #10 zipper
  • Internal horizontal divider
  • Side pockets
  • Hydration pocket and port
  • Rain cover included

Fabric: Veil™ Cervidae or Coyote Brown
Torso Range: 17″–21″
Capacity: 4000 in³ / 66L
Frame Weight: 5 lbs. 3 oz.
Pack Bag Weight: 4 lbs.
Total Weight: 9 lbs. 3 oz.

The Mystique 2 Person Tent:

  • Lightweight two-pole design with 7000 series aluminum poles
  • 75D 185T polyester fly with 1500mm coating resists UV damage and stays taut
  • Factory-sealed fly and floor seams provide best weather protection
  • 75D 185T poly taffeta floor with 3000mm coating
  • Extra large #8 zippers on doors and vestibules
  • Easy entry and great ventilation with two mesh doors
  • Weatherproof fly provides a vestibule over each door
  • Fly vent can be kept open or closed, depending upon the weather
  • Includes 7075 aluminum stakes, guy ropes, and mesh storage pocket

Base size: 5′ x 8′
Center height: 3’4
Vestibule depth: 27″
Tent area: 32 sq. ft.
Vestibule area: 18 sq. ft.
Minimum weight: 4 lb. 9 oz.
Total weight: 5 lb. 6 oz.
Packed size: 6.5 ” x 20″
Pole diameter: 8.5 mm & 9.5 mm
Use rating: 3 Season
Sleeps: Two

I also received the floor saver for this tent from Alps Mountaineering

Getting Ready!

Leading up to this trip, in an effort to functionally train for what this trip would demand of me, I loaded one of my other packs with a 60 lb. sandbag and went through a pretty rigorous regiment formulated by Atomic Athlete out of Austin, Texas.

Prior to the trip, I loaded the Commander X with all of my gear and took it for a couple of ruck marches as prescribed by the aforementioned regiment. The first thing I noticed was how well the pack moved, how well it managed the weight and how truly comfortable it was. This is all well and good for a forty minute workout, but to test it’s metal, it needs a trip, it needs to be exposed to terrain, jumping, climbing, being banged around. I’m just the guy for that.

Starting with the outside of the pack, the Commander X’s hybrid Nylon outer material is tough. I’ll explain more about that later but it’s safe it say it feels closer to a rugged canvas material than any kind of Nylon I’ve experienced. The zippers create a tight and secure seal and have large loops on them, ensuring that you could use them if you had thick gloves on in the event that you were in cold weather. The pack has MANY pockets. Two on the waist band, two side pockets, a spotting scope pocket, a removable front pocket, a removable top pocket with two different compartments and a pocket on the bottom of the pack which gives you the option to open it up to the main compartment or keep it separate. Wrapping up the pocket list is a hydration pocket with a port for the straw. The internal frame is sturdy and provides a good amount of support for the pack under load. The padding is ultra comfortable, from the straps to the waistband to the padding on the back. The pack has several points to lash items to and adjustable waist, shoulder straps, chest straps and load leveling straps. The amount of adjustments guarantee a comfortable carrying position for even the most picky of backpackers. The pack secures to the frame with heavy duty zippers that even under heavy load remain attached. The pack is wrapped up in a tremendous 66l capacity.

This pack comes in at 9 pounds 3 oz. with the frame and pack combined. It retails at $349.99. What this means is that the Commander X is heavier than some comparable bags. It is also made of material that feels much more tough. It also costs less than a lot of it’s rivals. I own other ALPS packs. This pack feels like the first solid shot across the bow from ALPS, aimed at the companies that have been sitting on top of the hill for a long time as the “elite” brands in backpacking. This company is doing BIG things for hunting. They offer options for budget hunters and hunters who are performance driven alike.

The Hike In

With my backpack stuffed and our truck parked at the trailhead, we venture down the trail. The whole time while hiking, shoes that I have lashed to my pack are swinging back and forth. What is not moving back and forth is the weight of my pack. The pack stays balanced and centered. It moves very well. The straps need tightened only once, they don’t loosen up or shift like I’ve experienced with other packs. The zippers stay closed, even with the pack bouncing around by virtue of being on my back.

We cross water, bushwhack through weeds, canyon walls and scorched and fallen trees. The bag scrapes, brushes and bangs off of all of it with being punctured or ripped. The bag wears it’s scars (black marks from the aforementioned scorched trees) well. I should’ve taken more photos of it prior to me abusing it on the hike down into our camp.

Once we got into our camp, I unloaded a good portion of my pack and found another awesome feature of the pack. The front pack that s completely removable is large enough to store all of my food in it and during the day, when we would go fishing, I can hoist the front pack, loaded with food, in the tree to protect it from bear pillaging. The top pocket also removes and has strap to turn into a fanny pack, another handy feature when you’re backpack fishing as we were. This pack has lots of versatility. After I get to the bottom of my pack, I gather all the pieces packed away to set up my tent.

The Mystique 2 Person tent goes up easily. When I say easy, I mean that I only tested setting it up one time after unboxing it, easy. It has two tent poles that bend laterally across the footprint of the tent to keep the body elevated. Nothing about this tent is cheap. From the (available for purchase separately) foot print, to the metal stakes and aluminum tent poles, this tent feels built to last. The tent relies on the body and brackets for tent poles being staked securely to the ground. The roof of the tent then hooks to the tent poles once they are secured to the bracket. What all of this means is that once the body of the tent is secured in place and the tent poles are secured, this tent stays put. There are doors on either side of the tent which would allow you to really open the tent up if you so desired. This would not be necessary though if you were just looking for ventilation as the better part of the tent walls are made of mesh. The mesh is sown in with double seams so as to ensure it doesn’t separate and allow insects in. There is also a pocket within the tent that makes storage convenient.

This brings us to the fly. The Mystique line boasts the lightest weight of all of Alps tents. This is done by putting ultra light mesh in the tent wherever possible as is common practice in the industry. The two dangers in the practice are that:

  1. The fly has to be 100% waterproof
  2. You can reduce the thermal value of the tent and render unusable in two of the four seasons.

Alps knocks this balance out of the park in the Mystique 2 person. The fly clips to straps which are already staked down (the tent includes guy lines as an added measure to ensure that it will not blow away). Once they are clipped, they are adjusted to make the fly taut. Once my fly was taut, I didn’t have to adjust it any further during the trip. Sometimes, you have to constantly adjust the fly because it’s too heavy, too light, the adjustments are in sub optimal locations, but none of these were an issue with the Mystique. The fly secures to the ground and creates an almost UFO type shape. The vestibules are not huge, but they are big enough for a pack and boots. The zippers in both the tent body and the fly are high quality #8 zippers. The have oversized loops in their eyelets which allow you to manipulate them with thermally gloved hands.

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The zippers on the fly are protected by flaps made of the same high quality material as the rest of the fly that secures over the top of the zipper to ensure it’s weather proofing. I already mentioned that the fly secures to the ground, this conquers problem B, the thermal protection. I am not sure if it’s material or how close to the ground the fly actually sits but I was very comfortable in 30 degree weather in a sleeping bag that rendered me miserable the last time it saw those temperatures. The only variable in those two situations is the tent I used. Wind blows right over the top of your aerodynamic spaceship looking tent due to clever design. At the end of our stay at camp, I was very impressed by the performance and design of the Mystique.

The Mystique 2 person weighs in at 5 lbs. 6oz. and a $199.00 price tag. I really like where this tent falls within it’s price point and value. Can you buy lighter two person tents? Yes. With this quality and price tag? No. Even though the tent weighs in heavier than some of it’s competitors, it also hits a lower price point against comparable materials. I really like the space within the tent (at 6’2, 250 lbs. I need a little extra room) and there is a tremendous amount of ease to set up (15 minutes on my first field set up of this tent).

Time To Leave

Preparing to hike out, while packing all of my gear back into the Commander X, I found that the Mystique 2 actually fit perfectly into the pack’s lower compartment with a little room to spare. Almost as if the two were designed that way. We loaded up, put on our packs and ventured out. I found the same dependability and weight distribution in the pack hiking out uphill as I did going downhill. It took a thrashing and just did it’s job.

Good gear will make or break trips for you. Too heavy, you will be too smoked to enjoy the trip. Not enough room, you won’t rest well. Alps provided me an awesome opportunity in testing the Commander X Pack and the Mystique 2 person. These two pieces of gear definitely helped to make my trip into New Mexico’s Mogollon mountain range more enjoyable.

More Than Fish

This trip yielded more good memories of backpacking with good buddies. We hiked a lot, fished a lot and laughed a lot. This trip yielded a little extra for me. It was my first time fly fishing and I caught a gorgeous region specific Gila Trout.

Let’s Rate the Gear!

ALPS OutdoorZ Commander X pack w/ frame

Space – 5/5

Durability – 5/5

Value 4.5/5

Weight – 4/5

Versatility – 5/5

Overall – 4.7/5

ALPS Mountaineering Mystique 2 Person tent

Space – 5/5

Durability – 5/5

Value – 5/5

Weight – 4/5

Versatility – 4.5/5

Overall 4.7/5

Follow the links to get more information and purchase the gear!

ALPS Commander X Pack and Frame

ALPS Mountaineering Mystique 2-Person

Material Disclosure

I received this product as a courtesy from the manufacturer via Spotter Up so I could test it and give my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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By Bill Farmer

Bill Farmer is a 12 year law enforcement veteran He is a defensive tactics, tactical driving and active shooter instructor. Bill has worked in school resource, violent crimes, plain clothes and patrol assignments. Bill is an avid outdoorsman, backpacker, hunter and shooter.

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