Mountainsmith Divide Review
With features that work as well heading to the office as off the beaten path, the Mountainsmith Divide is good for everyday carry, even with jangly zippers.
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- Front compartment expands to hold more gear without impacting other areas
- Extremely comfortable harness system
- Quick-access pocket works well for phone
- Jangly zipper pulls
- Extremely thin carry handle
- Main compartment and quick-access pocket can compete for space
Like the Look
Polled on Instagram
1.625 lb (0.7 kg)
18 in x 11 in x 5.5 in (45.7 x 27.9 x 14 cm)
Waxed Canvas, Polyester, Cotton, Polyurethane, Recycled Nylon, Polyethylene, Atilon Foam, YKK Zippers, Woojin Hardware
Laptop Compartment Size
From a company founded more than 40 years ago by Colorado outdoor enthusiasts who wanted durable gear for backcountry pursuits, the Mountainsmith Divide is for those who work hard to make it to the weekend. That is, it’s a bag designed to be a daily driver that will also serve weekend warriors as they tackle quick getaways, city explorations, or even a day trip to the zoo with the kids.
The 16L capacity is a good amount of space for your everyday laptop bag. Plus, it can quickly adapt to be a personal item bag for the plane with top access to your phone, computer, and other accessories so you can reach them with the bag under the seat in front of you. Or pull out your computer and slide in a hydration pack and snacks for a day’s adventures on the trails.
We think it’s comfortable enough to carry for quite some time, and we like the organizational features—and the fact that they get out of the way when we don’t need them. Will you? Let’s check it out.
Checking out the exterior of the Mountainsmith Divide, you’ll see the daisy chains of webbing attachment points parading down the center and across the bottom of the bag. It matches the brand’s outdoorsy vibe, although we didn’t find much use for the loops during our testing period. If you need to clip a damp travel towel, a travel mug, and a bike light to the outside of your pack, you can. And if you don’t need to? Then it’s just an interesting design feature.
It meshes with the aesthetics of the polyester/cotton waxed canvas exterior nicely, and the polyurethane coating lends water resistance to the pack in case you’re caught in a quick shower or brush past the branches of a wet tree. If you’re going for ruggedly handsome, the Black colorway is a good option, and the Divide also comes in Basil, a lighter green primary color with darker green accents.
There isn’t a ton of in-your-face branding on the Divide. On the bottom of the front left is a black patch with the Mountainsmith name and logo, which blends in with the pack, especially on the Black colorway. The name and logo are also on the right shoulder strap, and a patch on the right side of the bag says, “DIVIDE,” so you can remember which backpack you’re rocking when you get a compliment.
Compared with the robust shoulder straps, which we’ll discuss in more detail soon, the carry handle is a bit thin. It’s fine for hanging it on a hook, and that’s all we can recommend you do with it because it is not comfortable to use while carrying the bag. Since this is a backpack, not a tote bag, you’re most likely going to be using the shoulder straps most of the time you carry this pack.
Woojin Hardware slides serve to adjust the straps, and there are YKK zippers used throughout the bag. Now, don’t get us wrong, the zippers work well. They’re great, actually, except for one teeny, tiny annoyance: they’re loud. Not to open and close, but when you’re walking, shake the bag or breathe heavily in its vicinity. Basically, the metal zipper pulls are large and easy to grab (yay!) buuuut … they’re jangly. You won’t be sneaking up on your friend while wearing this bag, that’s for sure. Just wanted to mention it, in case you’re a librarian or something.
If a little extra noise doesn’t put you off, let’s move on to the harness system!
The shoulder straps feature padding that feels “just right” no matter what’s in the bag. They have a lot of room to move at the top and adjust well to the width of your shoulders. Plus, they curve toward the side of the bag after the midpoint in a boomerang-like shape, so they wrap around chests of all shapes and sizes.
The same webbing runs down the straps, for a total of four extra attachment points (two on each strap), for hanging hand sanitizer, a travel water bottle, or a cute stuffed animal on a keychain. Or nothing. They’re there if you need them and utterly unobtrusive if you don’t.
The back panel also features a nice amount of cushioning and curves to fit your back. The foam padding is not too stiff, so it doesn’t stick into the back of shorter users, as we’ve experienced with other bags. Instead, it seems to mold to the shape of your back; less so when you have a device in the adjacent laptop sleeve, yet it’s still there. There are two channels of breathable mesh on each side, although the center is the same poly-cotton canvas blend as the front, so it’s hard to say how breathable that will be. We had no problems during our testing period (which took place through February in Michigan, so do with that what you will).
There’s no additional support from sternum straps or hip belts, although we didn’t really expect to see those features on a 16L bag, and we don’t miss them.
Despite its outdoorsman heritage, you don’t feel like you’re sporting a hiking backpack when you walk around with the Mountainsmith Divide. Sure, it’s a casual-looking backpack, so you may want to leave it at the hotel if you’re dining at Tavern on the Green in New York City. If, instead, you’re touring the Big Apple and planning to hit the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and Chinatown, you won’t feel out of place. Nor does it stick out like a sore thumb on a college campus or an office setting.
If you pack bulkier gear into the front compartment, it can protrude a bit, although not so much that you feel like a snail with a shell, so there’s no more of a problem carrying it into tight spaces than with a similarly-sized pack.
Between the breathable mesh, the articulation of the straps, and the padding on the harness system, testers of different sizes and shapes find the Mountainsmith Divide comfortable to carry. It’s easy to swing onto your back, and the adjustment stays where set, which we like.
Inside The Pack
Of course, the most comfortable bag is useless if you don’t like what’s happening inside, so let’s see how helpful the Divide is for your situation.
On each side is a bottle pocket made with stretchy mesh and topped with elastic to hold your drink in place. A Hydro Flask 21 oz (Standard Mouth) fits well in these pockets, although extra-wide bottles do not. What you have packed in the main compartment impacts how easy it is to slide in a bottle, to a point; however, we find it pretty effortless to maneuver it in even when carrying wider gear—it just takes a little work.
Moving upward, you’ll see a lineup of four zippers crossing the top of the bag. Let’s start with the third from the front (or second from the back, depending where you begin). At 8 inches wide, this is the shortest zipper, and it opens the quick access pocket. It’s about 5.25 inches deep, or about the same height as an iPhone 13 Mini, and it is spacious enough to fit just about any phone you want to toss in there.
The liner is a bright yellow flannel-like fabric, so there are no worries about scratching your phone or sunglasses should you pack them here. The only thing that impacts the available space is a pocket that hangs at the top of the main compartment. It tends to swing into the outside of this quick-access pocket if the main compartment is full, so you may need to use a little effort to slide in your phone as the contents readjust around it. We’re talking minimal effort here—2 out of 10—yet it’s worth mentioning.
The zipper behind that, adjacent to the back panel, spans 13 inches. It opens the laptop sleeve, which has the same liner as the remainder of the bag: a gold recycled nylon with the Mountainsmith logo printed in a color-on-color pattern. You can fit up to a 16-inch device here, and it’s well-padded on both the front and back, so you don’t need a case for extra protection. That’s good because the opening is too narrow to accommodate larger laptop sleeves or cases. If you use one, there’s room to slide it into the main compartment instead.
Mountainsmith says the Divide has “hydration pack compatibility,” so you can transition the backpack from carrying everyday gear to what you need for the trail. However, we can’t find any dedicated pass-throughs for a water bladder, and the webbing loops run vertically on the shoulder straps. So while you could use them to hold your mouthpiece in place, the tube will stick out the side. And while it seems like the laptop sleeve would be the best place to stash a hydration pack, the zipper only runs one way, so you can only have the hose poke out the left side.
Or, you know, pick another backpack specifically designed for a hydration bladder.
There’s one more secondary compartment to talk about: the sizable front section. It opens in a U-shape that runs from the top of one bottle pocket to the other. When you open it, you’ll see the same gold recycled nylon (“The better to see your tech with, dear!”), and there is an admin panel against the front of a document sleeve. That sleeve is very large and flexible, so it can also serve as a divider in the compartment or hold a tablet in a protective case. You could also toss tech kits or other small pouches in here to keep them separate from the travel jacket you have stowed in front of the pocket. There is quite a bit of space in the front compartment, and packing it well doesn’t impact the main compartment’s capacity much, especially in front of the document sleeve. If you pack bulkier gear into the sleeve, it will protrude a bit into the main area.
Before we head to that section, let’s touch upon the admin panel. It includes a zipper mesh pocket and three pen slots, so you can pack your mouse and a stylus for when you need to get some work done on the go.
Now, onto the main event … er, compartment. While the other three areas open with No. 8 reverse coil zippers, the main compartment has a beefy No. 10 with equally large metal zipper pulls. Yes, much of the jangling on the pack is likely attributable to this zipper.
At the top is the hanging mesh pocket we mentioned earlier. It’s 6 inches deep by 8 inches wide and the perfect spot for lip balm, AirPods, keys, and other small travel gear you don’t want falling to the bottom of the bag. It hangs freely from the top of the bag and is attached against the rear side of the section, so you can wedge gear behind it if you need to, or it can lay flat against the back if you don’t.
And that’s it. The rest of the space is open, which is fine considering the other organizational options around the bag. This area is only about 4.5 inches deep (from front to back), yet you can still fit a few packing cubes in here—or a hoodie, or books, or … you get the idea. It’s your backpack; you pick what you’re carrying.
Whatever you haul, we think you’ll like carrying it in the Mountainsmith Divide. And if you do, you’ll be happy this backpack is built to last and backed by the Forged for Life Guarantee. Mountainsmith says they make all of their products to last a lifetime, and “if something we’ve made fails in any way, we’ll take care of it by either repairing or replacing it. For your entire life.” Nice!
So if you’re looking for a casual, understated bag to get you from home to school or work to anywhere in the world, this may be your next pack.
- No. 10 reverse coil zipper big and jangly
- Interesting design with webbing attachment points
- Digging the bright yellow liner
- Great for everyday carry, and fits a wide variety of gear
- Easy to hang on a hook with thin carry handle
- A few threads at the end of the carry handle stitching stick out, though they’re not unraveling
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