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REVIEW Decathlon Forclaz MT500 Air 60+10 Hiking Backpack

A well built, comfortable, feature packed, lightweight and great value pack at just AUD$269

To be honest I didn’t expect to like this pack as much as I do.

My goal when buying the Forclaz MT500 Air 60 +10 backpack was to field test a pack that ticked a lot of the ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ boxes for a multi day hike but came in at the budget end of the affordability scale.

There are plenty of big brand packs in the $400+ price range that would reliably and comfortably carry my 20kg of gear the 85km of the Overland Track.

So at just AUD$269 with up to 70 ltrs capacity and weighing only 1.75kg, the MT500 is simply one of the best value multi-day hiking packs on the market!

But how does it perform on a real world hike?

I decided to find out . . .

BEST FEATURES

• Excellent harness system - very comfortable
• Lightweight 1.75kg
• Expandable storage up to 70ltr
• Easy access front opening
• Great value at $269

Why I Chose This Pack

Early in 2023 I started making serious plans for the trip I’d been wanting to do (again) for years.

Hiking the iconic ‘Overland Track’ in Tasmania.

I hiked it the first time in 2006 on our Big Lap trip around Australia.

Then again a few years later in 2010.

Now I was heading back a third time and with 3 of my mates joining me.

The first 2 Overland Track trips I used my trusty Macpac Ascent pack which I’ve had since 2001 and carried it down many tracks in Australia and New Zealand.

But as much as it’s an old favourite and very reliable, it’s heavy at around 2.5kg, the harness is pretty low tech and let’s face it, I’m a gear nerd so trying a new pack after 20+ years with the last one is not unreasonable!

So I went looking for something new . .  and found Decathlon.

Decathlon isn’t a brand we’ve seen a lot of in Australia but they are big and growing fast.

With their head office in France they have 1700 stores worldwide and are actually the worlds largest sporting goods retailer!

Who knew?!

They have more than a dozen stores in Australia across Sydney & Melbourne but their website with over 10,000 products and delivery is a big strength of the business.

Their focus is “High-Performance Products without the Premium Price” and from my experience so far this rings true.

The vast majority of their products are their own designs and brands, like Forclaz and Quechua - a bit like the ‘IKEA’ of the sporting and outdoors goods world.

After looking at all the packs in their range I settled on the Forclaz MT500 Air 60+10 which seemed like the best combination of size, weight, features and price point.

Pack Construction

The Forclaz MT500 Air is constructed from lightweight but durable ripstop polyamide 210D main fabric with a reinforced bag base so it can withstand repeatedly being ‘plonked’ down on rough ground.

There is an internal frame to keep the pack rigid even when not fully loaded and the ventilated back harness conforms to your back shape avoiding any pressure points which can cause friction and hotspots.

The pack is recommended for loads up to 15kg however I started at just under 20kg and felt that it carried it easily.

Top Features

Lightweight 1.75kg

At 1.75kg the MT500 Air isn’t in the ‘ultralight’ category of packs, like those under or close to 1kg, but considering its size and features it is a very reasonable compromise and worth the extra 700 grams over an ultralight pack.

Ultralight packs sacrifice features like multiple compartments, form fitting harnesses and durability in the quest to be as light as possible.

The MT500 Air sits nicely between those ultralight packs and more heavy duty and larger packs that are up into 2+ and even 3+ kg range and designed for hauling bigger loads.

Adjustable Ventilated Harness

One of the standout features for me when considering this pack was the harness design.

The harness features a mesh panel that sits against your back with the body of the pack suspended away from your back to provide airflow and keep your back cool.

And let me tell you, it really works.

There were some days on our Overland Track hike where I was in a single layer t-shirt and sweating and my back remained cool all day.

The point where the shoulder straps connect to the pack at the top can be adjusted up and down to suit different back lengths which enables you to ‘tune’ the pack to your height and body shape.

There are also cinch straps to pull the pack in tight on the shoulder straps once you have the pack on.

This prevents it from moving around as you’re walking.

The hip belt is very comfortable and fitted firmly around my waist without developing any sore spots during the day.

The hip belt buckle and strap is solid and you tighten the belt by pulling the straps forward and away from you, much easier than trying to pull them around behind you as some packs do.

I don’t have the body shape that enables a pack to hang on my hips easily so I need to keep the belt fairly tight to avoid it slipping down over my hips.

Once I get going on the track I tend to fine tune the adjustment between the tension on the hip belt and the shoulder straps and once I had this dialled in the MT500 Air remained comfortable all day.

Certainly more comfortable than my trusty old Macpac Ascent.

I found that by having the shoulder straps lightly hanging on my shoulders but the majority of the weight on my hips that the pack would stay in place and not slide down and become heavy on my shoulders.

I’d estimate I was carrying about 70% weight on my hips and 30% on my shoulders.

I actually think the mesh back panel helped this by adding some friction where it made contact with my back so it felt like the pack was hugging me from top to bottom rather than all of the weight hanging on my hips & shoulders.

This was not only more comfortable but it gave me confidence the pack would be stable when I was hopping between roots and rocks along the track.

Adjust the harness to suit your height. I found it to be very comfortable and balanced the load well between shoulders and hips.

Hipbelt Pockets

Once you’ve experienced a pack with pockets on the hip belt, you won’t go back!

The MT500 Air has a generous pocket on each side of the hip belt which is ideal for keeping those bits and pieces you need on track - snacks, camera batteries, first aid, phone etc.

They are not waterproof so consider taking some small zip lock bags that you could put things like spare camera batteries in to keep them dry.

Pockets on both sides of the belt. Big enough to fit a full sized iPhone.

Front and Top Opening

In general I haven't been a fan of packs with heaps of pockets, pouches and compartments as they tend to add weight, more zips and toggles to potentially break and more places to lose things!

Choosing the MT500 Air I was aware that it does have more pockets than the simple ‘bucket’ pack design I’m used to but decided to give it a go anyway.

It turned out to be a good decision.

Like most packs, the MT500 Air has a top opening with draw cord and the top pocket, or ‘brain’ that folds over it.

It’s a simple and time tested design that works.

This top area can expand to accommodate more gear and is the extra 10 litres of space is what they refer to when they say it is a ‘60 + 10’.

The MT500 Air also has a front panel that opens with two zips much like you find in a typical travel pack.

This gives you the option to open the pack from the top or the front.

Additionally there are 3 compression straps inside the main compartment that hold your gear in tight without putting any pressure on the front panel zips.

This is a great feature that means there is no real wear and tear on those front zips and even if one broke your gear is nicely contained by the internal compression straps.

The way I ended up organising my gear was that I’d keep my food and stove in the top area so when we’d stop on the side of the track for lunch or smoko I’d just open the top.

But once I made it to camp, I would lay the pack on its back and be able to access all of the contents easily through the open front panel.

This meant I didn’t need to pull everything out of the pack from the top to get to the stuff down the bottom and could leave things in the pack most of the time, just taking them out when I needed them.

Lay it on its back for easy access to all your gear (except top pocket). Like a travel pack.

Expandability

The native size of the MT500 Air is 60 litres but it will expand to 70 litres by adjusting the top pocket to be higher.

Squeeze an extra 10 litres of gear under the top pocket or strap it down tight if you don't need it.

Separate Bottom Compartment

The MT500 Air has a front opening bottom pocket that is big enough to comfortably hold a tent or sleeping bag and mattress or your spare food which is what I did.

For our 8 day Overland Track trip I started with all of my 7 extra days of food in zip lock bags in the bottom pocket and attached my tent to the outside using the included expansion straps.

After about 3 days of eating the food I was able to fit my tent inside the bottom pocket with the rest of my food.

In hindsight I’ll do it differently next time and dedicate the bottom pocket to all my food and cooking gear so it's easily accessible on the track at any time and keep my tent in the main compartment.

The gusset between the top and bottom sections can be zipped open making the pack one large compartment. This might be handy to fit in longer items.

There is also a pocket on the outside of the flap covering the bottom compartment which the rain cover was stored in and is also where the expansion straps tuck into when you're not using them.

Big Side Pockets

The long side pockets are a feature not seen on many packs but one that I’ve grown to appreciate.

I used them to keep the gear I’d use ‘on track’ so I could reach it easily without needing to open the main compartment of the pack.

On one side I kept my waterproof jacket and pants and one of my 1ltr water bladders and on the other side I kept the waterproof cover for the pack, my other 1ltr water bladder, water filter and a few bits and pieces.

The pockets are gusseted so they expand to hold a surprising amount of gear.

Large expandable pocket on each side that's easily accessible with the pack on it.s back. Also 2 compression straps each side to keep load tight when the pack isn't full.

External Pole Holder & Quick Access Pocket

The pack has 2 elastic toggles on the outside to attach your walking pole(s) when you’re not using them and these worked well. I was even able to attach my lightweight travel tripod a couple of times when I had the outside pocket full of other gear.

On the outside of the front access flap is a pouch that is handy for tucking in things while on track, once again saving you needing to open the pack and go digging.

I used it for my travel tripod and hiking pole when I wasn't using them and I could also fit my 2 x 1 ltr water bladders in there when I filled them up from a stream enroute to the next hut.

Use the external pocket for longer items like tripod or trekking pole(s) Plus there are dedicated toggles to hole poles or other items

Front Facing Bottle Holder Pockets

The MT500 Air includes a pocket inside the pack for a water bladder (not included) and the necessary opening to run the drink tube out and over your shoulder.

However, on multi day hikes like this pack is designed for, I’m not a fan of the bladder mainly because the pack is packed full and tight and I’m always wary of putting too much pressure on an internal bladder.

Losing 2 or 3 litres of water along the track due to a bladder failure would not be ideal and could soak the contents of the pack at the same time.

Dedicated pockets on the outside for holding water bottles is a great feature as it makes it easier to drink more water when you need it while hiking.

On one side of the MT500 Air is a front facing dedicated bottle pocket and I can quite easily get the bottle in and out of the pocket while I’m wearing the pack.

It also has an adjustable elastic strap that easily hooks over the bottle neck to stop it falling out and an elastic gusset around the top of the pocket to hold the bottle tight.

The 800ml bottle I used I also bought from Decathlon and it fits perfectly in the pocket.

This is the bottle here if you're interested - they are cheap and light (only $6.00)

On the other side of the pack is a mesh pouch with an elastic closure that could also be used for a water bottle but other things as well.

I was filming my hike to make videos for YouTube channel and used my GoPro on a small selfie tripod for a lot of the ‘vlog’ style shots and this fitted perfectly in that side pouch.

Plus I could reach around and get to it while wearing the pack.

I could even fit my travel tripod for my main camera in that side pocket and it projected forward from the pocket and sat easily on the side of the hip belt.

It’s always good to have options when it comes to storing and accessing gear.

Dedicated bottle pocket facing forward so you can reach it while hiking. Elastic strap to keep bottle in.
Multipurpose pocket fits a 600ml water bottle or GoPro on selfie stick. I even fit my travel tripod in there!

Big Top Pocket ‘Brain’

Most multi day packs have a generous top pocket and the MT500 Air is no exception.

The top pocket is held on with adjustable straps so you can extend it higher off the pack if you need to get more gear underneath it.

There is a zip that runs around 3 sides of the pocket so it’s easy to get things in and out of it.

I kept two small dry bags in there - one was my ‘ditty’ bag with my toiletries and other bits and pieces and the other was my electronics bag with cables, camera batteries, power banks, and other camera accessories.

The top pocket also has a smaller pocket on the bottom side of it with a zip closer which I used for my map, passport and other travel documents.

There is an adjustable elastic cord on the top for tucking your jacket under while on track to save having to open the pack.

Spacious top pocket. I just wish the zip was on the other side!

Side Compression Straps

One thing I dislike in some packs is the inability to be able to tighten everything up so the pack is a solid unit.

Inevitably the pack empties out as you eat all your food so it’s important to be able to keep adjusting the pack as you go along to keep it all in place.

The MT500 Air has 2 compression straps each side that pull the pack in tight as well as the 3 straps inside the pack.

The result is that even if the pack is only half full you can still compress everything in and keep it nice and tight!

Concealed External Expansion Straps

I’m not a fan of having gear hanging off the outside of my pack.

It flaps around, makes noise, is exposed to the weather and can fall off without you realising it . .  and it generally looks untidy.

I’d prefer to have a larger pack that everything can fit inside.

On this trip though I did need to keep my tent on the outside for the first few days until I’d eaten enough food to make room inside.

The MT500 Air has two straps that hideaway inside the cover for the bottom compartment and can be pulled out and used when needed.

These worked perfectly to keep my tent securely attached to the pack until I was able to move it inside.

They can attach a tent or sleeping mat either to the front of the bottom compartment or to the bottom of the pack.

It’s all about options!

Expansion straps holder my tent on the bottom of the pack
Expansion straps holder my tent on the front of the bottom compartment

Included Rain Cover

The pack material is water resistant but the pack is not intended to be waterproof. The zips are not waterproof and it isn’t seam sealed so anything more than a light shower and you’re going to get water ingress.

It comes with a waterproof cover that easily fits over the pack even when it’s fully loaded and saves you needing to buy one separately.

Having a cover is also handy on trips like the Overland Track to keep the currawongs from getting into your pack when you leave it at a track junction to explore a side track.

The generous size of the pack cover will easily cover the whole pack even when fully loaded.

Room for improvement

So far I’ve had a lot of good things to say about this pack and for good reason.

Decathlon have done a great job of squeezing so many clever features into a fairly lightweight, comfortable and well constructed pack.

However nothing is perfect so if I was to find anything to improve about the pack it would be these:

Top pocket orientation

The zip on the top pocket opens towards the back of your head while you’re wearing the pack. 

I assume the intention is so that you can reach behind your head and access it while you're wearing the pack.

The problem then is that when you want to get inside the top pocket while the pack is lying on its back on the ground everything falls out when you open the zip.

The better option would be to move the zip to the outside so that when you have the pack on its back the pocket opens upwards like the other main compartment and bottom pocket openings.

Waterproof Zips

I realise the pack isn’t intended to be waterproof but upgrading the zips to waterproof zips would get you most of the way there and make it more rain resistant than it is.

Colour Options

You can choose any colour you like as long as it is bright orange!

I quite like the colour and it is very close to our ‘Expedition Australia orange’ but it's not ideal for someone looking for something more 'tactical' or 'stealthy'.

Given how well designed and built the pack is it would be great to see Decathlon make a couple of alternative colours to expand the range.

I made a couple of mock ups in Photoshop to give them some ides 🙂 . . . what do you think?

Just putting it out there . . . These colours could be interesting as an alternative to the bright orange!

Conclusion

The Decathlon Forclaz MT500 Air 60 + 10 is a solid, comfortable and well designed pack with a heap of clever features and well worth the price tag when compared with other brands that can cost twice as much.

Ideal for those new to hiking that want something that will reliably get the job done but not break the bank.

It has the capacity to carry enough gear and food for a self-contained 7 to 10 day three season hike or a shorter four season hike where you have less food and more cold weather gear.

After 8 days on The Overland Track my pack is showing no signs of wear at all other than a couple of scuff marks so it’s ready to go again on my next adventure . . .  which will be soon I hope. 

Where to Buy

Buy the MT500 Air 60+10 at Decathlon Australia

MT500 Air 60 + 10 (AUD$269)

Smaller Options

There are also two smaller versions of the MT500 Air available:

MT500 Air 45 + 10 (AUD$219)

MT500 Air 45 + 10 (AUD$219)

MT500 Air 50 + 10 (AUD$249)

MT500 Air 50 + 10 (AUD$249)

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Steve Baile
Steve Baile
I’m the founder of Expedition Australia, a writer, filmmaker & adventure travel junkie. Passionate about my family, health and fitness, hiking, 4WD touring, adventure motorbikes, camping and exploring as much of the planet as I can.

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