Kit swallowing pack from the German masters

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 8

Deuter Compact EXP 12


  • Slim profile.
  • Expandable storage can swallow a considerable amount of gear.
  • Compartmentalised design.


  • Shoulder straps never feel totally stable.


Deuter Compact EXP 12 pack review


Price as reviewed:


The Deuter Compact EXP 12 is small enough to be a companion on short blasts but capable of swallowing enough kit for overnight adventures.

With, you guessed it, twelve litres of practical stowage spread over it’s myriad pockets, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 makes it pretty much the Goldilocks of packs for most riders. Small enough to not feel overkill on a swift blast around the local woods, whilst being more than capable of serving as an adventure pack capable of swallowing enough kit for an overnight expedition (hence the EXP in the name!)

Deuter Compact EXP 12


The slimline Compact EXP 12.

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Pockets for the kitchen sink

As a pack is pretty much all about stashing kit on a ride, let’s look at the layout of the Compact EXP 12 first. Storage is split over three main compartments, each with a different role. Closest to the back system is a side accessed pocket suitable for use with a hydration bladder. Next is the ‘main’ compartment, complete with a zipped mesh pocket. And finally, easiest to access on the outside of the pack is an area for storing tools, spares and whatever other items you might want to access quickly. A further neat trick is a secondary zipper that can be used to expand the main compartment taking the total storage volume up to 14.5 litres.

deuter compact exp 12

Three main compartments help to prioritise loading. Plus compression straps to keep everything tight.

Whilst this might sound enough to make the pack a cumbersome beast, you need worry not. Deuter has made sure to give the Compact EXP 12 a very slimline profile. With the pack on and fully loaded it causes minimal disruption to arm movement. Plus the pockets are slightly tapered at the top so there is zero fouling with any helmet. But what if you want to ride with the bare minimum? Well, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 has the ability to cinch almost flat thanks to it’s compression straps. And as Deuter has stripped the shoulder and waist harnesses of most of their padding it’s a relatively light pack; which helps when you want to go fast.

Deuter Compact EXP 12

Lightweight straps and airy back system are key features.

Here’s what Dan Milner packs for a trip into the backcountry

Clammy back?

Talking about going fast; one of the issues that can make or break a pack’s performance is how effective the back system is at regulating temperature and comfort. The Compact EXP 12 incorporates Deuter’s Airstripes back panel. This consists of two thin strips of ventilated padding leading to a very comfortable on-bike experience. Yes, of course you still get sweaty, but it does a good job of reducing that clammy feeling. Plus you can actually feel air moving around your back more than with other packs. The same can be said for the minimalist shoulder and waist straps. There’s just the right level of padding at the top of the shoulders but the rest is thin and airy.

Expandable main compartment.

It is this strap system that causes my only gripe though. As they have almost zero stretch they seem not to hug the body as well as more padded versions. This leads to a little vagueness in security at the top of the pack that manifests itself as if the straps need to be tightened. There is very little movement when riding so I can only assume that it might be a personal compatibility issue caused by my skinny shoulders. Maybe the additional of two cinch straps at the top of the shoulder/pack would help improve this, as tightening the bottom of the strap only led to them feeling too tight under the arms. It might be worth trying on a pack fully loaded in the shop to see if you have any similar issues.

It’s this area of the pack that caused this tester some issues.

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Even more features

Buy Now: Get the Deuter Compact EXP 12 for only £63.19 from Wiggle

Going back to the design features, there are lots of little extras that go someway to justify the pretty high price. There’s a removable rain cover and a helmet carry. The two main compartments have double zips that can be clicked together. There are also two side pouches and two zipped pockets on the waist belt. For those riders who might be looking at using the Compact EXP 12 for a bit of night riding or commuting, there’s also a hefty dose of reflectivity. In fact, the only thing it really lacks is a hydration bladder.  But as most of us probably have a bladder kicking about that isn’t a deal breaker.

Plenty of dedicated pocket wizardry.

If the twelve litre is too big or too small, the good news is Deuter have both ten litre and sixteen litre versions of the Compact EXP available.


Whether looking for a pack for two hour rides in the woods or for day and night adventures, the Deuter Compact EXP 12 will fulfil your needs. Some handy features, robust construction and the ability to expand or shrink the pack at a whim make it seriously worth considering.


Colours:Black/granite, Slate blue/midnight