Our resident (and self-proclaimed) outdoor gear geek, Jan Latham, is always eager answer questions and pass along purchasing advice to inquiring minds searching for pieces to add to adventure travel gear selection. One of Jan’s areas of expertise and passions is lightweight backpacking. She continuously stays abreast of new developments in the lightweight backpacking arena with a focus on women’s gear. Recently, she was asked for guidance on purchasing a new backpack. Below are her reviews on and experience with (some firsthand, some second hand) the brands and products below.
MARIPOSA Ultralightweight medium backpack with hipbelt at www.GossamerGear.com
PROS: When these packs first came out I did not like the support system or the shoulder harness/hipbelt systems but this generation looks like those areas have been given more attention. There is an internal frame (removable aluminum curved stays) which is good (before you used your sleeping pad as the 'frame', which I don't like that at all) and the shoulder harness and hip belt have been beefed up and look good. It is really a great weight (27 oz) and I do find that the Gossamer Gear brand holds up and is good. The fact that you purchase the belt separately is a good thing, therefore you can get the correct size.
CONS: There are NO load lifters which does give me doubts about the way this pack will carry. The lack of this feature would probably keep me from purchasing it.
JAN’S EXPERIENCE: I have had one participant use the first generation of this pack. Her complaint at that time was that the weight felt more on her shoulders (lifters would decrease this weight) and although the improved aluminum stays should help some with that I know that the lack of lifters would eliminate this pack immediately for me.
Circuit pack at www.ula-equipment.com.
youtube review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C0Ah11MRjc
PROS: The weight of the pack at 39 oz is good. I like that it has hip pockets built in. Capacity is 4200 cc which might be a little big – it would be for me, but depending on the size/weight of your sleeping bag and tent, it could be a good size.
CONS: This pack really does 'look' good – wide hip belts, good shoulder harness. It has a single metal stay running down the center of the back of the pack for structure. It also uses rigid, foam padding for the back of the pack to increase comfort and structure.
ULA Air X Backpack at www.hikelight.com
PROS: This one looks like it has the same features as the Circuit pack --- does have a carbon frame so you're not using your sleeping pad as the frame structure. Not sure how this will carry --- no experience with it but it does have all the right features, lifters, padded shoulder harness and good hip belt.
CONS: The capacity on this one is big at 4600 cc. If you liked this one then I'd suggest trying the Circuit which is the same but a smaller capacity version.
Starlite at www.hikelight.com
youtube review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PihkAAwmNGc
PROS: I do love Six Moon Designs and think they've done a great job with re-designing gear to be both lightweight and functional. Again, this pack is basically without structure but I do like their optional hoop stay --- it appears to be dynamically shaped (similar to the Granite Gear support system) They also offer different belt and shoulder harness sizes and I like the weight at 30 oz (including the optional stays).
JAN’S EXPERIENCE: One of our participants used an earlier version of this pack without the hoop stays. It put a lot of tension on the shoulders with a 30 pound load so I would definitely recommend the hoop stays. I think it’s worth a try.
4400 Porter Pack at www.hyperlightmountaingear.com
PROS: OK, I have to say that this pack brings the 'gear geek' out in me! It is Cuban fiber, the lightest fiber available right now, plus its waterproof so no need for a pack cover. Has good hip belts and shoulder harness AND has some internal structure.
CONS: I do think the 4400 will be big but not sure you can fit your stuff into the next size down, the 3400. It is most expensive but personally I'd love to give it a try!
Golite Pinnacle Backpack at www.ultralitegear.com
youtube review older model http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo-JS0XV8Sk
PROS: This backpack does have a 'frame sheet' type internal structure which is what Granite Gear uses as well. Is has really good support with great transferability.
CONS: The minimal hip belt would discourage me from trying.
JAN’s EXPERIENCE: I did have a participant who used an earlier version of this. She did not have a problemwith the smaller hip belt and was quite happy with the pack.
Granite Gear's Crown VC 60
PROS: I like the Granite Gear suspension systems (good weight transfers) and their hip and shoulder belt/harness.
CONS: Down side to this style --- torso is fixed so either a short or regular in women's sizes.
JAN’S EXPERIENCE: I actually have the Crown VC one but have yet to use it --- will let you know what I think after loading it up and giving it a try.
What to do with all of this information…
Choose 2 or 3 and order them, give them a 'try on' loaded and just send back what you don't like. It's a hassle but that's what I end up doing too.
Jan’s Top 3
1. Circuit Pack
2. Six Moons Starlite
3. Porter Pack
Jan’s Honorable Mentions
Granite Gear Nimbus Meridian Ki
This is remains my favorite and the one I use. This can be used with or without the hood.
Leopard VC 46 Ki