Aarn Bodypacks Featherlite Freedom Internal Frame Backpack REVIEW

Big loads carry well and redefine what it means to control your center of gravity.

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by Will Rietveld | 2005-05-10 03:00:00-06

Overview

Aarn Bodypacks Featherlite Freedom Internal Frame Backpack - 1
The Aarn Bodypack Featherlite Freedom has two front balance pockets to transfer some pack weight to the front of the hipbelt, providing better load distribution. Aarn recommends packing heavier items in the front pockets and lighter items in the main pack.

The Aarn Bodypack Featherlite Freedom created by Aarn Designs in New Zealand gets an "A" for innovation. The bodypack concept is deployed through a combination of innovative design features. At 50 liters, the Featherlite Freedom is a medium sized pack suitable for a lightweight weekend trip or an extended trip using ultralight gear and food. I achieved a superb fit with this pack and comfortably carried 30-pound loads over a variety of terrains. The front pockets required some getting used to. They do not restrict arm movement for using ski or trekking poles, but they do restrict vision to the feet somewhat. This was less important on trails, but was a hindrance for off-trail hiking when descending ledges or down-climbing. The front pockets also make the pack more cumbersome to put on/take off, especially when wearing gloves and a jacket. Some refinements I would like to see include adding more organizational features to the front pockets while reducing their weight, and adding outside mesh pockets to the main pack to make it more versatile and usable when the front pockets are removed.

In Brief

  • Front balance pockets provide even loading onto the hipbelt
  • Exceptional fit and adjustability
  • Form-fitting and adjustable hipbelt
  • Excellent freedom of movement
  • Requires more effort to put on/take off
  • Front pockets need more organizational features
  • Lacks outside pockets when front pockets are not used

Specifications

• Backpack Style

Internal frame, top loading, roll top

• Fabric Description

The front of the pack tested is Kolon ripstop fabric (a polyester with nylon ripstop reinforcing and polyurethane coating on two sides); weight is 6 oz/yd2 (205 g/m2). It will be upgraded in spring 2005 to more durable Kolon 210d small diamond ripstop with silicone coating on one side and polyurethane on the other; weight is 4.3 oz/yd2 (147gm/m2). The pack sides are 330d DuPont Cordura, and the pack bottom is 500d Cordura. The shoulder straps and back panel are "Müller 3mesh", which is a springy three-dimensional fabric that provides lightweight, shock absorbing, highly air permeable padding.

• Sizes Size L tested

SizeTorso Length (in)Torso Length (cm)
S<16<40
L>16>40

• Volume Size L tested

SizeVolume (ci)Volume (L)
S2,74645
L3,05150

• Weight Size L tested

SizeBackpacking Light measured oz (kg)Manufacturer Specification oz (kg)
SNot measured54 (1.6)
L61.5 (1.74)60 (1.7)

• Volume to Weight Ratio

49.6 cu in/oz (size Large, includes dry liner)

• Load Carrying Capacity

Backpacking Light estimate is 30-35 lb (14-16 kg); Manufacturer's stated capacity is 44 lb (20 kg)

• Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio

9.1 based on an estimated load carrying capacity of 35 lb (15.9 kg). Pack weight includes the front pockets and dry liner.

• MSRP

$329.95 NZ (approximately $230 USD)

• Manufacturer Contact Information

www.aarnpacks.com

Frame, Suspension, and Pack Load Carrying Performance

Aarn Bodypacks Featherlite Freedom Internal Frame Backpack - 2 The Aarn Bodypack Featherlite Freedom's hipbelt hinges at the seam and clasps the hips. A hipbelt stabilizer/compression strap attaches to a delta wing in the center. Note that the strap overlaps a small mesh pocket on the side of the pack, making it useless except for holding trekking poles or a fishing rod. The purple strap joins the shoulder straps via a slider through a sleeve in the bottom of the pack. The purple/black strap is the "X-Chest" attachment to the hipbelt. The red webbing loop is the attachment for one of the front pockets. Aarn uses V-shaped webs to connect the center buckle, and a pulley-like system for tightening.

The Aarn Featherlite Freedom frame consists of a looped acetyl rod and center aluminum stay. The back panel is Müller 3mesh spacer fabric, which is a cushiony three-dimensional mesh that provides superb ventilation. The back panel is concave to bring the load closer to your back.

The suspension system consists of numerous components and technologies. The 3-inch wide shoulder straps are a thinner version of the spacer mesh sandwiched between layers of a stretchy fabric, which allows them to easily conform to the shoulders. The bottom of the shoulder straps are connected to a plastic band that slides through a sleeve in the bottom of the pack. The hipbelt has a hinge in it to conform to the pelvis. Each side of the hipbelt has a hook and loop attachment at the back so both the length and angle can be adjusted. The hipbelt and shoulder straps have stabilizer straps, and there is also a sternum strap.

Since the suspension is somewhat complex, it requires a careful read of the instructions to master the pack adjustments. The process is: 1) adjust the hipbelt to its proper position, 2) adjust shoulder strap length and position, 3) have someone remove and bend the center stay to conform to your back, and 4) adjust hipbelt length and angle.

Aarn Bodypacks Featherlite Freedom Internal Frame Backpack - 3 The Aarn Featherlite Freedom Bodypack's unique "Front Balance Pockets" are actually part of the suspension system. They attach to the shoulder straps and hipbelt, and each has an arched aluminum stay to transfer weight to the front of the hipbelt, which balances weight transferred to the back of the hipbelt by the main pack. Pack instructions recommend packing high-density items in the front pockets and medium/low density gear in the main packbag to achieve even loading on the hips. With the pockets removed (right), the pack uses "X-Chest straps" in concert with "Flow Motion" shoulder straps to provide excellent freedom of movement.

I carried the Aarn Featherlite Freedom on six trips that included dayhiking on and off-trail, snowshoeing, backpacking, and hut to hut ski touring. The pack's suspension system made it easy for me (6 feet, 170 pounds) to comfortably carry 25-30 pounds without feeling any localized discomfort. Pack weight was evenly and effectively transferred to my hips. The front balance pockets worked effectively to offset the weight on my back.

Usable Features and Ease of Use

Aarn Bodypacks Featherlite Freedom Internal Frame Backpack - 4
The Featherlite is about 24 inches high when filled to capacity (left). On a 5-day cold weather trip, I was unable to fit all of my gear into the pack and resorted to lashing my tent and sleeping pad on the front of the pack (center). On a day hike from camp in cold weather, the Featherlite worked great with a partial load (right). The pack's roll top and internal divider adequately controlled pack volume, and compression straps are not really needed.

The Aarn Bodypack Featherlite Freedom has one of the most sophisticated and adjustable suspension systems to be found anywhere, and I had no trouble dialing in a perfect fit. The pack's articulated hipbelt and sliding shoulder straps allowed excellent freedom of movement while the pack "stuck" to my back.

The main compartment has a zippered center divider designed for load stabilization and to hold the load closer to the body. A waterproof liner (3.6 ounces), that comes with the pack, has a tunnel in the center to accommodate the divider. I had no trouble packing around the center divider. There is a hydration pocket for a 2-liter bladder inside with a tubing exit. The top closure rolls down like a dry bag and is secured with three side release buckles. The front of the pack has a drawcord and two ice axe loops for outside attachment. There is a shallow mesh pocket on each side of the pack that would be useful for securing trekking poles or a fishing rod.

The unique front balance pockets make the Featherlite Freedom an excellent trail pack. They are big enough (10 liters total) to carry everything a person might need on the trial. However, organization is another matter, I found myself continually digging for items I needed. I would really like to see more compartments, slips, and pockets in and on them to provide convenient access to water bottles, snacks, maps, digital camera, gloves, and an assortment of smaller items. That said, it would also be desirable to reduce the weight of the front pockets from their present 14 ounces.

Although the front pockets are very functional and convenient, they also take some getting used to. I received a lot of wise cracks about my "boobs," and had a lot of fun shaking my front pockets in response! There is enough space between my body and the pockets to pass my arm through, so there is plenty of ventilation and free space for women to carry this pack as well as men. The front pockets do not restrict arm movement for using ski or trekking poles, but they do restrict vision to the feet somewhat. This was less important on trails, but was a hindrance for off-trail hiking where I was descending ledges or down-climbing.

Tip: The Aarn Bodypack Featherlite Freedom has extremely limited outside storage options when the pack is used without the front pockets. A way to add convenient storage for gear you'll need access to while on the trail, is to pack gear in a tall stuff sack and secure the stuff sack under the drawcord on the front of the pack.

With the front pockets in place, I found it cumbersome to connect the hipbelt buckle. The pockets blocked my view and reach, and the small 1-inch buckle was difficult to connect with gloves and a jacket on. There are a total of four buckles to secure the pack to your body: one on the hipbelt, two to connect the front pockets to each other, and the sternum strap - so donning and doffing the pack is a bit of a process. The front pockets are easily removed and converted to a daypack or two fanny packs for day hikes from camp.

With the front pockets removed, the Aarn Freedom Featherlite is a very comfortable 2 pound 15.5 ounce, 40-liter capacity conventional backpack for lightweight summer trips. In dry weather, pack weight can be further reduced by removing the 3.6-ounce dry liner.

Without the front pockets, the pack's "X-Chest Straps" are used. They extend from the hipbelt to a buckle on the opposite shoulder strap, creating an X-configuration across your front. This pack configuration provides excellent freedom of movement, but has one major problem - no outside pockets! The versatility of this pack would be greatly increased by adding lightweight mesh pockets to the sides and front. I personally like lots of outside pockets to provide convenient access to frequently used items, and to have a place to stash a wet tent fly or rainwear.

Durability

The pack is constructed of durable materials, with heavier fabric in high abrasion areas and heavy bar-tacking or reinforcement in stress areas. Fabrics are state of the art for durability and long-term performance.

Value

At approximately $230 USD (depending on the exchange rate), the Aarn Bodypack Featherlite Freedom is a very good value, considering its innovative design, superb fit, comfort, freedom of movement, quality construction, and durability.

Recommendations for Improvement

While the Featherlite Freedom gets an "A" for innovation, fit, and comfort, I would like to recommend a few refinements to make it a little lighter, more convenient to use, and more versatile.

  • Use a lighter weight fabric for the front pockets, where less durability is needed, and add lots of organizational features. The weight of the pockets could be further reduced by using pre-bent carbon stays.
  • Use a lighter weight fabric for the pack liner, such as coated spinnaker cloth.
  • Use a larger buckle (or other arrangement) on the hipbelt to make it easier to attach.
  • Add deep mesh pockets to the sides and front to provide extra volume and make it more usable and versatile when the front pockets are not used.
  • Consider offering an ultralight version of this pack that utilizes state of the art lightweight/durable materials, and lots of convenient storage pockets.

Citation

"Aarn Bodypacks Featherlite Freedom Internal Frame Backpack REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/aarn_bodypacks_featherlite_freedom_backpack_review.html, 2005-05-10 03:00:00-06.

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