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How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear

The advantages of having a lightweight, frameless backpack are huge - but without that heavy frame, the backpack has all the qualities of a large sack. For maximum comfort, you'll need to pack carefully, in a way that gives your backpack form and balance.

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by Jen Matteis | 2012-03-13 00:00:00-06

The advantages of having a lightweight, frameless backpack are huge - but without that heavy frame, the backpack has all the qualities of a large sack. For maximum comfort, you'll need to pack carefully, in a way that gives your backpack form and balance.

On a partial hike of the Appalachian Trail, I learned the importance of packing correctly using a GoLite Gust, a durable and capacious pack that weighs a little over a pound. My sleeping pad became a frame, and my tent poles gave the pack structure. It took me a while, but eventually I figured out a system that worked for the Gust. Depending on the materials available (i.e. your gear) and your type of pack, the exact formula will vary. However, you'll need to consider form, balance, and functionality when packing your ultralight backpack, regardless of its type.

How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear - 1
Ultralight packs come in a wide array of sizes and styles - if they don't include a frame, you'll need to build one using your gear.

WATERPROOFING

Before you do anything, make sure your pack is waterproof. Unless you want to carry a bulky raincover, drop a lawn-and-leaf or trash compactor bag into your pack. This provides a waterproof buffer between the elements and your belongings. Since the material of most ultralight bags is quite thin, your pack won't retain much water. It'll get wet, but it won't get heavy, and that's what matters. Spraying your pack with silicone waterproofing spray is another option, although the coating will wear off over time. Pack your gear into Ziploc bags for another layer of protection.

FORM

To build a frame into your pack using your gear, the two most important items are soft padding to go against your back and a stiff frame to give it form. Internal frame packs have these features built into them, but that becomes redundant once you realize that the items you commonly carry with you can be repurposed to create a frame.

If you've ever taken a pack apart, you may have noticed a thick foam pad that looks a lot like your sleeping pad. Why carry two near-identical objects on your back when one can serve the purpose of the other? It's this that I love about the ultralight mentality - eliminating redundancy. By folding your sleeping pad in three, you can create padding for your back. With the GoLite Gust, curl the folded padding so that it fits more easily and stuff it into your pack so that it forms a nice solid foam back for your pack.

If you're carrying tent poles, they're great for giving form to your pack. Arrange them so that they run parallel to your spine when the pack is worn, and stuff your other belongings around them to keep them upright and the pack rigid.

How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear - 2
Tent poles plus folded sleeping pad equals a makeshift frame for an ultralight pack.

BALANCE

Although weight distribution matters less for ultralight packs (there's less weight to go around), it can still make a difference. For optimal comfort, keep your heavier items close to your back and near the middle or top of your pack, depending on what you find comfortable. First, drop your sleeping bag into your bag so that it ends up on the bottom of your pack. You don't want too much weight in the very bottom of your pack; a lightweight sleeping bag is ideal.

If you're like me, food is one of your heaviest items (I once ran into the “GoLite Guy,” Demetri Coupounas, hiking the Long Trail with a backpack full of kelp - yuck!). Split your food into two bags and sink one down each side of your pack to balance the load.

To distribute the weight of items like stove, fuel, and headlamp, wrap each item in a piece of clothing. This protects your gear and silences items that might otherwise bump together and clank as you walk down the trail. Be consistent so that you can find your gear when needed - for example, my headlamp always lives inside my woolen hat, near the middle of my pack.

FUNCTION

Retain a small bag filled with your food for the day and keep that near the top of your pack so that you don't have to dig down into your pack until the end of the day when you make camp. Pack other items you might need during the day, such as your rain jacket, near the top of your gear. If it begins raining, you won't have to risk getting all your other items wet while digging out your rain gear. Pack your rainfly or tarp above your sleeping bag. When setting up camp, if you can get the rainfly up first, you can set up your camp in style without getting any wetter.

Whether you're bringing water bottles (I prefer Gatorade) or a hydration bladder, keep it accessible. Pack it near the top of your pack or in the front pouch.

TIPS

For the sake of consistency, once you've worked out a system that works for your pack, stick to it. This will make packing your bag a habit instead of a chore, and you'll know where each object lives in case you need to get to it quickly.

Remember, don't overload the pack, even if it's as accommodating as the Gust. The thin shoulder straps of ultralight packs aren't designed for heavy loads. To keep your pack comfortable, stick within the manufacturer's weight recommendations. The Gust gets uncomfortable around 30 pounds, and does better with loads under 25 pounds or so.

Hiking part of the Appalachian Trail with my Gust pack - my first extended backpacking trip - I came across a fellow hiker with the same pack. He had socks stuffed underneath his shoulder pads and, loaded down as I was, I thought “Great idea!” Now I know better - lighten your load if your shoulders are getting sore. An ultralight pack works only if you pack it with ultralight gear!


Citation

"How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear," by Jen Matteis. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/best_packing_for_ul_backpacks.html, 2012-03-13 00:00:00-06.

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How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/13/2012 11:02:37 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear

Frank H.
(porker110) - F

Locale: California
How to pack your pack. on 03/13/2012 11:42:09 MDT Print View

It would have been nice to see a sequence of photos of the pack being packed.

-Frank

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/13/2012 12:58:39 MDT Print View

In regardings to hydration, isn't it generally accepted that having water bottles like Platypus in the mesh side pockets that are outside the pack for easy one handed access?

For myself, I take this a little step further and put my snack bars in them too so that I can reach back and grab something to eat while on the go to reduce the need to stop, remove my pack, and rummage inside my main pack for food.

Questions regarding the front pocket of the backpacking: Is that reserved for wet gear like tarps and bivies?

I tend to keep daily use items in there like hat, gloves, windshirt, water treatment/filter, med/repair kit, headlamps, firestarting kit, TP & hand sanitizer, and snow stake for potty trowel in my front pocket so that I am only needing to access my main pack to get food at lunch time, insulating layer, and rain gear.

In the event that I had wet gear from the night before, I would relocate those items into the main pack and place all the wet stuff in the front pocket to drain and dry off throughout the day?

Also, I am assuming the assumption that having the sleeping bag at the bottom of the pack is loose and not in a compression bag so that it fills out all the tiny voids in the bottom of the pack?

I use a compression bag for my quilt so that I can make it as small as possible....I know that I have voids of wasted space, but I find that squishing the quilt down as small as possible might give me more room inside the pack than if it were uncompressed. Any thoughts on this? Is another benefit of having the sleeping bag uncompressed is that it gives better shape and form to the frameless pack?

Lastly, any thoughts of the idea of leaving the sleeping bag/quilt inside the DWR bivy sack (if you use a tarp and bivy) and stuffing all of that at the bottom of the backpack?

I don't do this myself, but I have heard that the bivy would provide additional protection from moisture (rain) and may speed up setup time in camp and packing up in the morning.

Does anyone use this method?

Good article....agree with the poster above that photos showing the process might be helpful.

I see packing your gear as also about trying to gain efficiency on the trail by having things located for quick and easy access that would reduce the number of times you need to remove your pack to get something. Of course, this assumes that you want to hike all day and get in as many miles as you can and therefore want to limit stopping on the trail and dropping your pack to open it up to get something.

-Tony

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/13/2012 19:19:12 MDT Print View

"Lastly, any thoughts of the idea of leaving the sleeping bag/quilt inside the DWR bivy sack (if you use a tarp and bivy) and stuffing all of that at the bottom of the backpack?

I hadn't thought of this before, but seems like a good way to leave a dry bag at home depending on the bivy. Plus, speed of setup would be increased. Cool.

Ryan

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/14/2012 00:46:41 MDT Print View

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDF26eJ2sqU&feature=plcp&context=C44a0e23VDvjVQa1PpcFOKyqpEsjUaZgVji5__xKAXSC5W4wQMX9s%3D

Here is Hendrik's spin on it.

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Re: Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/14/2012 10:41:38 MDT Print View

> leaving the sleeping bag/quilt inside the DWR bivy sack (if you use a tarp and bivy) and stuffing all of that at the bottom of the backpack?

I see diminishing returns potential here. One of the reasons to use a bivy is keeping humidity (from internal or external sources) off the bag and on the bivy so when packing you don't pack all that humidity with the bag.

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear" on 03/14/2012 13:34:59 MDT Print View

I used to use a Prolite 3 short, and it worked perfectly as a back pad, as described in the article.

I just purchased a NeoAir short...now what do I do!? No more backpad...

I guess I'll just have to be more creative...any suggestions?

Also, I put my clothes and sleeping bag in a large polyethylene bag, same cross-section as my pack, at the bottom (as noted in the article), then fold it up well and put everything else on top. All the other items except food (in ziplocs, plus some other misc items) can get wet, but it doesn't matter for things like a stove, tarp, water containers, etc.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: RE: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear" on 03/14/2012 14:02:59 MDT Print View

You could always cut a Z-lite into 4 sections and use that against your back. It would add about 5-6oz, however. On the other hand, you could use it under your feet when using the short NeoAir.....

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
sam splint on 03/14/2012 16:01:32 MDT Print View

one thing ill try soon is using a sam splint to stiffen the pack ... ill try that soon as having a split when climbing might prove useful

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: inflatable for backpad on 03/14/2012 20:13:36 MDT Print View

Elliott,
See Figure 6 and related text in this article.

Alfred Dole
(fdole) - M

Locale: Northwest
Packing an UL Backpack. on 03/14/2012 20:40:09 MDT Print View

When I was hiking the PCT I carried a RayWay pack I built from his kit. I carried a standard, old fashioned, 6' blue foam sleeping pad. This became my frame. The pack was lined with a garbage bag, and then the rolled up pad went in. It expanded, (un-rolled) to stretch the pack out, and then everything went in down the the center area. It worked very well and carried perfectly. I came to really dislike having to unpack absolutely everything before I could finally be comfortable each evening. I never needed to get inside the pack during the day however, except for a very few time early on when it was cold, windy, and threatening. I still long for a pack I can lay down, and unzip so it opens like a suitcase. The few ounces would be worth it on an extended trip.

fred :) (aka Mr. Smiles.)

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/14/2012 21:07:05 MDT Print View

>I use a compression bag for my quilt so that I can make it as small as possible....I know that I have voids of wasted space, but I find that squishing the quilt down as small as possible might give me more room inside the pack than if it were uncompressed. Any thoughts on this?

Tony, I kinda think along the same lines. If you have a small pack, then compressing your quilt into a stuff sack might reduce the volume to be more beneficial than letting it go loose. If you have a large pack, then you'll have the pack volume to spare. I think it's one of those issues that is unique to each pack and kit.

david kosins
(djk) - MLife

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: Re: Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/15/2012 14:29:03 MDT Print View

Not able to open "Hendrik's spin" you tube.

Andrew Bishop
(copperhead) - M

Locale: Down Under
Re: Re: Re: Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/17/2012 00:56:48 MDT Print View

David

Try selecting both lines of the link and pasting into the web address area. Worked for me.

Andrew

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Link on 03/18/2012 10:16:17 MDT Print View

Thanks Ken!

Here's a clickable link to that video http://youtu.be/MDF26eJ2sqU =)

Edited by skullmonkey on 03/18/2012 10:16:48 MDT.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/18/2012 10:22:05 MDT Print View

Nice little article.

Who is Jen Matteis? Weird to see something written by an unknown(no post history on BPL) around here.

Anyone else chuckle at the photo of "ultralight packs"?


With the mention of a Gust being used and another one being spotted on the trail makes me wonder if this is a new article, or just previously unpublished. Edit: The author hiked a portion of the AT in 2003. No doubt as to when now.

Edit: Found her. http://sites.google.com/site/jenmatteis/

Its a good video, Glad to share it Hendrik.

Related reading.

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=18973

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=19092

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00194.html

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=50447

Edited by kthompson on 03/18/2012 18:41:32 MDT.

Joseph Regallis
(backpackandgear) - F
How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 03/19/2012 07:09:28 MDT Print View

Good article. I am more interested in packing light as I approach my 55th birthday. I unfortunately am feeling more pain when I hike than when I was younger and I am still interested in doing mountain and deep canyon (Grand Canyon) hiking. So I am continuously looking for ways to lighten the load. Thanks.

http://www.backpack-and-gear.com/backpacking-guide.html

Jim Cowdery
(james.cowdery) - MLife

Locale: Central Florida
All-in-one system on 03/20/2012 13:27:15 MDT Print View

Alfred;

Check-out this link:

http://www.moonbowgear.com/1trailgear/1Custom%20packs/Powerpacks/1powerpac.html

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Re: All-in-one system on 03/20/2012 14:08:01 MDT Print View

Alfred:

I too love panel loaders. Both my wife and I have carried this model for many years.

Six Moon Designs Traveler
http://www.sixmoondesigns.com/packs/Traveler.html

3800 cu. inches = 62 liters
25 oz without hoop stay
29 oz. with the stay.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: How to Best Pack Your UL/Frameless Backpack with UL Gear on 04/08/2012 13:11:14 MDT Print View

In my Golite Peak, I do the following:

- GG Nightlight torso sleeping pad folded against back.
- Liner bag behind and outside sleeping pad.

In liner, from bottom to top:
- Sleeping bag and bag cover (bivy), food, extra clothing, miscellaneous items in one bag.
- Fold liner over.

Outside and on top of closed liner:
- Shelter, rain jacket, cup with small canister inside, wind jacket (if no rain in forecast, otherwise put inside liner), todays lunch/snacks, garbage.

In front pocket:
- Shelter stakes, water container, sit pad.

In side pockets:
- Water containers, maybe snacks.

Edited by jshann on 04/08/2012 13:19:01 MDT.