Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review

The Eagle is the Platypus of frameless backpacks: it has some unique design features, loads of comfort and convenience features, and it's a great value, but is it the right pack for you?

Overall Rating: Above Average

The Eagle is a mixed bag. It’s innovative in several ways, but there are some distinct drawbacks, as well as some things that are appealing. Its main limitation is that it is available in only one size, so it will only fit shorter hikers. Its rating could go up or down depending on user preferences, but it deserves at least an Above Average rating based on its innovation, comfort, and value.

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by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl |

Introduction

Equinox has been making ultralight silnylon backpacks for years. Their newest pack is the ARAS Eagle (I don’t know what ARAS stands for), which has three distinctive features: a top pocket, a front bungie compression system, and a stiff mesh backpanel. Actually, the pack is loaded with features, as listed in the specifications table below. Unfortunately it only comes in one size (Medium) that fits torsos 17 to 19 inches (43 to 48 cm). If the pack fits you, and you like the feature set, then this may be the pack for you.

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review - 1
Equinox ARAS Eagle frameless backpack loaded with 20 pounds (9.1 kg) for a six-day spring backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Specifications

Year/Model 2010 Equinox ARAS Eagle www.equinoxltd.com
Style Top loading frameless backpack, drawcord closure with top pocket
Volume Specified volume: 3200 cubic inches (52 L)
Measured volume: 3265 cubic inches (54 L), including
all pockets and extension collar
Weight Measured weight: 22.4 oz (635 g)
Manufacturer specification: 20.8 oz (590 g)
Sizes Available One Size, fits torsos 17-19 in (43-48 cm)
Fabrics Pack body: 1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silnylon
Compression wings and bottom: 200d ripstop nylon
Front and side pockets: mesh
Features Padded hipbelt, lumbar pad, and shoulder straps with Coolmax face fabric; thumb loops on shoulder
straps; large front mesh pocket with drawcord closure; 2 side mesh pockets with drawcord closure;
2 zippered wing pockets; drawcord top closure; top cap with zippered pocket; 2 mesh hipbelt pockets;
front bungie compression/attachment system; stiff mesh backpanel; internal pad sleeve/hydration sleeve
with 2 hose ports; sternum strap; load lifters; haul loop
Volume to Weight Ratio 146 in3/oz (based on 3265 in3 and measured weight of 22.4 oz 
Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity 20 lb (9.1 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio 14.3 (based on 20 lb and a measured weight of 1.4 lb with stays)
MSRP US$129

Description

The ARAS Eagle is innovative in several ways:

  • It has a top pocket, which departs from the traditional rolldown closure and top strap. The top pocket provides another stowage option and covers the top of the pack.
  • It has two wings from the backpanel seam that hold a capable bungie compression system on the front of the pack. Each of the wings has a zippered pocket.
  • The backpanel is stiff mesh. On the inside behind it, there is a wide sleeve that will hold a folded sleeping pad against the backpanel. The sleeve will also hold a hydration bladder, but it may be more convenient to put it in one of the side mesh pockets.
  • The pack has a total of eight outside pockets (3 front and side mesh pockets, 2 wing pockets, 2 mesh hipbelt pockets, and 1 top pocket).

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review - 2
Views of the Equinox ARAS Eagle: The frontpanel (far left) has a large mesh pocket with drawcord closure and prominent bungie compression system. The backpanel (second photo) is a stiff mesh and has a soft lumbar pad at the bottom. Each side (third photo) has one mesh pocket and a wing that holds the bungie compression system. The top of the pack (far right) has a top pocket with zippered opening.

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review - 3
Suspension system: Shoulder straps (left) are 3 inches (8 cm) wide and softly padded with open cell foam. The hipbelt wings (right) are 4.5 inches wide (11 cm) and similarly padded. The pack has a soft lumbar pad on the backpanel. The contact surface of all components is Coolmax fabric.

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review - 4
Features: The front and side pockets (top right) are bellowed to hold a lot of gear. The water bottle in the side pocket is not reachable with the pack on, but a hydration system can be used instead. Zippered wing pockets (left) are tall and narrow. The hipbelt mesh pockets (bottom right) are roomy.

Performance

The main drawback of the ARAS Eagle is it only comes in one size - Medium. This is unfortunate because it is quite a nice pack with a lot of features and is value priced. The pack’s torso length is 16.5 inches (42 cm) by the BPL measurement method (underside of shoulder strap to center of the hipbelt), and 18.75 inches (48 cm) by the conventional manufacturer measurement system (top of shoulder strap to bottom of the hipbelt). This translates to a size Medium, which means the Eagle will not fit taller hikers.

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review - 5
The pack is too short for me (left), but it fit my wife Janet (right) so I got her to give it a fair test. Here she carries 20 pounds (9.1 kg) in the Eagle on a six-day spring backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Note that the pack is barrel-shaped and extends out away from the body.

The Eagle did not do very well in our pack torso collapse tests, mainly because of its short torso length. For consistency, we tested all of the packs on me, and all of them were a size Large except for the Eagle. We tested it with a coiled closed cell foam pad in the main compartment, whereas a folded pad in the pad sleeve would probably have performed better. Consequently, our measured comfortable load carrying capacity of about 18 pounds (8.2 kg) is probably low. With a good fit (pack torso length matching user torso length), the Eagle should carry 20 pounds (9.1 kg) comfortably, and possibly a little more.

The Eagle soared in our pack compression/volume reduction measurements. The front bungie system on the pack reduced pack volume 70%, which is the highest of the thirteen packs tested. The Eagle’s sturdy bungie system is attached to two wings on the pack’s backpanel seam, and wraps completely around the sides and front of the pack. For compressing the pack to reduce its volume, it's best to compress the pack first, then fill it with gear. A bungie system has the disadvantage of overlaying the pack’s front mesh pockets, making them less convenient to access, but doable by stretching the elastic cords with one hand and reaching in with the other.

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review - 6
Because of the Eagle’s effective compression system, the pack also works very well as a day pack while on a hike from camp.

A few things we discovered while testing the Eagle are:

  • Dust really sticks to the pack’s silnylon fabric (fortunately it is easily rinsed off with water).
  • The pack’s padding is apparently open-cell foam because it soaks up water like a sponge when wet.
  • The Coolmax face fabric on the suspension system abrades easily.
  • The zippered pockets on the bungie system wings are very narrow and not very useful. The narrow pockets can be used to stow valuables or a car key, but we found it hard to find items that fit in the small space.

Comparisons

Comparative specifications can be found in our Frameless Backpack State of the Market Report 2011 Part 3. The closest comparisons are the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, and Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet.

Assessment

The Equinox Eagle is a unique pack in several ways, so you need to understand its pros and cons to determine if you like it or not. The main pack body is barrel shaped, rather than rectangular, so it extends out further from your body. The backpanel is a stiffer coarse mesh, which is unusual but not a problem. When loading the pack, one would typically place a sleeping pad into the sleeve behind the backpanel, so body sweat may wet the pad surface but not your gear behind it. The narrow pockets on the bungie system wings are a bit funky; they are narrow and it’s hard to find a good use for them.

The pack’s dominant bungie system on the front of the pack is something that you will either love or hate. As mentioned, the pack body is barrel-shaped, so the bungie system is an integral part of the pack design needed to tighten the load. I am not particularly fond of bungie systems because the elastic cords get in the way when accessing the pack’s pockets. However, Janet likes the system because it compresses all the soft clothing she carries. She would like to see a little extra length on the elastic cords so it can be loosened a little more for loading the pack.

The single size (Medium) of the Eagle also limits the Eagle to shorter hikers. Overall, the Eagle is a bit of a conundrum. If the pack size and feature set appeal to you, the Eagle is a very comfortable ultralight backpack. Janet is 5 feet 2 inches (160 cm) tall; the pack fits her well and it’s very comfortable to carry, so she likes the Eagle a lot. The pack does not come close to fitting me and I don’t like the bungie system, so it’s not my first choice. This demonstrates how important fit and comfort are in choosing a frameless backpack. As always, it’s important to do your research and select the pack that best meets your needs and preferences.

What’s Good
  • Comfortable suspension system
  • 8 outside pockets
  • Top lid covers the top of the pack and its pocket provides extra stowage
  • Lots of features
  • Very effective volume reduction system
  • A great value
What’s Not So Good
  • Only available in one size
  • Bungie compression system interferes with pocket access
  • Narrow wing pockets are not very useful
  • Padding soaks up water and surface fabric abrades easily
Recommendations For Improvement
  • Offer the pack in at least three sizes
  • Use closed-cell foam in the suspension system
  • Use a more durable surface fabric on the suspension system
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.

Citation

"Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review," by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/equinox_aras_eagle_review.html, 2011-07-26 00:00:00-06.

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Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review on 07/26/2011 16:04:21 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Equinox ARAS Eagle Backpack Review on 07/26/2011 17:45:04 MDT Print View

There are no pictures showing the front waist belt as buckled.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Barrel shaped on 08/01/2011 20:30:33 MDT Print View

Don't like that. But I like the features. A few zippered areas to put small things like car key, SteriPen, long-handled spoon, first aid, and survival is pretty cool.

It looks to only fit much shorter users though. So, good for some but it seems to be missing allot of the market because of just one smaller size (even if they say its medium).