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Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs
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Mark Seeley
(mseeley) - F

Locale: Arizona
Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 10:52:23 MST Print View

I am new to UL backpacking and would like to get people's thoughts and opinions on the pros/cons of UL frameless rucksacks versus lightweight frame packs (i.e. Granite Gear Vapor Trail, Osprey Exos, etc.) for total pack loads of ~20 lbs – ~25 lbs. To my way of thinking (and based on some limited experience), it seems to me that at these load levels, the extra 1lb – 1.5 lbs of the frames is more than made up for in the additional back/shoulder support. I understand there are a number of variables that can play into this (number of days on trail, miles per day, terrain, etc.), but it seems to me that, unlike other gear, the extra weight of the frames is not “dead” weight, but is actually contributing to a perceived lighter load and greater back support over the hiking day. Thoughts?

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 11:12:30 MST Print View

Hi Mark:

My own thoughts -- while satisfying safety requirements and balancing out creature comforts and all -- to the extent we can keep our pack weights below 25lbs -- a frameless pack can make sense. While a framed pack will still carry more comfortably, the point is that at a lower load weight, a frameless can carry "comfortably enough" -- so then, why not save another 1.5 lbs? And if total pack weight is kept to a comfortably low range, one can also replace heavier, traditional boots with trail runners -- resulting in even more weight savings. And that's good news for your shoulders, back, hips, legs, ankles and feet.

But theory aside, you have to try it out for yourself (if you haven't already). For me, a frameless suits me for weight under 25lbs. But some people find them uncomfortable even at 20lbs while others swear they can carry a lot more.

So in the end, it's a matter of matching the right tool to the job at hand.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 11:50:35 MST Print View

Ben is right.

I have two packs that I use. One is a Go Lite Jam2 frameless pack and the other is a Granite Gear Vapor Trail. Both serve purposes. For overnighters and light loads I tend to use the Go Lite. If I am doing mutiple days I tend to use my Granite Gear pack. Just my 2 cents

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs on 01/01/2009 12:27:12 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 04/27/2015 14:36:49 MDT.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 13:28:28 MST Print View

With frameless packs, I use a closed cell foam sleeping pad inside them, rolled up like a big burrito, in order to provide (what's essentially) the same structure that a light-frame pack provides. It's lighter than the light frame pack, though, because my gear is used for multiple purposes, rather than having a pound of single-use gear in pack frame.

Some people use frameless packs just on their shoulders, but I personally do not like carrying even 5-10 pound packs like this due to balance issues, and whenever possible, I always use a pack that can transfer some of the load onto my waist. Even my lightest backpack, a Zpacks Zilch, was ordered specially with a set of padded, winged hipbelt straps. With the winged hipbelt, and a rolled up ccf pad inside for rigidity, the pack provides essentially the same load transfer-ability as a traditional pack for very light loads (about 13-18 pounds max, depending on how it's packed, and which ccf pad I'm using inside it).

The basic principle of traditional backpack design is: keep the load balanced upright, above the load transfer point, which for a traditional backpack is the hipbelt. To keep the load balanced, the pack needs to be kept rigid with a frame of some sort (or else the entire pack can fold and lean away from the body and out of line with the vertical balance). The shoulder straps also work to keep the load above the hipbelt; basically they just keep the pack from falling away backwards. That's all there is to it. A pack frame suitable for 10 pound loads will deform when 30 pounds is put in it, resulting in uneven load transfer.

My Vapor Trail stays rigid up to about 30 pounds, but above that, the framesheet starts to fold in a way that takes the balance away from my back and it carries less comfortably. My Arc-teryx Bora 80 stays rigid no matter how much weight I put in it (what do you expect of a steel frame?), but then again that pack also weighs over 7 pounds...

Backpacking gear is all about compromises and understanding the results of those compromises. The frameless packs are lighter than light frame packs, but only workable up to perhaps 25 pounds, and only if you know how to pack them correctly. So for most backpackers, it would be a simple decision to choose the light frame pack. OTOH, if you can get the rest of your gear light enough and compact enough, and don't mind integrating a ccf sleeping pad (or a combination of ccf and short open cell foam (i.e. a 1/2 or 3/4 length theramrest), then the whole "compromise equation" is shifted more in favor of the frameless.

Edited by artsandt on 01/01/2009 13:35:01 MST.

Paul Tree
(Paul_Tree) - F

Locale: Wowwww
pack points on 01/01/2009 13:32:38 MST Print View

There are some packs where you have the option of using the framesheet and stays, or removing for lighter loads.
More configurable packs weigh a little more usually, and if you are going with a bigger pack for a smaller load, that is working against you. As a result it's common to go for separate packs, as you can see from people's posts. If you are making an investment of money and Love in a single pack, could be well worth an ounce more for the comfort of familiarity and trust. Blasphemy!

Because the suspension is used to help tranfer load to the hips, removing it usually ends up with more weight pulling on your shoulders. Much depends on the comfort of the shoulder strap. I have the most cushy Osprey straps that are comfy for me to 30 pounds, but are relatively heavy.

With frameless packs, a full hipbelt is overkill, since it does not have the concomitant vertical supports to transfer the load as effectively. If you are good with the shoulder straps only, may as well skip the hipbelt at these weights to save even more. Or go for a thin hip strap (spare shoelace?) if you run, go off-trail, ski, etc. to keep it from slewing around.

Also with frameless packs, look for very effective compression, which can lend some shaping. (Besides that from items like a sleeping pad)

Good Luck!

Edited by Paul_Tree on 01/01/2009 13:45:27 MST.

MIchael MacCormac
( - F
frameless vs light frame on 01/01/2009 18:14:17 MST Print View

you could also look at packs such as those at six moon designs. They are frameless & can use your sleeping pad as a virtual frame. They also offer optional stays for most of their packs if you want to carry heavier loads. That can be useful especially when starting out since some of your gear will not be that light.

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 20:21:01 MST Print View

As Ben and Ken have mentioned, you really have to try both and see what works best for you. That said, most of my trips put me in the 20-25# range. I've used both the Golite Jam and GG Vapor Trail extensively. Despite the extra weight, I prefer the Vapor Trail because it feels much more comfortable on my back. Mike W makes a good point that in the Vapor Trail the load can sit further away from your point of balance than a load in a smaller pack. But I find that if you have a smaller volume load in the Vapor Trail, you can easily bring it closer to your back using the many compression straps.

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 20:37:52 MST Print View

"My Vapor Trail stays rigid up to about 30 pounds, but above that, the framesheet starts to fold in a way that takes the balance away from my back and it carries less comfortably."

One way to add some additional rigidity to the Vapor Trail suspension is to slide a piece of corrugated plastic cut from a lawn sign into the pocket at the back of the pack. I've only done this on two occasions, both times desert trips where a lot of water had to be hauled. With lighter loads, I like the balance between stiffness and flexibility that the regular suspension provides. But on those two trips, the extra 2.3 oz. of corrugated plastic more than paid their way with extra comfort provided.

Edited by Dondo on 01/01/2009 20:38:34 MST.

Ethan Croft
( - F

Locale: West (Big Horn Basin)
Re: Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/01/2009 20:45:46 MST Print View

For me I prefer a light frameless pack because it provides a more comfortable back support.having said this just like others have said I feel that it is important that you decide for yourself what works for you. Practice carrying a weight of 20-25 pounds on both the frame and frameless pack and see which one is more comfortable for you.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/02/2009 08:40:15 MST Print View

It really is about personal preferences. At the root of it, though, I'd concur with your conclusion. In Ben's post he mentioned a frameless pack carrying "comfortably enough" (or something like that). For me, I want my pack to be as comfortable as I can get it--within reason. Gone are the days of 7# backpack-only weights. But for 2-4 pounds you can have a great, comfortable carry.

Another factor that rarely seems to come up in these forums is food weight. I think that most ULers are thru-hikers, or go out for weekends and shorter trips. Conversely, it seems that most of my trips are at least a week, perhaps two, without resupply. 10 days of food is 20 pounds or so--just for food! I definitely wouldn't enjoy a frameless pack. So--another factor to consider is how long your trips would be.

Sumi Lavin
(jose) - F
not too bad on 01/02/2009 11:42:29 MST Print View

'Comfortably enough' is in the realm of 'not too bad'. These are terms that cover up 'discomfort' which is right next door. How about 'feels good enough'? I'm happy to see this thread staying 'balanced'.

Edited by jose on 01/02/2009 11:43:30 MST.

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Re: Frameless vs. Light Frame Packs for 20-25lbs on 01/02/2009 14:41:56 MST Print View

re: food weight
Brad, I absolutely agree. Personally most of my trips are 1-2 days, or if longer: 4-5 days between resupply, so I've mostly been able to make the lighter backpacks work for me. However I still keep a heavy duty Mountainsmith Boundary (basically a 65-70L pack with heavy duty frame) that I've trimmed down to about 4 pounds and I keep this in reserve for the odd trip I take where I just need to carry a lot of weight in food or water.

Edited by artsandt on 01/02/2009 14:42:26 MST.

Mark Seeley
(mseeley) - F

Locale: Arizona
Frame vs. Frameless on 01/02/2009 20:33:01 MST Print View

Thank you everyone for the great comments and feedback. I understand that at the end of the day it comes down to trial and error and personal prefereance, but it really helps to benefit from the depth of experience shared here.

After reading all posts, I have to say that the light weight frame packs still sounds the most compelling to me. The frameless contingent raises some good points (particularly that of reduced volume), but I think Brad hits it on the head with the "comfortable enough" comment. I mean, at the end of the day isn't UL backpacking all about reducing weight for the purposes of comfort so that more miles can be covered and more natural beauty seen? Yes, I know its also a mind-set, but from a practical standpoint, the main objective is to hike more efficiently with greater comfort. At least that's how I view it.

Anyway, I will be trying both types of packs to see what ultimately works best for me, but my bias going in, is still that the extra 1-1.5lbs of a frame pack will prove to be the most comfortable and allow me to cover more miles.

Thanks again for all the insight and keep it coming. The content on these forums has really helped me re-think how I approach backpacking!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Frame vs. Frameless on 01/04/2009 13:40:40 MST Print View

You probably know that I favour a light framed pack with an external sprung H-frame. Mine weighs 800 grams and has carried over 28 kg (going in to a base camp in the snow).
But I have very narrow hips and don't use a waist belt much: nothing to grip on to, and I have always preferred to take the load on my back and shoulders.

Trying to take a large load without a frame - forget it!


Simon Winchell
(simonwm) - F
wasn't psyched on my vapor trail on 01/04/2009 16:00:14 MST Print View

One thing I feel that I have to point out is that there are a lot of light "framed" packs that really don't perform that much better than a frameless pack. The vapor trail is the primary offender in this category for me. As was noted, the framesheet deforms at 30 lbs, which is really pretty much the same as the upper limit for beefier frameless packs such as the golite pinnacle if packed correctly. I think alot of the reason people like the vapor trail so much is the padding on the hipbelt and shoulder straps, not really the frame. I switched to the granite gear virga in the middle of my pct thru this summer and didn't really notice a significant difference in carrying comfort other than the non-padded hipbelt. I solved this by stitching a small strip of foam on the belt. For the pound and a half difference, I'd take the virga every time. For me it seems to make more sense to go frameless and simply add foam as needed, which can also be used to increase comfort and warmth at night.

Sparknotes: I would go frameless for that weight range, and if I did get a frame pack, I'd get one with a serious frame, not a plastic sheet like the vapor trail.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: wasn't psyched on my vapor trail on 01/05/2009 10:19:51 MST Print View

Yeah, Simon, that's been one of my pet peeves, too. How can you really call a flimsy sheet of plastic a frame when you can easily bend it in half? But you can get real frames in that 2-4 pound range still. Osprey's Talon 44, shared DNA w/upcoming Exos I think, weighs just over 2 pounds. ULA, GGs Nimbus series...

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: wasn't psyched on my vapor trail on 01/05/2009 11:07:02 MST Print View

YMMV. OK, having caveated that...

I see frameless, plastic sheet, plastic sheet and loop combo, 1 metal stay, 2 metal stays, 2 metal stays and sheet combo... all as options along a spectrum to match pack loads from UL to light to moderate to heavy to expedition. To me, an "offense" comes in only when the user mismatches the tool with the task on hand -- or the marketing brochure oversells the carrying ability of a pack.

Not that we all need to buy 6 different packs to "micro match" our gear load, but I think many if not most of us have two packs (some maybe more) -- one for load carrying comfort and another for UL -- for the more strenuous trips where we truly minimize our load.

Edited by ben2world on 01/05/2009 11:24:12 MST.

Mike Feldman
(harpin) - F
Frame vs Frameless on 01/05/2009 12:46:35 MST Print View

Sounds like you are leaning to a lighweight framed pack. Excluding definition of " framed" or even "lightweight" that is touched on, there are choices, not all being that expensive. My large framed pack is the 2008 version of ULA Circuit. My smaller pack is a frameless ULA Conduit, which w/2-3 sections of GG Torso foam pad have used so far for up to 4 day, 3 night trips, and very comfortable to 25 pounds, more so at 10-20 range where I have used most. So far impressed w/the Circuit. To me it gets to what you find works, probably a lot thru trial and error. Being able to try on a pack before buying is kind of nice, which is why I suspect REI, and the local outdoor outfitter sells backpacks. You might try this sites swap gear section for used packs. I recall a December post of a Gregory Z55 framed pack FS very reasonable, not that lightweight, but in the 3.5 pound range. Good luck.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Re: wasn't psyched on my vapor trail on 01/06/2009 09:28:36 MST Print View

Aw, Ben, come on... You know we all (at least think we) need to have 6 packs!