The following post is a combination gear review, gear list and trip report focused around the TrailLite Designs Bandoleer pack. Here is how it all played out.
Being a husband and father of two children makes it challenging to find time to get away on my own. So when I get a chance I have to be ready to jump on it. Ever since the buzz around the 24 hour series I have been working to simplify my gear list to enable such quick trips. My approaching birthday (March 30) was just one of those occasions and just days before everything worked out so that I could spend 24 hours in the mountains.
I had already decided on everything on my new list except the pack. I currently own a Jam2, Ion, MLD Prophet, and my 5.0 oz MYOG design. All these packs are suitable, but after seeing Thom Darrah’s post with his new Bandoleer pack, I thought what simpler than one strap. When he offered me one to test I could not have been more excited. It arrived just days before my 43rd birthday.
I opened the package just days before my hopeful trip. Inside was a tiny wound bundle of black cuben. I unrolled it and looked the pack over. It had one main compartment with a draw cord top. It has a collar but it is short. I noticed it was not designed as an extension collar. What makes this pack unique is it uses one wide strap that rides diagonally across ones chest instead of the traditional 2 straps and sternum strap configuration.
I checked out the pockets. It has on large back pocket and two smaller side pockets. All pockets are made from cuben and have drain holes. In addition there is a removable pocket with waterproof zipper on the main strap. The pack size looked trim. I’m guessing the volume at 1500 cubic inches for the main bag.
Removable Strap Pocket
Compression is achieved by three sets of shock cords integrated with the pockets. There are two side cords and one cord that crisscrosses the back panel runs through the top of the back pocket then continues over the top lid. This one cord pulls the pack tight across the back but also provides top compression. It is cinched by a single cord at the bottom of the pack. I have not seen anything like it and think it is brilliant.
Shock cord detail
Tighten from the bottom also provides top compression
When I weighed the pack with all features it weighed 10.15 oz. The removable strap pocket weighed .95 oz and the waist strap weighed 1.25 oz. Leave these behind and the pack weighs only 7.95 oz.
I looked over the craftsmanship and found it to be superb. I had admired many of Chris Zimmer’s packs posted in MYOG section. His work in my hands did not disappoint. Chris’s talent plus Thom’s design made something special. Every detail of the pack looked well thought out. I would put this pack’s craftsmanship equal to the best cottage shops. I did notice that some seams were sewn while others were bonded.
To load the pack I used my traditional method: roll my pad into a tube; drop it in; stuff in sleeping bag & jacket; stuff shelter on top, load in stuff sack containing clothing and essentials then my food bag (which was empty) and loaded the pockets with water bottles, ti cup, and wind shirt. There was plenty of room left but I had yet to add food. I “played” with how to wear the pack and discovered 4 unique ways: over one shoulder; single strap across my chest, two straps across my chest, and lastly two straps with the waist belt added. Everything felt fine; I was ready for the trail.
On Friday March 25th it looked like a trip the next Tuesday/Wednesday would actually work. I decided to go to a long standing favorite, Mount Rogers, VA. I set my sights on a 20+ mile loop from Grayson Highlands State Park to Mount Rogers peak to Scales to Little Wilson Wilderness to camp and wake up on my birthday and then hike back out. I prepped my gear and trimmed my food taking only what I would need for a quick overnighter capable of handling sub freezing temps, rain, or snow.
BPL LS Merino Wool T-shirt - 5.10
BPL Merino Wool Shorts - 3.70
REI Sahara Convertible Pants - 12.40
Smart Wool PHD Adrenaline Mini Crew - 2.35
Columbia Booney Hat - 2.75
Bandana - 1.05
Pedometer - 0.95
REI Carbon Bamboo Hiking Staff - 5.95
Montrail Masochist GTX Trail Runners (Size 11) + Superfeet - 29.00
Golite Wisp Wind Shirt - 2.85
Mont-Bell UL Down Jacket - 6.90
REI Fleece Gloves - 1.40
Fleece Cap - 1.35
Smart Wool PHD Mini Crew -2.35
TrailLite Bandoleer Pack - 10.15
Medium Cuben Zpacks Stuff Sack (clothes) - 0.20
Shelter & Sleeping:
Nunatak Ghost (Custom) - 15.55
GG 3/8" Thin Light Sleeping pad - 38" trimmed - 3.45
MLD Superlight Bivy - 6.05
Integral Designs Silponcho Tarp - 8.65
BPL Lazr Ti Stakes (x6) and 30' feet line - 2.00
Cooking & Hydration:
Platypus 2.5 lt. Water Bottle - 1.30
Platypus 1 lt. bottle - 0.90
Micropur Water Purifications Tabs (8x) - 0.20
Bear Hang (cuben stuff sack + 40 ft line) - 0.90
BPL Trapper Mug - 1.65
BPL Ti Wing Esbit Stove - 0.45
Dr Bonner's Camp Soap (micro-dropper) - 0.20
Bic Mini Lighter - 0.40
BPL Ti Spoon - 0.30
REI Keychain Thermometer/Compass - 0.30
Photocopy of Map - 0.40
Fox 40 Safety Whistle - 0.20
Photon Micro Light w/cord - 0.30
First Aid Kit (Meds, 2x Gauze Pads, Duct Tape, Razor Blade, Floss) - 0.80
Match Book - 0.15
Dermatome Stick - 0.25
Cell Phone - 2.35
Canon Powershot Camera - 4.75
Fisher Space Pen - 0.20
Car Key - 0.90
Total Food (1.0 days) - 19.70
2x Esbit Tablets - 1.00
Water 1 liter - 32.00
1-Total Items Worn/Carried (lbs.) = 3.95
2-Total Base Weight (lbs.) = 4.89
3-Total Weight of Consumables (lbs.) = 3.29
4-Total Gear Weight Worn & Packed (1) + (2) = 8.84
5-Total Carried Pack Weight (2) + (3) = 8.18
6-Total Skin Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3) = 12.13
Things not taken this trip were: GPS, rock sack and biner for bear hang, pot top, wind screen for stove, fuel bottle, eye glasses & contacts, shelter stuff sack, spare camera battery, tooth brush, tooth paste, cooking stuff sack, rain jacket, rain pants, 2 ti stakes, and watch. My base weight came in under 5 lbs with gear to handle rain or shine and 20 degree temps.
The Trip/Usage on the Trail:
I made the drive from Raleigh to Mount Rogers early Tuesday morning getting to the park, registering and hitting the trail at 10:42. The weather was sunny and temperature was around 45. There was patchy snow on the ground. The rangers and weather forecast advised nasty weather was coming that night. I hoisted the Bandoleer over my left shoulder and started up the Rhododendron Trail to the AT. I made the summit about two hours later spotting three wild ponies on the way up.
Picture leaving Massie Gap shows pack using all straps and waist belt
On the way up I stopped at the top of Wliburn Ridge to enjoy the view and document some of the different ways I found to wear the pack.
Cross the chest carry
Full straps, no belt
I ate lunch on the summit and headed back down to the Thomas Knob shelter. I was carrying about 5 lbs of gear plus 3 lbs of food and water. After 6 miles under my belt and 2000 foot climb I could hardly tell I was wearing the Bandoleer pack. I would rate it excellent for carrying this type of load.
I decided I needed a better test so I stopped at the Thomas Knob spring and loaded up on water. This added another 5 lbs, all in the back pocket. When I do this with other packs I can feel it. The same was true for the bandoleer pack but it was not bad. I hiked the entire rest of the day (about 10 more miles) with this load without any issues. I would rate this pack like any other frameless packs, 12 pounds and under for comfort with a 20 pounds max. Considering it uses one strap to distribute the load I was impressed.
Summit of Mount Rogers
Thomas Knob Shelter
Bandoleer Pack with 7 lbs of of water
From Thomas Knob I hiked the Crest t\Trail to Scales then the First Peak Trail into Little Wilson Creek Wilderness Area. Across one of the balds I came across my second group of ponies. I counted 10 in all.
Ponies on 1st Peak Trail
I picked up the Kabel Trail heading west. The sun was setting as I approached Little Wilson Creek where I planned to camp. Where the trail crosses the creek I found a large overused camp. Preferring something more natural I pushed my way into through the rhododendron along the creek in hopes of finding a stealth site. Without too much effort I found a great spot with a small fire ring that had not been touched in some time.
Little Wilson Creek at Camp Site
I pitched my poncho tarp and used the remaining day light to get a fire ready. As the sun disappeared I heated water for a dinner of Asian noodles. I ate, completed my camp, and enjoyed the fire as the stars came out thinking “is it really going to rain?”. The temperature had dropped quickly to 30 degrees when I retired at 9:30pm. I made some trail notes and went to sleep almost immediately not waking once until 2:00 am to the sound of pouring rain. The temp increased to 35 or it would have likely been snow.
Setting up camp
Ready for the night
Fire as the sun set
I woke up around 7:00 am and enjoyed the storm as I snuggled in Nunatak Ghost and MLD Superlight bivy. I did get wet getting my bear hang down, but it was worth it having oatmeal and coffee under the tarp. Luckily the rain eased as I packed up hitting the trail around 9:00 am.
Looking out of the tarp while it rained
Packed up and ready to go
I finished up the trip by crossing a now swollen Big Wilson Creek taking the Upchurch Road Trail to the picnic area. A mile down the road took me back to my truck at 11:28 (24 hours plus some change).
Big Wilson Creek
Back at my truck
Overall I was extremely impressed with the Bandoleer pack. It really supported the theme of this trip which was simplicity. I liked being able to toss the pack over my shoulder and head down the trail. If I wanted more control I could add the second strap and waist belt while I walked. I found that with the light load of base gear, food, and 1 liter of water I could use any style of strap configuration and the pack was completely comfortable. I did this for the first 6 miles. I hiked about another 10 miles with the pack loaded with 5 lbs of additional water. I did notice myself tending to use the full straps and waist belt arrangement most of the time though I think even at this weight I would be fine without the waist strap.
This pack saw close to 24 miles of use in 24 hours. During this time I found no issues with comfort or construction. The black cuben is heavier than what I see used in tarps. The back panel and strap are made from XPAC. Together this combination creates a pack that feels extremely durable and is attractive.
The fit was perfect for me. I am just under 5’10” and weigh 165 (need to loose 5 lbs). All packs I own are size medium. The straps were not too long. I have slight concern that the straps might be too short.
I would not recommend many changes, probably more things to consider.
1. Is the single strapped attached with more stitching under the webbing? I see only a single row of stitching. I did not have any issues where the strap attaches but I expect this to be the most stressed area of the pack. If it is only attached with a single row of stitching I recommend more.
2. Side pockets fit a 1 liter platy just fine, but if storing a 1 liter Aqua Fina bottle the fit was tight, it worked just tight.
3. I am a fan of mesh pockets. I would like to see at least the pack pocket in mesh or partial mesh, but this might just be me. The cuben worked well.
4. Keep the waist belt as removable.
5. Might need to add a few inches to straps for larger folk (length was perfect for me)
That’s about it. I would recommend this pack for anyone hitting the trails with light loads. It rides well and just has the spirit of simplicity about it. I want to Thank Thom Darrah for allowing me to test this pack, I had a blast doing it.
If you have any questions please let me know.