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Graeme Finley
(gfinley001) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 10:41:11 MST Print View

As my base pack weight has gone down into the 5-6lb range, I've found that I've begun to care more about the volume of my gear than I do about the weight. I find a small pack to be easier to walk with, even if it is a little heavier. I recently switched from a GG G6 to a MLD Propher 30 partially because of the better volume control options - I can compress the pack down when it largely empty (e.g. once most of the food is eaten).

I find the sleeping bag/quilt and ground pad to be the most bulky items - most other things I've been able to either leave at home of find small volume alternatives.

What suggestions do people have for achieving a Super-Ultra-Small pack vs a Super-Ultra-Light one?

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 10:54:09 MST Print View

Graeme, i hear ya'. personally, i still stick with the G6. in my case, i allow my 15oz WM Highlite (short version) to loft more when pack by placing it up high to fill the remaining volume. admittedly, not ideal as a lofting bag doesn't really stabilize smaller, heavier stuff sacks, food and gear. one-eigth inch diameter bungee loops (one vertically oriented, and two horizontally oriented) with cordlocks can be used to provide some minor compression.

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 11:00:23 MST Print View

The first thing that comes to mind is to use an inflatable pad rather than a closed cell pad. The volume of my down quilt can be made quite small but I tend to avoid that.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 11:54:37 MST Print View

We need some sort of small vacuum pump and airtight stuff sacks-- portable singularity :)

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 13:12:10 MST Print View

Hi Graeme,

I've found SUS to follow suite on my SUL journey. Now that I use a Nunatak Arc Ghost, a poncho tarp, a tiny stove, etc., and have my base down to 4 or 4.5, I've found the SUS (supersmall) piece to actually be a problem. My G6 and Prophet 25 are just too big! For trips up to 4 days, I just couldn't fill them in the late spring to early fall. I also put my torso Nightlight pad on the outside because it was too awkward to fit inside.

I now use the Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation which has 1850 ci and find that it's perfect for my SUL trips.

When I go higher loft in the Spring and Fall, I use a G6 because I can actually fill it up.

One thing I never do, though, is compress my insulation. I don't use compression sacks or even tight stuff sacks- instead I use large stuff sacks that are oversized to keep the insulation well-lofted and in good shape.

I agree that SUS is so cool- the pack can be TEENY!

Channing Sze
(eeyore) - F
ultra big and light on 11/17/2006 13:37:48 MST Print View

i guess it depends on the terrain one hikes. the stuff i do isn't all that technical. i toss my totally uncompressed sleeping bag in my golite gust. people think i'm lugging a body bag! i pretend too and then let them hold it.

stupid things amuse me.

seriously though, the packing/unpacking is easier.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 13:42:39 MST Print View

This brings up an interesting point for me.

I will be the editor for the Frameless Packs Reviews, Review Summary, and Gear Guide for 2007. I've split the Frameless Packs Gear Guide into two separate Gear Guides already:

The key criteria separating the two are related to both volume and weight, as you can see by the text introducing each Gear Guide.

Surveying the market for Frameless Packs (SUL), which I've started to do now for the upcoming '07 series, provides an interesting challenge.

Doug can go backpacking in an 1850 cubic inch pack on an overnighter. To others, 1850 cubic inches can't even be considered large enough for a day pack (woe to them, I say, but that's not the point here).

Obviously, a 1,000 cubic inch pack probably offers near zero utility for anyone going on overnighters, even with an SUL/SUS kit. Note that I say, near zero, and not zero, because there are people that do it.

So. I pose a few questions to y'all:

1. At what volume should a frameless pack be eliminated from consideration as an SUL / SUS backpacking pack?

2. Are there considerations other than volume (perhaps, a feature set) that should qualify one pack for overnight backpacking while disqualifying another?

Edited by ryan on 11/17/2006 13:42:53 MST.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 13:44:50 MST Print View

Channing, you're 'ultrabig and light' post is awesome.

The fact that you use a huge pack to carry an ultralight load in no way takes away from a lightweight philosophy.

Just as teeny packs have their advantages (especially when bushwhacking), so too do big packs (minimize loft compression).

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 15:16:46 MST Print View

I love the Gust- it is my winter and mountaineering pack because I fit so much insulation without compressing anything. While some folks may be able to do it, I can't see filling it with only 5 pounds base (unless you were going for 2 weeks unsupported).

So I'd call that pack frameless and not SUL. You selected 3000ci for the max of an SUL pack- that seems reasonable to me but still a bit large for most SUL loads. Then again, I may be on the insane end of SUL with my 1850ci pack.

To me, a good SUL pack must at least have a way to attach a pad at least to the outside, either with bungees or a strap. Barebones would limit the possiblity of using certain foam pads. I prefer outside pockets but that's not a requirement- more of a personal preference.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 16:19:28 MST Print View

[Note: quotes taken fr/two prev. posts by two diff posters; emphasis mine.]

>>"I will be the editor for the Frameless Packs Reviews, Review Summary, and Gear Guide for 2007. I've split the Frameless Packs Gear Guide into two separate Gear Guides already"

>>"a good SUL pack must at least have a way to attach a pad at least to the outside, either with bungees or a strap"

in what cfg does this pad take? rolled up?

how does it fn as a v-frame if bungeed/strapped to the outside?

what fn's a a frame if the pad isn't?

FWIW, i like an externally accessible pad pocket for both ease of access during the day & so that it can fn as a v-frame.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 18:54:23 MST Print View

Ryan, I can go for a week out of a golite dawn at 2500 cubes and my bpw is not SUL. I think the cutoff volume should be around 2000 cubes or 33 liters.

David Wills
(willspower3) - F
Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 22:10:55 MST Print View

A WM, JRB, MLD, or Nunatak Down bag/quilt would be a great start. The thinlight pad is amazing when used w/ a frameless pack next to your back, and is thin (duh). It's very soft and almost fuzzy feeling. 5x9 tarp, one of those crazy GG polycryo groundseets, beer can or coke can pot w/ tealight stove. I've found a 1/2 gallon milk jug has a great packable shape for a water bottle (pretty expensive though for the milk). Clothes seem to be a volumous hurdle for me when the weather drops, as is my reluctance to use down.

Generally, lighter stuff will be smaller . Im sure Bill's cuben stuff doesn't take up much space. Quilts and topbags will be smaller than equivalent mummy bags. Bag boosters like VB bags and silk liners take less room than equilalent synthetic insulation when packed. May want to go stoveless and eat cold food.

My little summer pack is 25x10x5 measured along the seams. I dunno what that comes up to after the top is closed and the bag turns to a circle, but its pretty small. I used my 40* basepack listed under my profile and blew up 2 stand-n-zip OP sacks to simulate 3 days food, and my 2L platty for water.

Just for reference, my 40* synthetic quilt packs to a 8x13 sack, similar to a 20* western mountaineering full mummy bag.little pack

Edited by willspower3 on 11/17/2006 22:15:14 MST.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
SUS vs SUL? on 11/17/2006 22:39:34 MST Print View

All Right,
I love it when the man himself asks us any question, and a question about backpacks is probably my favorite.

Ryan I think for a pack to be justified to be SUL it should at least start off as a pack that was intentionally designed for SUL hiking and not as a lite day-pack.

This depiction between the 2 should also be considered to be for 3 season only so what comes below will not apply.

90% of all the SUL lists I see posted (sub-5 pounds) DO NOT INCLUDE AN INFLATEABLE PAD. This means that all but the more compact half sized pads should not be a problem if they were not able to fit, unless the pack was specifically designed for something that size to be attached on the back as the cushioning.

SUL should be limited to a size bag that will include a sub-5# base with 3-5 days of food. Any thing longer and you are getting into the packs that are intended for comfortable storage and a 25+ pound max weight load. Besides, at best, these 25# load packs should only be considered to be UL. Even the lite 2500-3000ci packs are way too big for SUL. Most people going SUL find that even the with the considered small 2000ci G6 pack, they have PLENTY of room.

I don't see a sub-5# base weight with food and water added coming anywhere near 25#. I do like the sub 8oz weight though.

30-35 liters, (1830-2135 ci) would probably be the aprox size for this. This means any thing larger or smaller may still work but the benefits or lack there of would be pointed out in the tests, especially in the case of the smaller ones like MLD.

In the case of SUS, I would think that a pack that had a sub-5# base in it with 3 days of gear, (a good weekend trip), would be considered to be the largest SUS pack. Anything under this would be hard to obtain, unless you are making a lot of your own gear, have good experience with it and have a lighter than 5# load.
As far as size goes, I can easily fit a 3 day load and sub-5# base in an 1800ci pack. Anything below this size is pushing it.

I can go on all day, but I'm more interested in what other peoples comments are to this.

Edited by awsorensen on 11/17/2006 22:51:00 MST.

john Tier
(Peter_pan) - M

Locale: Co-Owner Jacks 'R' Better, LLC, VA
Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/18/2006 06:47:02 MST Print View

Just returned from a hike on the AT Jennings Creek to Daleville VA...Forcast was for low 30s....This means expect 20s ... so, we prepared for 10s...Carried the three quilt JRB Four Season set, HH ELR, standard gear to include three days food and a qt of h2o...Start weight was 19.5 lbs... All this fit in a "Maraposa light" ...

This pack is awesome... Basically it is a GG Maraposa that has been reduced to 5.5 inches of depth from the standard depth of 7 inches...Carries real close to the body....The volume normally approx 1500 cu in expands to approx 2000 at max collar use, plus convient floating top pocket and three close (low volume) outer pouches... at 16 oz you may not feel it is SUL itself... However, this 16 oz full featured packs should get serious consideration by those who have reduced volume gear and want a full featured, flexible, great carrying pack.


Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Pack size and comfortweight on 11/18/2006 12:06:16 MST Print View

I was always big on having a tiny pack. I think it was partly a habit from the Marine Corps where the issue ALICE was small and we were required to pack small. Nowadays, most of my packs are smaller than the industry norm "large" pack, with my Mountainsmith Ghost being my little load hauler and my Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone my big hauler. If I compressed my gear as much as it could reasonably go, I could use the Ghost for everything. But I LIKE being able to let my down quilt (and sometimes down jacket) loft up to their natural maximum size. I find it balances even better than a tiny pack with everything brutally cinched down to its smallest size. I do agree that giving up a few pounds of lighter weight for more stable carrying ability is worthwhile. Most of my hiking is extended trips (I teach and get extended time off, so I typically go a minimum of 100 miles on any hike, and sustained ability to sleep well and remain mourished trump super-ultralight concerns) I've become more focused on achieving "comfortweight" hiking versus ultralight hiking. I'm happy with base weights in the 12-17 pound range versus the 7-10 pound weights I've used on short trips and found myself fairly uncomfortable with.

Could I use a sub-2000 ci pack on extended trips? Easily during the warm weather I often see in the southeast, but I would still have a heavier pack than most folks who would seek such gear.

Edited by Bearpaw on 11/18/2006 12:07:59 MST.

Benjamin Tomsky
(btomsky) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/18/2006 17:07:28 MST Print View

Regarding volume... After recently doing a 2.5-day trip with an REI Flash UL (1,050 cu in according to, I'm a big fan of small packs. I think smaller than this would be unreasonable unless in a very warm environment, but I am interested in learning more about packs of this size.

Regarding “other than volume”... the only thing I can think of is the requirement to be able to carry and access water. For the Flash, I just put the Platy tube through the drawstring top, which is fine. I am thinking that a zipper-only, no-side-pocket book bag may not easily allow for water carrying, which would make many overnight scenarios inconvenient, at the least.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: SUS vs SUL? on 11/18/2006 20:35:26 MST Print View

> After recently doing a 2.5-day trip with an REI Flash UL (1,050 cu in according to, I'm a big fan of small packs.

I still don't see the virtue of a really small volume. SUL, sure, but why does the volume so much?

Example: try putting three or four Baguettes of bread in a tiny pack in France! Impossible. But Baguette and Brie (cheese) were a lunch-time staple for weeks on end in the Pyrenees. That is what was available in the little towns.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: SUS Pack Size on 11/19/2006 00:39:14 MST Print View

I decided to make a 1050ci pack for one of my weekend outings over the summer, (a long 2 days). The total start weight was about 14.5 pounds. Not the lightest on the SUL side but all the gear was small at fit easy enough.
The problem was that it felt like had a brick on my back, or like carrying a 1 1/2 gallon water jug.
When I did the same trip above in a day, (a very long day), the small pack did not go with me even though the start weight was 12.5#. I took my overnight stuff because I didn't know if I would make it as a day trip, (Rea Lake Loop in Kings).
The bigger (1550ci) pack was much more comfortable.
The size of pack that I like is one that fits correctly in the small of my back. This allows you to be able to take some weight off your shoulders with the waist belt.
The other fit factor is to be able to freely move without having to worry about rubbing the side of your arms or elbows on the side.
Last but not least is having a pack that stays below your neck.
A pack just feels too bulky when it's thumping on the back of your neck or head with every step you take.

Edited by awsorensen on 11/19/2006 12:07:30 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
SUS Pack Size on 11/19/2006 02:22:51 MST Print View

At volumes of 1000-1400, which are, for me, warm weather volumes, my current packing strategy is to use a very large hunter's lumbar pack for a 3-day trek.

1. Keeps area from bottom of shoulder blades on up very cool (relatively speaking) and relatively sweat free in the fever heat of summer.

2. low CG (all weight at or below bottom of shoulder blades) makes movement much more agile than compared to a higher CG which is often the case with a conventional pack, packed in a conventional way.

3. Option of using shoulder straps just to keep the large, padded hip-belt in place (though often this is not required).

4. most come with the ability to add 2-4 "add-on, clip-on pockets" to keep frequently accessed gear and trail snacks handy. usually 2-4 on the hip-belt or 2 on the hip-belt and 2 on the optional shoulder straps. Optional "pockets" are 20-24 oz water bottle pockets, pockets ranging in size from 3x5 to 7x9 - depths typically 2-4 inches.

5. Some have hydration ports if a bladder is used instead of a pocket.

6. My pack has an attached water bottle pocket that will hold a 1.8L soda bottle (not a 2.0L bottle - all i've found have too large a diameter), to which i've added a homemade hydration setup (it's cap with hole for tubing from a Platy hoser and a small "breather" hole to let air in to replace the volume of liquid sucked out. Main downside of the bottle is that it's slow to fill if a pump or gravity filter is not used and can't use my UV-C purifier. One possible solution is to collect the water in a 1.0L BigZip hoser (pre-filtered through a bandana) and treat it there and then drain it into 1.8L bottle. This doesn't appeal to me too much because of the need for the "back-up" water container which actually doesn't take up too much volume when it's collapsed. I could make this one a "Disadvantage", depending upon one's way of thinking.

1. Typically a camo pattern is the "color of the day", but there are different camo patterns and shades to choose from.

2. These packs make for a big "caboose" as they do protrude a bit out towards the rear. While this doesn't really affect movement or reduce agility, IME, it does make turning sideways to squeeze through some rocks, etc. NOT an option. [Note: since little or no load is borne by the shoulders, there is no perceptible backward pulling tendency which might be expected by the depth of some of these packs - typically no more depth than a med/large GoLite Gust.]

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
SUS vs SUL? on 11/21/2006 13:06:03 MST Print View

Small volume packs have advantages, but not in all circumstances. For me, the following activities call for as small a pack as possible.

1) Scrambling. I've hauled an old-fashioned backpacking sack up an easy rock-climb and it wasn't fun. If you can resist scrambling, this won't matter.

2) Bush-wacking. In NZ I followed guide book instructions on the way to Lake Mann Biv and found myself parting the branches of turpentine bushes to squeeze through. Thanks to a steep slope, this was happening eight feet above ground level. My pack's smooth outline was a big help, but smaller would have been better.

3) Backpacking in England. This was always of questionable legality, but now seems to be illegal because new access legislation has been emasculated by land-owners, just as happened in the 1930s. Good news. Hardly anyone is policing this. Once up a hill, you can do what you want. For getting past the landowner's domicile, a small pack is best. It's weight doesn't really matter. The laws on camping appear to be much more sensible in Scotland.

Edited by JNDavis on 11/21/2006 23:53:52 MST.