"I was told once, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
Is that what's going on here?"
I've owned an Exodus FS for about 7 months. My usual 3 season pack is an MLD Burn which I love dearly. When I needed a pack capable of handling heavier loads for packrafting and family trips, the Burn's big brother was an obvious choice. I typically refrain from posting comments or reviews about gear until I feel like I've had the opportunity to really use it for an extended period of time in a wide variety of situations. I have only used this pack on 6 trips, about 18 hiking days total. In light of your comment though, I'm happy to share my initial impressions.
I used the Exodus first for early season winter trips with loads of 10-15 lbs. I used the inflatable back panel for 2 trips before deciding that it was not necessary at these weights. My gear in November/December tends to be higher volume than my regular 3 season load, but still relatively low in weight, and the hoop stay was more than adequate for a comfortable carry. I did enjoy having the pad for use at night under my feet, but this alone was not sufficient reason to continue carrying it.
I really like the shape of the pack, not too tall or wide. Not surprisingly, the fit is remarkably similar to the Burn. The shoulder straps are well placed and comfortable, and the hipbelt transfers weight well. I had initially worried about this because the belt is flat and does not cup the hips like beefier hipbelts, but I ended up finding this belt style less confining.
Construction is meticulous as would be expected from any MLD product. The back pocket is large enough to hold a wet duomid
The side pockets swallow a 1 liter bottle securely. With some contortion, I can fish one out while walking.
Disappointingly, I found the Exodus slightly too small for my typical deep winter gear. Although my winter base weight is only 12 lb, my -20F bag is relatively bulky, making packing the exodus relatively difficult. I was able to fit the winter bag into the main body of the pack but was very concerned about the stress it put on the pack seams. I managed one deep winter trip with the Exodus, foam pad strapped to the top of the pack and duomid stowed in a one of the side pockets, before deciding that it was not worth the effort.
For me, the Exodus shined for packrafting. I was able to fit the raft paddle, and all of my gear but the life vest into the main body of the pack with plenty of room to spare. Total pack weight was under 20 lb, and it carried comfortably, again without the back pad.
The fit, comfort, and workmanship of the Exodus are excellent, on par with what I have come to expect from this company. I may be slightly biased, as I use a number of MLD products and have been very happy with all of them.
I would prefer if the pack were larger. As it is, the pack has a very specific niche. It is way too big for my 3 season gear and too small for my light but bulky winter gear. It is perfect for my packrafting gear, but I would have been happier if it could have handled all my larger pack needs. It would probably be an ideal pack for those with closer to traditional size loads, or for its stated purpose- lighter loads with the need for carrying additional water. It would also be great for those with heavy camera gear.
I'm not sure how much the back pad adds to carrying capacity. I find that the pack carries very comfortably without it, and removing it frees up a little interior space. I tend to prefer simplicity, so I'm happy to be able to ditch a component that has the potential to fail at some point, as inflatable pads occasionally will. Disclaimer: I have never carried more than 20 lb in the pack. I might feel very differently if I did.