M Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011: Part 1 – Choosing and Using a Frameless Pack

by Will Rietveld

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Article Summary:

Much has changed since our last Frameless Backpack Review Summary published back in 2004 and our Superultralight Backpacks Review Summary published in 2006. Although the fundamentals remain the same, the number, diversity, and features available in frameless backpacks have greatly expanded. Our 2004 article contained just seven packs, and our 2006 article contained five packs. Today we have lots of choices, so it's entirely possible to find exactly the pack you want in terms of fabric, sizing, volume, and features. The challenges are to determine exactly what you want and to find it.

A lightweight frameless backpack is a core component of a lightweight backpacking kit, whether you choose to travel superultralight (SUL, base weight less than 5 pounds/2.3 kg), ultralight (UL, base weight less than 10 pounds/4.5 kg), or lightweight (LW, base weight less than 20 pounds/9.1 kg). The base weight is everything but consumables (food, water, and fuel). Pack total weight with consumables for SUL backpacking should normally be less than 12 pounds (5.4 kg), less than 20 pounds (9.1 kg) for UL backpacking, and less than 30 pounds (13.6 kg) for LW backpacking. Stronger people can carry more, but most people prefer less. It's best to keep weight under these limits if you expect to comfortably carry a frameless backpack. The guiding mantra is "less is better."

To carry a light load, all you need is a light pack, so a frameless backpack is the pack of choice for backpackers who've gone lightweight. Frameless backpacks have become very sophisticated and do their job well. However there is a great diversity of users, backpacking conditions, and specific needs and preferences. To accommodate such a diversity, manufacturers offer frameless backpacks with a wide range of volumes, weights, features, and load hauling capability. To cover the range of packs and uses, we divide the topic into six articles as follows:

Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011: Part 1 – Choosing and Using a Frameless Backpack (this article) We discuss the fundamentals of selecting and properly using a frameless backpack, and provide specifications for all packs included.

Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011: Part 2A – Technical Evaluation – Measurement of Pack Volume and Volume Reduction Capability Reports our measurements of actual pack volume and the extent that pack volume can be reduced to accommodate smaller loads.

Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011: Part 2B – Technical Evaluation – Measurement of Pack Load Carrying Capacity Reports our pack torso collapse measurements using different pack loads to determine the comfortable load carrying capacity.

Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011: Part 3 – Packs for Ultralight Backpacking (coming soon) We provide specifications for midsize frameless backpacks popular for ultralight backpacking, rate them according to relevant criteria, and identify the standouts for different situations and needs.

Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011: Part 4 – Packs for Lightweight Backpacking and Load Hauling (coming soon) We provide specifications for larger volume frameless backpacks popular for lightweight backpacking, rate them according to relevant criteria, and identify the standouts for different situations and needs.

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