LuxuryLite Modular Frame Backpack REVIEW

Performance review of one of the lightest and most innovative external frame packs on the market.

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by Doug Johnson | 2005-05-10 03:00:00-06

Overview

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 1 LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 2
The LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack

The LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack brings an innovative approach to backpack design. By using a lightweight external frame and a modular front pack, pack weight is counterbalanced front to rear, and loads feel lighter. The system also minimizes pack contact with your back, creating excellent airflow and comfort in hot climes. The LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack employs tough waterproof cylinders in place of a traditional rectangular pack bag to allow for easy organization. LuxuryLite offers four different sized cylinders; from which, up to three can be selected to match trip requirements. The LuxuryLite offers a more "loosy goosy" feel that is very comfortable on the trail but moves and shifts excessively when running or scrambling off trail. This is a beautifully constructed pack and very durable. But at $440 for the system as tested, this is a very expensive pack.

In Brief

  • Modular external frame pack with waterproof packing cylinders
  • Front pack acts as a counterbalance, making the loads feel lighter by keeping weight off your shoulders and centered on your hips
  • Most airy pack we've seen - great for warmer climates
  • Modular system allows you to select only the components you need
  • Beautifully constructed and very durable
  • Free floating system is comfortable and offers freedom of movement but sometimes causes the pack to become uncentered and unbalanced
  • Performs poorly for scrambling or trail running

Specifications

• Backpack Style

External frame with modular packing cylinders (three cylinders as tested)

• Fabric Description

Frame is constructed of carbon/aluminum. Pack cylinders are constructed of lightweight, waterproof Dimension-Polyant VX-02 X-ply laminate sailcloth fabric

• Sizes

One size telescoping frame fits users from 5' to 6'6" tall (152-198 cm)

• Volume Tested with three cylinders - medium, large, and X-large (small also available)

Cylinder size Volume (ci) Volume (L)
M 1,000 16.7
L 1,400 23.2
XL 1,570 25.7
Front pack 500 8.2
Total volume 4,470 73.8

• Weight

Pack unit Backpacking Light measured oz (g) Manufacturer Specification oz (g)
Frame 19.3 (547) 20 (565)
M Cylinder 2.9 (82) 2.9 (80)
L Cylinder 3.0 (85) 3.3 (90)
XL Cylinder 3.4 (96) 3.5 (100)
Sit pad 1.8 (51) 2 (55)
Front pack 5.8 (164) 5 (142)
Total Weight 36.2 (1,026) 36.7 (1,032)

• Volume to Weight Ratio

123.5 ci/oz (based on components tested and a Backpacking Light measured total weight of 36.2 oz)

• Load Carrying Capacity

40 lb maximum comfortable load carrying capacity, including front pack as determined by Backpacking Light. 40 lb comfortable and 80 lb maximum carrying capacity, manufacturer claim.

• Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio

17.7 (based on 40 lb and Backpacking Light measured pack weight of 2.26 lb)

• Model Year

Spring 2005

• MSRP

Pack component MSRP
Frame $180
M Cylinder $75
L Cylinder $75
XL Cylinder $75
Sit pad $15
Front pack $20
Total price (as tested) $440

• Manufacturer Contact Information

www.luxurylite.com

Frame, Suspension, and Pack Load Carrying Performance

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 3 LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 4
The basic element of the LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack is its telescoping carbon and aluminum frame that can fit a wide variety of users.

The LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack is a unique design. It utilizes a telescoping external frame made of carbon fiber and aluminum, which extends from 17 - 25 inches in length, covering a wide range of torso lengths. The frame is attached to a wide hipbelt and two narrow shoulder straps.

The LuxuryLite system is designed to carry pack weight almost entirely on your hips. The shoulder straps keep the weight centered while the integrated front pack acts as a counterbalance for the main pack. This makes your loads feel lighter, allows for comfortable, free shoulders, and creates excellent air flow against your back. This is a great pack for warm climates, completely avoiding the sweaty back that most of us are used to. In fact, this is the coolest, driest pack I've ever used; no wonder - it's from Texas!

Unlike traditional rectangular bags used in external frame packs, the LuxuryLite uses modular, cylinder-shaped bags that strap to the frame with Velcro. These are constructed of Dimension-Polyant X-Ply, a waterproof laminated sailcloth fabric that is very durable and lightweight. You can add or remove up to three cylinders, in four sizes, as needed.

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 5
The integrated front pack acts as a counterbalance for the main pack, allowing for comfortable shoulders and excellent air flow.

The LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack uses a wide, firmly padded hipbelt that adjusts to a large range of body sizes via its Velcro attachments. Rather than use a side-release buckle, the LuxuryLite pack uses dual plastic buckles, similar to a climbing harness, with Velcro backing the webbing to contain the excess strap length. Rather than attach it like a climbing harness, however, I found that running the webbing through one buckle and doubling it back onto the Velcro, made the pack much easier to get off and on with no loss of security. Such a simple and reliable system was a welcome change from quick releases that can be easily broken.

The hipbelt was surprisingly comfortable, even when counterbalanced loads of 65 pounds put nearly all of the weight on my hips. I found that the limitation to the LuxuryLite's load carrying capability was me! This pack is a serious load hauler. It easily handled a 65-pound load, and comfortably carried 40-50 pounds. It was extremely comfortable in the 30-40 pound range. Note that the LuxuryLite is an external frame pack.

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 6
The LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack uses a wide, firmly padded belt that is surprisingly comfortable, even when the whole load is on your hips.

The LuxuryLite pack feels much more "loosy goosy" than other framed or frameless packs. Although the hipbelt is snugged tightly like a traditional pack, the counterbalanced front pack and main pack leave a lot of space between your upper body and the pack. While this is wonderful on a hot day and when covering high mileages, the pack tends to sway excessively when scrambling or running, causing loads to shift. Not using the front pack and tightening shoulder straps lessens this problem. But this pack is most at home walking in normal trail conditions (such as long AT or PCT days). The pack's counterbalance stays put and is quite comfortable, allowing more freedom of movement than a traditional external frame pack.

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 7
The LuxuryLite pack has a free-floating hipbelt and a loose, flexible feel. However, this occasionally causes the pack to become uncentered.

Because the cylinders can slide along the vertical bars of the pack, they tend to settle, flopping to one side or the other. This problem is further exacerbated by the floating hipbelt design, which allows the belt to slide along the horizontal lower frame support. It was difficult to keep the pack centered on my back, requiring occasional repositioning and strap adjustment. While this was not a huge problem, it was sometimes annoying and difficult to find the right adjustment.

Usable Features and Ease of Use

The pack cylinders offer an innovative approach to packing. Your gear is easy to access through long Velcro closing strips, and side-release buckles securely close heavy and full cylinders. When briefly submerged in a creek, the seam-sealed cylinders remained completely watertight and, despite Washington and Oregon rains during testing, no leaking was experienced. This waterproofness was further proven when a Platypus flask opened up in a cylinder, soaking all the contents, but remaining 100% contained.

Organizing with the cylinders was a breeze once I adapted to this new style. My approach was tent and bag on the bottom, food and clothes in the middle, and stove and small items on top (but there are countless options). Using cylinders did have down sides, however. Without the front pack there was no quick access to needed items on the trail. This system also lacks options for stashing items outside the cylinders, like wet gear, or straps for poles or an ice axe. However, sleeping pads were easily tucked into the bottom of the frame below the cylinders.

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 8
The modular cylinders make organizing and accessing items quick and easy.

I was skeptical about the front pack, but loved it by the end of my testing. It sits in front of you, moving very little, especially when carrying lots of water. While walking, I was able to access water, food, camera, and maps with no problem. A single "beaver-tail" strap attaches the bottom of the front pocket to the waist belt, and two hoop straps attach its top to the upper frame. The front pack lifts straight off when stopping for a break. When heading out for a short side trip, the front pack makes a passable day pack. Great design!

Another item that came with the pack was an integrated sit pad that velcroed to the lower frame and folded out under your rear to convert the pack into a comfortable camp chair. I found this somewhat extraneous but without it, the bottom cylinder would settle into the space of the lower frame and rub on the lower crossbars, which could wear through the cylinder over time. Another foam pad such as a Z-Lite could be stashed in this spot to provide support for the lower cylinder, but I'd like to see a more lightweight option (for those that don't use camp chairs or foam pads) to support the lower cylinder.

LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 9 LuxuryLite Modular Frame Pack - 10
The modular front pack is an essential part of the LuxuryLite system. Not only does it act to counterbalance the pack, it makes accessing trail items on the fly a total breeze. When you want to remove the front pack, just pull up.

Durability

After several weeks' worth of hard trail use and abuse, my LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack looks just like the day it arrived. The craftsmanship found in all aspects of the pack is excellent and the frame, while lightweight, is very robust. The X-Ply cylinders are very tough as well and show no wear at all. Unlike many ultralight products, this is a pack that will be with its owner for years.

While hiking a stretch of the PCT in Northern Washington, I met a through-hiker who was testing a LuxuryLite pack (and is now featured on the web site). He confirmed the pack's reliability and reported no failures during his trip. (He also raved about the product in general.)

Value

This pack is very expensive. As tested it was $440 retail and there aren't any cheaper components available. Yes, it will last forever. Yes, it has a one-month free trial. Yes, there's a lifetime warranty. But in a market of lightweight, large volume packs at half the price, that is a lot of money. But if you are looking for a reliable, comfortable pack, especially for hot climates, the steep price tag may be worth it to you.

Recommendations for Improvement

The LuxuryLite Modular Frame pack provides an innovative, comfortable approach. I offer the following suggestions for possible improvements:

  • The biggest problem with this pack is its price. Cheaper options such as cylinders made from less expensive fabrics or an all-aluminum frame could bring down the overall price.
  • Include a lightweight lower cylinder support as part of the base frame price.
  • Offer square cylinders - this might avoid some of the settling problems I experienced and increase volume slightly.
  • Offer more ways to attach gear such as wet clothes, fuel bottles, or an ice axe to the outside of the pack. A couple of external pockets and straps would do the trick.
  • There is too much side-to-side movement. Side stabilizer straps, run from the frame sides to the hip belt, could be used to stabilize this movement.

Citation

"LuxuryLite Modular Frame Backpack REVIEW," by Doug Johnson. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/luxurylite_modular_frame_backpack_review.html, 2005-05-10 03:00:00-06.

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