MontBell Versalite 50 and MontBell Versalite 50 Short (Japan)

Mini-review for the 2010 State of the Market Report on Internal Frame Backpacks.

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by Roger Caffin | 2010-09-28 00:00:00-06

MontBell is a Japanese company with a subsidiary in America, and websites for each. At the time this review was being prepared they were having some problems with hackers on both websites, so it was hard to get all the data. Apart from that, the company has a fairly good reputation for being somewhat innovative in their designs, and these Versalite packs reflect that. The harness design on both packs is good and quite robust and comfortable, while the fabrics used on the rest of the pack are very light - silnylon even! The seams are double sewn for strength - a single line of stitching would simply not be enough with silnylon, of course. There seems overall to be a fine attention to detail. I don't think I would want to take one of these packs through heavy Australian scrub for fear of damage - although my silnylon poncho manages to cope in the wet. The base of the pack looks like 210 denier packcloth or maybe a little lighter, while the sides seem to be 70 denier nylon. The two packs share the same harness system: they call it a 'Super Wishbone' design.

When we started this survey both packs were listed on their website. After the hacker attack, I could only find the Short version listed, but it seems unlikely that they would have discontinued the 'normal' length one, so we have included both here.

MontBell Versalite 50 Pack

Pack Rating Qualifications
Versalite 50 Recommended Very comfortable harness

The photo on the left is one I took myself as I could not find a photo of the 'standard' one on the MontBell website after the hacker attack. I will add however that the two packs look identical, except for the colour.

The weight of this pack is medium, but the fabric is light silnylon in places. So where is all the weight? It seems to be in the Superwishbone harness and shoulder straps. Indeed, both of us found it to be very comfortable to carry, with Sue declaring it to be a keeper. The design is simple: a main bag with short side-pockets, and a zigzag lacing across the back. The throat is silnylon of adequate length - in fact all the red bits are silnylon. That said, all the attachment points are well reinforced, and main seams have been double-sewn for strength. The lid has a small but adequate pocket on it, with a zipped security pocket inside. Unfortunately the lid is not large: you don't want to over-fill this pack. It covers the throat very well, but you shouldn't try to fit a large tent under it. That seems curiously... Japanese. The fact that the measured weight and volume matched the claimed values goes along with that impression (precise).

MontBell Versalite 50 and MontBell Versalite 50 Short (Japan) - 1
MontBell Versalite 50, 1.33 kg (2.93 lb), 50 L (3000 cuin).

The frame is sheet plastic with a single aluminium rod down the middle. The curvature can be altered in the field. Both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are quite well padded, even solid. The load lifter straps have thumb loops at the end - and they work. I found it very easy to carry.

The left photo shows the pack somewhat overloaded, with a bit more than the Test Gear load in it. It actually managed to contain all my gear for an extended trip in the Australian Alps. It could have carried this load (just), but I didn't subject it to that (I took another). The right hand photo shows the pack in the rain without a cover: there was just a little bit of leakage near the bottom. Some of the stuff sacks were just slightly damp on the outside. Yes, the rain got on the camera lens as well: a 'special' effect for wet weather. You would need to use a rain cover on this pack in bad weather, like on most of the packs surveyed (the UK ones excepted).

MontBell Versalite 50 Short Pack

Pack Rating Qualifications
Versalite 50S Recommended Very comfortable harness

Really, there seems to be very little difference between this pack and the previous one. There is a difference in the measured volumes, but it might be that with a bit of jiggling I could have got this one up to 50 L as well. Mind you, the right hand photo suggests that the pack was well-filled with the Test Gear! One big difference I found was in the length of the torso: at a bit under 500 mm (20 in) this one is about 50 mm (2 in) shorter than the previous one - as the model names suggest. An exact measurement is not really meaningful as there is no top edge to the 'torso' or frame. Another difference may be found in the exact shape of the hip belt wings: the Short is a bit more rounded at the tips. A very minor difference, which is absolutely Japanese precision, is in the colour of the bar tacks on the shoulder straps. On the standard model the bar tacks are red, matching the red silnylon. On this Short version the bar tacks are pale grey, matching the pale grey silnylon. Mind you, the packs are sewn in Vietnam, not Japan.

MontBell Versalite 50 and MontBell Versalite 50 Short (Japan) - 2
MontBell Versalite 50 Short, 1.13 kg (2.49 lb), 46 L (2800 cuin).

What we did notice was that the pale grey silnylon was almost transparent. As you can see in the right hand photo, the colour of the stuff sacks inside the pack is quite clear. Actually, the same almost applies to the red silnylon, but the red colour does block a lot of transparency. Does this matter? Probably not.

In addition to having a good throat there is a webbing strap over the top of the throat to help keep it all together. Inside the main bag there are some little toggles and a loop of cord near the top edge: I am not sure what one is meant to do with them. I guess you could hang small stuff sacks off them, as a sort of security pocket. The zigzag lacing is 3-mm nylon cord, not bungee cord. Each of these packs has one conventional fitting for an ice axe, plus there are similar fittings above the side pockets. The latter may be designed to hold a bundle of tent poles.

This is a mini-review in the 2010 Lightweight Internal Frame Pack State of the Market Report. The articles in this series are as follows (mini-reviews can be found in Part 2), and a subscription to our site is needed to read them.

  • Part 1A covers the very basics and lists all the packs in the survey.
  • Part 1B covers the frame and harness which carry the pack itself.
  • Part 1C covers the main bag and all the other pockets, plus the all-important question of comfort.
  • Part 2 in this series covers the individual packs tested.


Citation

"MontBell Versalite 50 and MontBell Versalite 50 Short (Japan)," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/montbell_versalite_50_montbell_versalite_50_short.html, 2010-09-28 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Lightweight Internal Frame Packs: a State of the Market Report - Part 2: The Packs


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Coin Page
(Page0018) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern USA
External Frame Packs? on 10/18/2010 20:47:02 MDT Print View

Thanks for a nice review Roger.

Perhaps outside the scope of this review, but since the subject of external frame packs has come up: do you have any recommendations for lightweight, commercially available, external frame packs that capture your "H - frame" idea?

Back in the old days, my external frame pack and hip belt could shift almost all the weight onto my iliac crests, or alternatively, onto the greater trochanters.

I find now, with increasing age, a decreased tolerance for prolonged heavy loading of the L5-S1 disk, and the SI joints. Anything much over 20 lbs all day, no matter how it's distributed over the shoulders or the lumbar area, starts to hurt.

Some of the individual pack reviews and comments above suggest some of these packs come close, but it sounds like you think the external frame is better at overall comfort - issues of durability, fragility and standing up to heavy brush aside.

Am I on the right track here? Any advice. How can I get most of the load back on the sides of my hips - the iliac crests - and still go lightweight?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: External Frame Packs? on 10/20/2010 23:43:42 MDT Print View

Hi Coin

Sorry, but I don't have a simple answer for you. I think I noted somewhere in the review that my hips are rather narrow, such that many hip belts do not work very well on me. For this reason I have always preferred to carry the load on my back. This does *not* mean 'on my shoulders'.

With my design I find the load does go through the mesh on the back of the pack to the full area of my back. Frankly, I am not really sure why this works so well, but it does work for me.

I am sure that it won't work for many other people, and that a solid hip belt will work better for them. In this sense, fitting a pack to a person is very much like fitting a pair of shoes. I sigh (for the same reason) when I see someone ask 'what shoes should I buy' and then read a reply that they should buy SuperDucksMultiWeb shoes.

However ... I will offer the following advice - which is also in the Review somewhere. Try to buy a pack which matches your torso length, but do not buy a pack with a torso length which is too short. Better to have a pack torso length slightly longer than your torso length: that will throw the load onto your hips more effectively.

Even better: pick a pack in the right size with an adjustable torso length. Then fine tune over several trips how it fits you. Yes, I definitely give brownie points to packs with an adjustable torso length.

I also give brownie points to packs with a solid stiff harness or frame. Frameless packs are all very well if my total load is under 6 -8 kg. Over that the weight of the harness is far outweighed by the added comfort it brings. Now, I know this comment will attract numerous responses contradicting me and saying how wonderful a frameless pack is. Well, as with shoes ...

Can an external frame pack (like mine) stand up the 'heavy brush'? Chuckle. Trust me, the scrub in the Australian Blue Mountains (and in SW Tasmania) is definitely world class.

A commercial equivalent? Sorry - at this stage I cannot make a recommendation, because I don't know.

Cheers

Cameron Semple
(camS) - F

Locale: Brisbane, Australia
Shadow on 10/21/2010 06:43:52 MDT Print View

I had a look at a Shadow this evening at a local distributor. I liked the clean, no frills look. Didn't have time to load it up though. You mentioned the thick webbing used on the hip belt. I found it virtually impossible to tighten the belt once fitted. The webbing was so rough that it wouldn't pull through easily. Combined with the older style of pulling the straps out rather than into the middle.

Any ideas when the 2011 line of packs will be available? The Umbra looks interesting.

Edited by camS on 10/21/2010 06:45:49 MDT.

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
small manufacturers / osprey atmos on 10/21/2010 15:46:43 MDT Print View

Roger (Caffin):
Would any of the ultralight small manufacturers be interested in making your external frame sacks.

The osprey atmos 50/65 has a kind of all back mesh (for ventilation) but I think the gap between back and pack is bigger. I didnt like the shooulder straps.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: small manufacturers / osprey atmos on 10/21/2010 20:58:46 MDT Print View

> Would any of the ultralight small manufacturers be interested in
> making your external frame sacks.

I would be delighted if someone did want to.

Cheers

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
osprey exos possible equiv to Roger (Caffins) MYOG external frame on 10/22/2010 04:55:27 MDT Print View

Roger (Caffin):

Actually, from reviews, the osprey exos 46/58 looks better than the atmos, as still has kind of all back mesh (for ventilation) but the gap between back and pack seems smaller, and the rucsac storage looks less curved.

Perhaps you could borrow one and compare it (not using waist belt) against your external frame pack.

Coin Page
(Page0018) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern USA
External Frame Packs? on 10/24/2010 09:12:13 MDT Print View

Thanks Roger.

Yes, like finding well fitting shoes. But I did find those (wider), so I keep my optimism for finding the perfect pack for heavier loads. Thanks for the reminder/emphasis on torso length (longer for me).

The Aarn packs, and LuxerLite pack seem hopeful. Discussions of these packs over the last 5 years give lots of opinions both ways. I would love to hear from owners/users of these packs what they still think of them now.

Any other packs in this general class - lightweight with enough frame to transfer all the weight to my hips if I want to - that anyone thinks I should also consider? Any packs in the review above come close for a long torso?

Thanks.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: osprey exos possible equiv to Roger (Caffins) MYOG external frame on 10/24/2010 15:35:08 MDT Print View

Hi Alan

The survey covered both the Exos 46 and the Exos 58. Nice packs.

Cheers

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: External Frame Packs? on 10/24/2010 15:38:09 MDT Print View

Hi Coin

The survey lists the available pack sizes. I was testing Medium in just about everything, but many of them have a Large model available.

Which one to choose? Ahhh... Very personal. 'Every body is subtly different ...' as they say on the planes.

Cheers

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: External Frame Packs? on 10/25/2010 12:46:16 MDT Print View

"The Aarn packs, and LuxerLite pack seem hopeful. Discussions of these packs over the last 5 years give lots of opinions both ways. I would love to hear from owners/users of these packs what they still think of them now."

I have used both of these, and in both cases they are nice packs, but I ended up using them without the front pockets. They just didn't work for me. however, if you like front pockets, I find the LuxuryLite pocket (and frame) to be more functional and cooler. I also ditched the LuxuryLite cylinders and modifies a GoLite Gust to attach to the frame. Excellent volume and comfortable carrying. Note: the LuxuryLite pocket restricts you vision more than the Aarn. Also note, I have both of these for sale. If you are interested, shoot me a PM and we can negotiate a price.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
frogs ... on 10/26/2010 06:24:59 MDT Print View

just a note for others that the french site i-trekkings has done a similar test with packs in roughly the same weight and volume range

note how the Decathlon Forclaz 50 Ultralight scored very high in comfort and on score/price while being the cheapest and lightest pack

just shows you what can be done ..

just use google translater on the links below



http://www.i-trekkings.net/bibliotheque/articles/tests/sacados/Test-sacados_comparatif.pdf


http://www.i-trekkings.net/Xdossiers/dossiers.php?val=29_comparatif+sac+dos+30++50+litres

Edited by bearbreeder on 10/26/2010 06:28:48 MDT.

Alan Bradley
(ahbradley)
exos 58 usage with no load thru hip belt on 10/27/2010 15:08:48 MDT Print View

Roger (Caffin):

I checked the articles 1A-C,2 butt did not find a mention of testing the exos 58 with no load bearing via the hip belt i.e. a comparison against the way your your external frame myog pack is used.

Do you still have one for a hip-beltless comparison against your external frame pack.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: exos 58 usage with no load thru hip belt on 12/16/2010 20:22:34 MST Print View

Hi Alan

Sorry, this dropped off the radar for a while.
Unfortunately no: the Exos packs were farmed out to Australian readers.

Cheers

Eric Botshon
(Ebotshon) - F
Exos 46 on 07/12/2011 10:36:03 MDT Print View

The review mentioned that the osprey pack was closer to 40 than 46 liters.

Any chance this test was done with a size small pack instead of the medium? The smal torso length pack is smaller than the stated 46.

Willem knopper
(willem65) - MLife
Exos Frame on 09/08/2011 15:41:10 MDT Print View

I have tried the Exos and I find them to be to very ridged, the pack does not move with you (back) at all. I personally think they are really just a fancy external frame pack. I did like the idea of the air flow but was just very disappointed how it restricted your movement especially if you were to use it doing any walking other than on the flat.

Regards

Phillip Damiano
(Phillipsart) - M

Locale: Australia
Jansport Big Bear on 03/22/2012 21:42:44 MDT Print View

Roger mentioned in one of his comments here:
(Yes, we kept a few, for specific functions. The rest have been passed on to Australian & NZ BPL members (kept the postage down) for further field testing. I expect that they will provide some Reader Reviews in due course).

I'm one of those Australian BPL member, I've recently acquired one of the Jansport Big Bear 63 prototype packs of Roger.
The pack has only been in my possession for a few weeks now, tested on day hikes including some rock climbing.
The Harness is very comfortable and the material is very durable. I've tested this on a Off-track hike recently with very thick vegetation. I got scratches over me, the pack survived with no scratches.

I'm yet to test it out as a Overnight hike, but I can't see it causing any problems there. It's a nice pack. I do like the colour that the prototype pack was supplied in with the orange trims.

This is an on going review, I will keep you's updated on my findings on my next overnight hike, which is not for another 3 weeks from today. In a couple days, I've got a day hike I'm planning on, I will pack all my overnight hiking gear into the pack for a test to see how the pack feels with some weight in it. My base weight is just under the 8Kg. I'll add a few litres of water to that, making a total weight of 11kg.

So far, I like the pack. It's not exactly on the ultra light weight at just under 1.5kg but it does have a good frame and harness.Jansport Big Bear Prototype Pack

Edited by Phillipsart on 03/22/2012 21:51:42 MDT.

Phillip Damiano
(Phillipsart) - M

Locale: Australia
Re: Jansport Big Bear on 03/24/2012 19:33:34 MDT Print View

Packed my hiking gear into the Jansport Big Bear pack yesterday and went for a walk around the block with apx 12kg load. Pack is comfortable, enough room for 5 or 6 days of food. No complaints.

Will be continuing wearing the pack with my gear on daily hikes for the next couple of weeks as training for an upcoming 3 day overnight hike in some steep terrain.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
"Pocket Man" on 06/14/2012 21:41:39 MDT Print View

I own an older - and IMHO better - version of the REI Flash 60. It's the REI Cruise UL 60 (2nd model). That pack absolutely NEEDED side pockets. Fortunately REI had "aftermarket" pockets at that time, but no longer.

I like side pockets because they store stuff I may need quickly like 1st aid kit, water treatment kit, toilet kit, potty kit, and things I don't want inside my pack
Like stove stuff including fuel. (For ex., ESBIT tabs smell fishy -like two other things I know of. ;O)

My REI pockets add 400 cu. in. each and make the pack "complete" in my dinosaur mind. Yeah, I'm a geezer and like exterior pockets. As another poster said of the Ospey EXOS that front "shovel" pocket is nice and can hold that wet tent, etc. Same goes for my Cruise UL 60 - which should really be called the "UL 50" - sorta like many post-recession 401-K funds should really be called "201-K" funds.

SPIRIDON Papapetroy
(spotlight) - F
Osprey Exos on 09/09/2012 21:15:47 MDT Print View

Has anyone had pain in the part of the body where the lower part of the frame touches it. I am a bit worried because it doesn't have any padding.