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Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW

Does the perfect frameless backpack exist? The Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet comes pretty darn close.

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by Will Rietveld | 2006-08-01 03:00:00-06

Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW

Introduction

The Mountain Laurel Designs SuperUltraLight Prophet packs have been revamped for 2006. The Prophet 20, Prophet 30, and Prophet 40 are replaced with the Prophet Pack, which now comes in sizes Small, Medium, and Large. That’s where the simplification ends, because each of the new packs has different specifications. With MLD packs, the size refers to the bag size, not the pack torso length. The torso length is custom with each order. I can unequivocally say that the Prophet is now my favorite frameless backpack, and in this review I explain why.

What’s Good

  • Right-sized for UltraLight and SuperUltraLight backpacking
  • Very well designed and constructed
  • Removable included accessories
  • Large capacity front mesh pocket
  • Very useful optional sternum pocket
  • Very comfortable to carry with up to 20 pound loads

What’s Not So Good

  • Front mesh pocket could be taller
  • Top Y-strap easily gets twists in it

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Mountain Laurel Designs (www.mountainlaureldesigns.com)

  Year/Model

2006 Prophet, size Large

  Style

Frameless, top loading, drawcord closure with top strap

  Sizes

Three bag sizes available, torso length is custom to order

  Volume

Small 1,800 ci (29.5 L), Medium 2,100 ci (34.4 L), Large (2,600 ci (42.6 L)

  Weight

Size Large tested, 6.1 oz (173 g) measured weight without accessories, manufacturer’s specification 6 oz (170 g). Mfr. Specification for size Small is 5 oz (142 g), and for size Medium is 4 oz (113 g)

  Fabrics

Sizes Small and Large are 1.35 oz/yd2 silnylon, size Medium is 0.97 oz/yd2 Spinntex (spinnaker cloth); backpanel is 1.9 oz/yd2 coated ripstop nylon

  Features

Detachable waist strap with whistle, detachable sternum strap, detachable bungee system, detachable water bottle holders, wrap-around front mesh pocket with elastic binding, 2.5 inch ( cm) wide padded shoulder straps, one ice axe loop, drawcord top closure with Y-top strap

  Included Accessories

Waist strap (1 oz), sternum strap (0.75 oz), bungee system (1 oz) , 2 elastic water bottle holders (0.5 oz)

  Options

Sternum pocket with water-resistant zipper (0.5 oz/$20)

  Volume To Weight Ratio

426.2 ci/oz size (based on 2,600 ci and a measured weight of 6.1 oz)

  Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

20 lb (9.07 kg) estimated maximum comfortable load an average person can carry all day in this pack

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

52.6 (based on a 20 lb load and measured weight of 0.38 lb)

  MSRP

Small is $100, Medium is $110, Large is $125

Performance

Before I launch into its features and usability, I want to clarify the differences between the different sizes available. The current size Medium is the old Prophet 30. It is made of spinnaker fabric and comes with a full set of detachable accessories. Sizes Small and Large are made of more durable silnylon and have beefier hardware. Size Small is actually a kid’s pack, and has two torso adjustment bungees attached to the shoulder straps that provide for 2 to 3 inches of torso growth.

Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW - 1
Views of the new MLD Prophet pack in size Large. The front (top left) has a large wrap-around mesh pocket with an elastic binding that attaches to the top Y-strap. The backpanel view (top right) shows its wide padded shoulder straps and attachments for water bottles. MLD’s “Prophet Pocket” is a silnylon sternum pouch that attaches to the sternum strap. The side view (bottom, left) shows the bungee compression that is included with the pack. The top view (bottom right) shows the drawcord closure and Y-strap.

Although this review is focused on the Prophet as a SuperUltraLight backpack, the application depends on the pack size chosen. Size Small at 1,800 cubic inches is the same size as MLD’s Revelation pack, and could be just the right size for a sub-4 pound base weight fastpacking trip. In size Medium (2,100 cubic inches) the Prophet is clearly targeted at SUL backpacking. However, in size Large (2,600 cubic inches), the Prophet is small and light enough to use for SUL trips but has enough volume to easily handle multi-day ultralight backpacking trips with a 5-8 pound base weight.

It’s also important to note that the MLD pack sizes refer to the volume of the bag, not the torso fit range. The pack torso is made to order. So, when you purchase a MLD pack you are essentially getting a custom pack. To illustrate the point, the size Large I tested was supposed to be constructed of silnylon, but it came in .97 Spinntex (spinnaker cloth). Bottom line, Ron Bell at MLD likes to deviate from the specifications, and will readily sew a pack to fit your preferences.

With SUL backpacks, the contest is to get it as light as possible, and MLD is on the cutting edge of lightness. One way to make the base pack as light as possible is to make several components detachable, so they can be excluded from the pack weight. MLD craftily did that with the Prophet, designing the waist strap, sternum strap, bottle holders, and bungee attachment system as detachable components. MLD also claimed that the drawcord closure is “detachable” (but I didn’t buy into that; it’s included in my measured pack weight). The advantage of this approach is the user can configure the pack exactly the way he or she wants it. My measured weight of all the accessories (including the optional sternum pocket) is 3.2 ounces, so the pack in size Large with all accessories and options adds up to 9.3 ounces (or 6.0 ounces when stripped of all accessories).

My preference was to use the Prophet fully accessorized. The additional components added very little weight (3.2 ounces) and added a lot of utility in terms of stability, comfort, and ease of use. I used one bottle bungee on the left shoulder strap, and found it extremely convenient to keep a 20-ounce bottle of water handy to grab without taking the pack off. I also loved the optional 8-inch x 8-inch silnylon sternum pouch which attaches to the sternum strap. It has a water-resistant zipper and kept a bunch of essentials (notebook and pencil, map, snacks, water treatment, etc.) handy, again without having to take the pack off.

Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW - 2
Although you can strip the Prophet down to 6 ounces, I really liked the accessories included with the pack, namely the sternum and waist straps, bottle bungees on the shoulder straps, and the optional “Prophet Pocket”. The pack weight with these accessories is 8.3 ounces, 9.3 ounces if you add the bungee attachment system to the front of the pack.

I tested the Prophet on four multi-day backpacks with total pack weight ranging from 14.5 to 19.8 pounds. I found that the sternum and waist straps definitely improved the pack’s stability on off-trail explorations where I didn’t want the pack to shift when I was working my way down ledges or crossing sliderock fields. The Prophet was surprisingly comfortable to carry, in spite of the fact its torso length of 18 inches was a little short for me (see top photo, unfortunately I didn’t get to specify the torso length I wanted). Its weight carrying capacity was helped by its 2.5 inch wide padded shoulder straps. With the pack body tightly packed, I found that I could shift approximately half of the weight to my hips via the pack’s “virtual frame”.

Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW - 3
The Prophet’s shoulder straps (left) are 2.5 inches wide and adequately padded with 0.4 inch thick foam and spacer mesh. The right photo shows details of the bottom shoulder strap attachment and detachable waist strap.

I’m a big fan of outside mesh pockets on a frameless pack, and I especially liked the wrap-around front mesh pocket on the Prophet. It holds a lot of stuff and keeps it secure with a strong elastic drawcord and cordlock at the top. My preference would be for a taller front mesh pocket so it would hold more yet.

The bungee attachment system provided with the Prophet can be attached to either the upper or lower front of the pack. I didn’t use it, but it provides some additional attachment capability for a wet tent or poncho, or carrying a sleeping pad or clothing on the outside of the pack. The top Y-strap snaps into a buckle at the top center of the mesh pocket to provide some top compression and help hold gear under the bungee system. The bungee attachment system also provides moderately effective volume compression for this smaller pack.

Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW - 4
Included with the Prophet is a front bungee attachment system (1 ounce) that can be attached to the upper part of the pack (left) or over the front pocket (right). The upper attachment has more utility for attaching items to the outside of the pack and providing some volume compression.

I found the Prophet to be quite durable (with reasonable care) for a SUL pack. The spinnaker fabric used by MLD is very high quality and holds up well (Note: the specification for the size Large pack is silnylon, unless requested otherwise.) Also, the mesh used for the front mesh pocket is surprisingly durable for its light weight.

Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW - 5
The mesh used for the front pocket is remarkably durable for its weight, but its not invincible.

Assessment

The MLD Prophet pack is very well designed and constructed. It’s just the right size for SUL mountain travel. The user can customize it to a large extent by ordering the pack with specific materials and sizing (fabric, pack torso length) and configuring it for each trip with detachable accessories (sternum strap, waist strap, bottle bungies, bungee attachment system). MLD’s “Prophet Pocket” (a sternum pocket) is extremely handy, and I strongly recommend getting it.

Although this review is focused on using the Prophet as a SUL backpack, in size Large it has plenty of room to serve as a multi-day ultralight backpack. The standard silnylon pack body is more durable and waterproof than spinnaker cloth (reviewed here), and weighs only 0.25 ounce more.

On the trail, the Prophet was a SUL star. It carried loads up to 20 pounds very comfortably and stably. Because of its versatility, comfort, and user-friendliness the Prophet has become my frameless pack of choice for backpacking with a base pack weight of 5-8 pounds. At $125 for size Large, it’s a good value considering the fact you’re getting a custom pack. The Prophet was also a standout in our SuperUltraLight Backpacks Review Summary.

What’s Unique

The Prophet pack comes with included detachable accessories so the user can configure the pack for each trip, or remove them to save weight.

Recommendations for Improvement

MLD has a winner with the Prophet pack. The only suggestion I have is to make the front mesh pocket a little taller.


Citation

"Mountain Laurel Designs 2006 Prophet Backpack REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/mountain_laurel_designs_2006_prophet_backpack_review.html, 2006-08-01 03:00:00-06.

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