Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review

A higher volume (59 L) durable fabric frameless backpack with superb design, construction, and options.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

Superb pack design, durable materials, and quality construction all come together in the MLD Exodus pack. However, my pack volume measurements discovered the Exodus is 550 cubic inches (9 L) larger than specified. With a total of 4050 cubic inches (66 L), the Exodus is in need of a some volume reduction plus a removable stay system to help carry moderate loads with reasonable comfort.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

Formerly called the Zip, the current Exodus backpack is a larger volume (59 L) frameless backpack suitable for week-long trips using ultralight gear. It has volume reduction clips and loops at the bottom of the pack to reduce volume, making it usable for smaller loads and shorter duration trips. And numerous options are available to customize the pack to your heart’s content. So, how versatile is the Exodus?

Specifications

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 1
The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus frameless backpack packed with ultralight gear for an overnight backpacking trip.

Year/Model 2010 Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus www.mountainlaureldesigns.com
Style Frameless backpack with attached hipbelt, top loading, roll down top with top compression strap
Volume 3600 cubic inches (59 L) including pockets and extension collar
Weight Size Large tested. Measured weight 15 oz (425 g); manufacturer specification 15 oz (425 g) size M
Sizes Available Unisex S, M, L
Fabrics Dyneema X, 4 oz sq/yd2 (135.6 g/m2) 210d nylon with a white 210 Dyneema ripstop grid reinforcement at 0 and 90 degrees; 4 oz/yd2 (135.6 g/m2). Tough Mesh pockets
Features Durable fabrics, removable sternum strap with whistle buckle, removable frontpanel bungie system, 1 large mesh front pocket with elastic binding, 2 mesh side pockets with drawcord closure, 2 side compression straps, 12 in (30 cm) extension collar, drawcord closure and top compression strap, SuperWick Mesh lined shoulder straps and hipbelt, 2 ice axe loops, haul loop, volume reduction clips and loops, 2 hydration hose ports
Volume to Weight Ratio 240 in3/oz (based on 3600 in3 and measured weight of 15 oz (size Large)
Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity 20 lb (9.1 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio 21.3 (based on 20 lb and a measured weight of 0.94 lb)
MSRP US$185
Options Hydration sleeve, internal stow pocket, hipbelt pockets, rain cover, shoulder strap water bottle pouch, shoulder strap gear pouch, UL packlid

Description

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 2
The Exodus frameless backpack is one of four frameless backpacks of similar design offered by MLD, differing mainly in volume. From smallest to largest, the packs in the series are: Burn (2200 in3/36 L), Prophet (2900 in3/47.5 L), Exodus (3600 in3/59 L), and Ark (4200 in3/69 L). All are constructed of durable Dyneema X fabric and have essentially the same feature set and options. Note: these manufacturer photos do not show the comparative size differences among the packs.

The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus is a typical design for a top-loading frameless backpack, it has a drawcord and rolltop closure with top strap and mesh pockets on the front and sides. What is different about the Exodus (and the other three packs in the series) is: 1) they are constructed of high quality and durable fabrics and mesh, 2) the pack design gets the details just right, 3) they are exceptionally well made with plenty of reinforcements at stress points, and 4) a variety of options is offered so you can configure a pack just the way you want it.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 3
Views of the MLD Exodus Pack: The frontpanel (top left) has a large mesh pocket with elastic top binding (I didn’t install the front bungie system, shown in the previous photo, because I didn’t need it). The backpanel (top right) does not have any ventilated padding, just fabric against your back. Each side (bottom left) has a mesh pocket with drawcord closure and one compression strap. The top (bottom right) has a rolldown closure with top compression strap. This is a classic design, so there is nothing unusual.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 4
Closeup of the pack’s exterior mesh pockets: The front pocket (left) is bellowed and holds a lot of gear. The side pockets (right) are smaller and barely large enough to hold lightweight rainwear (jacket and pants) in one pocket. A water bottle in either side pocket is reachable with the pack on.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 5
The pack’s suspension system consists of 3-inch (7.6-cm) wide padded shoulder straps and padded hipbelt wings that are 4 inches wide tapering to 1.75 inches wide (10.2 cm to 4.5 cm). Both are 0.5-inch (1.3-cm) thick and faced on the inside with 3D mesh.

Performance

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 6
Ah wilderness! Exploring scenic remote alpine country while carrying a light pack.

To be frank, I struggled with the high volume of the Exodus pack. In fact, I violated one of the key considerations when choosing a frameless backpack: choose a pack with a volume capacity that matches the usual volume of your gear kit. The reason for this is that a fully expanded frameless backpack is firmer, so it transfers weight and carries better than a partially filled pack. If I had followed that rule, I would have chosen the Prophet instead of the Exodus, but I reviewed the Prophet a few years ago (when it was a silnylon pack with a different design). Most of the time while I tested the Exodus, the pack had 50% more volume than I needed. So much of my testing focused on different approaches to fill up the extra volume.

As part of the Frameless Backpack State of the Market Report I am currently working on, I measured the actual volume of the Exodus and found it to be a whopping 550 cubic inches (9 L) larger than specified. Rather than 3500 cubic inches (57 L), the Exodus is 4050 cubic inches (66 L)! That explains the problems I was having with my gear disappearing inside the Exodus, and revives old memories of my first frameless backpack, the Gossamer Gear G4. The problem with these large volume frameless backpacks is that it’s hard to fill them with gear to create a fully extended pack with a “virtual frame” to transfer weight to the hips. If I did fill up all that volume with backpacking gear and food, the pack weight would far exceed its comfortable carrying capacity. Bottom line, MLD needs to take some volume out of the Exodus and design it to accept removable contoured stays to assist with pack stiffening and weight transfer.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 7
Fortunately, the Exodus pack has two volume reduction clips and loops at the bottom front of the pack (left), just below the front pocket, analogous to GoLite’s ComPACKtor system. The volume reduction system, in combination with the side compression straps, effectively reduce pack volume for smaller loads. The right photo shows the Exodus used as a day pack with the pack’s compression system completely tightened and a closed cell foam pad (Gossamer Gear NightLight) inside.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 8
On backpacking trips, a folded closed cell foam pad against the backpanel helps tremendously to take up extra volume and to create a “virtual frame” to make the pack carry better and add weight carrying capacity.

The Exodus is capable of carrying a heavier load if a stiff folded closed cell foam pad is placed against the backpanel or coiled inside the pack. However, without the extra stiffening, the Exodus is like most frameless packs - the normal comfortable load carrying capacity is around 20 pounds (9.1 kg), or a little more if you have a strong back.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review - 9
Options supplied with the pack for my testing included a packlid with zippered pocket (left), shoulder strap water bottle pocket (center), and hipbelt pockets (right). A lightweight shoulder strap gear pouch, hydration sleeve, and internal stow pocket are also available. All are well designed and removable.

I found the MLD pack accessories to be very useful. The top cover attaches easily, adds an extra pocket on top, makes the pack look more attractive, and helps to shed showers. I especially like the well-designed shoulder strap mounted water bottle pocket for backpacking in the mountains where water is plentiful. Likewise, the shoulder strap gear pouch is nice if you use a GPS a lot or carry a MP3 player. I tested the hydration sleeve, and it works very well, but I find it more convenient to carry a partially filled hydration system in a side pocket because it’s easier to refill (and for that reason I wish one of the side pockets were taller). Finally the mesh internal stow pocket is nice for secure storage, and it uses the same clips as the hydration sleeve. The beauty of these pack accessories is they are all removable, so you can choose the options you want for each trip.

Comparisons

Comparative specifications can be found in my Frameless Backpack State of the Market Report 2011 (coming soon), and will not be repeated here. The packs most comparable to the MLD Exodus are the Z-Packs Dyneema X, Six Moon Designs Swift, ULA CDT, and Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus. However, the Exodus is larger.

Assessment

There are lighter frameless backpacks available, made of lighter, less durable fabrics. For example, the Z-Pack Dyneema X 32 pack can be had in Cuben Fiber, with a weight savings of 6.8 ounces (193 g), and at the same cost as the Dyneema X fabric (the weight saving for the same pack made of silnylon is about half of that). So, the weight difference is substantial, but the durability difference is substantial too. Dyneema X is a superb fabric for backpacks, so purchasing a backpack made with this fabric is an investment in longevity. Further, Mountain Laurel Designs’ construction is superb. In their own words: “the seams are double stitched, felled, and we use many bartacks - more than 2X the seam stitching versus other budget packs.” So, if your preference is for a more durable, long-lasting frameless backpack, this is one to consider.

I didn’t compare the MLD Exodus with backpacks that have removable stays because that’s a different breed of pack that I discuss separately in the Frameless Backpack State of the Market Report. For a larger frameless pack like the Exodus and Ark, it would be nice if MLD would offer removable contoured stays as an option; there are times when everyone needs to carry a heavier load, like a week-long trip or after a re-supply, and the stays would help to transfer some weight. Removable stays do not convert a frameless pack into a full-fledged internal frame backpack, but they do assist with pack stiffening and load transfer, so a pack like the Exodus could carry a 25-pound (11.3-kg) load more comfortably.

As with any pack, it’s important to choose the proper torso size for a good fit, and in a frameless pack to select a pack with a volume capacity to match your backpacking kit. MLD makes the same pack design in four different volumes, so it’s easy to find a good match. Realistically, it’s best to choose a pack with a bit larger volume than your gear kit.

Overall, the Exodus is an exceptionally well designed and constructed frameless backpack. The components are meticulously sourced. MLD offers all the options a la carte when you purchase a pack, and they are all removable so you can configure the pack for each trip. It all comes together as one of the very best frameless backpacks on the market.

What’s Good

  • Volume reduction system
  • Three torso lengths (plus custom sizes) to fit most hikers
  • Four pack models with different volume capacities
  • Removable accessories
  • Durable fabrics and mesh
  • Large mesh front pocket for convenient access to items needed on the trail
  • Very sturdily built, with adequate reinforcements
  • Fits well (if you choose the correct size)
  • Comfortably carries moderate loads

What’s Not So Good

  • Durable fabric and mesh add weight
  • Removable stays not offered as an option

Recommendations For Improvement

  • Make one of the mesh side pockets taller

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/mountain_laurel_designs_exodus_backpack_review.html, 2011-03-22 00:05:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/22/2011 16:32:38 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review

Skip Booth
(the1skipper) - MLife

Locale: Southeast
MLD Exodus Review on 03/22/2011 18:59:15 MDT Print View

Will,

Another great review! I'm really looking forward to your state of the market on frameless packs.

I'm curious what you impressions where regarding the hip belt pockets? I recently purchased an Exodus from a fellow BPL member and I was extremely pleased with the pack design. That being said, I just can't get the hip belt pockets to work correctly. They seem to have a tendency to either bunch up if they are attached to the shoulder straps or slide/fall off the hip belt if not anchored to the shoulder straps. I'm curious what your experience was here?

I also missed the integrated internal pad sleeve from my ULA Conduit, especially since I'm a hammock camper and like to just use a small pad to offer some padding from my gear and my back. That's not a show stopper for me but more of a convenience issue. In comparing packs though I find that the assumption that we all carry a torso/full pad not necessarily a valid assumption. Maybe something to consider in your roundup?

Thanks
-Skip

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Nice on 03/22/2011 20:56:42 MDT Print View

Will, I enjoyed the review of the MLD frameless pack. I'm a ways off from really being using something this minimum, mostly because of having to carry a bear canister. But nevertheless, did enjoy reading about this pack. And can't wait for your State of the State on Backpacks. Hopefully that report will address the lightest ways to comfortably carry a bear can. BTW, noticed you were in your favorite windshirt.

Dave Heiss
(DaveHeiss) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Ark/Exodus on 03/22/2011 23:58:26 MDT Print View

I'm a huge fan of the existing MLD Ark/Exodus pack design. I particularly like that it's an ultralight pack that's built to last. Yes there are other frameless packs that are lighter, and if that particular attribute is an overriding concern, then choices are plentiful.

There are other packs that offer removable frame stays, but that's a deceptive benefit because the (resupply) conditions where you say they'd be useful are the same conditions where a frameless pack will likely be full and taut and delivering the best percentage of weight to the hipbelt.

I believe the Ark/Exodus packs offer the highest quality combination of bomber materials, brilliantly simple design, and a useful but not excessive feature set. I love mine, and I wouldn't change a thing.

Ryan Linn
(ryan.c.linn)

Locale: Maine!
Re: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/23/2011 06:12:29 MDT Print View

I do love my Exodus. From your pictures I can see that the one thing I would have changed in the design from mine (a 2008 model) has been changed-- more bellow to the mesh pockets, since I can barely fit a 20 oz gatorade bottle in the side pockets with mine.

The Exodus is my first and only frameless pack, so it's interesting to me that you say it's so much larger than it needs to be. I agree that you can fit a lot of stuff in there. I'll have to test out some smaller packs later on, but I'm definitely pleased with what I've got. In some ways I keep waiting for this pack to die so I can justify getting a newer, smaller, lighter pack (maybe a Prophet, maybe something else), but after nearly 3000 miles my Exodus is in the same condition it was after my first trip with it. It just won't die. So I'd say the durability makes for a good value.

Robert Carver
(Rcarver) - MLife

Locale: Southeast TN
Re: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/23/2011 07:07:25 MDT Print View

I absolutely love the whole MLD pack line. I use my Exodus for winter loads. Prophet for early spring and late fall loads. The Burn for the rest of the year.

I like the fact that they are all made the same way. The only thing I would change, would to be add straps to hold a pad in place against the inside back panel. I should have had Ron add this when I placed my order.

All in all. Ron has a great pack line up in my opinion and I hope he does not make any radical changes to it.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: Re: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/23/2011 07:33:09 MDT Print View

These are def some great packs. I am still using my 4-5 year old MLD Super Zip which is the same basic design. I too found the extra volume to be abit annoying. I have recently resolved this by converting the pack to a rolltop closure. Def does the trick. I also added two bungee straps to the inside similar to the ULA Conduit/CDT to hold my sleeping pad down.

Nathan Lare
(cirque) - MLife
Re:Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/23/2011 20:03:40 MDT Print View

Will,

Thanks for the review. As a point of reference, could you please post the gear list you used for your testing? I think this would help to determine is this pack is a good "fit" for people who are considering a new pack.

Also, do you have a projection for when your report on frameless packs will be published?

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/24/2011 01:36:30 MDT Print View

Will - Thanks for the review.

Very interesting to hear that the volume of the Exodus is greater than advertised, that explains alot.

When I bought my Exodus I had the same problem as you and found it hard to fill it up adequately. Even with the volume reduction clips in use it was too large for weekend trips and I found it carried a bit weird with the volume reduction clips engaged.

I ended up buying a Burn and that's been the answer for me. While I like the Exodus for carrying my bulkier loads (fishing waders, boots etc.) the Burn's tall slim profile fits my regular gear much better for any trip up to 5 days.

Steven Berg
(Fjalltindr) - MLife
Hipbelt Pockets on 03/24/2011 10:38:58 MDT Print View

Skip,

There's a small webbing loop on the pack where the hip-belt attach, and another on the pocket that should be attached using a z-clip. Are you attaching the pocket to that or to the shoulder strap? Once I got that sorted out, my pocket doesn't seem to bunch or fall off.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/27/2011 05:04:00 MDT Print View

My Exodus' shoulder straps have flattened out.

I'd be bummed with most of the recommendations. I find the volume to be perfect for thru hiking. And I prefer frameless packs to framed ones. Its a review of frameless packs right?

Edited by Found on 04/08/2011 22:31:51 MDT.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Re: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review on 03/27/2011 05:11:34 MDT Print View

Instead of folding your pad, let it unroll. It'll give your pack the structure that you desire.

I find maximum comfortable carry to be about 25 lbs (I've carried up to 42lbs in it).

E J
(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
would be ideal pack for me with removable curved stay on 03/27/2011 16:22:58 MDT Print View

This may be heresy to some but the Exodus with a REMOVABLE curved stay and a longer side pocket would be ideal for me. It would be easy for MLD to add it plus pad straps against the back ala GG Gorilla - and making the stay removable allows you the flexibility of not using it when you don't need it.

The GG Gorilla is a great pack but I'd like extra volume for when I need it. Some will then suggest the Mariposa Plus, but the Mariposa carries the load farther from the back than the Gorilla, and the materials are far less durable. Give me an MLD Exodus with removable curved stay and pad straps or a higher volume GG Gorilla. Pretty please MLD and GG?

As for volume, I want the flexibility of the extra volume as long as I can compress the pack easily when I don't need it.

Ross P Hemphill
(rbimli) - F

Locale: PNW
minor error on 03/28/2011 11:59:48 MDT Print View

66 liters is 7 greater than 59, not 9 as stated.

Ross P Hemphill
(rbimli) - F

Locale: PNW
removable stays and whatnot on 03/28/2011 12:16:56 MDT Print View

I'm with E J (mountainwalker) here.. I find it odd that many of the ultralight packs continue to have no stays or other structure, even when high-volume, or as an option. I understand that one might have a bulky, low density load (winter puffiness), but is that really the most common scenario? With typical food/water/toy loads for longer or winter trips, I'd think that the structure is usually well worth the spent weight, particularly if off-trail.

Rick Horne
(Rick778) - M

Locale: NorCal - South Bay - Campbell
Re: removable stays and whatnot on 03/28/2011 15:58:11 MDT Print View

+1

Thomas Trebisky
(trebisky)

Locale: Southern Arizona
I love this pack. on 03/30/2011 16:40:07 MDT Print View

I have one of these and have used it for several week long trips. I have no complaints whatsoever. I think the people who would add stays and beams and braces are crazy and/or smoking crack. The only thing I might consider if I were to order another of these, would be to ask if I could get the pack without a waist belt, it has always seemed superfluous for loads of 30 pounds and under, to me that is (of course). A great little pack and I am glad to have a bit more durability at the price of a bit more weight! Glad to see it reviewed. I have thought of getting the next larger pack (the Ark) to have enough volume for a more bulky synthetic quilt or bag.

E J
(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
lots of people smokin' something on 04/01/2011 14:01:49 MDT Print View

Thomas, apparently there are a large number of people who are crazy and/or smoking crack. Seriously though, I share your enthusiasm for the Exodus - my comments and those of the reviewer and others are not a complaint about the excellent pack design, but rather a request for an additional feature/capability that would great enhance its use range and comfort.

I and other potential customers are not asking for a permanent stay, but rather a removable stay - the weight penalty for a few loops to hold a removable stay and two pad loops against the back is negligible (the pad loops are an option that MLD does). Also see feedback from the many users of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla - I have never heard a Gorilla user complain about having the option of a removable curved 3.4 oz stay, and have only heard raves about the comfort and load carrying it adds. Having tried it recently, I fully agree - though I'd prefer volume closer to that of the Exodus as long as there's good compression.

In addition, the more supportive Ark hip belt is offered as an option on the Exodus for a reason. A well-designed stay and hip belt helps take weight off the shoulders - important for anyone carrying a heavier load or needing to protect/rest their back. Your back takes a lot of stress backpacking or running - anything you can do to share the load is going to be helpful over the long run. Your back might be able to take it now, but this may come at the expense of later...I know one local highly experienced very fit lightweight backpacker who recently sold his Ark after many months trying to make it work only because of the lack of a stay.

I have asked experienced users of this pack for the max comfortable load capability and the answer has always come back max 20lbs. There are plenty of situations where you will start a trip with more than 20lbs, or remain at above 20 lbs especially if you are carrying supplies for others. A removable stay will help quite a bit in those situations.

Ron and MLD, hope you guys are listening. I and quite a few other people I know would snap this pack up with a curved removable stay and pad loops.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
MLD Packs on 04/01/2011 14:08:50 MDT Print View

I love my MLD packs. Super strong Dyneema, and no gimmicks.
Start adding stays and other stuff, and i'll look elsewhere. Plenty mainstream manufacturers do that kind of gear.
Don't listen to those evil voices Ron. :)

E J
(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Listen to all the voices and offer it as an OPTION! on 04/01/2011 14:38:08 MDT Print View

Ron, there's no need to choose one or the other. Offer them as options and you'll greatly expand the user base and sales, without harming one group or the other.

Mike, there's no need to threaten Ron for innovating solutions that meet the needs of a much wider group of users. Why would you walk if Ron offered a stay and pad holding straps as an option that you don't have to order???

Ron, if Mike walks, there'll be hundreds more lining up to take his place.