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?
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)|
|Options||Hydration sleeve, internal stow pocket, hipbelt pockets, rain cover, shoulder strap water bottle pouch, shoulder strap gear pouch, UL packlid|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.