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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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Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack Review
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E J
(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Prophet and Burn users - is the volume also higher than listed? on 04/01/2011 21:17:05 MDT Print View

Burn and Prophet users - are the actual volumes also higher than the listed volumes, and if so, by how much? That's a good thing for my purposes - I'm just trying to figure out if the Prophet would have the volume I'm looking for.

If the Prophet is higher volume than listed like the Exodus, perhaps the Prophet is more like 3500 cu. in. than its listed 2900 cu. in.?

Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
MLD Exodus Backpack on 04/04/2011 14:29:58 MDT Print View

Thanks Will for the Great Review !

(Note: Will reviewed the 2009/2010 Exodus he received in Jan/Feb of 2010. We have since improved and tweaked a quite a few details to make it an even better pack!)

****Update: August 2011: The Exodus is now slightly smaller in volume and a full suspension version is now available.****

We addressed all of Will's points and assume it would be A Highly Reccomended Rating now based on those small changes.

Here is some more info to help users think about the Exodus volume and other questions.

As Will noted, we offer four different size packs in the series- all with almost exactly the same features- only the 2200ci Burn has a couple of small changes from the larger three.

The 4400ci Ark, 3500ci Exodus and 2900ci Prophet are all pretty much the same design and share a robust feature package.

My sense from the article and from feedback from Will is that he would have given the Prophet a Highly Recommended rating because it does share all the same features of the Exodus at a smaller size- for him the Exodus was a little too much volume.

Many people and companies measure pack volume different - there is a an industry spec standard using small balls - but no exact way to say where/when the min and max usable amount in the extension collar starts/stops or how far to expand the exterior pockets, etc. - So there is some interpretation there and perhaps thats is the main area of difference in vulume perspective for this type of pack.

There is easy way to measure the MLD packs since they are fairly box shaped - W X D X H.

The Exodus in a LG is 12" Wide X 7.5" Deep X about 26" - 27" Tall = about 2400ci. That includes only a little of the extension collar. Our Extension collars are very tall if needed.

Exodus Specs:

• Total Maximum Volume: 3100ci main pack / 3500ci with filled extension collar
• Minimum Volume: 1800ci with compression and bottom volume reduction system engaged.
• Main Pack: 2400ci
• Main Outside Pocket: 400ci
• Side Pockets: 150ci + 150ci
• Extension Collar: 500ci

For size comparison- I measured two common packs the same way as I measured the Exodus main compartment.
- The Exodus main pack bag is about 100ci larger than the Golite Jam2 (the Exodus a much taller ext collar)
- The Exodus is about 400ci smaller than the Golite Pinnacle (the Exodus ext collar is a little taller.)

FAQ: Would you be better off with an Exodus or a Prophet?
A: If you could have only one, perhaps the Exodus is the way to go. I use it in the colder weather when I carry a slightly thicker or multiple sleep pads and lightweight but bulkier synthetic filled clothes and quilts/bags. The volume fills up fast with synthetic insulation but can always be compressed down with the three volume reduction features. The Exodus is large enough for most bear canisters that won't fit in smaller packs.
A: The Prophet is the way to go if you really have your LW gear dialed for med to low volume, you are mainly going to use it in for weather above maybe freezing or are primarily in dryer climates using more compressible down insulation or only use a smaller sleep pad.

Edited by mountainlaureldesigns on 12/07/2011 15:20:41 MST.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: MLD Exodus Backpack on 04/07/2011 18:20:08 MDT Print View

Well based on the review and the need for a larger volume pack for my JMT hike this summer, I purchased this pack today. Excited!!!! I needed a pack that was light and had this kind of volume. This will be my weeklong pack when I need to pack a cannister

Ross P Hemphill
(rbimli) - F

Locale: PNW
don't get it on 04/20/2011 21:25:27 MDT Print View

What I don't get is "pack structure hate." mountainwalker has said it all more clearly... Of course, I don't enjoy carrying rigid pieces (particularly single-use) any more than the rest of us. Seems to me a question of balance. (Isn't everything?)

What I'll say: isn't "ultralight" truly more about "ultraefficient" or "ultraappropriate" than actual weight? I think that for significant loads (found with long trips, techy winter trips, limited-water-supply desert trips, rough off-trail travel, etc) effective and very lightweight load transfer and stability structures make the load FEEL so much "lighter" (more comfortable/less painful).

Ron, I think mountainwalker is right concerning customer base. Just make it optional. I imagine you don't like stays, though.

OK, now I'm dropping it. For this thread. In closing I'll provide a link to the other BPL (UK, newspeak) featuring a Golite Jam modification which adds 161g: Ultralight ALICE. BTW, have you seen Roger's awesome packs? TTFN!

Edited by rbimli on 04/20/2011 21:35:51 MDT.

Cyrus Dietz
(CyCalvin)

Locale: Midwest
People on 05/01/2011 08:22:18 MDT Print View

It seams to me that know one would consider this pack if if Weighed what it would outfitted the way you are all talking. UL is a compromise as much as it is a nexus.

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
C'mon, stays - seriously? on 05/04/2011 05:10:43 MDT Print View

I really don't get this whole "I want stays" movement, and even recommending MLD to offer them optional. There's a reason these packs are called frameless. If you want a pack with frames, I reckon you will love the GG Gorilla (Will does) - or is it a Gorilla in DXG what you really fancy? A pack needs to be designed around stays, you can't just throw stays in there and expect that they work.

Also, by the look of it I'd recommend you pack the CCF pad in the Exodus as a burrito, that gives it a better structure and should transfer weight better than squeezing it together like in some of the photos above.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: C'mon, stays - seriously? on 05/04/2011 06:54:09 MDT Print View

Hendrik is correct. Adding stays as an afterthought does little good. There are very few sub 2 pound packs on the market right now that use stays as an integrated part of the suspension system, and consequently carry heavier weights well.

Thomas Hood
(ATTom) - F - M
pad straps on 07/02/2011 15:14:02 MDT Print View

For those who have mld pad straps or added their own pad bungees ...could you all post a pic?

Ceph Lotus
(Cephalotus) - MLife

Locale: California
Exodus with stays released today on 09/06/2011 15:52:26 MDT Print View

Looks like the MLD folks are listening to you. They released a new Exodus today with stays...or rather a suspension system that uses a Carbon Fiber/Delrin frame and a inflatable back panel.

http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=25&products_id=185

Edited by Cephalotus on 09/06/2011 15:54:06 MDT.

Tim Haynes
(timalan)

Locale: Mid Atlantic
MLD Exodus full-suspension on 09/06/2011 16:17:38 MDT Print View

Looks awesome, but ~$300 (with belt pockets), is too steep for me. Still, seems like a great pack design with some ideas that will hopefully be incorporated into other packs.