Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW

Built for the gear-obsessed SUL crowd, the 3.2 ounce Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation pack is the lightest pack on the market while still offering a usable set of features. Further, it is the first commercially-available pack to be constructed of high-tech Cuben Fiber fabric. Impressive – yes, but how does it stand up to the rigors of off-trail hiking?

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by Doug Johnson | 2006-08-01 03:00:00-06

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW

Introduction

The Revelation is an all-new SuperUltraLight (SUL) pack from Mountain Laurel Designs, a company known for pushing the limits of ultralight backpacking. Designed for only the most trim and focused kits, this 1,850 cubic inch (30.3 L) pack is simplistic but functional and weighs a scant 3.2 ounces. Further, it is the first pack available that is constructed of Cuben Fiber, a Spectra fiber and Mylar film laminate fabric that is used primarily for high-end sailboat sails.

What’s Good

  • The lightest 1,850 cubic inch pack on the market - only 3.2 ounces!
  • Perfectly sized for low volume sub-5 pound SUL loads
  • Functional outside front pocket and bungee system
  • Strong, waterproof, and wicked cool Cuben Fiber main bag
  • Beautiful craftsmanship and good reinforcements at critical areas
  • Optional removable accessories

What’s Not So Good

  • Quick release buckles are easily broken if cinched too hard (will be replaced with a stronger 5/8-inch buckle in production models)
  • Sewn on sternum strap is too short and too low
  • Cuben Fiber fabric, while strong, is not very puncture resistant (although according to MLD it’s more puncture resistant than normal spinnaker cloth)
  • Ice axe loop is too long
  • Ultralight materials need to be treated gently

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Mountain Laurel Designs (www.mountainlaureldesigns.com)

  Year/Model

2006 Revelation

  Style

Frameless, top loading, drawcord closure with top strap

  Sizes

One size, custom torso length

  Volume

1,850 ci (30.3 L) including outside pocket, 1,500 (24.6 L) main bag only

  Weight

3.2 oz (91 g) measured weight as tested without bungee system; manufacturer’s specification 2.8 oz (78 g) stripped

  Fabrics

Main pack body is Cuben Fiber (MLD calls it Spectralite .60), which is a spectra fiber and Mylar film laminate 0.60 oz/ yd2 (22 g/m2) custom made for Mountain Laurel Designs; pocket and drawstring trim are PU coated spinnaker cloth 0.85 oz/yd2 (33 g/m2), shoulder straps are PU coated spinnaker 0.85 oz/yd2 (33 g/m2) with 3D Mesh backed 3/8 in foam padding

  Features

Top-loading main pack bag with spectra drawstring top (removable), shoulder straps padded in shoulder area only, sternum strap (can be cut off), single outside pocket, single ice axe loop, single top compression strap

  Options

Included accessories are: bungee system [0.3 oz (8 g)], shoulder strap bungee set for water bottles [0.4 oz (11 g)]; a sternum pouch is available [0.7 oz (20 g), $15]; custom configurations also available such as extra shoulder padding, taller extension skirt, waist belt, etc.

  Volume To Weight Ratio

578.1 ci/oz size M/L (based on 1,850 ci and a measured weight of 3.2 oz, without options)

  Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

12 lb (5.4 kg) estimated maximum comfortable load an average person can carry all day in this pack; manufacturer claim is 15 pounds (6.8 kg)

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

60.0 (based on a 12 lb load and measured weight of 0.2 lb)

  MSRP

$95

Performance

Mountain Laurel Designs is a small company that has developed a reputation of pushing the limits of ultralight backpacking with its cutting edge designs. The all-new Revelation pack is proof of that claim. It’s the first pack constructed primarily of Cuben Fiber, a polyester film laminate sail material, which is sure to draw the attention of the most gear-obsessed ultralighter.

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW - 1
The Revelation is a perfect size for SUL trips, such as this fastpack into Washington’s Alpine Lakes high country.

At just 1,850 cubic inches (30.3 liters), the Revelation is specifically focused on SUL trips where less volume is needed. Being experienced and obsessed with SUL backpacking, I found the volume to be more than adequate for my sub-5 pound loads. With my down quilt, spinnaker tarp and bivy, small stove, synthetic pullover, and minimal extra clothes and gear, I found the pack to have enough extra room inside for several day’s worth of food. The outside pocket snugly accommodates two 1 liter Platypus bottles as well as a map and small camera while the front bungee system will hold a torso pad, a rain jacket, and other items. An ice axe loop adds functionality for early season trips or off-trail adventures.

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW - 2
The PU-coated spinnaker cloth outer pocket (left) is more abrasion resistant than the Cuben Fiber main pack and will hold up to two 1 liter Platypus bottles. The shoulder straps (right) are faced with the same spinnaker cloth. The backpanel is waterproof Cuben Fiber fabric, and kept my gear totally dry during sweaty summer hiking. The shoulder straps have attachment points for the optional sternum pouch.

At only 3.2 ounces the Mountain Laurel Designs pack is the lightest backpack on the market. And that is for a pack that includes an outside pocket, well-thought out reinforcements, a sternum strap, and padded shoulder straps. The included bungee system adds just 0.3 ounce to the pack’s weight and boosts carrying options.

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW - 3
The two-inch wide padded shoulder straps (left) are comfortable for up to 12 pound loads. The shoulder strap adjusters (right) are quite strong and durable and are double looped so they can be tied to a fixed length in the field should buckle breakage occur.

The two-inch wide shoulder straps are comfortable when carrying loads up to 12 pounds but the lack of a waist belt makes loads beyond that range uncomfortable. The sternum strap should help with heavier loads but like the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 25 I reviewed last year; it is too low and too short to be usable for my tall, medium build frame. It is also non-adjustable. While I didn’t use the sternum strap, I also didn’t miss it; the shoulder straps fit quite comfortably. When stuffed, the main pack bag forms a round cylinder but it’s easily contoured using the “punching technique”. Simply fill the pack with soft items against your back, punch the back panel into a more flat shape, and you’re good to go.

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW - 4
The sternum strap (left) is too low to be comfortable and too short to be very functional for my medium build. With a pair of scissors the sternum strap was easily removed, saving 0.2 ounce. The Revelation comes with removable shoulder strap bungees for attaching water bottles adventure racer style.

Cuben Fiber (which is a film, not a fabric) is very different from the silnylon and spinnaker cloth used in other SUL packs. According to Brian Hancock on www.SailNet.com: “Cuben Fiber is a much more complex means of creating fabric. For a start, it is made of many layers of untwisted filaments laid in a multitude of directions. Once the fabric has been engineered, it is loaded into an autoclave and baked under high heat and pressure until the individual filaments and film become one, making it extremely strong and stretch resistant for its weight….The process of making the ‘fabric’ is very labor intensive and therefore the cost of the raw fabric is expensive.”

Despite having a plastic shopping bag/waxed paper feel, the fabric is extremely strong and lightweight and has been used in sailboat racing since debuting (and winning) in the America’s Cup Race by America3 in 1993. While its tear resistance is many times higher than similar weight nylons, the downside to Cuben Fiber is its low abrasion resistance, making it a poor choice for ground cloths and bushwhacking packs. The material is typically bonded together with adhesive, resulting in a seam that is much stronger than sewn seams. A nice bonus with Cuben Fiber fabric is that it is much quieter and less “crinkly” than the spinnaker cloth used in other SUL packs.

The pack body of the Revelation pack is bonded in its main seam. At all locations where sewing is necessary, such as the outside pocket, it is both bonded and sewn. Special tape (technically Mylar backed tape with a PU adhesive and a polyester reinforcement grid) and backing material (heavy weave Kevlar with an adhesive) is used on both the inside and outside of the pack bag and sewn through at all stress points such as shoulder strap attachments, outside pocket corners and the bottom seam. These points are obviously bomber and proved to be robust enough to carry weights far beyond those recommended for the pack.

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW - 5
The shoulder strap attachment is reinforced with a polyester grid Mylar tape and heavy weave Kevlar fabric. The photos show the attachment on the inside (left) and outside (middle) of the pack. Construction details (right) such as a blue PU-coated spinnaker drawcord sleeve, a micro cordlock, Spectra drawcord , and a perfect seam in the top closure highlight the quality construction of Mountain Laurel Design products.

PU-coated spinnaker cloth was used in areas more prone to abrasion such as the top drawstring, shoulder straps, and outside pocket. Details such as a micro cordlock and spectra cord used in the top closure, perfectly sewn seams, and doubled ½-inch webbing used on the shoulder strap cinches show thoughtfulness and care in the construction of the pack.

Despite the high level of quality construction, it is important to remember that the Revelation pack is a specialized piece of equipment and needs to be handled with care. That said, I definitely pushed the limits of the pack, hauling it above the tree line in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. My multi-day route involved hauling an ice axe, seated glissades on rough snow, repeated slides along rough talus boulders, and even some bushwhacking. Despite the rough treatment, the Revelation showed little wear. The damage consisted of one small puncture in the Cuben Fiber fabric (easily fixed with a small piece of duct tape) and a broken buckle.

Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW - 6
Despite some rough bushwhacking in sub-alpine forest, the Cuben Fiber pack body (left) suffered only this small puncture and was easily fixed with a small piece of duct tape. The lightweight buckles (right) used for the top and sternum straps were easily broken when cinched with moderate pressure. Fortunately, the top buckle will be replaced with a stronger 5/8-inch model in production packs.

While the fabric damage was less than expected, the top strap buckle broke very easily when cinching it down to hold my ice axe in place. With the stock buckles, extra care needs to be shown when cinching. However, I think a stouter buckle should be used, especially in the main cinch point. The adjusters used at the more critical shoulder strap adjustments were much more durable and I had no problems with them during field testing.

Even with the use of expensive Cuben Fiber fabric, extensive attention to detail, and custom sizing, the Revelation is a great value at $95. If you are pushing the limits of SUL backpacking, it is the lightest, best sized, and coolest pack in existence and if treated with care, will have the durability to last for many adventures.

What’s Unique

The use of Cuben Fiber fabric sets the Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation apart from all other packs in its class. It is sized perfectly for compact SUL loads and has the minimum feature set to make it truly usable. To some it looks like a garbage bag with straps but to those in the know, it is the most high tech and specialized pack in existence.

Recommendations for Improvement

Despite being a beautifully constructed and well though-out design, I do have a few suggestions for improving the Revelation pack:

  • The sternum strap is problematic, being both too low and too short. A removable sternum strap would be better. However, I don’t think it’s necessary at all. By cutting it off, I got my Revelation down to an even 3 ounces (or 3.3 ounces with the bungee system).
  • The top compression strap buckle is not strong enough and broke way too easily. (It will be replaced with a stronger 5/8-inch buckle in production models).
  • The ice axe attachment (aka Multi-Gear Loop) is a little long and made it difficult to keep the axe from moving (even with extra twists). While I’d like it to be smaller, it is well sized for a pair of trekking poles and should probably remain the current size for versatility.


Citation

"Mountain Laurel Designs Revelation Backpack REVIEW," by Doug Johnson . BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/mountain_laurel_designs_revelation_backpack_review.html, 2006-08-01 03:00:00-06.

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