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Mountainsmith Wraith Backpack REVIEW

Small, dense, heavy loads carry well in this durable internal frame pack.


by Jay Ham | 2005-06-28 03:00:00-06


Mountainsmith Wraith Backpack - 1
Snowshoeing with the Mountainsmith Wraith in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Arizona.

Mountainsmith's idea of a lightweight backpack is to reduce weight with lightweight materials without sacrificing features or carrying capacity. Their resulting Mountainlite line is known for high carrying capacities appropriate to their volumes, and features to suit discerning users. In this line, the 1600 cubic inch (26 L) Mountainsmith Wraith is sized right for lightweight day hikes or fast-packing trips. I tested the Wraith over four months of heavy use while hiking, fast-packing, skiing, mountain biking, trail running, snow shoeing, and as my daily commute bag.

What's Good

  • Full featured harness and suspension offers exceptional fit and comfort
  • Delrin hoop frame is both supportive and flexible
  • Body hugging design perfect for fast packing pursuits
  • Six organizational pockets in addition to the main pack bag
  • Side panel compression straps do not interfere with side water bottle pockets
  • Frame does not interfere while wearing a cycling helmet

What's Not So Good

  • Weight - the pockets and features, while functional, add unnecessary weight
  • Lacks necessary attachments to be a good snow sports pack
  • Water resistant zippers (YKK #8) are stiffer than most


• Backpack Style

Internal frame, panel loading

• Fabric

Dimension Polyant VX-21 and high tenacity nylon

• Size

Fits 17 - 21 in (43 cm - 53 cm) torso lengths

• Volume

1600 ci (26 L)

• Weight

2 lbs 4.4 oz (1032 g) (Backpacking Light measured)

• Carrying Capacity

30 lbs (14 kg) or more as determined by Backpacking Light

• Volume To Weight Ratio

44 ci/oz




Mountainsmith Wraith Backpack - 2
Mountainsmith Wraith (manufacturer's photo).

At only 1600 cubic inches, the Mountainsmith Wraith is more limited by size than carrying capacity. In an attempt to determine the upper limit of carrying capacity, I filled the Wraith full of water bottles and dense gear, and still did not exceed its comfortable carrying capacity at 30 pounds. The harness - shoulder and sternum straps, load lifters, and padded hip belt with stabilizers - fits my 19" torso very well. The Delrin hoop frame adds just enough support to transfer weight to the hips without being too stiff and encumbering mobility. Backpanel padding makes limited contact with your back at the shoulder blades and lumbar providing much better air flow than a full-contact design. The Mountainsmith Wraith is a super performer for active pursuits (tested for trail running, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, fast packing, and rushing through an airport), thanks to its body hugging design and compression system. It has four side panel compression straps plus a heavy gauge front-panel shock cord to compress the load close into your back.

There are four pockets accessible from outside the pack, an internal hydration sleeve, and a small, mesh change pocket in addition to the main pack bag. The outside pockets include two side panel water bottle pockets, easily reachable while wearing the pack, a front bellowed pocket, and padded camera pocket. The front bellowed pocket (vertical zipper) can swallow a lot of gear as the bellows nearly double its size. The top "camera" pocket can hold a point-and-shoot camera or other small electronics, and closes with a water resistant zipper; as does the main pack bag. Both of the water resistant zippers (YKK #8) are stiff and show little promise of loosening up after four months testing. Mountainsmith completes the package with a uniquely designed front panel shock cord, which can be detached at any point and reconfigured to hold odd shaped items.

Four months of heavy and frequent use had no effect on the Dimension VX-21 and high tenacity nylon fabrics. Some very slight fraying, or fuzziness, is evident on the zipper pulls and even less evident on the front shock cord. YKK zippers and heavy stitching should last the life of the pack.

What's Unique

For those of us who prefer drinking from a water bottle, side panel water bottle pockets are the ticket. Few packs have accessible water bottle pockets and lower side panel compression straps that work effectively and concurrently. Mountainsmith nailed their design by running the compression straps partly behind the forward slanting side pockets, leaving the adjustable ladder locks exposed. The pockets are completely accessible while wearing the pack, even when the lower side panel compression straps are fully cinched. And these straps are placed low enough on the pack to do their job right.

Recommendations for Improvement

The Wraith falls short in its ability to carry winter gear. True, it does have a single ice axe loop and skis can be attached to the side panel compression straps, but it does not hold snowshoes and snowboards easily. If Mountainsmith added four D-rings on the front panel, to mirror the location of the side-panel compression straps, compression straps could be attached to secure larger items to the back panel.

The padding in the padded "camera" pocket could be made removable. There are times when it is not needed. Removing it when it's not needed would save weight and add a little volume to that pocket.


"Mountainsmith Wraith Backpack REVIEW," by Jay Ham. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-06-28 03:00:00-06.