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Six Moon Designs Essence

in Backpacks - Frameless

Average Rating
3.00 / 5 (3 reviews)

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paul johnson
( pj )

LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Six Moon Designs Essence Pack on 01/25/2006 10:39:45 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

Note: The following comments are merely my opinion of the product. YMMV. Also, please be aware that I know very little of fabrics, materials, sewing, and construction and this will be obvious to any knowledgeable reader when reading my comments. Therefore, my descriptions, at times, may prove inadequate or may unknowingly employ incorrect terminology. Feel free to correct me with posts in the "Companion Thread" that can be "linked to" below. Many thanks, pj

Wednesday Afternoon GMT-5:00, 25jan2006
First off, Essence arrived just a short time ago. The following comments are my initial impressions on pack construction. I have not, at this time, even loaded it up and tried it on. Therefore, the current rating of 5 reflects just initial impressions of pack construction. As usual with me, if decimal values were permitted, I would, at this point in time, give this pack a 4.85 or 4.9 based upon one initial slightly less positive comment about some of the pack's buckles and also since in nearly any product there is always room for improvement.

Have examined the pack rather closely. Can find no faults with the craftsmanship of the pack. I couldn't find a loose thread or poorly sewn seam. The pack is a thing of beauty.

Just in case I miss any required edits below, here is a quote from Mr. Ron Moak of Six Moon Designs:
"The only places grosgrain webbing is used in the pack are in the haul loop and the ice axe loop. All other webbing used through out the pack is standard Nylon webbing. While heavier than grosgrain it has the best wear life available. The webbing in the hip belt is 1.5 inch wide."

Shoulder Straps:
The first thing that I noticed about the pack are the well padded shoulder straps. Of any L/UL backpack that I have seen or owned, these are by far the nicest shoulder straps I've encountered thus far. I should say that I have never seen up close any Granite Gear or ULA packs which supposedly have very nicely designed and well padded shoulder straps also. Therefore, I can't compare them to the SMD Essence pack. The Essence shoulder straps have a nice contoured shape which may eliminate the need for a sternum strap which the pack lacks. If it turns out to be needed, sells high quality webbing and buckles at very inexpensive prices. It should be an easy matter to add a sternum strap if necessary. There is webbing already on each shoulder strap that would make it easy to do so. Additionally, other items can be clipped to the webbing. It would have been nice if the webbing was sewn to the shoulder straps at a couple of midpoints as this would make it easy to add AR (adventure racing) style bungee water bottle holders. I'm sure that the straps could be sewn down after purchase to accomplish this. The adjustment buckles appear to be quite robust and of a very high quality. The webbing also seems quite adequate for the job it's intended to do. While not overly thick, it is by no means thin and cheesy. The webbing is sewn to the shoulder strap with what appears to be several rows of stitching. I'm sorry, I don't really sew so I can't state the name of the "stitch" used. At the lower end the webbing is bar tacked in two locations about one inch apart, to a small folded over triangular wing separated by about an inch. This wing is sewn into a seam in the hipbelt and also bar tacked. I could say more, but I fear too much may have been said already.

Hip Belt:
The hip belt is constructed of a high quality webbing, perhaps 1.5 inches wide. Its ends appear to be, I believe the term is, "double felled" (even though they aren't a seam). This allows a good grip on the belt when adjusting it and pulling it tight. Unlike the other eight buckles on the pack, the hip belt buckle appears to be of a very high quality. This plastic side release buckle appears to be very robust and easy to operate. I couldn't pull it apart using perhaps twenty pounds or so of force. Also, I couldn't get the webbing to slip by pulling on it. Once adjusted, it appears that it will reliably stay as adjusted. One note on this though: if anyone utilizes deep abdominal breathing, as I do, then I would anticipate that this hip belt would slowly work its way looser, as does every other hipbelt I have ever worn, thus requiring periodically a slight readjustment/tightening, perhaps as often as approximately every ten minutes or so, IME.

Each side of the hip-belt is really constructed of at least four distinct parts. The hip-belt webbing is NOT sewn directly to the pack bag. Instead, the first eight or nine inches or so of the hip-belt on each side is constructed of the same heavier material as the pack's back material. To that material and the pack's back is sewn, perhaps, a 4" by ~4.5" rectangle of similar material. This piece of material "floats" being only attached at each of its ends. I'm not sure of it's precise function, but it appears that it might serve at least two purposes. First, to reinforce the hip-belt, and second, to secure the hip-belt to the iliac crest on each side. The third part of the hip-belt is the webbing which was described above. The webbing is sewn to heavy pack material and bar tacked in place at two locations. The fourth part of each side of the hip-belt is the zippered, silnylon hip-belt pockets.

No discussion of the hip-belt on this pack would be complete without comments on the excellent hip-belt pockets. These pockets are, as stated on the SMD product webpage, "sized to be useful". Personally, I would have liked them to be a bit larger, but given their location, and the space available for them, making them any larger would likely either interfere with wearing the belt or cause them to protrude too far away from the body if filled to capacity. So, while I could wish for more handy storage, they are undoubtedly sized just right to be useful and unintrusive while wearing the pack.

Pad Retaining Straps:
The three pad retaining straps are a high quality webbing. The straps appear to be well anchored to the pack interior. They are each secured and adjusted with side release buckle identical to the five storm flap buckles. For more information on these buckles see the comments under "Storm Flap compression straps and buckles" below.

Pack Bag:
First, as to color: mostly black ripstop silnylon with a gray lighter weight ripstop silnylon being used for the extension collar. Very nice colors, IMHO. The golden yellow color SMD name and logo embroidery is really not overly gaudy due to the relatively small size. Personally, I don't find it objectionable. I wish that I understood more about fabrics/materials, but I don't. Therefore, my comments are going to be rather vague here. To help, here is a link to the SMD Essence pack product page on the Six Moon Designs website. The product description there mentions the specific types of materials used in the pack bag. Both the pack's back panel and bottom are constructed of somewhat different, but noticeably heavier weight materials than the ripstop silnylon used for other parts of the pack body, the storm flap, and the top pocket. The pack's bottom is constructed of a particularly heavy material which appears to be definitely adequate for the job and should last quite a while.

A single, right-side (when wearing the pack) hydration port is provide on the SMD Essence pack.

The pack has three YKK zippers. With elongated metal pulls. I'm not sure, but they may be a #3 or the next size smaller - I really don't know though - they aren't too big, nor overly tiny. Each hip belt pocket has a zipper and the pack's top pocket has one also. Each zipper is covered over with a SilNylon storm flap. The flap just covers the zipper and should help to prevent rain from entering. At this point in time the SilNylon is not as supple as it will become after some use, IME (in my experience). The only issue with this is that, at this point in time, the SilNylon at each end of the zipper wants to fold back on itself, leaving the zipper exposed for maybe half an inch on each end. It is a simple matter to fold the storm flap into its proper position, thus covering the zipper. I've cycled each zipper open and closed several times each. All function properly and are easy to both zip and unzip. Also, they do not seem to want to open accidentally and did not snag even once while cycling them.

Mesh pockets:
The mesh appears to be of a very highly quality. It appears and feels to be very strong and not overly light weight or "cheesy". It only stretches horizontally, as would be required for pack pockets, and does not stretch in the vertical direction - this is good. All three mesh pockets have a semi-bellows shape to them, i.e. a bellows is sewn into the outside bottom area of each of the three pockets. The top of each mesh pocket has a quarter inch elastic material sewn over it. It too appears to be of high quality and should hold up well to many insertions and removals of objects.

Storm Flap Lacing:
It is NOT an elastic bungee/shock-cord. It is very similar to some strong work boot round (not flat) laces. I'm guessing that it is one eight inch diameter non-elastic lacing. The lacing is laced in a pattern that should permit not only some compression of the packs extension collar, but also allow a poncho or other garment to be stored under it. However, IME with other applications, a non-elastic lacing will NOT hold an object which is subject to either bounce or vibrations very well. The object will slowly "walk" its way out from under the lacing. Don't know if this will happen here, but I expect it will. The only thing that may stop this "walking", is if the contents of the pack/ext. collar function in a semi-elastic means to keep the item under the lacing in compression thus preventing it from moving as it and the pack are jostled a bit with each step while hiking. A nice medium sized toggle provides for adjustment of the lacing, and both ends of the lacing are secured in a very nice "pull" which makes it easy to get a good grip with the thumb and index finger. The toggle is secured to some webbing which is sewn into a seam in the pack between the top pocket and the pack's unique storm flap. The toggle is similar to those found on sleeping bags which provide a means of adjusting the collar and hood of the sleeping bag and are afixed via webbing to the sleeping bag. However, this one you will NOT want to cut loose, unlike what I do with the toggles on every sleeping bag. The lacing is laced through small loops in the webbing which serves as the webbing for the four upper storm flap retaining/compression buckles.

Storm Flap Compression straps and buckles:
The storm flap compression webbing is similar to the shoulder strap webbing, but narrower. The ends of the webbing are heat sealed to prevent unraveling and folded over and sewn back onto itself, providing a firm grip for pulling the storm flap compression straps tight. The five buckles are a bit on the small side and, do not appear to be overly robust, merely adequate. The don't appear to be of the same high quality as everything else about this pack. This is just my naive impression. It may be that they will prove to be more than adequate for their intended purpose. It's just the initial impression that they give me. Everything else "wows" me. These buckles make me hope that they are up to the task. These side-release buckles, however, are very easy to operate, yet exerting between five and ten pounds of force (estimating here) did not cause them to come apart. It is also very easy to adjust the length of the webbing for compression purposes, but once adjusted, pulling hard on them did not cause them to slip.

Wednesday Evening GMT-5:00, 25jan2006

Emptied my G6 pack of gear and took my WM Highlite bag out of its storage bag. My intent was to load the Essence pack up with the same gear that was stored in the G6 and also the sleeping bag.

The gear I currently had in the G6 weighs between 7 and 8 lbs including the 3.7oz G6 pack and the WM Highlite sleeping bag.

First, I unbuckled the Essence pack's pad straps and placed a GG Nightlight torso pad under the pad straps. Next, loosened the pad straps and buckled them and then cinched them tight. The buckles held to a fair amount of tugging. Actually, while not tugging as hard as I could, I did tighten them enough that I would have really had to pull on them to get them tighter. The pad was very tightly locked in place.

I loaded the Essence pack up with the rest of the gear, trying different locations for various stuff sacks and loose gear (WT Epic windshirt and BMW SpinPonchoT poncho-tarp).

Several things immediately became apparent:
1) There are a bewildering number of possible loading arrangements one could use. I spent over half an hour moving things around. Bottom line: almost any loading arrangment worked, and worked well!! Tried loading more gear inside the pack to see how the extension collar works. Tried loading more gear in the mesh pockets, top pocket, and under the storm flap lacing. A BMW Cocoon pullover in a med-sized BMW spinnsack fit fine, but was slightly compressed side-to-side by the top pocket dimensions, with room to spare in the pocket front-to-back. A BMW SpinPonchoT fit fine under the storm-flap lacing. With gear under the storm flap in the extension collar and the lacing pull tight, that poncho-tarp isn't going anywhere. I didn't get the impression that it would "walk" at all. I'll have to verify this soon on a hike, but I think that my initial impressions were wrong. Just in case, I passed the lowest storm flap buckle webbing thru a stake-out loop of the poncho-tarp before buckling it. So, even if the p-t "walks" out from under the lacing (I don't think it will), it can only fall and drag behind me until I notice and not be left miles behind on the trail.

[Note: Not to get into it here, but it appears that either a traditional loading arrangement, or the "pj's preferred atypical, non-standard, weird sounding loading arrangement" will work fine in this pack. More will be mentioned on loading the pack below under item #7 below.]

2)The side mesh pockets can hold an awful lot o' stuff - those pockets can stretch with no signs of weakness in the mesh or the stitching holding them to the pack. In the small upper right one, I tried both the aforementioned P-T and windshirt. They both fit fine. You couldn't both dry them in there, but you could do so somewhat under storm flap lacing. The tall left side mesh pocket is simply voluminous!! I didn't try yet, but probably two 2L soda bottles can fit - not sure, but I'll try tomorrow. Basically, if I was so inclined I could fit two small SpinSacks, one smaller silnylon stuff sack, the windshirt, and the P-T in the tall side mesh pocket and still have room to spare. Just for winter fun, I also deflated and rolled up a BMW Torsolite pad and placed that in the tall side pocket also. The stretch of the mesh and the semi-bellows permits a lot of stuff to be stored there. I could fit all of my "hard" stuff sack gear (really, all my non-insulating gear), as well as my wind and rain gear in that pocket. This would leave an insulating pullover (and pants in winter), sleep gear and bivy or other shelter if P-T is not being used for that purpose, plus liquid/gaseous fuel (3days esbit was already in the silnylon stuff sack) , food & water to be placed elsewhere. And now, as Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprize, surprize!". Here is a pack that, even with my very tight shoulder joints, I can reach down and grab a water bottle from the lower right mesh pocket. Hallelujah! Finally, someone who knows how to design a pack! My many heartfelt thanks to Ron. Moak. {Note: I also have very short arms. I'll be interested in knowing if my long, tall tight shouldered cousins can do similarly.]

3)The top-pocket:
Can fit a ton o' stuff in here. As stated elsewhere, placed a BMW Cocoon pullover in a med SpinSack in the top pocket and had room to spare. While wearing the pack, even with my very tight shoulder joints (much more so than most people), I could zip and unzip the top pocket and reach into to retrieve gear. Very nice.

4)The hip-belt and hip-belt pockets:
The hip-belt was surprisingly comfortable and supportive during the twenty minutes I wore this pack with 10-12 lb in it. Even jumping up and down repeated for approx. 30sec. didn't cause the pack's hip-belt to slide off of my pelvis. I didn't try the hip-belt pockets yet. Obviously, they are quite accessible and as stated earlier are size sufficiently to prove quite useful - and there are TWO of them!

5)Extension collar:
The good: The extension collar opening, when the drawcord is loosened, is huge, permitting very easy access to all areas of the pack's main bag. This is actually really nice. Now I don't go into my pack much during the day, often never, but it sure is fast and easy to load and unload the main pack bag, instead of the repeated stuffing required to get a sleeping bag into a small UL top-loader. Even stuffed, the storm flap appears to more than adequately cover the tightened drawcord opening of the ext. collar. I don't see how wind-driven rain could find its way in, but then I can't promise you. You know water! However, it looks quite storm worthy, IMHO. The proof will come in the Springtime here in New England (1"-4" of rain per hour). Besides if you wear a P-T or the soon to be released SixMoonDesigns Gatewood Cape, this is a non-issue.

The bad: The itsy-bitsy toggle/cord-lock used to hold the very small diameter cord tight just doesn't, welll...hold the cord tight. The cord is too small a diameter for the cord-lock to exert enough force on it to keep it from slipping if you stuff the extension collar. It was an easy matter to pull the drawcord tight and "throw" a couple of loops of drawcord around the cord-lock. That held it fine and the opening of the stuffed extension collar would not open further. In this "test" the ext. collar was NOT overstuffed by any means and still had more room to extend/expand. Simple fix to a simple problem, but a little disappointing. Try the "looping" of the drawcord around the cordlock with gloves or cold hands and it might be a bit more difficult. I'm going to try some different cord locks to see if one works better. I'm not sure if the cordlock was defective, but it might have been. It had some, but not too much spring tension to it, and it also didn't have much "travel" when squeezing it. It worked/squeezed open, but it felt a little "funny" - so, maybe somewhat defective; i've come across this before with other products but with far less "travel" than this cordlock exhibits.

A second "crab", for me at least, is the inaccessibility of the pad for use as a sit-pad during the day at rest stops. An external pad pocket would have been my preference. However, having said that, the ease of loading/unloading and the accessibility provide by this front-loader, might (???) cause me to fetch the pad from the inner recesses of the pack for use if the rest stop was to be of an extended nature. I would never do this with a top-loader that didn't have an ext. pad pocket.

The ugly: Not really a pretty sight when the extension collar is stuffed to capacity with the LIGHTEST gear being carried. The nicely contrasting color (the criticism is NOT of the color of the ext. collar) of the gray silnylon protrudes all around the storm flap which now appears to have shrunk to diminutive proportions. Really, this is only aesthetics, probably NOT function/performance issue. This is just going to take some getting used to. It just looks a bit different than what I've grown accustomed to seeing having used top loading packs for a number of years now. This isn't necessarily bad, but it is different. Maybe a black silnylon for the ext. collar would improve aesthetics. At least it would blend in with the rest of the pack and disguise the ext. collar when it's extended. A duller pack yes, and Gucci wouldn't go for it, but it's just my preference. Others might feel differently.

6)The Storm flap:
The storm flap's five buckles. Upon my first loading of the pack that required the use of the ext. collar, I incorrectly chose to buckle and tighen the bottom buckle. Then pulled the webbing tight. Then pulled it tighter...and, yes, ...then pulled it yet tighter...and...POP...the male end of the buckle popped out of the female end. I wouldn't be surprised if I put more than 20lb of pull on it. The buckle didn't break however and remained totally functioning. I'd like to say that I was conducting a static failure test of the buckle, but I was just being stupid (I'll blame it on Ron Moak - I was too excited "playing" with the new "toy" he sent me). Exiting "Incredible Hulk" mode, and deciding to employ some common sense this time, I buckled the top two buckles and pulled them just snug, buckled the middle two buckles and snugged them, and then buckled the bottom buckle and snugged it. Then, returned to the top buckles and tightened them, and so on. You can guess the rest of the procedure. Worked fine - no "popped" buckles. The extension collar "bulges" somewhat out from under the storm flap - sorta' like the waistline some middle aged desk-jockey Engineers I work with. This is merely aesthetics and I don't believe that it will affect even wet weather function/performance. The storm flap still quite adequately and with a good degree of "margin" covers the opening to the ext. collar. For a minimal weight penalty, it might be possible to make the storm flap slightly larger, or just go with a black color for the ext. collar. Disguise the bulge, sorta' like wearing your shirt outside of your pants.

7)Fit and Feel of the Loaded Essence Pack
I was so excited to try it on, that I didn't weigh it. I'll have to do that later on. The pack fit fine. The unpadded hip-belt was surprisingly comfortable. I was very pleasantly surprised. Now, at this point, the pack was not loaded with much more than 10-12 lb (i found some extra gear to stuff in the pack). Loosening the shoulder straps a bit caused most or all of the pack's wt to be transferred to my hips, yet the pack didn't lean away from at my upper back. This was determined by turning sideways and looking in the mirror and seeing a happy SMD Essence pack owner staring back. At this pack weight, the pack was standing tall at "Attention", just like a four-O Marine during the Colonel's PI (personnel inspection). Zero frame collapse was visible. Can't wait to try 20-25lbs in the pack as might be carried, by me at least, on a longer trek.

I was very suprised at how well the foam pad and the pack's three pad retaining straps functioned. They seem to really do the job. Please, don't misunderstand me, it's not an external frame pack by any means, but it seems to do a reasonable job.

Since the extension collar extends to the rear, IMHO, one should try to load the lighest gear near last. This will reduce both the moment arm of that gear being further away from the wearer's back, and a counter-balancing forward lean that is produced by having gear extending a bit further to the rear than one might be used to. However, having said that, at the light weight I had in the pack, I felt absolutely no backward pull - AND I was intentionally being attentive for such. Viewed sideways in the mirror, the pack was quite upright with no rearward lean and I only had the shoulder straps snug, NOT tight. Now, don't get me wrong here, the fully loaded extension collar is NOT like the train of a bride's wedding gown, i.e. it's not trailing along behind you. It just extends a bit more than my G6 and G5 packs do. Certainly no more than my voluminous size medium GoLite Gust pack. I'm going to have to measure the actual "depth" of the pack front-to-rear and report back with REAL numbers. At this point, I really like the way it loads, and feels with 50%-60% of my expected max load. There was no slippage of the hip belt just walking around and jumping up and down. Tomorrow, I'll jog up and down a flight of stairs for 5-10 minutes or as long as my right knee can take it.

8)The Shoulder Straps
Very comfortable. No problem carrying 10-12 lb on just my shoulders. Some might want the straps to be just a little bit wider, but then on some narrower chested, smaller, younger, or female individuals, they might then be too wide. I don't really know. I'm just guessing on this point. The contoured shape of the shoulder straps feels very nice and comfortable. They feel like they won't slip off of the shoulder, yet due to the contoured shape they don't rub up against your neck - very nice. I think that most people won't need a sternum strap. I'm pretty sure that I could get along without one, but I've grown so accustomed to one (even had GVP add one to my G5 and added one myself to the G6), that it just felt "different" without one; NOT insecure, like the straps might slip off of my shoulders, but just "different". So, here's what I did. I carry an Altitech II, which has a "carabiner-like" clip, clipped to the webbing on the left shoulder strap. You could use a mini-carabiner also for this "pseudo-sternum strap". I took a loop of 1/8" bungee and looped it around the corresponding webbing on the right shoulder strap and then routed it back through itself. Easy to remove since it's only looped and not tied, or sewn on. Then, after donning the pack, this loop of bungee is clipped to the carabiner clip of the Altitech II on the other shoulder strap. Then I tighten up the pack straps and the bungee stretches just a little. That's all it takes for me to feel comfortable psychologically about the shoulder straps. If anyone wants to try this for themselves, they'll have to play with the bungee to get the proper length for their chest size. I took a longer length and made a high-friction slip knot/noose (is the best way to describe it), and played with it to get the right length before I cut it, leaving an bit extra to tie the ends into a knot. For me, very little or nearly no tension on the bungee when the pack straps are a bit looser than I would normally wear them. When I tighten the shoulder straps, they shorten and want to move outward, the bungee stretches and reacts some of the outward pull - makes for a nice, not quite snug (only a mild amount of tension on the bungee), secure feeling, to my mind at least. Others may not care for this arrangement at all - YMMV. Oh...if anyone is a chest breather (like most adults), then, no worries, since the sternum strap is all bungee, it stretches nicely as you inhale and your chest expands. The 1/8" bungee offers no perceptible resistance to breathing and chest expansion.

In Summary:
Three questions:
Question One: Is the SMD Essence pack a perfect pack?
Answer: No, but, IMHO, thus far, it's an A. An A+, IMHO, is possible with a few very minor "tweaks". As far as "Perfect" - no piece of gear is so "Perfect" that it can't be improved upon, but hey...that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

QuestionTwo: On a more personal note, will I be retiring my beloved G6 pack and using this one exclusively?
Answer: Well, I love the G6. We have some miles on it together. I couldn't just give it up entirely, especially when it weighs 8oz less than the Essence pack. So, I'll be using the G6 for 1-3 day excursions, and, I expect, the SMD Essence pack for longer treks or when the terrain might damage the spinnaker fabric of the G6.

Question Three: On another personal note, am I glad I purchased it?
Answer: Yes. At this stage definitely. I expect no surprises since it feels so much better than many other L/UL packs do when loaded with 10-12 lbs. As far as "Value". Even at full list price, this pack, IMHO is a bargain.

The above comments are my two shekels. YMMV.

Saturday, 28jan2006
Essence on the Trail:
So here follows my initial report on the SMD Essence pack on its first excursion with me on a day hike:

Ok. Things didn't quite work out as planned. Forgot that plans were made for the morning. Therefore, only spent approx. six hours on the trail with the pack. Took a route that was not the most demanding, but didn't have too many flat spots, just a lot of relatively short climbs and descents, varying between ~600' per mile elevation increase and ~1250' per mile elevation increase. Covered ~9miles. Wish I had more time to give it a better workout. Didn't spend the night in the State Park.

The pack was loaded up with winter gear and extra water to simulate the weight of several days food. The pack weighed 20lb. It was very comfortable during this short time. The hip belt didnt' slip. No obviously extreme rearward lean or pull was noticed even though the ext. collar was pretty much fully extended (the webbing compression straps were nearly fully extended). Lighter gear was placed at the most rearward portion of the ext. collar with the heavier gear closer to the back (we'll leave it at that for main compartment pack loading specifics). The shoulder straps were wonderful and not at all uncomfortable during this short hike. However, as is my habit, I try to carry as close to 100% of the pack's weight on my hips as is feasible given any particular pack's suspension. So perhaps 90+% is a better estimate?? There was little or no weight on the top of my shoulders they way the pack was adjusted. The shoulder straps were adjusted to exert just enough force on the front of my shoulders to keep the pack close to my back. Therefore, my hips were carrying the "lion's" share of the weight - virtually 100% of it. This is my personal preference. The belt didn't slip as long as it remained tight. Due to the deep abdominal breathing that I do, every 10 minutes or so, I needed to re-tension the hip-belt. But, this is SOP (std. op. procedure) for me with any pack with a hip-belt, and so should not be taken as a "crab" about the SMD Essence pack. I might be able to get away with less frequent adjustments, but the hip-belt would probably become too loose and slip off of the iliac crest. At 20lb (weight varied as water was consumed) for six hours, the hip-belt was comfortable. The hip-belt is much more supportive and comfortable than it appears

Access to energy bars, and water bottles was very convenient, as expected, without having to stop and remove the pack.

I find the Essence pack to be quite a comfortable "carry". I have no complaints about how it carried. Sorry, I can't rave about how the pack felt during the six hours. Pretty much, as far as is possible, the pack did NOT make its presence known. This is a good thing. If don't realize that the pack is there (a wee' bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the idea that I'm intending to convey), then that pack must be a fine 'carry' and not uncomfortable to wear. My shoulders were not sore that day. They were a bit sore (just a bit, mind you) the next two days, but then, this is to be expected in this case. Why? I haven't hiked in nearly three months or so, due to a sprained right knee. Otherwise, I wouldn't have felt any soreness is my belief - generally, I don't anyways if I'm in condition from near daily fitness hikes.


Here is a link to a Forum Thread started by someone else on front-loading L/UL packs. There may be additional information posted there about this pack as time goes on. If questions about the SMD Essence pack or this ReaderReview are posted there, I will try to answer them. Of course, as others use this pack, I would hope that their more knowledgeable answers (or even Mr. Moak's answers) would be posted there also.

NOTE: This Review is a work in progress and will be updated more later today and in the near future, as time permits and experience with this pack grows. I expect to load this pack up and try it on for a while in the next day or two and hopefully a day hike with it on this coming Saturday, 28jan2006. As this ReaderReview is updated with new info (not merely corrections to spelling and wording), I will add a new Post to it's pseudo-CompanionThread with a link back to this Review. I'm going to add "dates" to this Review so that it will be easy to locate new information.

Edited by pj on 02/06/2006 09:41:38 MST.

Price comparison from GearBuyer:
Granite Gear Pack Pocket priced at: $20.95 - $24.95
Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape priced at: $134.95
Western Mountaineering HighLite Sleeping Bag priced at: $294.95 - $304.95
Ryan Jordan
( ryan - BPL STAFF - M )

Greater Yellowstone
In the Shadow of P J on 11/13/2006 21:26:52 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 3 / 5

Welllll, I must say, I think PJ did a fine review above, but if you're looking for additional reading insight, I don't think I can follow up. I feel like the local coffee shop guitar player with a bad cough following ... Elvis.


I have to vote.

I took the Essence to the Utah Desert this past March for some canyon walking.

It's a weird pack, this drawstring closure for a panel loader. But it's fun! And unique, and enjoyable to use, and it does work. I had a great time packing and unpacking my pack every night.

I found the pack to carry "weight" (e.g., a little gear and a lot of water) poorly - sloppily, like a ... grocery sack, for lack of a better term. It hangs off your shoulders like a sleeping toddler and lacks any kind of compression system for stabilizing undervolume loads.

Will Reitveld also wrote a nice review here.

I'm looking forward to the 2007 Essence, which takes on a new shape, compression system, closure, and fabric, and may solve many of the issues of the old one.

krud meister
( krudmeister )
Revolutionary Equipment, Poorly Executed on 12/09/2006 22:11:31 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 1 / 5

Essence Packs. Where does one start? First, the buckles on this pack are a true wonder. How in the world did the manufacturer come up with buckles that come undone on their own? After speaking with the manufacturer at length as to how he went to extreme difficulties to purchase top-notch hardware for his equipment I was really let down. These buckles would come undone at will, when leaning forward, postholing, climbing over blowdowns, etc. Another major problem with this pack is the straps, which blew out on both packs. One pack left me stranded just shy of Forrester Pass. Oddly enough another person with whom I was traveling had the same thing happen. Having a pack strap blow out is unacceptable. That is like wheels falling off a car. I am lucky I had purchased two, as I had to routinely mail them back for repair to make it all the way to Canada. It was interesting chatting with folks after finishing about their experiences with SMD packs. Many had to have replacements mailed to them on trail, with the understanding their packs would be returned further along the trail – which never happened. This occurred with 3 thru hikers I know this year. For the Essence user, the only option was to purchase two, and hope that would get one to the border. The other weak point of this pack was the mesh for the side pockets, which would completely blow out every 700 miles. When this occurred originally on a pack that now was missing a pack strap and mesh on both sides I emailed the manufacturer. The response was that he was able to perform any and all repairs. I mailed it in and it was returned without the mesh being repaired. This was disappointing, as I couldn’t figure out why I was told the repair would be done, then it wasn’t. I was told that it wasn’t repaired because it wasn’t a warranty issue. This was a let down as there was no note in the return telling me as to why this wasn’t repaired as stated. When I finally contacted the manufacturer later on down the trail my only option was to mail it back a second time, so now I was mailing the same pack in circles. My biggest problem with this was that I used the one pocket for a water bottle and the other for my fuel. To mail a pack back to a thru hiker in a non-working condition after offering to do “any and all repairs” is unacceptable. I was also told it was unrepairable without major structural work. This ended up being a quick repair again performed by a local seamstress, who used a double layer mesh fabric that was both more durable and lighter than SMD’s. After the problems with both pack straps, mesh on side pockets and effort required to get the manufacturer to stand behind his warranty I was especially disappointed when the hip belts and pack straps started to disintegrate. I just wanted to finish at this point, but I winced every time I shouldered the pack. It was also interesting to see SMD’s new products for 2007. I wasn’t surprised to see that, although the color of the thread had changed, the quality of stitching would be the same as 2006. The stitching on the pack straps has more than 1/8 of an inch of slack. My friends who had also thru hiked the PCT this season and I laughed out loud as we knew what this would mean for prospective thru hikers using SMD products in 2007. Several changes made to the product were for the worse. The only productive change was the improvement in the waist belt, however it increased the weight of the pack. One of the low points in my experience with SMD was when I was told by the manufacturer “Well you know it is only a 13 oz pack.” This really ruffled my feathers, as those were not at all the feelings he expressed to me when I was purchasing the packs back in March. I was very clear regarding my intended use. My goal after using these packs is to find a pack half the weight of an Essence and polish off as many miles as I can. I did mail both packs back to SMD and was amazed that both hip belts and pack straps were able to be reattached. The response I got on those was that they where manufactured incorrectly.No bar tacks mean straps blowing off.

Edited by krudmeister on 12/09/2006 23:57:17 MST.

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