Rating: 5 / 5
Now that I have some miles on my 2010 Swift I thought I would prepare a more thorough review. I have been using a 2006 SMD Starlight for the past few years and really love it coming from a brief stint with a Gregory Z pack (3.5lbs), and before that for nearly 12 years, a Mt Smith Crestone III, a monster load hauler that was just under 8lbs empty. Before the Mt Smith I was using a Jansport D5 external frame pack that served me well for nearly 20 years and thousands of miles. I have progressed along the way reducing the weight and volume of my kit to the point I felt it was time to give a frameless pack a try.
For the past few years with the Starlight I have fine tuned my system to a point that I am very comfortable with the weight, volume, and location of various items in/on my pack. Moving to the 2010 Swift was a no brainer as the two packs offer a nearly identical layout. I had felt since I use a DAM exclusively that I would need to make some sort of semi rigid frame sheet in order to effectively transfer the weight to my hips. Moreover, I felt that I would need to add load lifter straps as well. I could not have been more wrong. What I am using in the pad pocket is two pieces of closed cell foam (3/8") cut down to 11.25" x 20.25". These stay in the pack and add 2.5 oz as well as being used as insulation under my feet or head as my DAM is only 60" long. In addition, the foam adds a little shape to the pack when it is empty assisting with packing, and provides cushion against my back. The foam may assist somewhat in load transfer, but that comes primarily from how I pack the main bag of the pack so that the entire pack is a semi rigid lump.
Initially I had ordered a MED but felt that the LRG would be a better fit even though my torso measures 18." With the upper shoulder strap attachment located just slightly ABOVE my shoulder height, it has eliminated the need for load lifters. The weight is on my hips and I use a combination of the sternum strap and shoulder strap tension to keep the pack against my back or just slightly off of it for ventilation. It also allows for the pack to ride a little lower on my hips without pulling on my shoulders, putting the side mesh pocket within easy reach to not only remove my water bottle but put in back in as well, something that I could not do with my Starlight. In addition, the mesh pockets are much more usable when the main bag is stuffed full, much more so than my Starlight is, allowing for greater carrying capacity.
I absolutely love the hip belt pockets. I tend to not stop and eat during the day on the go and the pockets are great for that. I was able to get nearly 1000 calories of snacks/bars in just one pocket leaving the other free for my camera and gloves. They can be used with one hand to both open and close and remain out of the way for natural arm swinging. Although I use poles, I tried the pack without them for a while to see how the pockets might interfere, they didn't for me but they may for those with wider hips or more narrow shoulders. Weight transfer with the belt was very comfortable - in fact as I sit here writing this I can't think of anything descriptive to say other than I didn't notice the belt at all. I tried the pack for a bit without the belt but don't really care for having the weight on my shoulders and they began to get uncomfortable even with my light load of 17 lbs fully loaded with a liter of water and 5 days of food. This was going uphill while using trekking poles and when I dropped my arms to my side, the pack was more comfortable just hanging from my shoulders. After having the pack on for nearly 9 hours each day, I didn't once feel that I needed to remove it and have a break.
I prefer top loading one main compartment packs and the new roll top closure is a big improvement over the velcro on my Starlight. The 2010 Swift has a pre-curved plastic strip sewn into the roll top closure that makes rolling the top much easier with no snagging on the velcro, as is the case with the Starlight. It's the standard drybag approach and very effective. There was a constant steady light rain for two days and everything remained dry. I could not see or feel any water inside the main compartment. While it is certainly not waterproof, it was very effective at shedding water and the silnylon used on the extension collar seems to be more water resistant than the silnylon that was used on my Starlight which didn't leak but quickly wetted out. Since I line my pack with a garbage bag and use silnylon stuff sacks, I do not typically have problems with water and have successfully swam short distances with my pack on several occasions without problems.
Capacity is great and should work for me up to 10 days or so without resupply. All my equipment doesn't quite take up half of the main bag leaving a great deal of room for food. For this past 5 day trip fully loaded at the trail head, I had the top rolled completely down and used the side compression cords slightly to firm up the pack. The compression cord system seems to work well and I didn't notice any slipping of the cord locks. I also appreciate the fact that they don't diminish the capacity of the mesh pockets when used as they are inside the mesh. The shoulder straps also stayed put but I felt that the hip buckle needed to be tightened up a bit every few hours. I don't know if the buckle was slipping or if the whole pack was sliding down somewhat. I must admit that I tend to fiddle with the waist belt more that the shoulder straps during the day so it may just be me. The outside pockets provided plenty of room for food, water, and foul weather gear, as well as the trash bag. I like the mesh material on my Starlight better as it has a much softer hand to it than the Swift's stiff mesh, but the new mesh should prove to be up to the task.
In terms of packing, which is a big part of effectively using a frame-less pack, I place my quilt and down vest or jacket (if not needed during the day) , in a large 10" x 20" stuff sack and then stuff the sack into the pack horizontally at the bottom of the bag. This provides a large platform for everything to rest on as well as providing a firm waist-belt back-band. This also allows some variability in compression and expansion of pack volume as the quilt isn't packed super tight and can expand somewhat as the pack empties. Next in is my DAM also laid horizontally on top of the quilt stuff sack. My food bag is placed vertically against my back with my stove/kitchen items and then my camp/sleep clothes (long silk underwear, sleeping socks, silk balaclava), placed in a 8 x 18" stuff sack sack is wrapped horizontally around the bottom of the food sack followed by my trail clothes not needed during the day (rain gear, wind-shirt, insulating head wear, spare hiking socks), also packed horizontally around the upper part of the food bag. On top if this goes a small silnylon organizer with personal items (headlamp, first aid kit, repair kit, soap, knife, lighter, etc.), capped off with a small piece of closed cell foam I use for a sit pad. In the smaller side mesh pocket goes 2 .5L water bottles while the long mesh pocket on the other side carries the shelter. In the large back mesh pocket is the trail clothes that I think I may need during the day, any wet items that can dry there, t.p. and hand sanitizer, and a freezer zip-lock bag with trash. I really like being able to stuff the main bag and then the pockets. With my Starlight I have to get big items in the mesh pockets before packing the main bag or it becomes much more difficult to get these items in the mesh pockets. In the hipbelt pockets goe snacks, gloves, and camera (Leica D4 in it's neoprene case).
All in all another great pack and a weight savings of 12oz over the Starlight (20oz for the Swift with double layer closed cell pad and 32oz for the Starlight with a single sheet of closed cell foam in the pad pocket and water bottle holders). I am now wondering if this will become my only pack as I contemplate what type of trip would require the use of the Starlight. While the Starlight does have greater carrying capacity in terms of weight and a slight edge in volume capacity, the Swift holds everything I need for all the different trips I have been on in the past 5 years For the few winter trips I go on I use a pulk and a fanny pack so there isn't a need there either. My son no doubt will be the recipient of another great piece of gear when he grows a bit.