Rating: 5 / 5
Since I bought this pack I have never used another. Since it is REI I don't know if there is any prejudice against the brand, but they have been great to us.
With a bad lower back and neck I needed some kind of framing. This pack weighs (without removing any frills) in medium 2 lbs. 8 -10 oz. It is easy to get it down some oz.'s.
The frame is really "external" (so I put this review in the external back pack forum) in that it consists of a main stay in the middle of the external harness unit. The key to the pack for people with bad backs, and otherwise, is that the "external" harness is constructed so that the shoulder straps are connected to each other at the bottom by a strip of material which goes through a loop in the bottom of the harness unit. Thus ... when one strap is pulled the other gives way and the pack is always balanced. This means you can crawl, duck, or cross rocky terrain without the pack fighting your back. I love it. Here is a picture of the harness -
The size is perfect for carrying a tent (w/ poles - Mountain Hardware Tri-Lite 2 or Squall from Gossamer Gear 2 person), stove and pot, cup, clothing, food, sleeping bag, poncho or rain gear, closed cell foam pads, therma rest or inflatable pad with foam or down inside, etc.
The top folds back and has zipper pockets on the inside and outside, so it carries emergency medical gear, windshirt, beanie, knife, mirror, matches, flashlight, etc. for easy access. Has side pockets for food and water (.5 liter Platypus). Has a back storage area for rain gear. Loops at bottom of pack to tie on pads if you want. Loops to hook on a Sling Lite chair or Coleman stool if you use such. I put my snow shovel on the back using the velcro things that come with it. Has waste band pockets for compass, watch, map, camera, etc.
All in all I love it (I haven't even used my Atmos pack since I got the REI). I would rather go purely UL without all the frills but my back can't take the entirely unsupported weight and flopping of the UL packs I tried -- and I checked out a bunch of them.
Fabric is strong but will wear or be damaged if abused. That should not be a problem for the UL people - its way stronger than the really SUL and UL packs and stuff sack packs I tried.
It was $99 at REI and is on sale now for $74. In any case, this pack design concept in the hands of UL people has a great future in my mind -- I am thinking of cutting the pack loose from the "external" harness/frame unit and making my own UL stuff sack type pack to fit on the harness. For what it is, it is a clear 5 in my book, even if the weight is not pure UL it is as low a weight pack as I have found which can give me the back relief I need.