Rating: 5 / 5
I found out about this external frame pack that feels like an internal frame right here on BACKPACKINGLIGHT. That (and other reviews, I read them all) haunted me until I purchased one and tried it out. It boasted an external aluminum frame that was articulated so that the shoulders could move forward and back without any more resistance than an ultra light pack and still maintain it's vertical stiffness. Being a lightweight EXTERNAL FRAME pack and not having the old problem of feeling like a stiff board on your back was very inticing. So I spent the half grand for the pack and hoped for the best.
I am not one to usually give the highest score for any product, however this pack, being advertised and rumored to have some truly revolutionary advances deserves a five in my opinion because it did live up to all the claims mentioned, not only those mentioned on its own Seekoutside site but on other reviews I read too.
Reason one for me buying the pack was the claims about a hip belt that did not slip even with large heavy loads and even without having to over tighten the hip belt. By reading other reviews I believed it might be possible because of the wrap around design which seems to FIRST fit your torso and lumbar THEN carry the attached pack and the weight inside. The first thing I noticed was that it fit my lower back like a glove. The hip belt wasn't as thick and massive as some of my other packs, but it didn't have to be. It was plenty substantial, but the thickness itself is not what made it so comfortable, it was the design! Fully articulated and wrap-around!
True. Hard to believe but true, the pack's hip belt did not slip, not at all! They claim that it won't even at huge 100 pound plus loads. (My load was only about 38 to 40 pounds). I didn't have to tighten the belt so much that it hurt me. The hip belt was almost a forgettable part of the pack. No pain or discomfort at all.
In fact that's the main reason I bought the pack. I have been having trouble with my other pack's hip belt pinching the nerves that run right over the front of the hip bone and it was causing my legs to go painfully and dangerously asleep while carrying anything over 27 or 28 pounds. I had no numbness, no pain and even though it was only about 40 pounds that would have really been a painful chore with my other packs.
Secondly, the pack bag is made from a new sail-cloth material called X-Pac VX21. Extremely light and seems to be very strong. I opted for the 4800 cubic inch bag with the roll top. The weather was rain, freezing rain, drizzle, fog, snow-generally WET. As I looked at my gear under my tarp and hammock, everything that was touched by the moisture looked a little wet, but the pack bag was just beading water, absorbing none. The material is water proof and holds no water in its fibers. Except for the pack's full length zipper (that I opted for), the pack is waterproof completely, and the vertical zipper itself seems made so that water will run down and off the pack, not into it. I carried a pack cover but never used it. The hip belt does pick up some moisture however, as does the compression panel, mentioned later, but not much. My hip belt felt dry all the time I carried it.
The pack bag is rather stark and free of extraneous gadgets and pockets except for large side pockets and ice axe loops. That's the way I like them! (a zippered top lid and hip belt pockets can be added though if wanted. I am waiting on mine to be made). The zippered pocket in the compression panel that is called a Talon and serves as a contact point for the side compression straps and bottom load panel is made from coated nylon cordura, (I opted for the bright hunters orange) it probably carried a little moisture, but I put nothing in it that moisture could hurt and in fact all the contents stayed dry inside.
I took a day hike back to the car to pick up some more supplies and carried the pack almost empty going out. The pack performed as promised. The articulated external frame moved as easily as my shoulders moved. It DID feel as good an internal frame lightweight pack. The pack only weights 3 ½ pounds anyway, so with only some water and a dry ducks rain suit to carry on the way out it was not a detriment being a frame pack with those ultra light weights to carry. I actually enjoyed having the pack on both nearly empty and with my full load. Had I had the optional Talon that is also a daypack, I would still have liked carrying the pack. I personally won't need the daypack.
I carried in and out a huge 5 mil, 14 x 20 foot tarp into camp to accommodate keeping our drinks free of all that precipitation, and wanted to weigh the pack down a bit more that I normally carry in order to test it. I stashed the huge tarp behind the removable pack bag and synched the pack bag over it using the Talon and side straps. NO problem at all. I could have attached the 4 inch pack frame extensions that come with the pack and put the tarp under the pack bag too, but it worked fine without it. If you use the extensions it lifts the pack another 4 inches on the frame right over the extensions. We bushwhack a bit so I didn't use them. And without the extensions there is about 5 inches of room between the bottom of the pack bag and the bottom of the hip belt, anyway. I actually could have put it there and tried to, but the tarp was slick against the load panel and the pack and it wanted to rotate up to the back of the pack instead of staying on the bottom under the back bag.
They also claim that you can put a bladder between the pack bag and the frame. That may be true but I didn't see how it would be convenient and comfortable and secure there. There is no hook for a bladder, though there are two cross sections of webbing with buckles that could be coaxed into carrying the bladder somehow. I think the pack needs the addition of a bladder bag to drop the bladder into and then stow it between the pack bag and the frame. and even then, it seems the bladder would produce pressure in the center of your back. The pack frame fits very close to the body like an internal does. In fact, two bladders would seem to me to be better than one if you carry it between the frame and the pack bag. Since the pack bag is removable, I intend to make a bladder bag that carries two bladders side by side. Also, that huge tarp that I carried between the frame and the pack bag could have been better carried had I folded it so that it went between the attachment points where each side of the pack bag is attached to the frame. It was folded so it did not completely touch the full length of the pack bag, so even though the pack bag was not carrying the tarp inside, the tarp took up room that the pack bag could have used to carry more gear, since it pushed the pack bag in. Had i folded it so that the entire length of the pack bag was pushed out from the frame, the pack bag would have preserved it's original elongated elliptical shape and could have carried more contents, in my opinion.
I mentioned in an email to Paradox Packs at seekoutside.com that I thought the Talon needed another contact point ON TOP to hold the Talon up in place as I tried to push the tarp through from the side. In fact I had sewn one on before the trip and found it to be very useful.
What didn't I like about the pack? Well, not a thing in terms of the pack and frame itself, but the wait that most people will have to suffer to get their pack may be hard to take right now. But such is life in the custom pack business I suppose. I would think one could negotiate a slightly faster delivery if really needed. That's up to the good folks at Paradox Packs. They certainly treated me well, what with all my many emails and texts while trying to decide on the details for my pack. All in all a good experience.