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Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review

Larger volume frameless backpack, with removable stays, designed to be both a travel pack and a capable backpack once you get to your destination.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

Our rating is based on the Traveler’s intended usage as a dual purpose travel pack en route to your destination and backpack once you get there. Unlike most frameless backpacks, the Traveler is capable of comfortably carrying a 30-pound load – provided the pack is fully loaded, a folded ¾-length closed cell foam sleeping is inserted in the pad sleeve, and its stays are inserted for improved weight transfer. Those caveats are amenable to many long distance hikers and lightweight backpackers. However, the Traveler has too much volume and very limited volume adjustment capability, so it is less appealing for ultralight backpacking.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 1
Six Moon Designs Traveler backpack on an early summer visit to the high country.

The relatively new Six Moon Designs Traveler is a panel loading version of their popular (and proven) Starlite backpack. It’s designed to perform double duty as a lightweight travel bag and backpack. The volume of the main pack body is the same as the Starlite, as are the side mesh pockets, removable stays, sleeping pad pocket on the backpanel, and the suspension system. The difference is the panel-loading system, where you lay the pack flat and access the contents through a front panel. The pack has a zippered top pocket instead of the extension collar and roll-down top closure on the Starlite. The front of the pack has a zippered mesh pocket and two compression straps, compared to a large open mesh pocket and a drawcord compression system on the front of the Starlite.

Backpacking Light published a review of the Starlite back in 2004 and found it to have the highest comfortable load carrying capacity of all the frameless backpacks we tested. Does the Traveler perform as well as its seasoned older brother?

Specifications

Year/Model 2010 Six Moon Designs Traveler (www.sixmoondesigns.com/)
Style Panel loading with removable stays
Volume 3800 cu in (62 L) total; 3000 cu in (49 L) in main pack body, 500 cu in (8.2 L) in side pockets, 300 cu in (4.9 L) in front pocket
Weight 2009 model tested. Measured weight 31.6 oz (896 g) with stays, 26.9 oz (763 g) without stays; manufacturer specification for current 2010 pack 29 oz (822 g) with stays, 24 oz (680 g) without stays
Sizes Available One size with adjustable torso length
Torso Fit Range Adjusts to fit torsos 15-22 in (38-56 cm)
Fabrics Body is 210d 4.5 oz/yd2 Dyneema Diamond ripstop, high wear areas are 420d pack cloth, outside pockets are a stiff mesh
Frame Material Contoured flat aluminum stays 0.5 in wide x 24 in long (1.3 cm x 61 cm)
Features Durable fabrics, removable contoured flat aluminum stays, removable hipbelt available in 3 sizes with or without pockets, 2 shoulder strap sizes, removable/adjustable sternum strap, zippered sleeping pad sleeve on backpanel, 1 zippered front mesh pocket, 3 side mesh pockets, 1 zippered top pocket, 2 front compression straps, daisy chain on top, 1 hose port (no hydration sleeve), 3D wicking fabric on inside of shoulder straps and hipbelt, load lifter straps, hipbelt stabilizer straps, ice axe loop, haul loop, bear canister compatible
Volume to Weight Ratio 120.2 cu in/oz (based on 3800 cu in and measured weight of 31.6 oz)
Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity 30 lb (13.6 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day (with optional stays inserted and a folded ¾-length closed cell foam sleeping pad in the pad sleeve)
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio 15.2 (based on 30 lb and a measured weight of 1.975 lb)
MSRP US$180
Options Hipbelt pockets US$15, stays US$10

Description

At 3800 cubic inches (62 L), the Traveler is a larger volume frameless backpack. It’s designed with long distance hikers in mind, as a translation of the company’s name implies - six months (moons) on the trail. Long distance hikers need a pack that will carry higher volume and weight when needed, like after a re-supply, yet will compress down to accommodate diminishing loads as well. According to the manufacturer, the Traveler is designed to do just that and double as a secure travel bag, but does it deliver on all accounts?

The key design element of the Traveler (and Starlite) is the combination of a backpanel sleeping pad pocket and removable stays. A folded ¾-length closed-cell foam pad (like a Z-Rest or RidgeRest) inserted in the pad sleeve gives the pack substantial vertical rigidity, so this is a frameless backpack that will comfortably carry a substantial load. With the stays inserted, the pack will comfortably carry even more weight and more effectively transfer weight to the hips.

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 2
Views of the Six Moon Designs Traveler pack. The front view (top left) shows the pack’s panel access, mesh front pocket, and front compression straps. The backpanel view (top right) shows a corrugated sleeping pad in the zippered pad sleeve (more on that below), contoured shoulder straps, and large (optional) hipbelt pockets. The left side (bottom left) has one tall mesh pocket, and the right side (bottom right) has two mesh pockets.

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 3
The pack has a removable hipbelt (left) that’s available in three lengths, with or without pockets, to fit different waist sizes. The hipbelt is 4.25 inches (11 cm) high and 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick. I tested the Traveler with a size medium hipbelt with pockets. The pockets (right) are some of the largest to be found; they will hold an assortment of smaller items for easy access on the trail, and they are functionally waterproof.

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 4
A fairly large bellowed mesh front pocket (left) is zippered to prevent the contents from falling out while traveling. It’s not as large as the front pocket on the Starlite. The sternum strap (right) has a wide vertical range of adjustment; I like to keep it lower on my chest as shown.

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 5
The torso adjustment at the top of the backpanel (left) attaches the shoulder harness at different heights. Here it is adjusted for the maximum length. The Traveler is available with two optional contoured flat aluminum stays (right, 4.7 oz/133 g, US$10) that slip into sleeves on the inside of the backpanel (inside the pack body).

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 6
The pack’s contoured shoulder straps (left) are 2.75 inches (7 cm) wide where they ride on the shoulders. A closed-cell foam pad in the zippered sleeping pad sleeve (right) on the outside of the backpanel provides back padding and vertical rigidity for the pack. The stays reside behind the pad on the inside of the backpanel.

Performance

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 7
Carrying the Traveler pack on a high altitude backpacking trip in perfect weather - life doesn’t get any better than this! (And I caught a cutthroat trout on nearly every cast in the lake too.)

I tested the Traveler on four backpacking trips, ranging from a winter backcountry ski trip to a mountain cabin to multi-day spring and summer mountain backpacking. I carried loads ranging from 18 to 22.5 pounds (8.2 to 10.2 kg), with and without the stays for extra support, and with different sleeping pads in the pad sleeve. To test it at heavier weights, I loaded it up at home with heavier gear plus bottles of water to attain pack weights up to 32.5 pounds (14.7 kg).

The Traveler’s performance strongly depends on the user’s needs, and it clearly performs best under a particular set of conditions. To reiterate, the Traveler is designed to serve both as a travel bag and long distance backpack. It’s a larger volume pack, and the user must have a need for that volume. It will also serve lightweight backpackers well, if their gear will fill up the pack and weight is in the 25 to 30 pound (11.3 to13.6 kg) range.

For me, the Traveler is a bit of a conundrum for ultralight backpacking. The pack has too much volume for my gear kit, so I load my sleeping bag and down jacket unstuffed in the pack to fill up the volume. The pack’s two front compression straps do little to reduce the volume of the pack for smaller loads, so the pack size stays about the same regardless of the load.

Secondly, the pack will indeed comfortably carry higher volume and weighty loads, but its dependent on having a folded ¾-length closed cell foam sleeping pad (like a Z-Rest or RidgeRest) in the sleeping pad sleeve in order to do that, plus the stays for heavier pack weights. The problem for me is I rarely sleep on a closed-cell foam pad anymore, so I don’t really need the foam pad other than as a pack stiffener. An inflatable sleeping pad or thin foam pad (like the Gossamer Gear NightLight) does little to stiffen the Traveler for carrying heavier loads.

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 8
The Traveler pack in use as a day pack from camp - not very pretty. The pack compresses very little to accommodate smaller loads.

I also like to use a hydration system. It weighs a little more than a couple of soda bottles or a Platy flask, but it’s more convenient and I drink more. It’s noteworthy that the Traveler does not have a hydration sleeve, but it does have a hose port from the top pocket. The choices for using a hydration system are to put the reservoir in the top pocket or put it in the tall side pocket on the left side of the pack (as shown in the photos). The latter actually works well because it is easy to refill. I pack some heavier items on the opposite side of the pack to balance the weight.

The main point of this discussion is the Traveler is not very versatile in terms of its ability to adjust to different volumes and weights. It is best suited for a person who carries a moderate volume/weight load, like a lightweight backpacker, a long distance hiker, and of course a traveler/hiker. An ultralight backpacker will be happier with a backpack in the 3000 to 3500 cubic inch (49 to 57 L) range that compresses and expands well to accommodate different size loads.

So, what is the weight carrying capacity of the Traveler? The short answer is it’s about the same as the Starlite, which is around 30 pounds (13.6 kg). In my carry weight testing, with the optional stays inserted the Traveler carried 32.5 pounds (14.7 kg) of backpacking gear with reasonable comfort, which is remarkable for a frameless backpack. The key design element is the pack’s sleeping pad pocket which confines a ¾-length closed cell foam pad between the user’s back and the stays. The stays and folded pad create a virtual frame much stiffer than is possible with a pad coiled inside the main pack bag. The caveat here is this performance is dependent on a folded ¾-length closed cell foam pad confined in the pad sleeve; without it, or with a thinner foam pad or inflatable pad, the pack’s weight carrying capacity drops considerably.

The Traveler can be used without the stays for lighter loads, or with the stays for extra support and weight transfer when carrying heavier loads. But it’s not a true internal frame backpack because the stays are not anchored to the hipbelt, although the load leveler straps are anchored to the tops of the stays. The stays act as a pack stiffener, working in conjunction with a rigid foam pad to create an “enhanced virtual frame,” but they do not provide the same support and weight transfer as a backpack with a built-in internal frame.

A folded sleeping pad as described is about 3 inches (7.6 cm) thick when compressed against the back, so it pushes the pack’s center of gravity outward. Consequently it’s important to load the pack so heavier items are against the pack’s backpanel, preferably in the center of the pack. Since the pack’s volume can’t be reduced very much, the Traveler performs best when the pack is fully expanded with a full load of gear.

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review - 9
One defect in my sample pack is the elastic binding on one of the mesh was not adequately sewn to the mesh, so a section of the mesh pulled out.

Comparisons

The following table compares packs currently available that have removable stays, allowing the pack to be used either frameless or with the stays inserted for extra support. Note: information is manufacturer data for a size Medium pack.

Pack Total Weight With Stays (oz/g) Volume (cu in/L) Fabric Stay Description Stay Weight (oz/g) Adjustable Torso Cost (US$)
Six Moon Designs Traveler 29.0/822 3800/62 210d Dyneema 2 flat contoured aluminum 5.0/142 Yes 180
Six Moon Designs Starlite 30.0/850 4200/69 210d Dyneema 2 flat contoured aluminum 5.0/142 Yes 180
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 23.2/658 2800/45.9 210d ripstop Contoured aluminum tubing 3.4/96 No 180
Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus 22.3/632 3600/59 70d ripstop Contoured aluminum tubing 3.4/96 No 170

The Six Moon Designs Starlite has a little more volume than the Traveler because it is a top loader with an extension collar, otherwise the packs’ dimensions, suspension system, and weight are very similar. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus has similar volume to the Traveler and weighs 6.7 ounces (190 g) less, but its comfortable load carry capacity is less. The Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a smaller pack, so it is not a very close comparison.

Assessment

The Six Moon Designs Traveler and Starlite have the same suspension system and are basically the same size pack. The difference is the Traveler is a panel loader and the Starlite is a top loader. The only real reasons for getting the Traveler instead of the Starlite would be: 1) use as a travel pack, and 2) a preference for a panel loading design. As a travel pack, the Traveler’s dimensions are too large to qualify as carry-on baggage on most airlines, and the side pockets are not zippered to make sure things don’t fall out.

For use strictly as a backpack, I would personally prefer the Starlite over the Traveler. The Starlite is a conventional top loader and has a little more compression capability than the Traveler, but it still does not have enough compression to reduce pack volume adequately for smaller loads.

To get the best performance from a frameless backpack (including when optional stays are inserted), its important to use a closed cell foam pad, either coiled around the circumference of the pack bag or folded against the backpanel to create a virtual frame to stiffen the pack and transfer weight to the hips. It’s also important to completely fill the pack so it’s a firm, solid unit. That is accomplished by purchasing a pack that has a volume close to the volume of your normal gear kit and using the pack’s volume adjustment and extension collar to handle smaller and larger loads. Applying these principles to the Traveler and Starlite runs into some potential obstacles: 1) if you use an inflatable sleeping pad, the pack’s weight carrying capacity is significantly reduced, and 2) the Traveler is a larger volume frameless backpack and it has limited volume reduction capability to accommodate smaller loads.

Overall, the Traveler’s (and Starlite’s) stellar performance is limited to a particular set of conditions (higher volume and weight, use of the optional stays, and a folded ¾-length closed cell foam sleeping pad). If that is your situation most of the time, this is your pack, especially if you travel a lot. However, if you use an inflatable sleeping pad, your gear kit is a smaller volume, and you don’t intend to travel with the pack, you would be better served with a smaller top-loading frameless backpack. If you consistently carry loads heavier than 30 pounds (13.6 kg), I recommend getting a an internal frame backpack rather than a pack with removable stays

What’s Good

  • Serves as both a travel pack and lightweight backpack
  • Pack volume is just right for lightweight backpacking and long distance backpacking
  • Adjustable torso length
  • Three hipbelt sizes and two shoulder strap lengths to fit most hikers
  • Removable stays provide extra stiffening and better weight transfer for heavier loads
  • Hipbelt and sternum strap are removable, allowing some weight reduction
  • Durable fabrics and mesh
  • Outside mesh pockets hold a lot of gear
  • Higher comfortable load carrying capacity than other frameless backpacks

What’s Not So Good

  • Too much pack volume for ultralight backpacking
  • Minimal compression capability, so the pack does not accommodate smaller volume loads very well
  • No hydration sleeve, so a hydration bladder must be placed in the top pocket or a side mesh pocket
  • Stays do not anchor to the hipbelt, so they function as a pack stiffener rather than a true internal frame

What’s Unique

The combination of a backpanel sleeping pad sleeve containing a folded ¾-length rigid foam pad and removable flat aluminum stays create an “enhanced virtual frame” that allows the Traveler to comfortably carry more weight compared to other frameless backpacks.

Recommendations For Improvement

  • Develop an improved compression system that will allow the pack to better contain smaller volume loads
  • Offer a stiff plastic framesheet that can be inserted in the pad sleeve to achieve better weight transfer when an inflatable sleeping pad is used
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.

Citation

"Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/six_moon_designs_traveler_backpack_review.html, 2010-12-21 00:05:00-07.

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Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review on 12/21/2010 14:36:09 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review

Adrian B
(adrianb) - MLife

Locale: Auckland, New Zealand
My feedback on 12/22/2010 03:47:46 MST Print View

Nice review Will, I agree with most of your points.

I think this pack is fairly unique with it's combination of low weight, good volume, carrying comfort and panel access.

There is no other panel loading pack near this light. Travelling with a panel loading pack is a real luxury, also I find them great for more relaxing walking trips with plenty of picnic stops, often when I want to carry gear for others, versus more non stop trips where I eat out of my pockets and only unpack at the end of the day.

You mention the dimensions are too large to qualify as carry on, actually this isn't true if you really tighten the front straps down all the way. Another trick is to wrap the hipbelt around the pack backwards, which helps compress the side pockets, and streamlines things a bit. I empty the side pockets and rely on the top zippered pocket when in 'travel' mode, the result of all this is the pack becomes longer and slimmer looking. If there was a way to compress the top of the pack it would be even better for this.

I'd reiterate the carrying comfort of this pack, while carrying gear for a group I've absolutely filled it to the maximum (15+ kg) and still found it very comfortable. The adjustable torso length probably helps here. I only use a single layer (not folded) nightlite cut specifically to fit into the pad pocket and this works well (I don't like bulky pads in the pack stealing my volume and pushing the weight away from me). The resulting pad is too small for a torso pad but works well as a sit pad (and easily retrieved at stops) or to keep lower legs off the ground in combination with a bigger pad. So using an inflatable pad with this pack can work, which is good because bulky foam pads are a pain when travelling.

The pack gives you tons of pocket space while walking. The zippered top pocket is well designed to expand to a good sized volume. The front pocket is a bit redundant to me, it ends up obstructed and crushed by the two straps tightened over the top. But the large side pockets are excellent, and more than make up for the small front pocket - you can easily fit a 2 person tent in the longer side pocket. I too had the same problem where the mesh wasn't properly sewn into the mesh in one pocket. I wish the mesh material was a little less plasticy and more like the softer (but still tough) mesh used by MLD. Even if sewed properly they aren't as tough as the full dyneema hems on the current MLD packs, which now also allow adjusting of the tightness.

Also I wish there were bungee attachment points so that you could keep the pockets from billowing out when they are empty (eg when using it as carry on on a plane). In fact in general the pack needs a few small tie out points, for example I missed not having any way of strapping a pad to the underside of the pack, or any way of attaching poles or gear to the back or sides.

So to sum up, if you changed:
- some tie out points to allow side pocket compression
- some way to compress the top of the pack (a few more tie outs to attach bungee cord might do)
- nicer mesh material with better integration into the elastic hem
- moved or dropped or otherwise fixed the front zip pocket

Then I think this would be getting near the perfect ultralight travel pack.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Six Moon Designs Traveler Backpack Review on 12/22/2010 11:49:07 MST Print View

Excellent write up, Will. Any chance you can post a pic or two of the panel-loading flap and pack interior?

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
SMD Traveler on 12/22/2010 12:09:47 MST Print View

My wife and I have each had one of the originals since the first day they became available, and have carried it through the Sierra twice and along the Colorado Trail this year. FABULOUS....if you like panel loaders (and I do). I'll take it back to the CT again next summer.

One of the big selling points for us was the adjustable shoulder harness system. So many packs have fixed harnesses; they either fit or they don't. With the Traveler, you can fine-tune the set-up to fit you and the load you are carrying at the time.

The front pocket is a mixed bag, but I've learned to adjust my kit to use it. The bellowed pocket holds a LOT, but because one-half of the zipper is solidly sewn to the panel, the maximum opening is smaller than expected, limiting the size of what solid objects you can get in there. Soft items like my Gatewood Cape or jacket stuff through easily. I also use it to carry the OP sack holding all my maps and reference materials that I need to access during the day. Keeps me from having to open the panel numerous times a day.

The mesh side pockets have seen a lot of use and brush, but show no signs of wear. I have carried my collapsed trekking poles in the tall one, but prefer to strap them diagonally across the front pocket with the tips through the ice axe loop. The scree baskets prevent them from falling through.

I have carried up to 32 pounds in my Traveler without issue. A lot depends on the BULK of your gear, rather than the weight. There's a lot of room in the Traveller; you just have to learn how to load it. EDIT: My Bearikade Expedition fits vertically with room to spare. It can be made to fit horizontally, but you will abrade the fabric quickly as tightly as it fits. As stated below, the smaller Weekender fits horizontally with ease.

Given the paranoia of the TSA, I've never tried to carry my Traveler onto a plane. There are just too many items in my gear that, although permitted and legal, might get questioned, cause delays, or the risk of a "no way" declaration that forces me to return to the counter to check my pack and thus miss my plane. Besides, how else can I get my knife and stove aboard?

Edited by wandering_bob on 12/26/2010 17:26:51 MST.

David King
(dking1005)

Locale: Olympic Peninsula
My Traveler on 12/22/2010 12:32:10 MST Print View

I like panel loaders and I bought the Traveler so that I could have a pack like my Mountainsmith Ghost that would accept a Bearikade. The weekender stows horizontally in the main compartment.

With the Traveler in the Sierra

I always use the optional aluminum stays. I put my folded Neo-Air in the pad pocket, and insert my re-hydration cozy between the Neo-Air and the stays to protect my pad from chafe and to act as lumbar pad. Though the thin pad provides no support it does keep the weight close to my back.

I use color-coded silnylon bags for my gear and the volume is welcome. I really like how the top pocket is designed. If there's nothing in it the bottom lays against the top of the pack and doesn't reduce the size of the main compartment. The long mesh pocket fits my Squall or my Rainbow beautifully. My hydration reservoir goes in the upper mesh pocket on the other side.

I re-bent the stays to fit my torso and I find the pack very comfortable and have had it up to about 35 pounds with either provisions or snow gear. My usual weight with food and water is about 23 pounds.

It is a big pack. I'm amazed what I can get into it. It's too easy to take too much stuff, so I have to watch that.

Edited by dking1005 on 12/23/2010 11:04:24 MST.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Thanks on 12/27/2010 19:36:37 MST Print View

Interesting and thorough review. Good info.

REMOVABLE STAYS> I'd leave 'em in for most situations. Far better for load transfer.

MESH SIDE POCKETS> I prefer REAL side pockets with zippers - not mesh that WILL tear.

DYNEMA FABRIC> good choice for durability without adding noticable weight

M ANDERSON
(martyand)
Best Travel Pack I've ever owned on 01/09/2011 20:31:57 MST Print View

I've used one of these for more than 2 years on all continents. Because of international carry on restrictions (8 kg), I use this instead of a suitcase for business as well as backcountry. It stays partially packed, ready to go at a moments notice.

I probably have 200 days of use on it, and it looks great.

Absolutely no defects.

I use it as daypack by strapping it tightly.

Fantastic product.