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?
|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)|
|Options||Hipbelt pockets US$15, stays US$10|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
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