Ultralight Outfitters is on a mission to make ultralight backpacking an appealing option for all. They have designed several products to sell this practice to the masses, including the Lightning Access backpack, which combined with other lightweight equipment, can reduce total pack weight to 16 pounds for a weekend excursion.
The Lightning Access Backpack is designed with the ultralight backpacker in mind. This pack is specifically intended for those who dread removing their pack repeatedly to access food, water, sunscreen, or whatever the day calls for. It can haul enough for a week-long jaunt, but is also compressible enough for day hikes around base camp.
- Adjustable for a wide range of body types
- Thumb loops on hipbelt for resting hands while hiking
- Compartmentalization for wet and dry storage
- Several compartments accessible while wearing the pack
- Light weight saves several pounds over similar sized packs
- Zig-zag stitching on seams connecting lightweight fabric to dissipate stresses and reduce seam failure
What’s Not So Good
- Pack is on the heavy end of ultralight frameless packs without comparably increasing durability
- The seven accessible compartments are small and close together, making them hard to differentiate for access
- Silnylon compartments are prone to snags/tears and will not hold up to long-term use unless protected
|2006 Lightning Access Backpack|
|Top loading, drawstring closure, top pocket|
|4100 ci (68 L)|
|Measured weight 18 oz (510 g), manufacturer specification 16 oz (454 g)|
|Exposed fabric is 210d nylon, lighter fabric is 30d silicone nylon, medium weight grosgrain webbing|
|Adjustable to fit persons 5' to 6'6", thumb loops to rest your hands while walking, sized to carry bear-proof food canisters, wet compartment for hydration system and water treatment supplies, wet compartment separated from the rest of the pack by a double wall of waterproof fabric, secure storage pocket, seven individual compartments you can reach without taking the pack off|
Volume To Weight Ratio
|227.8 ci/oz (based on 4100 ci and 18 oz weight)|
Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio
|17.8 (based on 20 lb and measured weight of 1.125 lb)|
The Outdoor Outfitters Lightning Access backpack is apparently targeted to beginners, and is designed for a specific organizational and packing method developed by the manufacturer. The method is well thought out, and makes good sense, but purchasing this pack is basically a commitment to adopt this particular approach to ultralight backpacking.
The idea is to line the inside of the pack with a sleeping bag and actually pack the rest of the gear inside the bag. Seven ‘lightning access’ pockets are located on the bottom of the pack, and can be reached without removing the pack itself. The largest pocket runs between two water bottle cages and is big enough for snacks and lightweight rain gear. The other, smaller pockets are essentially organizational compartments and can each fit smaller items such as sunscreen, sunglasses, or other on-the-go necessities. There is also a Velcro strip incorporated for closing and securing items in these pockets, which I found hard to open with only one hand while carrying a full pack. The compartment for a hydration system is waterproof.
Although the pack is designed for convenient access to all pockets without taking the pack off, I found it difficult to reach all seven compartments that are advertised as ‘lightning access’ while wearing the pack filled to capacity.
Different views of the Lightning Access Pack when protected with a sleeping pad, as per the manufacturer’s packing system.
Most of the pack is constructed of durable 210-denier nylon, but certain parts (pack front and inside pockets) are constructed of less durable silnylon. There is a unique zig-zag stitching to prevent failure at the seams and to maximize use of the lighter weight silnylon. The packing system associated with this pack utilizes a sleeping pad on the outside front of the pack (under the compression straps, see photos) to help support the load and protect the silnylon components of the pack. However, depending on the type and size of the user’s mat, these more delicate areas could remain exposed. This system seems to work best with an inflatable sleeping pad and less so with a foam sleeping pad.
(left to right) ‘Lightning Access’ to several pockets while wearing the pack without the protection of a sleeping mat (silnylon exposed).
I tested this pack over the 2006-2007 winter season in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain range. It was employed for varying winter activities, ranging from backcountry skiing to hut trips and winter camping. Although the pack carried well with winter gear, I ended up with several snags in the fabric after the first use; leaving me to question my odds at another successful trip with the Lightning Access pack (my orange sleeping bag is actually visible through the material in the photos below). With further testing on mellow trails, it became clear that the Lightning Access pack is specific for ultralight backpacking on established trails and is not suitable for bushwhacking. Contact with any sharp object is sure to shred the silnylon fabric that connects the 200 denier fabric panels on the main compartment.
The pack profile is wide and the packing system allows for the load to actually mold to the user’s back. This can provide an ideal fit for softer loads. However, loads containing harder objects can make carrying comfort a little trickier. The main compartment can comfortably hold a sleeping bag, clothes, and other camping equipment. It’s also sized specifically to fit bear-proof food canisters.
The fit is fully adjustable to accommodate a wide-variety of heights and the strap system is very straightforward and easy to understand. The hipbelt and shoulder straps are adequately padded for lighter loads, but considering the pack’s volume more padding is needed to comfortably carry loads greater than 15 pounds. The carrying capacity of this pack is adequate for weekend backpacking trips.
Different views of the Lightning Access pack: backpanel showing the hipbelt and shoulder straps (left) top pocket (middle), and frontpanel showing side easy-access pockets (right).
The Lightning Access Backpack is a suitable backpack for endeavors where light and fast travel is essential. It is particularly suitable for newcomers to ultralight backpacking because it’s built around an effective packing system developed by the manufacturer. The buyer of this pack basically adopts the packing system the pack was designed for. Overall, it makes the entry into ultralight backpacking a little less daunting. There are some unique features that could attract buyers who have specific problems associated with complicated access to gear. Although the ‘Lightning Access’ feature is sound in concept, I found it difficult to reach all seven compartments that are claimed to be reachable while wearing the pack filled to capacity. Finally, at $190 this pack is expensive in my opinion. The fabrics used in the pack are inexpensive, but the sophisticated construction necessary with all those pockets drives the price up.
The ‘lightning access’ pockets are unlike any other system I have used; the idea of having seven different compartments at your fingertips is an attractive one. It is a creative technique to include packing directions that in theory protect certain areas of the pack in order to use lighter weight fabric, thus lowering the overall pack weight.
Recommendations for Improvement
- Rework organization of the top pocket to increase accessibility and improve functionality
- Increase padding on hipbelt and shoulder straps to increase comfort with loads greater than 15 pounds