Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW

Innovative frameless backpack with seven individual compartments you can reach without taking the pack off.

Overall Rating: Above Average

The Lightning Access Backpack puts a new spin on an ultralight, frameless backpack. It’s designed to provide access to much of the pack while wearing it, making it convenient to access items while hiking. The concept is sound in theory, but I found it difficult to reach all seven compartments that are advertised as ‘lightning access’ while wearing the pack filled to capacity. Weighing in at just over a pound, the Lightning Access pack should be one of the more durable packs in its class. However, I acquired several snags in the fabric on my first use. The less than “lightning access” to parts of the pack, steep price, and uncertain durability give me reason to stop short of recommending this pack as one of the best in its category.

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by Tanya Warnecke |

Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW

Introduction

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.

What’s Good

  • 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
  • Expensive

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Ultralight Outfitters

  Year/Model

2006 Lightning Access Backpack

  Style

Top loading, drawstring closure, top pocket

  Volume

4100 ci (68 L)

  Weight

Measured weight 18 oz (510 g), manufacturer specification 16 oz (454 g)

  Fabrics

Exposed fabric is 210d nylon, lighter fabric is 30d silicone nylon, medium weight grosgrain webbing

  Features

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

20 lb

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

17.8 (based on 20 lb and measured weight of 1.125 lb)

  MSRP

$189.95

Performance

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.

Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW - 1
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.

Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW - 2
(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.

Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW - 3
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).

Assessment

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.

What’s Unique

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

Citation

"Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW," by Tanya Warnecke. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/ultralight_outfitters_lightning_access_backpack_review.html, 2007-07-17 03:00:00-06.

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Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW
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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW (Tanya Warnecke) on 07/17/2007 21:17:27 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW

Edited by bugbomb on 07/17/2007 21:35:09 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Lightning Access Review on 07/17/2007 21:25:54 MDT Print View

Hmmm, a large (nearly 70L) pack rated to only comfortably carry 20lbs.
As Queen Victoria used to say, "We are not amused".

A nice premise that might be better in a smaller, lighter package more in fitting with the UL ethos.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Lightning Access Review on 07/18/2007 00:40:27 MDT Print View

Some work on fitting and ergonomics might be "fitting", too! When was the last time I wore a pack that hung down over my bum like that?

Mark Larson
(mlarson) - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Re: Lightning Access Review on 07/18/2007 07:54:21 MDT Print View

Someone help me out, please. I only see 2 side pockets? Where are the other 5? I read the article and stared at the photos for a while, but I still don't get it.

Interesting design, though. Hopefully it will go through some more iterations and get the kinks out.
-Mark

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Wearing It Too Low??? on 07/18/2007 11:15:34 MDT Print View

Miguel:

That's the first thing I noticed! Tanya seems to be wearing her pack too low. Also, the pack droops down a lot below the hip belt! Butt kick?

I'm wondering if lining the pack with a sleeping bag instead of sleeping pad like most other frameless packs is the reason for the overall droopiness?

And yeah, a definite mis-match between pack capacity and pack carrying ability.

Edited by ben2world on 07/18/2007 11:30:33 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Ultralight Outfitters Lightning Access Backpack REVIEW on 07/30/2007 03:31:46 MDT Print View

Honestly I've never worn this pack, nor even seen it anywhere, but it looks like it wears like a saggy, sloppy mess. First re-design point, move the pack body up above the waist belt; as Miguel also noted. Looks like they tried to use external compression straps a-la granite gear, or something.. Please, will the designer of this pack join the conversation so we can assist?

bemany pife
(BemanyPife) - F
it works on 05/10/2008 20:56:08 MDT Print View

Okay it looks odd, but it works.

The pockets are layered in the two "side" pockets, which actualy is one large pocket that hangs on the bottom of the pack kinda like a tube (hence the "droopyness"). there is also one pocket onthe top cap, which can be reached while wearing it.

Though to be fair this lady is wearing and using the pack completely wrong.

This video shoud help with the pockets:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHi0g5eZWP8

also here is a diagram:

http://www.ultralightoutfitters.com/homeproducts.jpg


The extra volume is there due to the fact that: you just stuff it full then compress everything at once; rather than stuffing a bunch of sacs first.
Also this video will show you how to compress it properly:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXYi6flIGP4


It's not a perfect pack, as stated the Ultra-ultralight fabric on the back of the pack is sort of questionable. I don't really see the point of it, how many onces did it really save, 1 maybe?

While we are on the subject of fabrics, why is it not Dyneema ripstop? Also it's only available in one color, and it is not a great color. And all this for $180 bucks?

yes, I agree it's overpriced; I agree it's a bit on the heavier side of ultralight ( lets get real though it still is rediclously light compared to most other packs.) Yet I like the compression pack idea (easier packing less stuff sacks that add wieght), and the pockets DO work just as advertized.

Edited by BemanyPife on 05/10/2008 21:03:07 MDT.

scott thompson
(sthomper) - F
well..it is designed to be ultralight on 11/16/2009 12:33:05 MST Print View

i havent used this equipment but it looks compelling to try.

i guess the compression style pack has shown itself to be the best method to carry equipment and food in the lightest way. light straps squeezing things opposed to rigid materials (heavier?) having things pressed onto them and outward.

i saw in a video one reason stated for the pad carried on the back of the pack - it was for easy access during rest periods as a seat cushion.
i dont know if straps holding the sleep pad where the hikers back meets the pack would be uncomfortable or not.
with clothing on i wouldnt think it would be a problem.

it seems to me the pack then is conforming to an ultralight ethos as it strives to keep loads at 20 lbs. compression i guess is the best way to flexibly accomodate varying lightweight loads.

i will keep looknig for further reviews of these products.

Edited by sthomper on 11/16/2009 22:00:36 MST.

scott thompson
(sthomper) - F
well..it is designed to be ultralight...but on 11/16/2009 22:07:10 MST Print View

in looking at the video and the product website i didnt see how a sleeping bag would stay dry in rain (with water flows on the ground).

the manufacturer mention a 3/4 length pad for the sleeping bag but i would think that would leave the foot portion to get wet?

would this be a solution?

Adventure Medical Kits Thermo-Lite 2 Bivvy

http://www.amazon.com/Adventure-Medical-Kits-Thermo-Lite-Bivvy/dp/B000WY2962/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_2