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Wild Things AT Backpack REVIEW

A lightweight classic for many years: does it still have what it takes to compete with the new breed of frameless packs on the market?

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by Will Rietveld | 2005-05-10 03:00:00-06

Overview

Wild Things AT Pack - 1
Author Will Rietveld with the Wild Things AT pack in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

The Wild Things AT pack is a large capacity multi-purpose pack that could be used as a lightweight approach pack or (as the name implies) a long-trail pack. The pack has a thick, stiff backpad and solidly connected hipbelt, which give it remarkable load carrying capacity for a frameless backpack. We dragged this pack over ledges and bushwhacked with it nearly without a scratch, thanks to its Dimension Polyant X-PAC fabric and reliable construction. However, the Wild Things AT pack lacks some hiker-friendly features. Exterior storage space is limited and water bottle pockets are not accessible with the pack on. We would appreciate a large mesh pocket on the back of the pack for drying wet gear. The Wild Things AT pack has limited compressibility; only one of the horizontal compression straps is effective in adjusting pack volume for different load sizes. Overall, the Wild Things AT pack rocks for carrying high volume/weight loads through rough country, but it needs more convenience features to satisfy the typical lightweight backpacker.

Specifications

• Backpack Style

Frameless, top loading with a top lid pocket

• Fabric Description

Pack body, side pockets, and top cap: Dimension Polyant X-PAC fabric, 5.5 oz/yd2 (186 g/m2) three-layer polyester TX, 150d with a tear strength of 25 lb and a waterproofness specification of 100 psi. Extension collar: 1.9 oz/yd2 (64 g/m2) PU coated ripstop nylon.

• Sizes Size L tested

SizesTorso Length (in)Torso Length (cm)
S17-1943-48
M18.5-20.547-52
L20-2251-56

• Volume

5,000 ci (82 L) total, 4,200 ci (69 L) in the main body and 800 ci (13 L) in the extension collar. Pack volume is the same for all sizes.

• Weight

Backpacking Light measured (men's L) 2 lb 9.2 oz (1.17 kg); manufacturer specification 2 lb 8 oz (1.13 kg)

• Volume to Weight Ratio

102 ci/oz unextended, 121 ci/oz extended (based on Backpacking Light measured pack weight of 2 lb 9.2 oz).

• Load Carrying Capacity

Backpacking Light estimated comfortable capacity 25-30 lb (11.3-13.6 kg), manufacturer estimated comfortable load carrying capacity 40 lb (18.1 kg)

• Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio

11.7 (based on 30 lb and Backpacking Light measured weight of 2 lb 9.2 oz)

• Model Year

2004

• MSRP

$230 Manufacturer suggested retail price

Frame and Suspension

Wild Things AT Pack - 2

The Wild Things AT pack utilizes a full-length 0.75-inch thick closed cell foam backpad in combination with two horizontal and two vertical compression straps to create a virtual frame for weight transfer to the hips. The pack's suspension consists of contoured shoulder pads, load lifter straps, sternum strap, and a removable padded hipbelt with side stabilizer straps.

The foam backpad can be removed from its zippered compartment and replaced with a sleeping pad. The Wild Things AT pack weighs 2 pounds 5.2 ounces without the foam backpad. We tried an inflatable sleeping pad (Therm-a-Rest ProLite 3 Short) and a closed-cell foam sleeping pad (Ridge Rest 3/4) in the compartment. While both fit fine, they are about 4 inches shorter than the original pad and reduce the effective pack torso length by the same amount.

The shoulder strap load lifters are long enough to reach with the pack on. The sternum strap has limited adjustability, and needs longer webbing and possibly ladder-lock buckles on both ends to make it more easily adjustable. Neither the shoulder straps nor the 4-inch wide hipbelt is adjustable for torso length. The best way to fit this pack is to loosen all of the straps, put the pack on, snug the hipbelt at the proper location, and then systematically adjust the shoulder straps, load lifters, and hipbelt stabilizer straps. All of these straps on the Wild Things AT Pack are sufficiently long, and can be trimmed to reduce weight by an additional 2-3 ounces, should one desire.

Usable Features and Ease of Use

Although the Wild Things AT pack is a minimalist pack, it does have several essential features: two side pockets that are large enough to hold 2-liter bottles, a fitted lid with two pockets, two gear loops on the hipbelt, a double drawcord extension collar, a sturdy haul loop, and a whistle incorporated into the sternum strap side release buckle.

Wild Things AT Pack - 3
The Wild Things AT Pack has an enormous volume capacity for a frameless pack (5,000 cubic inches), but has limited compression to control smaller volume loads.

The pack body is huge and swallows an enormous volume of gear. The manufacturer claims that the pack can be used as a partial bivy to cover up to 36 inches of the lower body. Loading it with lightweight gear, we were unable to exceed the main packbag volume and never needed the extension collar

The sides of the top lid use elastic to provide a snug fit. The top is easily removed and can be used as a daypack by connecting the fasteners on each side and slipping your arms through the holes. The lid has a medium-sized pocket on the topside, with a water-repellent zipper, and a smaller zippered compartment on the underside. Outside storage on the Wild Things AT pack is limited to the lid topside pocket, which is too small to hold a rain jacket, and the two side pockets.

The Wild Things AT pack has to come off for the wearer to take a drink since it is not hydration compatible and water bottles cannot be accessed while wearing the pack. With no outside mesh pockets, the only option for drying wet gear is to tuck it under the compression straps.

The Wild Things AT Pack can be used for light climbing, but it is not equipped for serious climbing. It has gear loops on the hipbelt and a sturdy daisy chain on the shoulder pads for holding and accessing hardware, but no haul loop, ice axe loop, or outside attachment point for carrying a climbing rope, and the side water bottle pockets make the pack a bit too wide for slipping through narrow places.

Load Volume Flexibility (Compression)

The Wild Things AT Pack has a limited ability to control small volume loads. Only the lower horizontal compression strap does any real compressing. Unless the pack and extension collar are loaded to capacity (a rare occurrence for the lightweight backpacker) the upper horizontal compression strap is too high to compress anything. The two vertical "compression straps" merely serve to secure the top cap; offering little compression to the main packbag. It would help to have a third horizontal compression strap just above the water bottle pockets.

Pack Load Carrying

I carried the Wild Things AT pack on five backpacking trips in the Colorado Rockies. Initial pack weights ranged from 27 to 38 pounds. I carried several 2-liter bottles of water to raise pack weight, emptying one after each 1,000 feet of elevation gain, testing the pack with loads down to 20 pounds. The pack endured mountain winds, snow showers, rain showers, some scrambling where the pack had to be raised and lowered over ledges, and bushwhacking through heavy brush.

Using the method detailed in Quantitative Analysis of Backpack Suspension Performance we found significant pack torso collapse with loads above 30 pounds. After carrying the Wild Things AT pack a total of about 65 miles and gaining 13,500 feet of elevation, I found the maximum comfortable load carrying capacity for the Wild Things AT pack to be 25 to 30 pounds. With a 30-pound load, approximately 80 percent of the weight could be transferred to the hips, and the comfort level was quite good. It may be possible for some people to comfortably carry properly packed loads approaching 35 to 40 pounds.

The Wild Thing AT pack's thick, stiff backpad tightly fitted into a zippered pocket, combined with a solidly attached hipbelt account for the pack's remarkable weight carrying capacity. As with most frameless packs, the more the pack is expanded the better it carries. We substituted a three-quarter length Ridge Rest pad (folded to five layers) in place of the AT pack's backpad, and it worked equally well supporting loads although it shortened the pack's torso length to a size medium. Conversely, a self-inflating Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad provided little weight transfer; pack carrying comfort was reduced to 20 pounds.

The Wild Things AT pack is tall with a center of gravity close to the user's body. It works well to load heavier items against the backpad in the upper center of the pack to optimize the center of gravity.

Durability Field Observations

The Wild Things AT pack will hold up to a lot of use. The lack of fragile mesh pockets and the pack's Dimension Polyant X-PAC fabric make it very durable for bushwhacking or mountaineering. The bottom of the pack is a double layer of Dimension Polyant. Seams on the top cap are single stitched. Critical seams on the pack body are triple stitched (outer row stitched twice, inner - less stressed row - stitched once). Webbing, heavily bar tacked, is used to reinforce load bearing attachment points.

Value

Strong points for the Wild Things AT pack are its high durability and volume/weight carrying capacity. It has good padding on the shoulder straps and hipbelt and plenty of adjustments for a good fit. However, at $230 it is on the expensive side and we therefore rate it as an average value.

Recommendations for Improvement

We suggest Wild Things add a third compression strap to the backpanel, and lower the top side panel straps, so pack volume can be more effectively adjusted and the virtual frame more easily maintained with mid to small volume loads. Use ladder-lock buckles on both ends of the sternum strap along with longer webbing to make it more easily adjustable. The lack of exterior pockets requires frequent entry into the pack bag. We love convenient outside storage pockets and recommend that the top cap pocket be enlarged so it will hold more. Also, adding a large mesh pocket to the back of the pack would facilitate drying gear.


Citation

"Wild Things AT Backpack REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/wild_things_at_pack_review.html, 2005-05-10 03:00:00-06.

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