Ultralight packs are getting a running vest-inspired makeover

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An ultralight backpack is beautiful in its simplicity. In the name of saving weight, most features are reduced or eliminated entirely. Top caps and “brains” are replaced with roll-top closures. The zippered compartments, heavy frames, and suspension systems are all stripped down. This minimalism also makes innovation hard to come by: there are few ways to design a backpack with a single compartment, a few external pockets, and a basic suspension system. Outside of the strongest and lightest materials, it’s safe to say that ultralight packs haven’t had a radical rethink in some time.

But there are new ideas, and the latest is a novel form of shoulder strap: a wide, elastic harness instead of the traditional padded straps. For inspiration, ultralights can thank the world of ultrarunners and adventure runners, who prefer running vests to packs because vests feel more comfortable and bounce less on quick trips down the trail. The concept is similar in ultralight packages. The vest-style harness distributes the load more evenly across the chest and shoulders, while keeping the pack snug and secure. It’s a marked difference from the way traditional shoulder straps work, which are often intentionally loose to transfer weight through the pack frame and onto the hips.

These running vest-style harnesses are mostly found in frameless packs that have a maximum load capacity of around 40 litres, although there are a few exceptions. In general, however, the harness concept works best with packs that are 45 liters or less, and loads 25 pounds or less (anything heavier, and most hikers will prefer the load transfer capabilities of a frame pack). Traditional Internal If you’re interested in following the trend with your next purchase, here are five options to consider.

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Blacksmith Zerk ($220)

Designed in collaboration with hiker and Instagram star The Real Hiking Viking, the Zerk is a 40-litre pack that can best be described as a “luxe” frameless option. Constructed of 210-denier ripstop nylon, it has a foam frame and non-padded hipbelt (both removable), which help provide some structure but little load capacity. The Zerk’s shoulder harness has straps that are about four inches wide, each with two mesh pockets big enough to carry your phone, snacks, or a headlamp. Weight: 29 ounces

nashville pack
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The Cutaway is a 35-liter frameless package that is highly customizable. Each of the mesh shoulder straps has three pockets, the largest of which can hold a one-liter water bottle. The Nashville Pack, a Tennessee-based two-man cabin operation, offers a number of a la carte options, including a hip belt, sternum strap, and bungee cord system to attach a foam pad to wear. a back pad. The Cutaway is available in Ultra (a composite fabric) or Ultragrid (a 200-denier nylon ripstop). Weight: 14.3 ounces

The Aerios, a 45-liter internal frame pack, is probably the most traditional pack available that also sports vest-style straps. Though it weighs more than other options on this list, that extra weight earns you internal frame sheeting, a padded back panel, nylon (instead of mesh) side pockets, a substantial hipbelt, and zippered side access to the main compartment ( also has a roll-up closure). The mesh shoulder straps are around 4 inches wide and feature a zippered pocket and an open pocket large enough to carry a soft flask. Weight: 38 ounces

six moons
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The Swift is a 40-liter package that sits between the internal frame and frameless design. Instead of a frame sheet, it has a removable Delrin underwire for support. Other features include a removable hipbelt (padded, with zippered pockets), internal stash pocket, and adjustable torso length. The Swift also stands out on this list as the only pack offered with either the traditional shoulder straps or a vest-style system. The vest straps feature pockets large enough to carry a narrow water bottle. The Swift is available in two versions: the Swift V uses Robic nylon while the Swift X offers a choice between the X-Pac VX21 and LS21. Weight: 35.9 ounces (SwiftV); 38.8 ounces (Swift X); Buy now

Gossamer Gear’s Kumo is a 36L frameless pack designed for quick trips and ultralight hikes. Despite its diminutive size, it has a number of features found on larger packs, including a padded hipbelt with zippered pockets, a lid (again, with a zippered pocket), and a side compression system. It’s constructed of 70-denier Robic nylon. The shoulder straps have three layered pockets, including a zippered one designed for a smartphone and one near the bottom of the strap for storing wraps and other junk. Weight: 20.7 ounces;

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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