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The Important Information to Frameless Backpacks


A frameless backpack is a core component of any ultralightweight backpacking technique. Because the starting of the 2000s, they’ve been my backpack mannequin of alternative for almost all of mountain climbing journeys that I’ve performed. The next article comprises a rundown of why it is best to think about using a frameless backpack, addresses a few of the most often requested questions on the topic, and eventually gives a listing of 15 extremely regarded frameless fashions, together with specs, costs, and hyperlinks for detailed long-term critiques.

Why Select a Frameless Backpack?

1.  Simplicity: Frameless packs typically have easier designs. Fewer zippers, fewer compartments, fewer straps, no stays – much less that may break, rip, or go flawed.

2.  Match: With frameless backpacks, it’s the load itself that gives the construction. With an unrolled or folded sleeping mat  (both CCF or inflatable) appearing as a makeshift framesheet, ideally, a frameless pack ought to mildew to the contours of your again. To ensure that that to occur, specific consideration have to be paid to the way through which your pack is stuffed (see Methods to Load a Backpack). A reasonable or heavy load packed indiscriminately right into a frameless mannequin, can be much more uncomfortable than it could be in a extra forgiving inside or exterior body backpack.

Joshua “Bobcat” Stacy and the Gossamer Gear Kumo | Lowest to Highest Route, USA, 2014.

3.  Weight and Sturdiness:  Due to their easier design and lack of framesheet or stays, frameless packs are lighter than different fashions. Usually talking, they tip the scales at 0.6 kg (21 oz) or much less. That stated, over time I’ve discovered that the burden saving doesn’t come at the price of sturdiness. A working example was the primary two Mountain Laurel Design Burn packs that I used between 2009 and 2018. Every pack lasted at the very least 9,000 path miles (14,484 km). The one caveat to that is in the event you repeatedly overload them, through which case the stitching tends to fail faster than framed backpacks; significantly across the shoulder strap space.

Typically you simply should go massive, and one of many largest hundreds I’ve carried within the MLD Burn was throughout an roughly 240 mile (386 km), seven-day stretch between East Glacier and Helena, MT, on the Continental Divide Path in August 2012.

4.  Dimension:  Individuals who purchase backpacks with massive carrying capacities (e.g. 65 litres or extra) typically discover methods to fill them. You have got all that area, it could be a disgrace to see it go to waste, no? An inherent benefit of frameless packs is that they’re comparatively small. They aren’t made to haul hundreds over 10 kg (22 lbs) for prolonged durations of time. This limitation forces the hiker to pare down their backpacking equipment from the outset. With a frameless pack, the focus must be on carrying the requirements, with superfluous luxuries both left at dwelling or stored to a naked minimal (Observe: Usually talking, in case your base weight is lower than 4.4 kg/10 lb, you don’t want any greater than 50 L capability to be able to match 5 to 7 days of meals plus a number of litres of water).

5. Value: Fewer supplies and easier designs imply that frameless fashions are normally cheaper than their inside and exterior framed equivalents.

Paul “Mags” Magnanti and his ULA CDT in Utah’s La Sal mountains, 2018 (photograph courtesy of Pmags and Rambling Hemlock).

FAQs about Frameless Backpacks

“In regard to weight, how a lot is an excessive amount of when utilizing a frameless backpack?”

In case your base weight is north of 5 kg (11 lb) and also you repeatedly carry a complete weight of greater than 9 or 10 kg (20-22 lb), you’re more than likely higher off with a light-weight inside body backpack. Why? Inner body packs with a hard and fast hip belt supply superior load distribution between your shoulders and hips and thus are extra comfy to make use of when carrying heavier hundreds for prolonged durations of time.

It’s value noting that what constitutes “comfy” can differ considerably between hikers. All of us have totally different ranges of shoulder and again energy, and your muscle conditioning will differ in accordance with how in “trail-shape” you’re at any given time. For instance, a thru-hiker could battle to hold six days value of meals and a few liters of water of their frameless pack in the course of the preliminary weeks of a hike. Nevertheless, after two or three weeks on path, they’ll more than likely discover that the identical weight feels comparatively comfy (or at the very least extra manageable).

To mitigate this breaking-in interval, the easy answer is preparation. Personally talking, earlier than enterprise any prolonged mountain climbing journey I’ll progressively enhance the quantity of weight I’m carrying on my coaching hikes. I’ll typically do that over an eight-week interval in order that once I finally set out, my physique is already habituated to the kinds of weights I’ll be required to hold in the course of the journey. The advantage of this technique is just not solely a extra comfy and gratifying expertise however simply as importantly, it additionally makes you much less prone to incur body-stressing accidents. This level significantly holds true for these amongst us which can be getting up there in years.

For the traverse of Southwest Tasmania, I started the journey carrying greater than two weeks of meals in a framed HMG 2400 Southwest pack.

“What about hip belts, and the speculation that they aren’t essential for frameless backpacks in case your base weight is below 4.5 kg (10 lb)?”

I disagree, with the next caveat – if nearly all of your mountain climbing is finished on well-maintained trails in three-season circumstances, then sure, you’ll be able to positively handle sans hip belt with out too many points. This significantly holds true in the event you not often hike for greater than 4 or 5 days between resupplies (i.e. your whole pack weight doesn’t exceed 10 kg / 22 lb). When mountain climbing on such pathways, as a rule I’ll go away my hip belt unfastened or clip it across the bottom of the pack.

All that stated……………I by no means give it the chop. Why? As a result of for a 1.5 or 3 oz weight penalty, even essentially the most minimalist of hip belts could make a distinction in regard to load stabilization, which is especially helpful from a steadiness perspective when mountain climbing in technical, off-trail circumstances for prolonged durations.

Observe: Not all hip belts are created equal. Whereas the webbing hip belts or “wings” that you just see on many frameless packs could make a distinction stability-wise, they don’t do an important deal in regard to weight switch. For that, you really want to go together with an inside body pack through which the body/stays are built-in into the pack’s hip belt (see under).

Justin “Trauma” Lichter (the one doing the pushing) below the pressure of a heavy load in the course of the Copper Canyon Traverse (Observe the hip belt!) | Mexico, 2013.

“Aside from a hip belt, what different options ought to I search for in a frameless pack?”

This can differ between hikers. Personally, I like a frameless pack with a slim profile, 30-40 litre capability, extensive and padded s-shaped shoulder straps, shoulder pockets, and a very good compression system (i.e. facet and high straps) which permits me to take care of a agency and steady pack no matter the fluctuations within the perishable weight I’m carrying (i.e. meals and water). Moreover, I’ll often use a detachable hip belt pocket if I’m carrying a devoted digital camera other than my telephone.

“What a few backside pocket? “

Some people appear to love them, I discover them superfluous. I’ve all of the area I would like for snacks in both my shoulder pockets, my occasional hip pocket/s, or the pockets on the facet of my pack beside my water bottles. If I would like anything I’ll merely swing my pack round or cease and get it out.

“What cloth/s would you suggest for frameless packs?” 

As of 2020, the primary choices for premium frameless backpacks are Xpac, Dyneema Composite Materials (DCF), and excessive tenacity nylons similar to Dyneema X, Robic, and Cordura. Which is finest? It actually relies upon upon what you’re on the lookout for. Personally, I don’t suppose there’s “one materials to rule all of them.” Huge picture-wise I’m not even certain it issues that a lot which one you go together with. On the subject of backpacks it has all the time struck me that elements similar to workmanship, consolation, quantity/compression, purposeful pockets, and load-carrying skill are extra essential than which light-weight cloth you find yourself selecting. That stated, listed here are a number of ideas:  

  • Worth for Cash / Price range Choose – If cash’s tighter than a hairpin flip, go together with Cordura, Robic, or Dyneema X. They’re a little bit heavier and never as waterproof as XPack and DCF, however for most people, the latter level is not any deal-breaker in the event you’re lining your pack with a trash compactor bag (Observe: Which it is best to do in most environments no matter your cloth of alternative).
  • XPac and DCF – These two are lighter and carry out higher in moist circumstances than nylon fashions, however they’re additionally costlier. In regard to sturdiness, a lot will depend on the density/weight of the fabric used, and though I can’t personally converse to the long-term efficiency of Xpac’s a number of variants, I can say that I’ve put my DCF HMG Southwest 2400 via the bushwhacking wringer since 2015/16, and other than discolouration and some scratches right here and there, it’s nonetheless in fine condition. The identical goes for my DCF MLD Burn which I’ve had since 2018. Does that imply that DCF packs will maintain up so long as my Granite Gear Cordura fashions from the early 2000s? No, however I don’t suppose the discrepancy in long-term sturdiness is that a lot that I’d surrender the burden and water resistance benefits (i.e. sheds extra/retains much less) of DCF.
  • My Desire?: If I’m heading out for prolonged journeys in moist environments similar to Tassie, Scotland, Scandinavia, or the south island of New Zealand, I’ll be reaching for considered one of my DCF packs. For all different kinds of circumstances, I’ll seize whichever pack is helpful and never give it one other thought.

Yours actually and the Granite Gear Virga throughout a descent of Taracuera Canyon | Copper Canyon Area, Mexico, 2005.

“I endure from again ache. Would you continue to suggest a frameless backpack?”

No. A pack through which the body stays are built-in into the hip belt will assist scale back stress in your again and shoulders by transferring extra weight to your hips. As somebody who has skilled disc points in recent times, I can personally vouch for the distinction it will possibly make comfort-wise when carrying heavyish hundreds. That stated, it’s not a panacea. Regardless of which sort of backpack you carry, for folk coping with again issues the onus is even better to reduce the quantity of weight you carry, make sure that the heaviest/densest gadgets are packed shut in opposition to your again in the course of the pack, and do every thing you’ll be able to to rehab/strengthen the areas in question earlier than heading out into the sphere for prolonged durations.

Crossing the Salar de Uyuni with the HMG Southwest 2400 | Altiplano Traverse, Bolivia, 2017.

Beneficial Frameless Backpacks

Because the early 2000s, I’ve used frameless packs from OG ultralight corporations similar to Mountain Laurel Designs, Gossamer Gear, and Granite Gear. In recent times, a brand new wave of cottage trade backpack producers have joined the UL get together, and there at the moment are extra choices than ever earlier than from which to decide on. Listed under are 15 of the highest frameless backpacks presently available on the market (in alphabetical order):

Firm / Mannequin Weight (oz/kg)  Quantity (L) Material Worth (US$)  Notes
Atom Packs The Atom 40 14.7           40 XPac £185
Extremely regarded UK-based firm / Additionally obtainable in 30L and 35L fashions / Click on right here for a 3,000 mile evaluate.
Gossamer Gear Kumo 18.9          36  Robic  165 Very comfy pack, I’ve used the Kumo periodically for the reason that CT in 2015. Lengthy-time favorite of “desert king”, Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva.
Gossamer Gear G4-20  21.7       42  Robic  180 A sleeker, cushier, and heavier remix of the traditional GG G4 from the early 2000s.
Granite Gear Virga 2 19  54  Cordura 140 Exhausting to beat for sturdiness and worth. I used the unique model between 2003 and 2008; nonetheless in good situation after 17 years.
KS Ultralight Gear 40 12.7 38 Xpac  17,300 JPY (US$165) Barebones weight and value. Add money and oz for primary equipment. Packs obtain good critiques, however the web site is headache-inducing.
MLD Burn 16.5 38   Dyneema X or DCF 220 Lengthy-time favorite. Extra bells and whistles than my unique fashions from the late 2000s/early 2010s, however the workmanship continues to be second to none. See 19,000 mile evaluate.
MLD Prophet 17 48 Dyneema X or DCF 230 Bigger sibling of the Burn. Greatest for folk with a three-season base weight of 9 to 11 lb.
Nashville Pack Cutaway 12 40 Xpac / DCF / Robic   Comparatively new firm, that has acquired constantly excessive marks. A number of customizations obtainable. Click on right here for an in depth evaluate.
Palante Packs V2  17  37 Xpac  240 Well-liked alternative amongst US ultralight backpackers. Additionally obtainable in 31 L mannequin
SMD Flight 30 UL 20 31 Robic 190 Obtainable with vest harness and various kinds of hip belts. Click on right here for a evaluate from
SWD Superior 35  14.5 43 Xpac or DCF 175  A number of customization choices. Additionally obtainable in 30 L and 40 L fashions. Click on right here for a 3,000 mile evaluate.
ULA  CDT 24 54 Robic 145 Reasonably priced, sturdy, easy design. Additionally obtainable in XPac. See evaluate from Pmags
Final Course Fastpack 35 25 38 Robic 185 Largest mannequin of UD’s Fastpack collection.
Zimmerbuilt Quickstep 9.75 36 DCF 150 Barebones weight and value. Add money and Oz for primary equipment similar to sternum strap & padding for shoulder straps. Click on right here for evaluate by long-time person, Rafael Mujica.
Zpacks Nero 10.7 38 DCF 199 Uber-light, however blended critiques regarding its sturdiness. 

Beneficial Inner Body Backpacks

Whereas more often than not I want frameless packs, I’ll use an inside body mannequin on journeys once I’ll repeatedly be carrying greater than 5 or 6 days of meals and/or massive quantities of water. Under are listed 10 of essentially the most extremely regarded light-weight inside (together with one exterior) body packs, none of which suggestions the scales at greater than 1.1 kg (2.5 lb):

Firm / Mannequin Weight (oz/kg)  Quantity (L) Material Worth (US$)  Notes
Atom Packs The Mo 50L 30       50 XPac £257
Extremely regarded UK-based firm / Additionally obtainable in 40L and 60L fashions.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 32.7       60  Robic  270 Bigger sibling of the Gorilla. 
Gossamer Gear Gorilla  30.6       48  Robic  245 Pack of alternative for triple crowners POD and Disco from  “The Path Present”, in addition to Heather “Anish” Anderson, who took the pack on her record-setting Appalachian Path hike in 2015. 
Granite Gear Crown2 60 33 60 Cordura 199 I carried a forerunner to this bomber pack, the Vapor Path, from 2003 to the early 2010s. Justin “Trauma” Lichter used its quick predecessor, the Crown V.C., throughout our traverse of the Copper Canyon area in 2013.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest  29.3 50  DCF  310  I’ve used this pack extensively since 2016. Snug carrying 30 to 35 lbs. Smaller sibling of the 3400, which provides 15L extra quantity. Click on right here for evaluate. 
Osprey Exos 48 40 48 Robic 200 Go-to mannequin for thru-hikers that don’t like sweaty backs. Additionally obtainable in 58L mannequin. 
Search Outdoors Flight One 36 61 XPac/Spectra 299 Constructed for rugged circumstances and cozy carrying hundreds between 35 and 50 lb. Click on right here for an in depth evaluate.
SMD Minimalist 35 54 Robic  210 Obtainable with vest harness and various kinds of hip belts.
SWD Lengthy Haul 40 27 50 Xpac or DCF 259  A number of customization choices. Additionally obtainable in 35L and 50L fashions.
ULA  Ohm 2.0 34.5 63 Robic 210 Reasonably priced, sturdy, easy design. Additionally obtainable in XPac.
ZPacks Arc Blast (Exterior Body) 21 55 DCF 325 As with all exterior body packs, the Arc Blast provides glorious on-trail stability however is just not ultimate for off-trail excursions.  

Closing Ideas

Frameless backpacks aren’t a perfect possibility for all hikers and/or all kinds of backcountry excursions. They require the next stage of discernment in how they’re stuffed and are much less forgiving than framed fashions when loaded with greater than 10 kg (22 lb). Nevertheless, if the remainder of your gear is of an acceptable dimension and weight, frameless packs symbolize a purposeful, sturdy, and inexpensive possibility through which to hold your light-weight equipment in your subsequent wilderness journey.

Sean “Mittencamper” Gauvreau and the SWD Superior 30 (DCF), Michigan, 2020 (photograph courtesy of Sean Gauvreau)

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