I review a lot of backpacks on Section Hiker because I am genuinely interested in understanding what makes some backpacks good and others great. Since I’m into lightweight backpacking, I spend most of my time reviewing ultralight and lightweight packs that weigh between 1 pounds and 3 pounds and are made by mainstream backpack manufacturers such as Osprey Packs, Golite, Granite Gear, and REI or the so-called cottage manufacturers like Gossamer Gear, ULA, Mountain Laurel Designs and Zpacks.com.
Lightweight Backpack Design Trends
One of the interesting things I’ve observed is the convergence of mainstream manufacturers’ backpack designs with those from the cottage manufacturers. The packs they make in the 1 to 3 pound range are beginning to look and quack the same way. For example, many mainstream backpack manufacturers are producing lighter weight packs with removable or optional components such as framesheets and floating lids, they’re using much lighter fabrics, and adding more external lash points or mesh pockets.
In response, ultralight packs from the cottage manufacturers have gotten a lot more rugged in the past year. Most manufacturers are already producing or have announced packs made out of tough Dyneema fabric, they’ve added rigid pack stays to help their packs carry heavier loads and counter the “frameless” objection, and replaced fragile mesh pockets with tougher materials.
Where’s the Internal Frame?
One of the fascinating design changes I’ve seen pick up steam amongst mainstream backpack manufacturers has been replacement of the traditional internal or trampoline frames with framesheets and/or foam pads. It’s ironic, because these newer packs are still marketed as internal frame packs on retailer web sites, when in fact they’re essentially frameless, because there’s no direct connection between the frame and their hip belts anymore. Most of their framesheets are even optional, to reduce weight.
This is a widespread gear trend that can be seen in many lighter weight packs such as the REI Flash 50, the REI Flash 65, the Mountain Hardware Kanza 55, the Osprey Hornet 46, the Osprey Mutant 38, and the Boreas Lost Horizon 60 (review forthcoming.) In terms of suspension, there’s really little difference between them and frameless backpacks such as the Golite Pinnacle, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack or the Zpacks.com Blast 32.
Reframing Internal Backpack Suspensions
The big question is whether frameless packs will become cool and “safe” for retailers to sell, or whether major manufacturers will redefine internal frame packs to include ones that have removable frames and don’t have a direct connection to the hip belt.
If these new packs are “frameless”, let’s start calling them such and stop beating around the bush.
What Do you Think?
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