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Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 Backpack Review

Paradox Packs Unaweep 4800 on Mt Washington in Winter
Seek Outside Unaweep 4800 on Mt Washington (note aluminum frame) – photo courtesy of Mike Reinemann

I bought a Unaweep Fortress 4800 backpack a few months ago from Seek Outside after using testing a loaner Unaweep 3900 over the summer (see my Unaweep 3900 review). The Unaweep packs are external frame backpacks with a roll-top pack bag. Both the 3900 and the 4800 packs are made with an extremely tough, waterproof fabric called X-Pac (VX21) and are optimized for carrying heavier loads well  in excess of 40 pounds.The Unaweep 3900 and the 4800 are nearly identical, so I’m not going to repeat the detailed review I gave the 3900 previously. See the link above for more information.

While I don’t use the Unaweep much for three-season trail hiking, it’s quickly filled an un-met need in my gear closet, as a pack that is tough enough to take the abuse of off-trail New England bushwhacking. That’s the main reason I bought it.

But the Unaweep has also proven to be a great winter day hiking pack, even when I don’t need all of its capacity. The secret sauce is the Unaweep’s compression system, which makes it easy to streamline the pack’s profile, even when it’s lightly loaded.

Talon pocket can be used to hold external items against back of the pack.
The outer Talon pocket can be used to hold external items against back of the pack.

Pack Components

The Unaweep 3900 and 4800 backpack have five major components: the external frame, the main pack bag w/ side bottle pockets, a hip belt,  shoulder harness, and an external pocket called a Talon (shown in orange, above). The Talon has a zipper along the long side, so it can be used as a large external pocket, with 1000 cubic inches of storage space. The Talon can be connected to the three-tiered compression system and is great for lashing gear to the outside of the pack. You can also use the pack without the Talon, since the compression straps can be connected behind the pack without it.

The torso length on the Unaweep 3900 and 4800 is adjustable using simple webbing straps, by raising or lowering the shoulder harness. You can also adjust the position where the load lifters attach to the front of the shoulder straps, which is a super-nice feature you only find on very high-end expedition packs. It helps ensure that the angle of your load lifter straps is 45 degree, so you really get some leverage out of them. This is a feature I wish my Cold Cold World winter pack had, but it doesn’t.

There are a couple of other nuances to the Unaweep 3900 and 4800 design that I won’t cover here…check out my Unaweep 3900 review for full details.

The torso length of the Unaweep Backpack can be adjusted by raising or lowering the shoulder harness.
The torso length of the Unaweep Backpack can be adjusted by raising or lowering the shoulder harness.

Pack Customizations

I had Seek Outside customize a number of features on the 4800 for me to facilitate the use of the pack in winter. The customization fee wasn’t expensive and these features really enhance the utility of the pack for cold weather use.

Raised the height and depth of the side pockets so they can store stuff sacks of gear without risk of falling out or abrasion.
Raised the height and depth of the side pockets so they can store stuff sacks of gear without risk of falling out or abrasion.

Increase the Depth of the Side Pockets

I asked Seek Outside to increase the depth of the side pockets by an additional 4 inches, so I could use the side pockets to store gear and help reduce the frequency of having to open my pack to get at it. When hiking in cold weather, I drop an insulated water bottle in one of the side bottle pockets (while storing my other bottles in the pack’s main compartment) and a cuben fiber stuff sack containing my extra gloves, balaclava/face mask and ski goggles in the other side pocket for easy access above treeline. The pockets are deep enough that gear stored in them is not at risk of falling out or getting ripped up.

The bar tacked webbing on the shoulder straps creates a daisy chain 'effect' that you can easily hang attachments from.
The bar tacked webbing on the shoulder straps creates a daisy chain ‘effect’ that you can easily hang attachments from.

Bar Tack the Shoulder Straps

The stock Unaweep shoulder straps have front webbing sliders on them to adjust the height of the sternum strap, but there’s no way to easily attach a camera pocket, a GPS pocket, or a map case to the shoulder straps for easy access while you are hiking. So I cannibalized the front webbing straps and had Seek Outside bar tack the webbing, creating daisy chains along the front of the shoulder straps. This lets me hang gear pockets from the straps using Gear Aid Tri-Glides and other similar plastic attachments. I like fast transition times in winter and having my camera, GPS, snack bottle, or map case on my shoulder straps means I don’t have to stop and dig around in my pack every time I need something.

A side zipper helps you access items quickly without having to open the top of the pack and dig around for them.
A side zipper helps you access items quickly without having to open the top of the pack and dig around for them.

Add Side Zipper to Main Compartment

Seek Outside offers a side zipper as one of their standard customization options. It’s a great feature for winter because it means you don’t have to stop and undo the roll top closure on the main pack bag to access gear from inside your pack. If you pack the gear you’re likely to need during the day at the top of your pack, like a fresh hot water bottle or a down coat, it’s easy to reach in and grab them through the zipper.

Other Customizations

The only other customization I opted for was getting a blaze orange Talon pocket (only available in Pack Cloth), instead of a stock grey one made out of VX21. This isn’t really a winter-specific customization as much as one for bushwhacking, so hunters won’t shoot me when I’m off-trail.

Ice axe shaft is lashed to a Talon Buckle using elastic cord and a cord lock
Ice axe shaft is lashed to a Talon Buckle using elastic cord and a cord lock

Gear Organization

While not specifically designed for winter hiking or backpacking, the Unaweep 4800 can be easily adapted for it.

I pack my microspikes or crampons in the rear talon pocket along with a bag of snacks, map, compass, and headlamp. The hip belt has ample webbing loops and I slip a carabiner in one to hang miscellaneous gear. There are dual ice axe loops at the base of the pack but no shaft holder, so I rig a cord lock and some elastic cord around a talon buckle to secure the shaft in a vertical position. Snowshoes are easy to carry between the Talon and the main pack or along the sides of the pack under the compression straps. An accordian foam pad is easily lashed under the Y strap on the top of the pack. Skis can be lashed to its sides under the compression straps, and so on.

The rest of my gear is organized as I would for any winter pack, with my sleeping bag at the bottom of the main compartment with my “night-time” clothing, kitchen gear, heavier food, etc, and more frequently accessed items including water and “day time” clothing higher up for ease of access.

Needless to say, the Unaweep 4800 is just phenomenal when fully loaded with 40+ pounds of winter backpacking gear, water, and consumables. The comfort of the hip belt and the ease of going heavy with winter loads is a revelation. It’s a pretty amazing pack, considering that it only weighs 3 pound 10 ounces.

Disclosure: The author paid for the Unaweep 4800 discussed above with his own funds. 

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20 comments

  1. Very interesting pack. How do you find the stability when snowshoeing or hiking uneven terrain? I’ve been looking for a lighter alternative to my old Dana Designs Terraplane for winter multi day trips, but haven’t really found anything that works for me. Paradox could be it..

    • The frame is pre-curved and body hugging like a regular internal frame pack, except that the frame is outside the pack bag, so it’s very stiff without throwing you off-balance, provided you don’t pack it top heavy. I think the Unaweeps are perfect for any trip you’d take a Terraplane on. You’d be able to chop 3-4 pounds off your load and still have an expedition sized pack. People carry much heavier loads with this pack than 40 pounds.

      It’s a derivative of a hunting design intended to carry 100 pound meat loads, but it’s become very popular with UL nutured backpackers who have to go heavy. I love it and I’m even tempted to carry it on the AT next spring in order to carry 10 days of food at a shot, in order to skip resupply days off-trail.

  2. Looks like a great pack!

    I definitely agree about the value of more compression straps. In fact based on your photos (plus those at the manufacturer’s website) I’d be inclined to call it a 3+ or even 4 tier system if you consider the adjustable straps securing the talon

    • I wrestled with that. There’s top compression with the Y-strap and bottom compression with the shelf (I call it a beaver tail). Very interesting design, all around, and very different from other alpine style winter packs with floating lids.

      I can tell Ben likes his too!

  3. To echo Phil, it is as stable and body hugging as any internal frame. I’ve used it for about 150 miles of backpacking so far and it is the most comfortable pack I have ever used for the reasons Phil has said in his reviews. With the outstanding compression it works just fine as a daypack, for light summer loads, rediculously heavy loads or anything in between. I sold my other two backpacking packs (a Granite Gear crown and an Osprey aether) to finance a 2nd unaweep for spare parts I like it so much. Both seemed rather redundant as I would take the unaweep over either any day of the week. As a plus the X-PAC material does better in the rain than conventional polyureathane coated nylons. It is 100% waterproof, absorbs less water and dries faster.

    • I love mine. I do wish I would have thought to get extended side pockets like you did. I added Zpacks cuben fiber belt pockets and shoulder strap pouches to mine. With the 4 inch extenders to the pack frame the load lifter straps are at a perfect 45*. I can wrap my 25″ Ridgerest pad inside and store tarp, sleeping bag and clothing enough for an overnight. It fits me comfortably and I forget I have it on when loaded up to 35 lbs.

  4. When I call them should I ask for the “Section Hiker Mod”?

  5. i have the granite gear leopard and the hip belt slips on that, did you have issues with that? I looked at your review for the 3900 and it shouldn’t have that issue? even though the granite gear *could* hold 40, this would be even better right?

    • This should be able to hold 60 pounds or more, although I have yet to load it up that much. I only notice it slipping if I have slippery nylon layers underneath the belt. Its a very comfortable pack frame.

  6. What is the cost for the bag – standard and with your modifications?

  7. Thank you Phil for another awesome review and a product with mods many will appreciate. You wrote you got this pack for winter day hiking – what about multi-day winter trips? Do you prefer your Cold Cold World Chaos Pack for multi-day trips, and if so why?

  8. Thanks for the great reviews on Unaweep packs. I just placed an order for a 4800. Quick question. Have you tried any hip belt pockets with yours? Just curious if you found anything that works well?

  9. Hipbelt Pockets:
    I will not buy a new pack with permanently attached pockets. My favorite belts are those with the MOLLE or PALS webbing such as these from Seek Outside. Granite Gear also uses this type hipbelt webbing on many packs for the past several years. The webbing system is made for attaching “military/tactical” pouches.

    The pockets (or pouches) I add are generally made from 500D or 1000D Cordura and are heavy, but are also very heavy-duty. I can buy them in a multitude of sizes and shapes for almost any use.

    In general, I put a pouch on each side as far back as possible to hold water bottles. These are much easier to obtain and replace my bottles while on the move compared to the water bottle pockets on the sides of the pack. I also put at least one more pouch on each side of the belt (usually small). These keep my snacks and other items I generally want or need while on the move during the day.

    I’ll say one thing about pouch placement. I have found that I would rather put them so that my hands/arms/poles don’t hit them while walking with a normal swinging of the arms. That can be irritating.

    I hope this can give you some ideas.

  10. Watch the screws that attach the hip belt to the frame. They can loosen up if you’re not careful.

  11. Thanks for another great review! Any thoughts on whether this pack would be suitable for mountaineering expeditions (e.g. Renier or Denali)?

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