Elemental Horizons is a well-regarded cottage backpack manufacturer based in North Carolina with a small but loyal customer following. They’ve recently added XPac fabric as a material option to their backpacks, including the adjustable frame Kalais XT reviewed here. XPac is an ultralight waterproof laminate like cuben fiber (now called Dyneema Composite Fabrics), but slightly heavier and more durable, that can be sewn like conventional materials and doesn’t have to be taped together like DCF.
Kalais XT Specs at a Glance
- Frame type: Adjustable
- Weight tested: 41 oz size medium; 45.5 oz actual, tested (size M torso, XL hip belt)
- Volume: 49L
- Mfg Max Recommended Load: 45 pounds (I agree)
- Bear canister compatible: Yes, inside pack bag
- Materials: X-Pac VX21 composite body with 210D Dyneema X pockets, spacer mesh on body contact areas
Internal Storage and Organization
The Kalais XT is an ultralight style roll top backpack with large side water bottle pockets, a long external stuff pocket. The main pack bag is a roll top with short strips of velcro at the top to hold it closed and a webbing stiffener to facilitate rolling it up. A single webbing strap runs over the roll top and connects to the top of the pack’s rear stuff pocket.
The pack comes with two large, solid-faced hip belt pockets that close with zippers and can hold long objects like a Steripen or a collapsible camera tripod. The pockets are removable. They’re attached to webbing on the hip belt strap with plastic clips, but don’t move up and down the webbing or bunch (in an annoying way) because the clips are captured on the hip belt. If you remove the pockets, you can hang carabiners from the daisy chains underneath, which is handy for winter hiking or climbing.
The side water bottle pockets are enormous and can easily hold 2 x one liter bottles. The pockets are slanted to make it easy to reach back and pull out or replace water bottles while wearing the pack. Both pockets have an elastic cord w/ cord lock on top so you can cinch them shut for more security. There are also drain holes at the base of the pockets.
The long stuff pocket is made with a combination of Dyneema X in the center with a lightweight fabric mesh along the sides. I didn’t manage to destroy the mesh during testing, but it wouldn’t take much. If your interest in the Kalais XT is off-trail travel, I’d recommend requesting much stronger mesh as a customization or eliminating it altogether and opting for a solid Dyneema pocket.
If you use a hydration reservoir, there are gear loops inside the pack bag to hang them from (anchored below a horizontal frame stay), but no separate hydration pocket or sleeve. A hydration hose can then be routed through holes above the shoulder straps.
External Attachment and Compression System
The Kalais XT’s external attachment and compression system is pretty phenomenal. There are three tiers of side compression straps so you can compress a load or lash gear to the side of the pack. The Kalais XT isn’t a huge volume pack, but the added tier means that you can mix and match the straps, using a subset of the straps for compression and the rest to hold attachments, which is a nice perk if you carry tall skinny objects like an axe, paddle, skis, or rifle on your trips.
But one of the things that sets the Kalais XT apart, are the number of reinforced gear loops arranged around the pack for lashing extra gear to the outside:
- There are 11 gear loops anchored in the rear pack seams, so you can route cord over the log stuff pocket. This is very handy when you need to carry extra traction devices like snowshoes or crampons, for winter hiking, but can have myriad other uses.
- An additional 6 gear loops are arranged around the perimeter of spacer mesh below the shoulder straps (behind your back), which can be used to rig up external attachments along the sides of the pack, with the rear gear loops described above.
- There are another 4 gear loops arranged around the base of the pack below the corners of the side pockets. These can also be used to hang gear below the pack like a tent or sleeping pad, which is very handy when you have a bulky load.
If you don’t need all these gear loops for your trips, they’re really quite harmless and don’t add any measurable weight to the pack. But if your trips involve carrying extra equipment for guiding, trail maintenance, fishing, hunting, winter hiking, or mountaineering, having them is priceless.
Backpack Frame and Suspension System
The Kalais XT is an adjustable frame backpack, meaning that you can raise or lower the shoulder yoke to match your torso length and dial in a near custom fit. The height of the shoulder yoke is controlled by an adjustable webbing strap, while velcro panels behind the should straps hold the yoke to the pack and prevent any lateral slippage.
The frame is a V-shaped stay that slots into the hip belt at the bottom, providing excellent load transfer to the hips. The V-shaped stay has a cross-bar at the top, for added stiffness, and provides an effective anchor for the pack’s load lifter straps. The hip belt is also available in multiple lengths and replaceable, so you can get the fit you need.
The hip belt is 5 inches wide so there’s a lot of contact with your hips for effective load transfer. There’s a low profile lumbar pad that slots into a hip belt cutout over the frame stays so you can’t feel them, but doesn’t really add any noticeable padding over your lower back. The hip belt closes with a two tier strap so you can fine tune the hip belt fit at the top and bottom of the belt. The straps are pull-forward for mechanical advantage but connect at a central buckle so the webbing ends don’t hang in front of your zipper. It’s a great hip belt, actually. There’s a little slip with heavy loads when the spacer mesh padding in the hip belt compresses, but the hip belt won’t slip below your hip bones.
The shoulder straps are lightly padded with spacer mesh and flexible, with load lifter straps. But there are no daisy chains on the shoulder straps to hang gear from, which I would ask for as a custom option, because I like hanging accessory pockets and navigation gear from them.
The Kalais XT is a superlative ultralight style backpack with an adjustable torso length. It carries great, even with heavy loads, with a highly adjustable hip belt, huge side water bottle pockets, and a best-in-class external attachment system. Weighing 41 oz in a size medium, it is a substantial backpack by today’s UL standards, but the added weight of an XPac backpack (3 oz more than the regular Kalais) is well worth it if you’re rough on backpacks or hike off-trail through hell and back. The Kalais XT is also notable because it can be used as a 4 season backpack, equally suited for warm weather and cold, when having a waterproof pack with a flexible external attachment system is a real plus.
Disclosure: The manufacturer supplied the author with a sample backpack for this review.