The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus is a frameless 58L backpack that weighs 16 ounces. With a max recommended load of 20-25 pounds, it’s well sized for three-season thru-hiking and ultralight backpacking, when you need a higher volume pack to carry a bear canister or bulky hammock insulation. But the thing that sets the Exodus apart from other frameless backpacks is its flexibility and the quality of its design. Numerous attachment points and optional add-ons make the Exodus easy to configure for a wide range of trips.
Specs at a Glance
- Weight: 16 oz (17.5 oz, actual – Size L)
- Gender: Unisex
- Torso lengths: 18″, 20″, 21.5″, and custom
- Total Volume: 58L (including extension collar)
- Main pack: 40L
- Rear Mesh Pocket: 5L
- Side water bottle pockets: 2.5L each
- Extension collar: 8L
- Total Volume: 30L (with bottom volume reduction clips engaged)
- Materials: 210D Dyneema X Fabric (a DCF (cuben fiber) version is also available)
Organization and Storage
The Exodus is a roll top backpack that configured like most ultralight backpacks with a large main compartment, rear mesh pocket, and side water bottle pockets. The top of the pack closes with a pair of snaps (nice) that hold it closed and make it easier to roll up. When closed, a Y strap loops over the roll top, providing additional top compression. The stock pack does not have hip belt pockets, but they can be ordered as an add-on option. They loop over the hip belt with elastic straps and clip into elastic loops with tri-glide buckles so they don’t move around. I’ve used these same pockets with many non-MLD backpacks and they’re quite a convenient way to add extra storage to a backpack.
The side water bottle pockets have a panel of mesh so they can drain and you can see what’s inside them. They’re also positioned about 2 inches above the base of the pack to help protect the mesh sides and have a piece of elastic cord running through the top which can be cinched down with a cordlock to prevent bottles and other items from popping out.
While the side pockets are tall enough to securely hold a SmartWater bottle, they’re surprisingly small with space for just one Nalgene bottle. I can’t reach back and pull them out while wearing the pack, something that surprised me because I can do that with most cottage manufacturer backpacks. The side pockets are large enough to hold a 2L reservoir however, good for carrying extra water or for running an externally stored hydration system. Alternatively, the inside of Exodus has two hang loops that you can hang a hydration reservoir from, including two hydration ports located above the shoulder straps.
The rear mesh pocket is covered with moderately durable mesh, but I’d still caution against taking the Exodus off-trail to prevent ripping it up. The pocket also has an elastic cord running through the top which you can tighten to prevent items from falling out. You can also run the top Y strap through a loop on the pocket is you want to further secure the top.
If you don’t need to use all 58L liters of the pack’s capacity, you can reduce the total volume to 38L. There are clips and loops along the front and rear seams at the bottom of pack that let you narrow the depth of the main bag so it has less volume (from 40L down to 20L – the pocket sizes stay the same). The resulting 38L is a much more reasonable size for day hiking or ultralight thru-hiking without a bear canister. GoLite used to offer this same option on their backpacks and it is a value-add for a high-capacity frameless pack like the Exodus, essentially giving you two backpacks for the price of one.
External Attachments and Compression
The Exodus comes with a single tier of side compression webbing and a pair of ice axe loops. The side compression is routed through another pair of plastic rings and serves a second function, to clip down the sides of the roll top. In addition, the shoulder straps have daisy chains sewn to the front which are handy for attaching accessory pockets and electronics/navigation gear. I have a hard time using packs that don’t have these.
The Exodus also has a large number of eternal attachment points distributed around the pack so you can lash additional gear to the outside of your pack. These are small plastic rings sewn into the pack seams for strength. They number twelve in total, three along each of the four corner seams of the pack. The list of possibilities for securing Tenkara fishing rods, snowshoes, accordion sleeping pads, wet clothing, skis, or packraft paddles, etc. to the sides of the pack is really endless.
If you wanted you could use these plastic rings to set up:
- 3 tiers of extra compression on each side of the pack
- 2 tiers of extra compression on the outside of the side bottle pockets
- 2 trekking pole shaft holders on the back of the pack
- crisscrossed elastic cord on top of the rear mesh pocket
For example, here’s one of two trekking pole shaft/ice axe shaft holders, that I rigged up using a piece of reflective cord and a cordlock. It’s not rocket science, but attachment points like this really add to a pack’s utility and are worth looking for if you hope to use a pack for many activities, seasons, or locales.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Exodus is a frameless backpack, so it lacks a framesheet, frame stays, and load lifters which require a frame to have any effect. This limits its max comfortable load to about 20-25 pounds. You can still carry more than that of course, but it’s going to rest primarily on your shoulders which is a lot more tiring than if the load rests on your hips. That’s essentially what a max recommended load means.
Being frameless, it helps to densely packing your load so that it fills the pack bag and helps stiffen it up, in essence becoming a virtual frame. When I pack the Exodus, I place a cut-down 8 panel Therm-a-Rest Zlite pad inside the main bag behind the shoulder straps and then pack my gear behind it as I normally would, with my sleeping insulation at the bottom of the pack. You can also roll up a foam pad like a tube, insert it into the pack bag and then pack your gear into the middle. Both of these are standard techniques for packing a frameless backpack and they help keep the pack from collapsing in on itself, so more of the load rests on your hips and not your shoulders.
Unlike many frameless packs, the Exodus has a fairly beefy hip belt, with 4″ wide wings that taper down to 2″ in width near the buckle.The hip belt wings are padded with foam and lined with spacer mesh that provides a good wrap around your hip bones. They are sewn into the corner seams of the pack bag, thereby providing good control over pack’s lateral momentum. Since they are sewn on and not replaceable, I’d recommend measuring the distance from the inside edge of your hip bones and around your back and sending that in with your order to ensure that you get a hip belt that’s your correct size.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus is a great backpack that’s ideal for thru-hiking and multi-day backpacking trips. Although it’s frameless, it still has many of the amenities you find on heavier high volume backpacks, like a hip belt, optional hip belt pockets, and a plethora of external attachment points. If you’re out shopping for a frameless backpack, it’d be worth your while to compare the Exodus to other smaller volume packs since you can shrink the Exodus down to a 38L backpack using its volume reduction clips if you need less volume. There’s something to be said for using the same backpack for lower volume loads and higher ones, like when you need to carry a bear canister or cold weather insulation.
Personally, I like the open-ended extensibility of the Exodus’ external attachment system (missing from many frameless packs) because I like tailoring my backpack for trips which vary widely in their objectives and side activities. My only reservation with the Exodus is the fact that I can’t reach behind and grab a water bottle when hiking. I think a diagonal pocket opening would quickly remedy that problem and might well be worth asking for (as a customization). Since the shoulder straps do have daisy chains, you can also attach bottles to it as a different way to carry your water or use a reservoir/hose system routed from the side pocket.
Disclosure: Mountain Laurel Designs loaned an Exodus Backpack to the author for this review.
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