The Nashville Packs Cutaway Backpack is a 40L frameless rolltop pack that’s a dream to carry for ultralight backpacking, thru-hiking, and even day hiking. While it’s loaded with external pockets so you can reach everything you need during the day without having to stop and take off the backpack, its most innovative feature is its vest-style shoulder strap system and fitting methodology.
If you’ve had difficulty finding a vest-style pack that feels comfortable when loaded, I’d encourage you to try the Cutaway pack which is available in different shoulder strap lengths and can be adjusted for wide or narrow torsos. When it comes to vest-style packs, the traditional method of using torso length to fit a frameless backpack just doesn’t cut it. Vest-style shoulder straps, which are worn higher and tighter than conventional backpack straps, require a different fitting methodology that takes into account chest girth and length like the one that Nashville Packs has pioneered.
- Type: Frameless
- Shoulder Straps: Vest-style, S-shaped
- Weight: 16 oz (including hybrid vest straps)
- Volume: 31-35L (closed storage) 10L open storage
- Torso length: 20″
- Strap length: 19″
- Pockets: 8
- Hydration compatible: No
- Max recommended load: 25 lbs
- Material: Ultra 200 (also available in UltraGrid), Dyneema Stretch Mesh
- Seam-Taped/Waterproof Fabric: Yes
- Beat Canister Compatibility: a BV425 and BV450 fit horizontally, while a BV475 and BV500 fit vertically.
- Pad attachment straps
- Bottom pocket
- Hip belt (removable webbing)
- For complete specs and options, visit Nashville Packs
The Nashville Packs Cutaway is an ultralight-style pack with a roll-top closure, a top Y strap, and a front mesh pocket that runs from the sides of the pack continuously around the front, so there are no distinct side pockets. The beauty of this external wraparound pocket is that you can stuff a lot of clothing and food into and reach it while wearing the backpack, so you don’t have to waste time taking it off and rooting through the main compartment to find things while you’re hiking. If you’re used to packing most of your gear inside your pack, you’ll probably want to alter your packing style a bit to take full advantage of the Cutaway.
The external wraparound pocket also has a small internal pocket at the top, basically a shelf, where you can stow small items that you want close at hand, but aren’t used as frequently like a water filter, a tent stake bag, PLB, sun tan lotion or bug dope bottle. It’s a very nice organizational feature.
The Cutaway’s main compartment has a distinct tapered shape that is 12″ wide at the base and 13″ wide at the point where the hybrid vest-style shoulder straps attach. It has a long extension collar so you can fit quite a lot of overnight gear and food inside it 31L-35L volume (depending on pack size) provided that you keep it as compact and minimal as possible. The top of the pack closes with blue snaps instead of velcro or a stiffener: the snaps give the top better durability and don’t result in a hard fold in the material which degrades with heavy use.
The pack bag is cut from a single piece of fabric and closed with two side seams to increase its water resistance. Made with Ultra 200, which is a highly abrasion-resistant and waterproof fabric, the Cutaway’s seams are taped, so that the pack won’t leak or absorb water in drenching rain (a less expensive UltraGrid model is also available). Nevertheless, there’s still utility in packing your gear inside with a waterproof pack liner or plastic bag, if only to keep wet items from making dry ones wet when packed together.
While you can stow water bottles into the sides of the wraparound pocket as on a conventional backpack, they tend to fall over toward the center of the external mesh pocket if the main compartment isn’t packed full. I think it is more suitable, on this pack, to slide your bottles into the lowest pocket on the vest-style shoulder straps which are designed for that purpose. I’ve found 20-23 oz bottles work best for me and are the most comfortable although larger bottles will fit. They also help counter-balance the weight of the main compartment when carried in this manner.
The shoulder straps have three pockets each: the water bottle pocket, which can be also used to store other bulkier items like a camera, and two stretch mesh pockets above that so you have a total of six pockets on the shoulder straps alone. The lower two pockets have drawstrings and cordlocks to secure items and the upper two also have plastic snaps and webbing loops if you want to hang an item or 3rd party accessory pocket from them. I use the middle pockets to store an inReach Mini 2 and my iPhone, but haven’t really found a good use yet for the upper pocket, which is inverted (as in upside down.)
The straps are really comfortable and made with a soft wicking air mesh that conforms to your curves without feeling stiff. I’m quite impressed by how comfortable they are, even when the pack is loaded. The exterior pockets are made with a fine stretch mesh that doesn’t catch on external objects and dries quickly when wet.
The Cutaway has optional external pad straps to hold a foam sit or sleep pad against the back panel. I found that the Cutaway barrels when stuffed and having a foam pad as a back panel makes it less noticeable. I use a 4-panel Therm-a-Rest Zlite with mine (20″ torso length) but it does require a few inches of trimming to remain below the top shoulder strap attachment point.
When fitting a pad to the pack, you want to make sure the bottom stuff pocket at the base of the pack is still accessible because its only opening is behind your butt. This pocket is great for holding gloves or a hat, a minimalist rain shell, or snacks. The bottom pocket is open at the base of the sit-pad but sealed closed on the other sides so you can stuff or retrieve hats, gloves, or food, again without stopping. Other packs, such as the Hyperlite Unbound 40 which has a side opening that can be difficult to access if the side pockets contain heavier items that hang down and block access.
When you order vest-style straps from Nashville Packs, they have a unique way of measuring the length of the straps you need. You can read about this more on Nashville’s sizing page. They write,
“Please follow these steps when taking your strap measurement:
- Stand up straight with your back against the wall.
- Find the base of your sternum and imagine a horizontal line traveling across your rib cage. The most comfortable place for the bottom of your straps should fall within an inch or two of this line.
- Simulate the line of pressure at the bottom of the straps by pressing down with the side of your thumbs. This should help you determine the most natural/comfortable place for the bottom of the straps to ride.
- With a measuring tape or string, measure from this point up over the middle of your shoulder (following the path the strap will take), and to the wall behind you at the same height as the top of your shoulder.”
Different people have chest girths and chest heights in addition to different torso lengths and these measurements are designed to accommodate that. For example, most of the vest-style straps I’ve used to date have fit me poorly because they’re not designed for wide torsos, wide shoulders, or longer torso lengths. I can only imagine what difficulties women have with these one-size-fits-all vest-style straps!
In addition to getting the right length, Nashville has devised a system where it’s easy to position the straps more widely or narrowly on the pack. Instead of being sewn to the pack bag, the vest-style straps are attached to a daisy chain that spans the width of the pack. Each side of the vest is secured with three small webbing straps, as depicted below.
The sternum straps (2) use a similar daisy chain fitting mechanism, letting you remove one or even add more if that’s what you prefer.
I’ve found that a loose packing style works best with the Cutaway to fill the volume in the pack and stabilize the load. I start by packing a hoodless down quilt first and stuffing it in the bottom of the pack inside a trash compactor bag before piling the rest of my gear and food on top, mostly loose, with a minimum number of drawstring stuff sacks that are easy to squeeze the air out of.
I carry a number of odds and ends in the vest, including a smartphone, inReach mini 2, food bars, and water bottles. The wrap-around mesh pocket holds my rain gear, tent stakes, bug dope, sun tan lotion, water filter, reservoir, my lunch, and anything that’s wet in the morning like my cook pot or tent. I don’t really use the bottom stretch pocket that much, and definitely not for food or trash, because I don’t want my pack to smell like food. I honestly don’t need the extra storage.
One area where I’ve found the Cutaway lacking is when carrying long skinny objects like an umbrella or Tenkara fishing rods. The pack is pretty weak when it comes to strapping bulky gear to its exterior. But I do enjoy carrying it when I’m just out to hike and not trying to mix in some multi-sport or off-trail activities.
When fully loaded with 25 lbs, the weight is surprisingly easy to carry even though the Cutaway is frameless and the weight rests entirely on my upper torso. I don’t feel any pressure on top of my shoulders or collarbone at all. The weight rides close to my core and I barely notice it at all. The vest fabric is super breathable and doesn’t make me sweat or chafe. It’s really pretty remarkable given all of the lackluster experiences I’ve had with vest-style shoulder straps on other hiking and running packs.
|Make / Model||Materials||Vest-Style Straps||Regular Straps|
|Nashville Packs Cutaway 40||Ultra 200, UltraGrid||Y||Y|
|Mountainsmith Zerk 40||UHMPE Nylon Ripstop||Y||N|
|Fast Kumo 36 Fastpack||Robic Nylon||Y||N|
|Six Moon Designs Flight 30||Ultra 200||Y||Y|
|Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40||Polyester||Y||N|
|Yama Mountain Gear Sassafras 34||Ultra 200, EcoPak200||Y||N|
|Montane Trailblazer 44||High Tenacity Nylon||Y||N|
|Zimmerbuilt QuickStep Pack 36||DCF or X-Pac||N||Y|
The Nashville Packs Cutaway is a 40L frameless backpack that’s designed for ultralight backpacking. It’s available in a wide range of different fabrics and modular features so you can tailor it for your needs. The Cutaway has a maximum recommended carry of 20-25 lbs, so you’ll want to pare down your gear list to the bare minimum for the greatest comfort. While the pack design is optimized for thru-hikers who want to crush miles all day long, regular backpackers and even day hikers can benefit from carrying the Cutaway.
But that thing that sets Nashville Packs apart in my view is the methodology they use to fit customers that takes into account chest girth and chest height in addition to torso length. This is a real innovation that sets them apart from other backpack manufacturers that offer vest-style suspension systems. If you’ve been looking at vest-style packs, I’d encourage you to give the Cutaway a try. I’ve been quite impressed with the quality of the product, its fit, and its ease of use.
Disclosure: Nashville Packs donated a backpack for review.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.