The Seek Outside Divide ($349) is a 4500 cubic inch (74L) lightweight external frame backpack capable of hauling 50, 60, and even 70 pound loads even though it only weighs 44 ounces. Best suited for backpacking, packrafting, hunting, fishing, and expedition style trips, the Divide fills a niche that isn’t addressed by any other ultralight or lightweight pack manufacturer. I guarantee that you’ll be amazed by the added comfort, carrying capacity, and control that this well engineered external frame backpack can provide if you need to go heavy.
The Divide is also made using X-pac R21, which is a waterproof laminate like cuben fiber, but less expensive and easier to work with because it has a woven face fabric. While X-pac and cuben fiber are waterproof materials, backpacks made with them are not and it’s recommended that they be seam-sealed, seam taped, or lined with a plastic bag if used in wet conditions.
Custom Made Gear
When you buy a Divide from Seek Outside, it’s important to know that all of their backpacks are custom made. While you can purchase the Divide in its standard configuration, the company sells a variety of options that you can use to swap in different components or add additional features.
It also means that the weight of the pack made for you can differ from manufacturer’s specs by a few ounces. If gear weight is very important to you, make sure you call up Seek Outside and tell them how much you want the pack to weight before they make it for you. While they try to stick to their product specs, there is some variability (plus or minus a few ounces) in the weight of the packs they produce.
For example, the Divide they sent me to review weighed 48 ounces or 4 ounces more than I expected because they used a slightly heavier piece of X-pac they had sitting around to sew it with and didn’t think I’d mind. I actually did, but it’s something you need to keep in mind when ordering a backpack from them. These packs are not mass produced in Vietnam and shipped back to the US on container ships, if you follow me.
Organization and Storage
The Divide has a large main compartment that closes with a roll top, two side water bottle pockets, and a large back pocket made with solid fabric and heavy duty mesh. The internal volume is 4500 cubic inches (74 L) with an additional 1200 cubic inches of storage (20L) of storage provided by the rear mesh pocket and side water bottle pockets. There’s no hydration pocket in the main pack bag to hang a reservoir, no hydration ports, and no hip belt pockets.
The side water bottle pockets can hold two 1 liter water bottles, which are reachable while you’re wearing the backpack. The pockets have a fabric slit in the bottom to drain water, but you need to be careful not to put small items there, lest they slip out. There’s also an elastic cord with a cord lock that runs through the top of each side pocket, so you can cinch it tight and keep taller items like tent poles, a paddle, or fishing rod secure. The lower side compression strap runs over the side pocket and cannot be routed through or over it like other backpacks.
The rear pocket is made using solid fabric and stiff, heavy duty mesh which provides some visibility into the pocket so you can check to make sure you have all your gear. I use this pocket to hold wet and smelly items that I don’t want in my pack like my wood stove, a wet rain fly, wet cook pot, and wet water filter. The top of the rear pocket has an elastic draw cord that you can cinch tight like the side water bottle pockets. You can also add a Y-strap option to the pack (shown above) that runs over the roll top, attaching to a daisy chain on the outside of the pocket with a webbing clip.
Compression and External Attachment Points
What the Divide lacks in convenience features like hip belt pockets, it makes up for with external attachment points, including two-tiers of side compression straps, daisy chains sewn to the outside of the shoulder straps, and webbing loops on the exterior of the hip belt. There are also two removable webbing straps on the stock pack that you can secure a sleeping pad, tent, or bear canister to the bottom/rear of the pack.
The sides of the pack are wide enough that you can lash snowshoes to the sides of the pack, there are two ice axe loops on the rear of the pack to secure climbing gear, you can lash rope or a bear barrel to the top of the body with a bungie cord if you don’t want to buy the optional Y strap, an avalanche shovel fits into the rear mesh pocket, and so on. The possibilities are nearly limitless. (See my Backpack External Attachment Guide for more ideas.)
All of the side compression straps on the pack are secured using metal hook-style buckles using a cinch and pull system. They’re more durable than plastic male/female style connectors, but I miss hearing the “snap!” when they lock in pace. The only exception are the buckles that secure the ends of the roll top to the frame, which are traditional male/female buckles with adjustable webbing so you can apply top compression to the pack bag by pulling them tight.
Backpack Frame and Suspension System
The Divide’s external frame and suspension system is nothing short of ingenious, providing a level of modularity and many types of adjustments that are not available on conventional internal frame backpacks.
Adjustable torso length
First off, the torso length of the Divide is adjustable, by raising and lowering the height of the shoulder harness. If you have a very long torso, you can add vertical extensions to the external frame to make the torso length longer. The adjustment system is a bit difficult to comprehend in the absence of good fitting documentation or video. It’s also a little confusing because there are so many extra long webbing straps on this pack concentrated around the shoulder harness area.
The shoulder pads on the Divide are positioned fairly wide, which may be uncomfortable for people with narrow shoulders. The only way to adjust the width is to tighten the sternum strap but that may still be insufficient given your build. The shoulder pads are backed with lightly padded mesh and have bar tacked daisy chains along the front for gear attachments.
Adjustable load lifters
The angle of the load lifter straps is also adjustable so you can maintain them at a 45 degree angle. To change the angle, you raise or lower a buckle the runs along the front of the shoulder strap. Many high-volume expedition packs have this feature and it’s quite useful to counter loads that pull you backwards and off balance. The load lifters on the Divide also work a lot better than those ultralight backpacks with frame stays because the Divide has a real frame, not floating and unanchored rods in the back of the pack bag.
The external frame is made using aluminum tubing and slightly curved to conform to the curvature of your back. Being an external frame, back ventilation is good because there’s an air gap between your shirt and the pack bag.
The frame is extremely rigid and there is no sag of the pack bag against your back. In fact, you can length the torso so that the entire load rests on your hips if you want, very unlike an internal frame pack where the weight is always split between your hips and shoulders by design.
The pack bag is secured to the frame with webbing loops, locking nuts, and pole sleeves that keep it properly positioned. If you want, you can replace the pack bag provided with the Divide with a higher volume version sold by Seek Outside or attach additional accessories.
There is an optional horizontal stay positioned below the shoulder pads that keeps the pack bag from barreling or bulging into you back if you overstuff the pack bag. It’s quite effective. This can be an issue on any roll-top backpack if you try to over stuff or over compress it. The horizontal stay also helps increase airflow behind your back.
The padded hip belt is quite wide (5″) and provides an outstanding fit that won’t slide down your hips even if you wear it fairly loosely. The hip belt is covered with spacer mesh to wick sweat and tensioned with pull forward adjusters that are easy to tighten with a heavy plastic buckle for durability. There are no hip belt pockets however, just webbing straps, for attaching accessory pockets.
The hip belt is bolted to the bottom of the external frame with heavy-duty webbing and is probably the most important feature on the Divide and the other backpacks that Seek Outside manufactures. When you connect a hip belt to a rigid external frame that eliminates torso collapse, there’s an un-dampened transfer of kinetic energy from your hips and torso to the pack, providing excellent load transfer and control. This is vital for going heavy and well worth the extra pack weight, but less necessary for lighter loads which is why most ultralight pack makers have stopped making external frame packs.
The Seek Outside Divide Pack is an ultralight-style version of the manufacturer’s other external frame backpacks with some of the features that lightweight backpackers prefer like a rear mesh pocket and better side water bottle pockets that can hold water bottles. While 44 ounces might seems like a heavy backpack to some, the external frame Divide backpack is unequalled in its ability to carry heavy multi-sport loads when you want to carry a lot of equipment and supplies in the backcountry.
If you’re currently using a much heavier expedition size backpack like a Gregory Denali or an Osprey Xenith, I’d encourage you to try the Divide or one of Seek Outside’s other high volume external frame packs. They blow the doors off large internal frame packs in terms of comfort and you can slash a few pounds off your gear weight with a single purchase.
- Awesome, no-slip hip belt with mechanical advantage pull-out straps
- Bombproof and waterproof durable X-Pac fabric
- Horizontal frame stay prevents pack bag barrel-rolling and provides back ventilation
- Load lifter angle adjustments, an advanced feature found on high-end expedition class packs
- Heavy duty mesh on back pocket provides view of contents
- Side bottle pockets with drain holes
- Optional and removable sleeping pad/bedroll straps
- No ease-to-understand torso length adjustment instructions
- Shoulder pads are a bit on the wide side
- Lack of hip belt pockets
- Most webbing straps have unfinished ends and can slip off buckles and clips (ask to have these bar tacked when ordering)
- Fabric, main: 210 Denier 2 Ply Laminated Waterproof XPAC fabric
- Fabric, suspension: 500D Cordura, Hypalon/500D Cordura reinforcements
- Suspension: Evolution Articulating Suspension
- Internal volume: 4,500 cu in (73 L)
- External volume: 1,200 cu in (20 L)
- Suspension: Evolution Articulating Suspension
- Can comfortably carry up to 100 lb (45.4 kg)
- Top-loading roll-top closure
- Mesh-panel pocket with daisy chain
- 2 dimensional fabric bottle pockets
- 10 attachment points
- Aluminum hardware throughout
- Micro-forward adjustable harness with daisy chain attachment
- Multi Lid and Talon compatible (+1,500 cu in)
- Interchangeable hipbelt sizes
- Suspension can be used with other bags/frames
- Torso range, 24 in frame: 14–19 in (35.6–48.3 cm)
- Torso range, 26 in frame: 16–21 in (40.6–53.3 cm) with optional frame extension
- Pack height and depth: 32 x 8 in (81.3 x 20.3 cm)
- Top circumference: 44 in (111.8 cm)
- Rear pocket dimensions: 10 x 14 x 5 (25.4 x 35.6 x 12.7 cm)
- Weight, Alpine Gray: 44 oz (1.25 kg)
- Made in USA
Disclosure: Seek Outside provided Philip Werner with a sample backpack for this review.
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