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Six Moon Designs Minimalist Backpack Review

Six Moon Designs Minimalist Backpack Review

The Six Moon Designs Minimalist is a 48 liter ultralight style backpack that weighs 34 oz. The pack has an adjustable torso length and can be outfitted with a variety of shoulder straps and hip belt lengths so you can get a near-custom fit. It’s also available with vest-style shoulder straps and more conventional unisex shoulder straps. The backpack also has an internal Delron hoop (2 oz) that can be removed to make the pack frameless. You can also use it without the hip belt to save an additional 6 oz.

While this backpack is named the Minimalist, it’s anything but, because there are so many different ways to configure it. That’s not meant as a criticism, but I couldn’t help feeling that a product manual was needed to figure out all the ways to adjust and configure the pack. While the pack designer, Ron Moak, provides a good overview of the Minimalist on the SMD website, this pack requires a lot of experimentation with different loads and configurations to dial-in.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 34 oz, including hip belt, shoulder straps, and internal frame
    • Body: 20 oz
    • Delron Hoop Stay: 2 oz
    • Shoulder Strap: 6 oz
    • Hip belt: 6 oz (optional)
  • Volume: 38L in main pack bag (pockets not included), 10L in extension collar
  • Type: Internal frame (optional), adjustable torso length, roll top closure with top flap
  • Materials: Robic Nylon, 3D Mesh, 4 way stretch
  • Sizing: Torso (adjustable) – 16″ – 22″; Ultralight Hip Belt (fits waist sizes – 27-57″)
  • Max recommended load: 25-30 lbs (SMD recommends 35 lbs)
  • Click for manufacturer specs. 

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Minimalist is organized like most conventional ultralight backpacks, with a few unique extras. There’s an open mesh front pocket and two side mesh pockets. The main pack closes with a roll top closure. There are two large, solid-faced pockets on the hip belt that are large enough to store a mobile phone or point and shoot camera. One of the side mesh pockets in long and one is short. The long one is good for storing tent or tarp poles, while the short one is good for storing a water bottle. While you can reach back and pull a bottle out of the short pocket, the same can’t be said of the long pocket, even if it’s a tall Smartwater bottle.

While SMD claims the Minimalist has 48 liters of storage (38L in the main compartment and 10L in the extension collar), it’s hard to believe that it’s that small. It really feels more like a 60L pack to me in terms of volume and the gear I can fit into it, but perhaps that’s because SMD doesn’t include any pocket volume in their capacity calculation.

The map pocket in the top flap is convenient for storing flat items
The map pocket in the top flap is convenient for storing flat items

While the main compartment of the Minimalist has a roll top closure, there’s an extra flap that folds over the roll top clips to cover it. The flap has a large, zippered map pocket that’s super convenient, especially for travel. There’s also an open sleeve under the pocket, that you can stuff a hat or fleece into, although it is open at the end and not reliably secure.

The flap can also to be used to stabilize a bear canister when it’s stacked on top the main pack bag, with very long rear straps to hold the canister in place. This works reasonably well as long as the pack’s main compartment isn’t packed full, but becomes  increasingly unusable if it’s packed all the way to the top of the frame and into the extension collar, because the flap isn’t long enough to wrap around the canister. A floating lid would have been a better solution here instead of a fixed-length, sewn-on flap. Those long rear straps are also kind of annoying if you rarely use a bear canister. I would have preferred straps girth-hitched to loops, like those used on the Granite Gear Crown 2 38 lid, so you could swap in and out longer and shorter straps.

The top lid can be used to lash a canister to the top if the pack, but only if the main compartment is lightly packed
The flap can be used to lash a bear canister to the top if the pack, but only if the main compartment is lightly packed because the flap isn’t long enough to wrap over the top.

The Minimalist has a small zippered mesh pocket inside the main compartment which is large enough to store keys and a wallet. There are two hang loops on the inside of the pack to hang a hydration reservoir, with left and right ports located behind the shoulder straps.

In addition, the unisex and vest-style shoulder straps have stretch pocket at the top (left and right) that can be used to hold snacks, but they’re not big deep enough to hold a iPhone6 or POS camera. The vest-style shoulder straps have two additional mesh pockets on each strap, both mesh-backed, but they’re also too small to store a phone.

External Attachment and Compression System

The Minimalist has a rich attachment and compression system that makes it possible to personalize and set up the pack the way you like it.

The Minimalist has trekking pole holders for your pole tips but doesn't provide an out-of-the box way to secure the shafts
The Minimalist has trekking pole holders for your pole tips but doesn’t provide an out-of-the box way to secure the shafts
  • The Minimalist’s front and side mesh pockets have locking cinch cords at the top so you can prevent items from falling out of the pockets.
  • The front and sides of the pack have 14 tie out loops/plastic rings sewn into the seams, so you can easily rig up your own attachment system.
  • The pack comes a yellow hook and loop cord system that’s easy to configure, but also fully replaceable if you prefer something else. The end hooks are too big to fit through the yellow gear loops along the pack seams, which limits their utility, but they’re easy to replace.
  • While there are daisy chains sewn to the front of the shoulder straps, it can be difficult to position your own add-on pockets, due to the sewn-on pockets included with the straps.
  • The Minimalist comes with the “obligatory” trekking pole holders to capture your pole tips, but doesn’t provide a built-in way to secure the pole shafts unless you set up something using the side compression cords or external gear loops.

Backpack Frame and Suspension System

The Minimalist is an adjustable torso length backpack which is a rare, but-much needed addition to the ultralight backpacking market. The shoulder straps and hip belt are available in a wide variety of lengths and connect to the pack with hook and loop closures, making them easily replaceable so you can get a near custom fit. If you need to adjust the torso length, you simply raise the height of the shoulder yoke so that it attaches higher up on the pack and vice versa to shorten it. It’s an easy adjustment to make with this pack.

The Minimalist can be outfitted with traditional shoulder straps or vest style straps, popular with runners.
The Minimalist can be outfitted with traditional shoulder straps or vest style straps, popular with runners.

You have a choice between two different shoulder straps systems: a slightly curved unisex S-strap or a vest-based system that is very effective at distributing the load across your shoulders and upper back. I prefer the conventional straps and find the vest style ones confining to wear, since I have a well-developed chest, but that’s purely a matter of personal preference. Runners prefer vest style straps, so they’re an interesting option if you’re part of the fast and light crowd. The 6 pockets and plastic loops sewn to the face of the vest are also be useful if you’re a fly fisherman. If you buy a Minimalist, it’s worth getting both shoulder strap systems, to see which you like better, or to swap them out for different types of trips.

The hip belt is very wide and doesn't slip. But it's also very soft without any bulky padding
The hip belt is very wide and doesn’t slip. But it’s also very soft without any bulky padding

The Minimalist hip belt is 5″ wide and quite soft without any rear stiffeners and bulky, pre-shaped padding. I love hip belts like this because they totally conform to your body shape and don’t slip, although they do collapse under heavier loads. The hip belt has also two tiers of webbing, so you can make the top tighter or looser independent of the bottom. This can be particularly useful for women, who have more of a curve in their hips, although there’s a lot of variability between people.

While the Minimalist does have an internal frame, it’s a very flexible and lightweight Delron hoop without my rigidity. SMD recommends a max base weight of 12 pounds and a max total weight of 35 pounds, but I’d peg the upper weight limit at somewhere between 25-30 pounds. The Minimalist also tends to barrel a bit if you stuff it full of gear, because the Delron hoop is so flexible.

Here’s what the Minimalist frame looks like, with the backpack turned inside out:

The Minimalist frame channels the weight of your load to your lumbar area for the best load transfer
The Minimalist frame channels the weight of your load to your lumbar area for the best load transfer.

If you don’t want the Delron loop, you can pull it out and save 2.1 oz, but doing that hardly seems worth it given the benefit that a frame provides. In addition to channelling weight to your hips and adding some rigidity, the Minimalist frame serves as an anchor for the pack’s load lifters, which are included on the regular and vest style shoulder straps.  The base of the frame also helps compensate for the fact that the Minimalist hip belt is so soft and will buckle a bit when the pack is overloaded

What about ventilation? The Minimalist only touches your back along the spine, and curves away along the sides which provides ventilation to dry your shirt. The part of the pack that touches your back is a breathable mesh, but it’s not as well ventilated as a suspended frame.

The Minimalist performs best with a light weight, low volume load between 25-30 pounds.
The Minimalist performs best with a lightweight, low volume load between 20-30 pounds.

Assessment

The Six Moon Designs Minimalist is a versatile ultralight-style backpack that can be configured in a variety ways for long distance backpacking, lightweight backpacking, fast and light running trips, and even backcountry fly fishing. While it’s highly customizable, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who hasn’t used an ultralight backpack before and isn’t familiar with how one should fit or be loaded for good results. While the Minimalist has many great features, you’ll benefit from learning about what feels good or not with a simpler backpack. I’d liken the Minimalist to a fighter jet more than a Honda Fit. You need to learn to drive before you can fly.

On the other hand, the Minimalist can be used in many ways, is modular, configurable, and adjustable to an extent that is unavailable today in an off-the-shelf ultralight style backpack. This can be desirable if you’re trying to shed all of your extra possessions and become a minimalist, but adds weight and manufacturing complexity to a backpack which most ultralight backpack customers and manufacturers try to avoid.

Comparable packs

The ULA Ohm 2.0 carries a lot like the Minimalist, because it also has a minimal hoop-style frame and wide hip belt with two tiers of webbing straps. The 45L ULA Fastpack is also similar, with vest-style shoulder straps, although it doesn’t have a hip belt (which is removable on the Minimalist.) The Gossamer Gear Mariposa has a long side pocket like the Minimalist, a top flap/pocket that can be used to hold a bear canister, and different length hip belts, but is a much more conventional backpack compared to the Minimalist.

Six Moon Designs provided the author with a backpack for this review. 

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5 comments

  1. I like the internal wallet pocket. All packs should have that.

  2. Philip, how would you rate the Minimalist’s durability? How does it compare to the ULA Circuit?

    • About the same. They’re made out of identical materials (robic nylon). The only thing I’d caution you about is sitting on the Minimalist Frame. That might break it.

  3. Thanks, Philip. More broadly than on durability alone, how would you compare this pack to the ULA Circuit?

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