backpacks

LittleLife Voyager S2 Child Carrier Review

As an active hiker and outdoors person, I naturally want to share my love for the wilder places with my daughter. Of course, a 12–18 month old can't really be expected to walk very far, and while our Bob Revolution Stroller is excellent for on-trail trips, most of my daily walks are on far more uneven terrain. While we were in Minneapolis, I started looking at the available child carriers, for something that would last a few years, and allow me to comfortably carry the little one into the hills.

There are a bunch of very similar-looking child backpacks on the market, and they all perform much the same functon. I asked around on twitter and amongst friends, and received several recommendations for the LittleLife Voyager S2. After finding it on sale in REI (where it sadly seems to no longer be available), we decided to buy one – even though Enni was only 3 months old: we knew we'd be using it plenty by the time she was 6 months and we were back in Finland.

The Voyager S2 a very sturdily-built, internal frame carrier with a few design features that set it apart from the (ahem) pack. Most immediately visible is the lack of an aluminum stand to support the pack while on the ground; instead, the S2 has an "anchor point" - essentially a hole in the base where you stick your foot.

Some may see this as a weak point in the design, but in use I've found it to be quite practical, and the carrier stands on it's own with the child in it anyway. I wouldn't leave Enni in it unattended, of course, but neither would I do so in any of the packs with the stands, as none of them seem much safer with a wriggling child inside.

From the carrying perspective

The Voyager S2 is specced as weighing a very competitive 2.9kg (6lb 6oz) – but mine weighs around 3.2kg (7lb) with all the bits and bobs. It can carry up to 20kg (44lbs), and is described as being suitable for ages 6 months to 3 years. I'd say that's about correct, although the starting age will depend a lot on your child.

The pack is fully adjustable for different torso lengths, and fits people from 5'2" to 6'4" (155 - 194cm approx.). The hip belt pivots, and is well padded. The shoulder straps are comfortable and feature load lifters. The sternum strap has an integrated whistle. For the carrier, it has all the features of a well-designed "serious" backpack. It is extremely well constructed, with solidly sewn seams,  durable straps and materials, and ample, even extravagant, padding. There are also additional features which I'll cover later.

From the perspective of the person doing the carrying, I can say it is extremely comfortable 90% of the time. On odd occasions things don't seem to sit quite right, but I put this down mainly to the positioning of the child in the pack; with a growing child you have to make slight adjustments to maintain the most comfortable carry, but once you achieve this, the S2 is extremely comfortable, and never feels less than 100% secure – I can jump, stagger, shimmy and wriggle (all to the immense enjoyment of the passenger) safe in the knowledge that the pack, and the passenger, will remain in place.

From Child's perspective

The pack features an easily adjustable seat for your little critter, as well as well-padded shoulders traps that include a sternum strap of their own. The sides are also heavily padded, and once you pull the side straps to bring baby closer to your back, he/she is absolutely secure, but is able to move around quite happily.

The pack also comes with foot stirrups (useful for when the child gets a little taller/heavier to raise the legs a little), and a soft and cheerful little padded chin guard (which is removable, for washing, in case your darling dearest decides to projectile vomit on your head).

Once you have the little tyke installed, you have the joy of hauling 12kg of child, 2.5kg of backpack, plus whatever you have stored inside, onto your back. Child carrying is not an ultralight activity – although there is some joy to be had in realising that your typical ultralight backpack weight less than your daughter or son. And of course, carrying your child makes for excellent backpacking training.

Fortunately, LittleLife have made lifting the loaded pack quite easy with some intelligently placed lifting handles. You simply place your arm through one strap  and grab the handle near the base (rejoice – the handles are on both sides, so lefties or righties are equally well-catered for). With your other hand, grab the shoulder strap and heave-ho. I can't say it's an entirely smooth motion for the precious fruit of your loins, but Enni at least seems to enjoy being tossed around while shouldering the pack.

I think it's fair to say that Enni has no complaints about the pack. In fact "backpack" is one of her favourite words at the moment, alongside "out". She'll often come running to find me, grab my finger and take me to "backpack". She even eagerly starts to climb in, so I count that as a success.

Additional child-friendly features include loops for attaching toys or other items that might inadvertently get dropped.

There's a sun shade / rain cover included, that attached easily by slipping into two pockets on the back (visible in the top left of the above photo). This, I feel, is a little bit of a weak point in the design as it feels more of an afterthought. It's adequate, but I suspect with extended use the seams may tear. The aluminium poles you insert into the pockets also stick a little on the way out. It's okay - it gets the job done.

Incidentally, the wording on the LittleLife website seems to suggest that the rain cover and sun canopy are separate ("Sun Shade & Rain Cover included")  – unless the design has changed, this is not the case; they are one and the same, and as you can see above, rain protection would be pretty minimal.

There is also a handy, compact changing mat included for for when the wee nipper needs a diaper change. After he/she graduates to pull-ons, the pad becomes less necessary, but I've found it makes an excellent sit pat for winter use. There you go - a multi-use item!

Last but not least, the left hip-belt pocket houses a rear view mirror so you can check that your progeny has fallen asleep finally, just as you are about to get back to the car.

It could theoretically also be used to signal rescue aircraft in emergency situations! More multi-use items! This just keeps getting better and better!

Other functionality

The base of the pack has a fairly large storage capacity (claimed 20l), and there is also a detachable front pack, which can be used as a small (8l) day pack. There's ample room between the two for snacks, diapers, a small blanket, or an improvised, spooky mosquito net.

There are two additional pockets on each side of the base, one of which is insulated for carrying, for example, milk/formula. I've never found these particularly useful.

Lastly, the pack has a lot of reflective detailing making it visible at night – a good feature for those dark backcountry roads, or even urban night hiking.

All-in-all, I've been very happy with the Voyager S2. It's lasted very well, and is still in excellent condition even after using many times a week for over a year. Enni is very happy in it, and if it helps to engender an appreciation of the outdoors in a 19 month old, it's been a very worthwhile purchase. Packs like these are something of an investment, but hopefully, in another 18 months when it's time to sell it, it will have retained some of its value.

You can read more about the 

Little Life Voyager S2 on the manufacturer's website

.

We bought ours from REI, but unfortunately they no longer appear to carry them. In fact, un the USA at least, they seem to be a little hard to find at the moment.

Amazon.com carry them

, however.

In Europe they are much easier to find (LittleLife is a UK company). You can find them at

Snow & Rock

, or

LittleLife's online store

.

Amazon.co.uk

and

Amazon.de

stock them, as does

Anttila

in Finland!

Alternative products

There are many competing products in the child carrier marketplace. You can find many of the different models on 

REI

Backcountry.com

, or

Mec.ca

.

My friend Bob swears by his

MacPac

– but I found these also a little hard to locate outside the UK (or New Zealand, where they originate).

Deuter and Osprey are the major competitors:

Kid Comfort I

 (2.5kg)

Kid Comfort II

 (2.75kg)

Kid Comfort III

 (Similar in spec to Voyager S2, weighs 3.5kg, but has a free teddy bear.

Awww.)

Osprey Poco Plus

 (3.14kg)

Osprey Poco Premium

 (3.43kg)

First Impressions: Gossamer Gear Mariposa (2012)

First impressions?!?! I've seen people spit on them! But I – curmudgeonly grumplestiltskin that I am – say

"flöhpetti nonsense!"

As an ultralight backpacker, thirsty for new adventures, I'm sure you want to find out about new gear and get an independent opinion, right? If you stick around waiting for a long-term review to be published, chances are by the time you read it the item reviewed will no longer be available. Look at the Haglöfs Ozo, for example. How I coveted it and lusted after it... and where is it now?

So instead, let's live in the moment and take a look at the new 2012 Gossamer Gear Mariposa. Gossamer Gear were kind enough to rush a new Mariposa size L pack over to me, hot off the production line.  I'll be using this pack next week for a four/five day hike in Käsivarsi wilderness area, and I imagine after that I might have some further observations.

After ripping open the box in a frenzy of girlish excitement, I was immediately impressed by the quality. Seams are very securely stitched, and I like the stylish little V-seams on the lid – yes, it has a lid. Lids are in, don't you know?

Slapping it on the scales reveals it to weigh 725g for the pack and hipbelt, and 53g for the sitpad, which compares favorably to the listed weight of 783g. The volume on Gossamer Gear's site is listed as 4244cu in., or 69.5 liters. So it's a biggy, which is good as I'm planning on using it as my winter bag.

I was planning on taking some photos outside, but it's chucking it down, so that'll have to wait.

The bag has seven pockets – one large one on the left side, two on the right, a big mesh one on the front (or, if you like, back), one in the lid, and two on the hipbelt (which is removable, available in different sizes, and is very comfy). All of them (bar the hipbelt pouches) have a drip hole so water doesn't pool in them.

The mesh used on the front pocket is a fine weave, so shouldn't catch too many snags – a good thing as this is a susceptible area.

Well, that's a fine mesh you've got me into.

The tall left pocket looks very good for a shelter and poles, and might just about fit a tightly-tolled packraft. Alternatively, there is a shock-top system to attach items on top of the lid, but I doubt it would take a packraft very securely. I might be wrong though.

Although it doesn't come with side compression straps, there are numerous webbing loops sewn into the sides (8 per side) for you to attach your own in whatever configuration you want. Gossamer Gear also provide a couple of meters of shock cord and three cord locks fit for the purpose.

Heavens be praised, there are load lifters! On a pack designed for volume, and featuring an aluminium stay, load lifters are, if not absolutely essential, then certainly very much appreciated. (This is something I feel the Porter/Expedition is lacking)

It's great that Gossamer Gear listened to customers' opinions about the magnet closure system they had on earlier version of their new packs (on the internal "neck"). While I liked the idea, I felt it was a bit gimmicky. Others, however, made more salient points that the magnets might interfere with electronics and compasses. Now the magnets are no more, replaced with a simpler (and lighter?) draw cord solution.

Some hardcore ultralighters might say that the built-in, waterproof whistle on the sternum strap buckle is overkill, but I really like having it there. Recently I've been carrying a super-light whistle in my ditty bag, but I prefer it being on the pack itself. If you really have something agains such things, you can easily remove the whistle or sternum strap.

Lastly, the SitLight pad that comes with the pack is nice, but I'm happy to see that the pocket for it also fits a 4-piece Z-Lite even better. Rufus will be happy about that too, as I doubt he'd fit on the SitLight.

So, all in all, at first glance I'm very impressed, and look forward to wearing it in for a few days in what appears to 

rapidly 

be becoming a winter trip.

Kilpisjärvi this week. Brrrr.

There are a couple of things I'll be paying attention to on the trip, though. One is slippage on the seat-belt style webbing used for the straps (shoulder, hip belt, and load lifters). It's quite smooth, and I wonder how it will perform when wet.

The zipper on the oh-so-trendy lid runs vertically, and is not sealed or covered. No doubt I'll keep maps in it in a ziploc, so it's not a big issue, but still, it feels a little like a design decision rather than a practical one. For example, I can just about open the pack lid zipper on my huckePACK and remove the map without taking off the pack. Not so, I fear, with the Mariposa.

The shoulder straps also seem a little snug on my neck. Either that or my neck is more Neanderthal than previously believed. We'll see how this changes when fully loaded.

It will be very interesting to compare the Mariposa to Roger's HMG Porter, which I see as one of the main competitors packs at the moment.  I had a brief look at Jaakko's Porter Expedition and it was a nice pack – but there were some things I really didn't like, most notably the hipbelt which I felt, on such a large pack, was somewhat inadequate, and should have been removable rather than sewn in.  Add to that the lack of load lifters, no front pockets, no hip belt pockets, no side pockets, a hydration bladder pocket with no holes for tubes (odd decision) and I felt it was a little disappointing for what is a very expensive pack. Some of the stitching was already stretching on Jaakko's pack too, compromising it's waterproofness, a fact not aided by untaped seams. To be fair (and contrary to my original understanding) the HMG Porter/Expedition is not described as being 100% waterproof, but the material it is made of is; an important distinction. However, it is described as being 100% rainproof, but those stretched, untaped seams, and from what I've heard, I find that hard to believe. As I've stated elsewhere, my feeling is that if you have to carry a liner bag to protect your gear, then there isn't much point in the bag attempting to be rain- or water-proof. You might as well carry any ultralight pack.

The Gossamer Gear Mariposa, of course, is not a waterproof pack, and I'll therefore be using the cuban fiber pack liner that has served me well in the past. It'll be interesting to see how it settles in to a few days hiking, and how it copes with heavier, packrafting-oriented loads over the coming months.

Ultralight Makeover: Redux Pt. 2 - Downsize Your Pack

PLEASE NOTE: Revised and regularly updated versions of these posts are accessible from the top menu bar under "Ultralight Makeover". What follows is the original post - to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the Ultralight Backpacking world, check out the updated articles.

 

Part 2 of a 12-part series in which Backpacking North analyzes 

Backpacker

magazine's recommendations to reduce your pack weight, and offers a more comprehensive selection of tips and gear recommendations from hiking blogs and experienced bloggers.

<< Part 1: Admit you have a problem

2. Downsize your pack.

Backpacker

 says: "For the lightest load, choose a pack that weighs less than two pounds and keep your total payload below 25 pounds (our pick: the

GoLite Jam

Pack, 1lb 15oz)." Alternatively, should you want the best of both worlds (a light pack, with big load-carrying ability), they recommend a

Granite Gear Blaze

, and weighing in at 2lbs, 15oz.

Backpacking North

 says: 

Backpacker

's optimum suggestion barely squeezes in at under two pounds. I think we can do better than that and still maintain a good level of comfort.

The thing to bear in mind when selecting an ultralight pack is that your pack weight is going to be so much lower – especially for the short weekend trip which we are focusing on – so the load-bearing requirements of your pack can be less. It is not absolutely necessary to have a pack frame to support your load, as this can be achieved with careful packing. Nor is a complex and heavy hip belt system with an integrated free-floating suspension system desirable. Once you eliminate these two traditional mainstays of the backpack, you can easily get the initial weight of your pack down to around 1lb or 500g.

Frames vs. frameless

As mentioned above, with an ultralight load you should be carrying far less weight, so the load-bearing demands put on your pack will be considerable lessened. The corollary of this is that with a lighter load you will be able to hike further and longer, so it's still important that you are able to carry your pack comfortably over longer periods and distances.

Traditionally, a frame helps to maintain pack shape and carrying position. But the addition of a frame – typically taking the form of metal stays – adds a lot of weight to a pack. Some UL packs offer the best of both worlds by providing removable stays, so if your load is bulky or heavier you can leave the stays in if you wish. But if your load is lighter and you employ a good packing strategy, you don't necessarily need a frame. Another alternative to the more standard metal stays is a plastic, removable framesheet. Lighter in weight, but still offering some structural support, it's a good option. But what we're really interested in is doing away with the frame altogether.

When you see a frameless backpack for the first time, it seems impossibly flimsy and shockingly light. Most schoolkid's backpacks are heavier. Can something this insubstantial really carry enough gear comfortably for a weekend trip? The secret is in the way you pack. Instead of a fitted frame, you simply use the items you take with you to create a frame or structure inside the pack. The easiest way to do this is with your sleeping mat. Simply roll the mat loosely to fill the pack and create a kind of burrito in which you'll stuff the rest of your gear. Alternatively or, as I generally do, fold your deflated air pad (I use a POE Ether Elite 6) to create a torso sized framesheet.

Then it's simply a matter of packing everything else in to create a nice, tight bundle that carries comfortably. We'll be looking a little more closely at that in part 10.

Hipbelts vs. weight concerns

It is always better to transfer as much of the weight of your pack to the hips, rather than to the shoulders. You'll know when you have a poorly fitted pack. At the end of a day's hiking, your shoulders will be killing you. This, I find, is as true for ultralight backpacking as it is for traditional heavyweight backpacking. The amount of pain is different, of course, but I've had aching shoulders with a lightweight pack.

Heavy backpacks often have elaborate hip belts, and they need to because the packs are designed for people carrying everything including the kitchen sink into the wilderness – with a 15kg pack you're going to want a thick hip belt. But with a total pack weight less than around 8kg, the hip belt can be a lot simpler, or in extreme super ultralight cases, it can be dispensed with altogether.

Personally, I like to have some form of decent hip belt to take most of the weight off of my shoulders. it can be as simple as a slip of unpadded Dyneema, but it needs to be able to distribute some of the load onto my pelvic area.

My Laufbursche huckePACK has a very nice hipbelt – just right, providing enough support to take the weight, while not adding much to the weight of the pack. My MLD Burn, on the other hand, while not that dissimilar, carries less well. But there is another reason for that...

Sizing and fitting

When packs become simpler, they generally lose a lot of flexibility when it comes to sizing adjustments. With a heavy pack you often can adjust the torso length, for example, to meet your specific anatomical peculiarities. Again, all those straps and attachment systems add to the weight of the pack. Most ultralight packs dispense with the fine-tuning and come in three sizes (small, medium, large) for different torso lengths. A few manufactures (notably Granite Gear and GoLite) offer variations of their packs designed for women, which is always a good thing. For a comfortable carry, it's vital to choose a pack that fits well – and not all packs will. It's possible you'll find what seems like the perfect lightweight pack, only to discover it simply doesn't feel comfortable when loaded. Should this happen, avoid the temptation of buying that otherwise perfect pack, for I guarantee it will transform your pleasant hike into an arduous slog.

Another feature common to heavy packs, but frequently (sadly) omitted from lightweight packs are load lifters. These shoulder-mounted straps pull the top of the pack in close to your body, and create a

much

 better carrying position. It's essential to have the weight hug your shoulders, rather than tugging away from them. Some hardcore ultralighters might argue that with an extremely light load, load lifters become irrelevant. I would argue that any load when carried for extremely long distances will be felt eventually, and a small sacrifice in weight for a pair of load lifters makes a huge difference to your carrying ability and stamina. We can go ultralight and still maintain comfort.

Bells and whistles

A heavy backpack is positively loaded with non-essential straps, pockets, dividers, pockets, load adjusters, pockets, lids, tie-off points, pockets, and additional pockets.

An ultralight backpack typically has one compartment, two or three mesh pockets on the outside, and some lightweight compression cords, and that's about it. Many packs forego a lid for a simple roll-top closure system which keeps rain or spindrift out. The large exterior mesh pockets are ideal for stuffing damp shelters in. A couple of side pockets keep essential items and water handy. A single compartment is really all you need, and cuts out a bunch of extra material and zippers.

Durability and materials

Ultralight packs today are made out of a variety of materials, with two perhaps proving the most popular: DyneemaX and Cuben Fiber. DyneemaX is a durable, strong, water resistant fabric, while Cuben Fiber is extremely lightweight but less durable. It's also very expensive, but, in white, looks very hip and cool. I tend to go for Dyneema for durability and price reasons. There are of course other materials in use, but these are by far the most visible at present.

Cutting corners

The gram counters out there will eagerly take a pair of scissors to a new pack and cut off extraneous straps and labels, shearing whole fractions of an ounce off the weight of the pack. This may seem utterly obsessive and crazy, but don't be surprised to catch yourself doing it. It's perfectly acceptable, and you will not be alone.

Which came first, the pack or the load?

It's a little odd that

Backpacker

 chose to begin it's guide to seeking the tao of ultralight with the cold turkey option of choosing a lighter pack. A ultralight pack is not much use if you don't have lightweight, compressible, compact gear to put inside it – they are simply too small to contain much traditionally sized and weighted gear. Unless you already have a nice, light, down bag and a tiny shelter, you'll fill your new pack with your heavier versions of those items, leaving no room for any other gear or food. Enjoy your trip!

However,

Backpacker

's pack selections are quite generous in the pack volume department, so it is feasible to get either a Jam or a Blaze and pack a lot of your existing gear in – it just won't be particularly light... yet.

I would say, unless you happen to have a lot of disposable income, most people making the transition to a lighter load would begin with the contents of the pack rather than the pack itself. A one-step-at-a-time approach is easier on the wallet and gives you the opportunity to test the waters before committing to a new obsession (and I promise you, it

will

 become an obsession).

There are so many niche (and increasingly mainstream) manufacturers making lightweight packs today, your options a many and varied. Rather than list every single product and overwhelm you with data, I'll focus first on my "transition to ultralight" experience, then look at what other bloggers are currently favoring.

Backpacking North's Backpacks

My first foray into the ultralight bewilderness also began with some advice from

Backpacker

. I wanted to get a lighter pack, but at the time wasn't really aware of the ultralight community and the underlying philosophies and principles. I eventually opted for a

Granite Gear Vapor Trail

 (now re-named the

Crown V.C.

 (or V.C. Ki for women), a pack beloved of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers (or so I'm led to believe), and made by a company in my temporary new home of Minnesota. The website says it all really: "So you're ready to take the next step. You've got your pack weight doen to 30 pounds [13.6kg] or less." By no means truly ultralight, then, the pack's weight of 1kg / 2lb 5oz was still a significant improvement on my old Halti traditional pack (mine, to be precise, weighs 1104g). It has an exchangeable hip belt which, I must admit, is very comfortable. It is quoted at 59l / 3600c.in, but it has a

huge

 roll-top collar – and I mean ridiculously huge – so you could carry a

lot

 more than that if you were so inclined.

The author sports a fetching Vapor Trail.

The design is quite unusual – the side pockets are a stretchy lycra-like material, and instead of a front pocket, there is a system of straps which can be used to attach a sleeping pad, tent, or other long object, but isn't too practical for a tarp or other lightweight shelter. The lower section, where a sleeping bag might be placed inside, bulges out, creating a slight teardrop shape. While I still have the Vapor Trail in the gear closet, it has been relegated to winter use at the moment. My current three-season gear simply doesn't fill it up enough. For an extended hike it might prove useful though.

As I started to get more and more lightweight gear, the capacity of the Vapor Trail was just way too much. I started looking for a

really

 small pack, and settled on a

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn

. This is a tiny pack – tall and thin, frameless, with tiny straps, a thin hip belt (more a hip strap), a fixed size, and weighing a delightful 414g / 14.6oz. Now we're talking! Excited, 

I wrote a little bit about it here.

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn

This was seriously lightweight in comparison to the "ultralight" Vapor Trail. For a weekend trip with a full complement of light gear, it's a great pack. However, I found that the long torso size was still a little short for me, and the hip belt sat too high on my waist. As I've already said, my load in this pack is very light, so the hip belt isn't so essential. However, combine that with the fact that there are also no load lifters, and I can tell you that after three days I noticed I was carrying it mainly on my shoulders.

When I purchased the Burn, what I really wanted was a new pack that wasn't even on the market yet – the (almost literally) legendary 

Laufbursche huckePACK

. I finally managed to get hold of one in 2010.

Laufbursche huckePACK inaction

Like the Burn, it's made of DyneemaX (although Cuben and Silnylon versions are available), is frameless, has mesh pockets, and a thin hip belt (which can be strapped out of the way, should you wish). However, because the belt sits on my hips where it should, and the shoulder straps are ergonomically shaped, it is an extremely comfortable carry. What's more, heaven be praised, it has load lifters! Simple ones, for sure, but they do the job splendidly. The ample mesh pockets fit my shelter (and even a snow claw for winter). Going against the tide of UL fashion, it has a pack lid (with a zippered pocket – how quaint!) which is again quite simple but helps in creating a good pack structure.

It weighs 534g / 19oz with the hip belt pockets I ordered, so more than the Burn, but it is larger and, in my opinion, superior.

Recently, however, I've switched to a

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

for anything longer than a night or two. Gossamer Gear redesigned the Mariposa in 2012 (you can

read my initial thoughts about it here

) and I think it's fair to say that some inspiration was probably taken from Laufbursche.

There are some neat additions: a more voluminous size (4244ci/47+22l), a very large mesh pocket (larger than the huckePACK), and a very large full-length pocket along one side, and two on the other (and the water bottle pocket retains bottles better) It comes with a sit pad, fitted hip-belt pockets (although they are a tad small), and a lid pocket (albeit with a poorly positioned (in my opinion) zip. Most importantly, though, is has in internal (but removable) aluminium stay (96g), which makes carrying heavier loads a little more comfortable.

My large one weighs 28.50 oz. (808 g), which is very respectable. It has become my go-to pack.

You can get one direct from

Gossamer Gear

.

What others say...

Ultralight packs are a dime a dozen these days. Well, maybe not a dime – the costs of small cottage manufacturers make their unique offerings a little on the expensive side, but I'm a big fan of supporting small independent businesses. Here are a few packs that popular with other bloggers, but I welcome and hope for recommendations highlighting other packs worthy of consideration in the comments.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa

Well, what do you know! I'm not the only one showing the love for the new Mariposa. Other advocates include

Jolly Green Giant

,

Robin at Blogpackinglight

,

Chris Townsend

, and 

Phil Werner

(natch, he runs the Trail Ambassador programme).

Gossamer Gear Gorilla

Newly redesigned to follow the Mariposa's swish curves, it's a very decent 26 oz / 737g considering it has foam shoulder straps, a removable foam hip belt, a removable aluminium curved stay, and a sit pad which doubles as a padding for your back. I've never seen one, but if I was looking to buy my first ultralight backpack today, this would be high on my list. No load lifters as far as I can see. A pity, but for lighter loads you can manage.  The previous version made

Joe's Gear of the Year

, and

Martin Rye

has owned and liked both versions, calling them "superb" and "top kit". High praise indeed, and there is no reason to expect anything less.

Laufbursche huckePACK / huckePACKchen

The original huckePACK is a firm favourite among the cognoscenti. Prized and coveted alike, you can read reviews at

Lighthiker

,

right here

, and, with a membership, at

Backpacking Light

.

Laufbursche also offers a smaller pack – the huckePACKchen in cuben fiber, which cuts back even more on the ounces (and capacity). Take a look at 

hrxxlight's excellent review

. The beef? It comes in at a measly 210g, or 7oz, for €150. Take that, GoLite.

Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet / Exodus

MLD make great gear – though you'll have to wait for it to be made. The

Prophet

and

Exodus

have a good reputation and are larger than the Burn or their even more minuscule 

Newt

packs (forthcoming). Check out

Jason Klaas's review of the Exodus

, and,

Martin Rye's review of the Prophet

.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Porter

After the Mariposa, the Porter is probably the current alternative favourite among discerning backpackers with cash to blow. It uses a hybrid cuben fiber laminate material that is supposed to be 100% waterproof (it isn't, but it is pretty damn good) making it the perfect choice for packrafting (especially the larger volume sizes). The 55l of the 3400 size weigh in at  33 oz. (936 g) and it has been getting some excellent reviews; seek out the combined wisdom of

hrxxlite

,

Summit & Valley

, and

Ryan Jordan

(M). My opinion: it's a great pack, with a lot of flexibility (although at additional cost that soon mounts up). The hipbelt could use some work, and the seams are the weak points.

Other perennial favorites

ULA Ohm

Six Moon Designs Starlight

Z-Packs Blast

Links

Probably the most comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of the

ultralight backpack state of the market

can be found at

Backpacking Light

(membership required). The

Backpacking Light forums

are also an excellent source of reader reviews (free to all).

Want to see learn to pack a frameless pack?

Hendrik has you covered.

Manufacturers

Mountain Laurel Designs

Laufbursche

Granite Gear

GoLite

Gossamer Gear

Six Moon Designs

Z-Packs

Hyperlight Mountain Gear

Osprey

REI

 - The

Flash

is a reasonably good offering made by REI themselves.

Check out the rest of Ultralight Makeover Redux:

Part 1: Admit you have a problem

Part 2: Downsize your pack

Part 3: Ditch your dome

Part 4: Change your bedding

Part 5: Start cooking light

Part 6: Pay attention to the menu

Part 7: Carry less water

Part 8: Dress down

Part 9: Stay fresh with less

Part 10: Pack knowledge

Part 11: Go smart-tech

Part 12: Give your feet a break

First Impressions: Laufbursche huckePACK

Finally, the Holy Grail...

Anticipation over the arrival of neu kid on the block Laufbursche has risen to fever pitch among the ultra-light community. I'd been trying to get my oversized giant hands on a huckePACK after reading Hendrik's many evangelising posts for months,  but German bureaucracy cuts no red tape for bloggers, and as time went by I opted to get a MLD Burn as a small summer bag.

As winter rolled in, I began to evaluate my pack needs again. I wanted another pack, a light weight one, but durable, and large enough to accommodate bulky insulated gear for colder weather. The word on the street was that Mateusz at Laufbursche had finalized his pack designs, and amongst his offerings would be a larger huckePACK. With the help of Ben at hrXXLight, I made contact with Laufbursche, and after playing with his rather clever configurator, I ordered a huckePACK "big," with an XL torso size, carrying a maximum capacity of 57 litres, and, with the two hip pockets, weighing in at 524g on my highly-accurate IKEA scales (the listed weight was 522g, so pretty damn close!).

And so, without further ado, let me introduce you to a new friend...

For the purposes of this quick overview, I used a mat to give it some structure, and stuffed a down bag and jacket in to fill it up.

The first thing that strikes you is the quality. The workmanship really is top par. Not a stitch out of place, and everything neatly, and sturdily finished.

Perhaps the most obvious "innovation" in the huckePACK is the design of the lid, and even the fact that there is one. Most light weight packs today skip the lid altogether in favour of a roll-top and cinch cord closure - the argument being that this is waterproof enough, and that a lid serves no real purpose.

On the huckePACK, the lid doubles as a kind of roll top. It's a very distinctive, neat, and tidy. It's a design that makes the Laufbursche packs immediately identifiable. It is also quite hard to explain how it closes, but with the aid of a not particularly helpful photograph, I'll try.

It's actualy very simple. The neck of the pack folds down on top, and can be clipped inside (using the clip in the photo above) to secure the contents if the bag is overflowing. The lid is essentially a continuation of the back material which folds over everything and clips into a pair of lineloc fasteners.

It makes for a very secure and waterproof lid. I was surprised that the lid also has a pocket. It's been a long time since I used a pack with a lid and lid pocket, and it seems almost consciously unfashionable to include one.

But then again, why not? I suppose I can always find something to put in the pocket. A map... My Super Mica... Some sliced cheese... The argument against it would be that it adds unnecessary weight, and limits the possibility of compacting the pack as you would be able to with a extension roll-top. As is is, I like the design, but I'm holding back judgement on the practicality of it until I've taken it out a few times.

Moving on... The shoulder straps are very well designed, and, with the 6mm 3D mesh padding, amazingly comfortable. I find their S shape makes them almost unnoticeable. Thoughtfully, they have plenty of webbing attachment points, a removable sternum strap, and load lifters. Many UL packs skip the load lifters, but even with moderate-light loads, they make a huge difference in how the pack carries.

Mateusz seemed somewhat surprised when I ordered the XL torso size, but it was the right choice. The length is perfect, with the belt sitting nicely on my hips (my MLD Burn sits a little high).

In another clever little design feature, the hip belt can be secured out of the way behind the pack if you don't need to use it. I think as this is intended to carry a larger load, I'm likely to use it. It's comfy - a little padding goes a long way, but again, we'll see how it performs when it gets a real test.

I ordered the belt pockets, because that's the kind of guy I am. I like to have snacks,  and my GPS at hand, and the pockets are plenty large enough to fit my

Lumix GF1

. They came fitted to the pack, and are nicely secured with a set of clips, so no bothersome slippage will occur.

The pack comes with additional cord and shock cord to attach in any way you choose. One option is to create a holder on the back for a section of Z-Lite. I've not done this yet, but I'll give it a go. I'm a little uncertain that it will keep the Z-Lite in place on a long hike. The method

Gossamer Gear

use on the

Gorilla

where the pad slips into some webbing pockets seems more secure, but we'll see.

© Laufbursche

There are plenty of attachment loops all over the pack to tie cord to. I'll probably tie a few on for trekking poles. An ice-axe loop would be easy to create for those with such an inclination.

The mesh pockets are more than ample - huge in fact. Loads of space for DuoMids, waterproofs, knickknacks, water bottles etc. The right side pocket is angled, the left side straight, but with an access hole, so in theory wearers should be able to easily get to water. My arms never seem to be flexible enough for that though.

So, as you can see, it's a well thought out pack, with a few innovative features, made to exacting standards. I'm hoping I can get out and try it in some real conditions very soon.

It's available in "small" and "big" sizes, and in Dyneema X Gridstop or Cuben Fiber.  Laufbursche will also be offering a smaller pack (more akin to the Burn) called the huckePÄCKchen in Cuben Fiber (it looks very nice, and very small).

Laufbursche will hopefully be opening their online store very soon, but until then, those with an itch to scratch can

try contacting them for more info

.

I wish them every success and can't wait to try out more of their gear in the future.

First Impressions: MLD Burn

Some readers, aware of my fevered anticipation of Laufbursche opening their online shop doors, might be surprised to discover that I purchased a 

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn

pack, instead of the still-very-desirable huckePACK. All I can say to defend my actions is that the gear bug got me, and with upcoming trips up North and to the Badlands, I wanted a new, super light pack, and didn't want to wait for Laufbursche. I'd been trying to decide between the Burn and the huckePACK for some time, and while the huckePACK has some details I like, none of them were so essential that they ruled out the Burn. Both are in the same ball park for weight and load-bearing ability. Both are fine packs. But the Burn had one advantage: it was there.

It arrived from Ron Bell's secret factory in the mountains last week, so here are my first impressions.

As with all MLD gear, it is extremely well thought out, designed, and constructed. Mine is a basic stock version - I ordered no modifications apart from two hip pockets, because I like somewhere to keep my snacks, camera, and GPS if I use it. The Burn arrives with shock cord to attach as you like it to the outside (again, I copied the standard configuration from MLD's website), a sternum strap, and lots of little clips the purpose of which will be explained later. All-in-all, on my highly professional and no-doubt accurate IKEA kitchen scales, it comes in at around 405g.

As I'm tall, I ordered the large, and, although it's hard to say for sure without it being fully loaded, it feels comfortable.

The hip belt is riding a little high, but I expect that will drop down once I fill it with more gear (for these photos I just stuffed my quilt in it).

The padded shoulder straps are comfortable, and the sternum strap is easily removable to allow repositioning.

It also features a whistle which you can use to annoy dogs. Or in the eventuality that you get lost, but that doesn't happen, right?

Inside, the pack is completely empty - there are no unnecessary compartments to add weight. The pack does have a couple of webbing loops inside from which you can hang a hydration pocket, which is available from MLD. I usually just put any water bladders on top, so I didn't order one, but I'm pretty sure it would be easy to make something yourself, should the need arise.

There's also a hydration hole on the left shoulder, large enough for some pretty hardcore plumbing, I'd say.

The pockets on the front and sides are large and strong, with elasticated drawstrings at the top to secure bulky items. The front pocket seems to be ideally sized for a DuoMid.

The clips that come with the pack are used to attach the shock cord. The great thing about them is that they can be easily removed (but won't, of course, just fall off), allowing you to stuff the pockets full, clip the shock cord, and tighten away. It's a neat and flexible design.

A simple triangular configuration on either side allows for secure attachment of trekking poles or a Tenkara rod (hmmm, there's an idea...). It's also possible to attache a loop of cord to the loops at the base of the pack, and attach an ice axe. I'd love to have an ice axe, but I have absolutely no need for one (yet).

Another nice little detail is the loop on the front pocket which can be attached to the cinch cord for added security.

I suspect there might even be another purpose for that which I've not figured out yet.

The pockets took a little fiddling with to figure out the nest attachment method.

The pockets have small webbing loops on the back, and larger elasticated loops. I checked the MLD site and found out the appropriate way to secure them.

The trick is to slide them all the way up the hip webbing, and slip the shoulder strap cord through the first loop. The idea is that the pockets then don't slip along the hip belt. In practise however, this is not enough, and Ron has thoughtfully added webbing loops on the pockets and pack which can be clipped together with a clip that I thought would come with the pockets, but didn't.

A MYOG solution was called for.

I hunted around for one of Minna's hairpins, and, after initially cursing that I usually found them lying around everywhere, but when I needed one etc... then I found some hiding in the bathroom.

The hairpin perfectly clips onto the two loops, and, handily, performs the dual task (hey, this is a UL principle!) of securing one of the zip pulls so that it no longer jingles. I'm a little worried about the ends of the hairpin getting caught in the pockets and ripping them, so maybe some bending or some duct tape are in order.

Added bonus: silver duct tape matches Dyneema X perfectly!

The great thing about the pockets is that they are detachable, so I can use them with my Vapor Trail. MLD also provide a little spectra guy cord if you want to replace the metal zip pulls (which do tend to make a bit of a racket when walking).

I might, in fact, make that small change. I was a little surprised at the final weight of the pack with all the bits and pieces attached. 405g is quite a lot more than the advertised 276g of the basic pack. Can two pockets, a sternum strap, and some bungee cord really amount to 129g? According to the website, the pockets and sternum strap should weigh 1.95oz, or 55g. I suppose it's possible that the plastic clips and bungee add another 74g.

Still, it's not a big deal. With some little adjustments, I can get it comfortably below 400g, which, to put it in perspective, makes it almost 1kg lighter than my Vapor Trail plus the REI hip pockets.

So, I'm very happy at the moment. I'll be taking it out for a few nights soon to give it, and some other new gear, a thorough testing, but right now, I've sliced a large chunk off my base weight. Using the 343 system (where bag, pack and shelter must be under 3kg), I'm now coming in around 2kg with the DuoMid, and even less with the SpinnTwinn. My journey to the light side is almost complete.

As for the

Laufbursche huckPACK

, there still might be room in my gear closet for one. Perhaps a slightly larger version, to replace a Vapor Trail? After all, who wouldn't want some gear from a company whose logo looks like it walked off the set of Blade Runner?