The Katahdin and its smaller but otherwise identical counterpart, the Pamola (not tested), have a shoulder strap, hipbelt combination that are more highly padded, with a greater range of adjustability, than found in most ultralight frameless packs.This suspension system combined with top, middle, and bottom compression straps create a pack capable of comfortably carrying 20 pounds (9.1 kg) for the average user. The three compression straps are the keys to the pack’s versatility and to creating a virtual frame. Unlike the side panel only compression straps on most packs, the Katahdin’s compression straps wrap all the way around the back of the pack giving them a much greater range of compression. The Katahdin is one of a few ultralight packs to use a bottom compression strap, giving it an advantage in creating a virtual frame with very low volume loads. As load weight and volume shrink during a trip, or when the pack is used for a day hike from camp, the compression straps collapse pack volume into a small solid unit retaining both fit and carry comfort. The pack has a number of harness adjustments including an adjustable hipbelt height to fine-tune it for torso length.
The Katahdin could use more outside pocket storage space. Its two wing pockets are small and usable for only small items, and the lower mesh pockets are normally occupied by water bottles. Users may find themselves delving into the main pack bag during the day for commonly used items.
While the Katahdin is durable enough for typical trail hiking, it is not suitable for abusive off-trail travel or climbing. It lacks axe loops, durable fabric, and a top compression strap to stow a rope.
- Backpack Style – frameless, top loading, drawstring closure, no top compression strap
- Fabric Description – body is 1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silicone impregnated ripstop nylon; bottom and wings are 200 denier PU coated ripstop nylon; back panel is stiff nylon mesh; water bottle pockets are nylon mesh.
- Sizes – size large (tested) is the Katahdin, and fits torsos 19-22 inches (48-56 cm); size medium is the Pamola, and fits torsos 15-19 inches (38-48 cm).
- Volume – Katahdin 3350 ci (55 L); Pamola 2475 ci (40.6 L).
- Weight – 26.1 oz (740 g) as measured for the Katahdin (manufacturer claims weight is 26 oz (737 g) for the Katahdin and 24 oz (680 g) for the Pamola)
- Volume to Weight Ratio – 128 ci/oz (based on 3350 ci Katahdin and a measured weight of 26.1 oz)
- Load Carrying Capacity – 20 lb (9.1 kg) maximum comfortable load carrying capacity with 25 lb (11.4 kg) maximum tolerable. Equinox claims maximum load for the Katahdin is 35 lb (15.9 kg), and comfortable load is 25-30 lb (11.4-13.6 kg).
- Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio – 12.3 (based on 20 lbs and a measured weight of 26.1 oz)
- MSRP – $110 US
Frame and Suspension – 3.0
Note: the Katahdin and Pamola packs are identical except for volume and torso length. Instead of having multiple sizes for the Katahdin, i.e. medium and large, Equinox changed the name for the smaller pack. We review the Katahdin but expect similar performance for the Pamola.
The Katahdin’s three full-wrap compression straps and padded, adjustable harness extend its load carrying capabilities without the use of stays. The top, bottom, and middle compression straps are the keys to the pack’s versatility and to creating a virtual frame. Unlike the side panel only compression straps on most packs, the Katahdin’s compression straps wrap all the way around the back of the pack giving them a much greater range of compression. The Katahdin is one of a few ultralight packs to use a bottom compression strap, giving it an advantage in creating a virtual frame with very low volume loads. The “framesheet” is no more than a piece of stiff nylon mesh that is also the back of the pack’s main compartment and adds little if anything to the pack’s rigidity and virtual frame. The wearer creates a “virtual frame” with a ground pad rolled into a cylinder inside the pack, and by tightening the three prominent compression straps to compress and stiffen the pack’s contents. Alternatively, you can place a folded ground pad inside the pack against the back panel to increase the stiffness of the pack.
The Katahdin’s shoulder straps and hipbelt have more padding than is typically found on frameless ultralight packs. The shoulder harness consists of 0.5 inch (13 mm) EVA foam contoured shoulder straps with load lifter straps at the top, an adjustable sternum strap, and length adjuster straps at the bottom. Without a top compression strap on the pack, we found it difficult to get enough compression in the top of the pack to effectively use the load lifter straps.
The hipbelt is wide and well padded (4 in/10 cm wide by 0.75 in/19 mm thick EVA foam with a softer padding on the outer surface). The hipbelt has a hook and loop attachment to the pack, making it adjustable for torso length (a nice feature not seem in many ultralight packs). It’s also removable. Removing the hipbelt reduces pack weight by 7 ounces (198 g) bringing the total weight of the pack to 19.1 oz (541 g). Since we received our pack for review, Equinox has upgraded the hipbelt and lower back panel on the Katahdin and Pamola to CoolMax fabric. Equinox claims that this reduces hipbelt slip and improves moisture management.
Usable Features and Ease of Use – 2.5
This pack has a limited amount of outside pocket space for frequently used items. There are a total of four pockets: two upper zippered pockets on the compression strap wings, and two mesh pockets on the lower side panels. The wing pockets are small, oddly-shaped, and useful only for small items. They are not easily accessed when under tension by the compression straps and not accessible while wearing the pack. The water bottle pockets are large enough to accommodate a 2-liter round bottle. It’s difficult to insert a flexible bottle like a Platypus because the corners catch on the mesh (trimming the sharp edges of the bladder at a light angle fixes this). With the pack on, our long-armed tester could barely remove and replace a 1-liter bottle from the side pockets. The Katahdin lacks a large rear mesh pocket for drying gear and/or miscellaneous items. It’s possible to store wet gear under the compression straps, but there is still no place to put miscellaneous items to which you need ready access.
Tip: to help free up some pocket space, our tester found that using a 2-liter round water bottle in one side pocket (or a 2 L Platypus) freed up the other side pocket for storage of frequently used items. Even so, the available pocket space is still limited.
The compression straps have fast-snap connectors in the middle for easy release. The dangling strap ends look untidy, but are very functional for securely tightening the compression straps from two directions. The Katahdin’s flat bottom creates a more stable base than is normally found with frameless packs helping it to remain upright when placed on the ground. There is no top pocket. Access to the pack’s contents is through a top drawstring opening. There is no compression strap going over the top of the pack. This both makes compressing the upper pack impossible, and eliminates the ability to store additional items on top of the pack. There is no hydration sleeve or tube port. The pack has a haul loop, but no ice axe loop or daisy chain. Our tester found that back perspiration was quickly transmitted through the stiff nylon mesh to the interior of the pack. For this reason, the gear selected to go against this mesh back panel should be either packed in a water resistant stuff sack or capable of tolerating moisture from sweat.
The Katahdin is suited for on-trail hiking, but is less suitable for peak bagging and climbing. It does not have ice axe/tool loops; there are minimal attachment points on the outside to attach climbing hardware or ropes; and the 1.3 oz/yd2 (44g/m2) silicone impregnated ripstop nylon used in much of the pack is not up to abusive off-trail travel and climbing.
Load Volume Flexibility – 4.5
The Katahdin’s three compression straps wrap all the way around the pack, giving it a much greater range of compression than most ultralight backpacks. Furthermore, the Katahdin is one of only a few ultralight packs to use a bottom compression strap, giving it an advantage over most packs to control very low volume loads. The compression system effectively keeps the pack collapsed and solid as load volume decreases during a trip. It also maintains the pack’s virtual frame, allowing it to transfer weight to the hips even with very low volume loads. The Katahdin also works well as a “day hike from camp” pack because of the compression system’s ability to keep the pack solid (we placed a sleeping pad inside to provide some stiffness). Our only complaint is the pack’s lack of a top compression strap.
Pack Load Carrying – 3.0
The Equinox with a smaller volume load.
We tested the Katahdin with loads ranging from 40 pounds (18.1 kg) down to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in 5-pound (2.3 kg) increments. We used both a Therm-a-Rest Prolite ¾ inflatable (folded into four layers) and a ¾ Ridge Rest (folded into five layers). In both cases the sleeping pad was placed inside the main pack bag, against the back panel. The folded Ridge Rest pad gave the pack more rigidity and better weight transfer than the folded Therm-a-Rest.
Equinox claims that this pack will carry a maximum load of 35 pounds (15.9 kg). In our estimation, 20 pounds (9.1 kg) is the maximum comfortable load and 25 pounds (11.4 kg) is the maximum tolerable load for the Katahdin.
With the Therm-a-Rest pad, torso collapse occurred around 20 to 25 pounds (9.1 to 11.3 kg). With a folded ¾ Ridge Rest pad against the back panel our reviewer found 25 pounds (11.3 kg) was a reasonable load if he carefully packed the Katahdin. In this mode the pack transferred about 75% of the weight to his hips and about 25% of the weight to his shoulders and chest. The Katahdin showed similar performance in our “Frameless Backpacks: Engineering Analysis of the Load Carrying Performance of Selected Lightweight Packs” article.
Overall, we found that for the average user, a 20 pound (9.1 kg) load is an honest comfortable load rating for the Katahdin when properly packed with a rolled or folded foam ground pad inside the pack. Going beyond the 20 pound (9 kg) maximum load capacity depends on: 1) packing the pack properly by using a very rigid ground pad like a Ridge Rest, and sufficiently compressing the pack; and 2) how much weight you can comfortably tolerate on your shoulders. Those who tolerate some weight on their shoulders may find our 20-pound rating conservative, as the well-padded shoulder straps on the Katahdin ameliorate some discomfort of increased shoulder weight.
Durability – 3.0
In our testing the Katahdin withstood the normal scrapes and dings of trail backpacking although we did get some minor abrasions on the silnylon. While the main compartment is 1.3 ounce silnylon and is vulnerable to abrasion and punctures, it is protected on the bottom and sides by 200 denier ripstop nylon. Still, the bottom sides, and the entire rear and top of the pack are unprotected silnylon. As such, the Katahdin is probably not up to aggressive off-trail use, peak bagging or climbing. All seams are double stitched with a webbing seam binding, and all stress points are bar-tacked. The side pockets are made of a heavy nylon mesh that should survive moderate bushwhacking.
Value – 3.0
At $110, the Katahdin is a slightly better than average value for a lightweight frameless backpack. Its greatest strength is its versatility of handling different volume loads from daypack size to maximum capacity for long distance trips and cold weather trips. It has a large number of adjustments to properly fit the user and above average padded shoulder straps and hipbelt. If the pack had adequate outside pocket space for convenient access to frequently used gear, and if it were a bit more durable, it would earn a higher rating.
Recommendations for Improvement
A feature we really missed when testing this pack is a large outside mesh pocket to dry gear or to keep maps, rainwear, and other routinely accessed items handy. Overall the pack needs more outside pocket space. A full height mesh pocket on one side would help. Also, the compression strap wings could double as stay pockets, where tent poles or trekking poles could be inserted to create a rigid suspension. This would involve removing the somewhat unusable top zippered pockets, and adding an entry point at the top of the compression strap wings to accept the longer items. We’d also like to see a compression strap over the top of the pack for a more secure top closure, to improve the load lifter strap performance, to allow storage of bulky items, and of course to facilitate better compression at the top of the pack.