Jul 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm #3664973
For anyone who has used Aarn universal balance bags, can you tell me how much weight gets transferred to the front of your hip belt? I emailed Aarn and was told they felt that about 50% of the bag’s weight (bag + gear) was transferred to the hip belt, vs the majority of weight being transferred with the balance pockets that are custom made for their packs. I’d like to hear some first-hand experiences.
Thanks for any advice.Jul 17, 2020 at 3:35 pm #3664983
I can’t speak to the universal pockets, but I’ve been using the Aarn Mountain Magic system for a few years now, and I’m a fan, though with some qualifications.
The balance pocket concept is brilliant. Load the front pockets correctly and you get virtually zero pressure on the shoulders and neck – the load is balanced equally between the front and back of the hip belt, with the shoulder straps merely holding the load in balance.
You are walking upright with a totally natural gait, with none of the forward lean required when carrying any kind of significant load in a conventional pack. If I’m carrying a multi-day load or walking long days I much prefer the Aarn system. I’ve walked for weeks on end with multi-day resupply with literally no pain in the shoulders, neck or back – not something I’ve ever experienced with any other pack. And because of your better posture there is significantly less fatigue after a long mountain day.
It’s also very handy to have everything you need for the day in immediate reach – map, guidebook, water, snacks, gloves, head-gear, camera, phone, PLB, compass, torch, rain-wear etc. The front pockets hold all this and much more with no problem.
And I don’t experience the drawbacks that people seem to commonly assume. Once you get the system dialled in (which is not entirely trivial) I can see my feet fine, and the stays in the front pockets keep them far enough off the chest that there’s no problem with over-heating.
My reservations are mainly around the detailed execution of the packs. Aarn can’t seem to resist the temptation to over-complicate. A lot of the patented harness features don’t offer many benefits for lightweight hikers and add weight and complexity to the system. Plus there are times when the front pockets get in the way – for scrambling, travelling, shopping etc. Unfortunately there’s nowhere to stow them with his designs if the backpack is full.
I’m currently prototyping my own simplified version of the bodypack concept where I can quickly move the front pockets to the side of the pack, military-style, if I want them out of the way.
But overall I thoroughly recommend the system. I’m interested in backpack design and have spent a lot of time looking for innovative ideas. The bodypack concept is the only one I’ve found that offers genuine advantages over conventional packs for lightweight hikers. The benefits have been proven in a reputable sports-science lab and by many happy users – particularly people who have been walking with back pain.
If you’re interested in the concept, maybe consider going the whole hog with a complete system, rather than the universal pockets which are bound to be a compromise.Jul 19, 2020 at 7:42 am #3665235Erica RBPL Member
I have considered the universal balance bags. I hear they are at their best when carrying water. I believe they complicate taking your pack on and off.
I also hear that if your pack is under 20-25 lbs you may not need them.
I am still interested, as I have a bit of experience with front-loading, and I find it way comfortable.Jul 19, 2020 at 9:24 am #3665243
Geoff, how is the belt on your Mountain Magic?
Weight-wise, the MM is the only AARN pack that fits into UL category, but the belt appears to be mostly webbing and like it wouldn’t be up to comfortably taking all the weight off the shoulders.Jul 19, 2020 at 4:44 pm #3665290
The key thing to understand about the Aarn system is that the front bags have stays that transfer the weight to your belt – they are not hanging off your shoulders like the other front-pockets I’ve seen. The Aarn system is far more effective.
The system is slightly more hassle to put on and off. But I’m doing that for maybe a few seconds a day, while I’m carrying the pack for many hours a day. Not a bad trade-off for a significant improvement in comfort and balance. And because you have everything you need to hand, there is far less reason to take off your pack anyway.
The belt on my old version is basically webbing with some minimal padding.
Surprisingly, it works pretty well. Because the weight is distributed all around the belt, there is less potential for pain points. But I did feel the need to add some improvised padding to the hips on longer legs when I was carrying a lot of food – I think I push it beyond its design limits.
The higher capacity packs come with a much more substantial wrap-around belt that is well reviewed, but I haven’t had the chance to try it.Jul 23, 2020 at 3:47 pm #3666005
Geoff, thanks for your thorough response and apologies for taking so long to reply. I went offline for a few days.Jul 23, 2020 at 5:40 pm #3666011jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I haven’t tried the Aarn bags, but I briefly tried a similar front bag that comes with a Luxuyrlite pack. I couldn’t make it work, mostly because it obscured a view of my feet.
Geoff seems to have overcome this issue with the Aarn.
I also had issues with a bit of sway. Who knows,maybe if I’d persevered I would have come to like the front bags but I doubt it. I usually have a sub 25 pound pack at the start of a 7 day trip; I simply didn’t have a great need for the balance. I carry weight on my hips without the front bags, so…Jul 23, 2020 at 7:59 pm #3666037
Geoff, I’ll add my apology and thanks. I’m actually intrigued by the webbing belt. I find the part of a hip belt above the iliac crest to do little but interfere with breathing. (Perhaps if I were thinner…)
Aaron USA currently out of Mountain Magics. The hip belt on the larger packs, including its bigger sister- featherlight freedom- appear to acknowledge my observation, featuring a stiff portion of belt below the iMac crests and a memory foam part above them. But as you say, Aaron has trouble getting the weight down.
However, the Featherlight Freedom has recently been redisidned and a Pro version featuring 70d dyneema fabric is now available from NZ online retailers. 3 pounds, but as they say about McHale packs, if you’re going to carry extra weight it should be in your pack:)Jul 25, 2020 at 2:06 am #3666206
The Luxurylite front pocket is a very different beast – I really wouldn’t judge one from the other. The Luxurlight is going to obscure your feet and sway, as you say. Neither are significant issues with the Aarn design.
You say you are “only” carrying 25 lbs, and that gets transferred to the hips. Fair enough. But a critical benefit of the bodypack concept is that it eliminates forward lean. In previous threads people have claimed they don’t experience any forward lean – but they do. It’s simple physics – you have to counterbalance the weight on your back. Any forward lean is unnatural and affects your balance and efficiency – over a long day this can contribute significantly to fatigue and also create pain in the shoulders and back.
In a conventional pack you can mitigate the lean issue a little by loosening the straps and letting the pack hang backwards, but this reduces stability and sets up another set of unnatural strains in the shoulders and trunk so it’s not a solution.
Work in the ergonomics lab showed that 25lbs was well beyond the point at which the benefits of the Aarn design offset the additional weight. A lighter design such as the one I’m working on will lower that point to around 10 lbs I think, plus you have the benefits of easy access to all your stuff. And for people who experience significant pain with conventional packs the weight issue is irrelevant – the benefits of pain-free walking trump any other considerations.
Yes – hip-belt design is a bit of a black art. I was surprised how well the very basic belt on the MountainMagic works, at least up to around 25 lbs. Though bear in mind that this means there is only 13lbs or so in the backpack, and 6lbs or so in each front pocket.
McHale isn’t keen on either very heavy padding or on multi-layered designs – he says it all in the cut and the buckle configuration and only uses a fairly thin layer of Evazote in his own packs. By all accounts his hip-belts work exceptionally well. I suspect a lot of companies over-complicate this and that their belts are heavier and more restrictive than they need to be. The mid-sized Ospreys, for example, feel like wearing a corset to me – I can’t get on with them at all.Aug 2, 2020 at 12:30 pm #3668152
Just got hold of the fabric for building my own take on the Aarn bodypack concept, but before I invest all the time and trouble I thought I’d do one last experiment to convince myself that the Aarn concept really does deliver.
For the last few years all my multi-day outings have been with the Aarn Mountain Magic and I was wondering if my perception of the benefits was real or was just wishful thinking.
So in a masochistic moment I took my old Lowe alpine pack for a tough two days in the English Lake District. Covered a fair bit of distance and height, at least for an old codger like me, with much of it on difficult ground.
I spent most of it wishing that I’d brought my Aarn.
The forecast was iffy and I was camping high and exposed so I took a full 3-season setup weighing around 11 lbs, including the rather heavy Lowe pack and a couple of days of food.
Even with this modest load the contrast was stark. The forward lean is small but still significant. I felt my neck at an unnatural angle to compensate, and could feel the strain on my abs too. And of course there was some strain on the shoulders to counterbalance the outward pull of the sack. My balance on the tricky sections was less surefooted, and overall I found the day more fatiguing. After a long day yesterday I felt a bit beaten up in a way I never have with the Aarn.
So yes, unless you’re so young and fit that you’re impervious to unnatural stresses and strains on the body the Aarn is very much worth it, despite the minor inconveniences. Especially when you’re pushing your limits as I was doing. Being able to walk with a natural posture and gait really does increase your enjoyment of the hills, and the Aarn is the only carrying concept that can offer this.Aug 2, 2020 at 8:00 pm #3668226
Hi Geoff, thanks for reporting on your experiment. I’m also of the opinion that the ergonomics of traditional backpacks is poor. The forward trunk lean results in increased shear at the base of the spine (L5-S1), which is quite a bad thing, and also in forward head posture, which may be worse. Yep, the young and healthy…I remember carrying 25 pounds happily without a belt in my 20s. Now, anything over 20 and I’m cobbling together front bags to counterbalance the backpack.
I’d probably have bought an Aarn pack by now, but three emails to Mr. Tate over the years all went unanswered. With unique products, customer service needs to be a bit better, as education is required for the uninitiated.
I’m resolved to try one now, but need something capable of carrying 30 pounds comfortably. Sounds like the Mountain Magic is really only up to 25, but the next steps up in volume, though all include the more capable and conventional-looking belt, are much larger in both volume and weight – too large really for my needs. How bad is 30 in the Mountain Magic? Worse than 30 in a conventional pack?Aug 3, 2020 at 2:20 am #3668499
Yes – you can tell that Aarn came from the design side of the industry and not from retail – the customer service is underwhelming and the website can be unhelpful in places – particularly the lack of product images. I would try going direct to your local distributor – you might get better service.
And yes – the shear on the lower spine is another important argument for the bodypack concept. They actually measured the lean and the forces in the lab for a 35 lb load, which you may have noticed:
It’s hard for me to advise you on the Mountain Magic – they seem to have done a complete redesign, but the single photo on the site doesn’t show the harness so we’re in the dark…
They claim that the new Mountain Magic will carry 37lbs for a weight of 1440 grams including a pair of Sport Pockets. So if they’re being realistic that would leave you with a bit in hand.
Your other option would be the Featherlight Freedom for a weight of 1659 grams (medium) including the Sport pockets, which they claim will carry 40 lbs. The belt is more substantial and the added weight is fairly marginal so it should be more comfortable. But it’s an eye-watering price…
I wouldn’t worry too much about the added weight. The Sport pockets are 415 grams in Regular, so the Featherlight backpack itself is 1244g, which isn’t outrageous. The Exped Lightning 60, for example, is 1015 for comparison.
The way I think about it is this. Until I took it in hand I allowed my weight to creep up till I was carrying far too much flab around my gut. But it had surprisingly little impact on my comfort or performance, because it was so well distributed – FAR less impact than the same weight carried in a conventional pack.
I think our perception of the effects of carrying weight is determined by the misery of the conventional backpack design – it has significantly less impact when it’s in an Aarn bodypack.
For comparison, the HMG Southwest in Dyneema is 1014g. The Featherlight Freedom with pockets is 1659, so the difference is 644g. If you weigh, say, 11 stone, this amounts to less than 1% of your body-weight, or 1.4 lbs around your gut. I don’t think being an lb overweight would make much difference to your performance, and nor will the extra weight of the bodypack. It’s still a much better way to carry, in my experience.
Or looked at another way, given the choice of carrying 30lbs in a conventional pack or 31.4 lbs in a bodypack it’s no contest – the bodypack would be FAR more comfortable.
McHale has always argued that a lighter pack can’t make up for a poor carry, so he won’t compromise his designs to save weight. I’m sure he’s right.Aug 3, 2020 at 3:56 am #3668505
20.5 kg in one case and 24 kg in the second case.
This IS Backpacking LIGHT you know?
(Yes, I know Tipi goes for monster loads, but I believe most of that is food.)Aug 3, 2020 at 4:23 am #3668506
I think you misread the diagram – those are the forces, not the loads. The load was 35 lbs, as I mentioned.
That happens to be the loads they used for the research. And for those of us who like to go remote, we’ll be carrying something approaching that at times with all the food and water, as you conceed.
But the physics are exactly the same for lighter loads. And my recent experiment confirmed my belief that the Aarn front-pocket concept really does help even when you’re only carrying 10 or 11 lbs. I was paying more attention than usual to how my body was reacting, and the differences are significant, at least for an old codger like me.Aug 3, 2020 at 5:12 am #3668508
35 lb. Dear me! (I have carried 70 lb, but I was much younger.)
In my own explorations of pack design, I found that there was a transition around 15 – 16 kg. Above that I was bent the way Aarn shows. Below that weight my back was largely straight, and the only tilt I had came from my ankles. I am NOT aware of those forces at the hips of waist (ie I don’t feel them).
These days, a week of traveling in alpine regions has me carrying about 12 kg and Sue carrying about 10 kg – and that is with enough gear to handle snow. Ski touring is a bit more of course.
When you combine the lack of (my) need for a front pack with the problems they gave me when I was testing one of them, the concept lacks appeal. I could not see my feet, which is always a problem in rough country; I could not swing my arms the way I like, and the combination was the devil to pick up onto my back. And the damn things flapped around badly. Aarn may be 6’+, but I am not.
Well, to each his own of course. But some mention should be made of how many people find Aarn’s packs just don’t work for them in the field.
CheersAug 3, 2020 at 5:41 am #3668510
We’ve discussed this before! As I said then, I don’t experience any of the problems you mention. It does take time to dial in the packs and get used to the different feel. And maybe he’s improved the design. But in my experience they are certainly worth trying, especially if you have back issues.
If they don’t work for you, fair enough. But I can’t take your point that a conventional pack doesn’t affect your gait – it simply must. It’s just physics – you have to counter the backward pull of the load. If that doesn’t bother you, then the Aarn is probably not worth it. But it bothers me, and I feel FAR less beaten up after a long day with my Aarn, even with just 11 lbs base for alpine conditions + 3 or 4 days foodAug 3, 2020 at 1:16 pm #3668641
Geoff, I hope you’ll keep us all apprised of your bodypack build progress. My DIY Rube Goldberg experiments have proven the validity of the Aarn concept to me, now I just have to figure out if I want to spring for the cost of an Aarn kit or get more involved in a MYOG project.Aug 3, 2020 at 5:26 pm #3668678
But I can’t take your point that a conventional pack doesn’t affect your gait – it simply must. It’s just physics – you have to counter the backward pull of the load.
That’s the critical point imho.
My pack, which is an MYOG external frame with a full mesh back panel, does not seem to exert a backward pull. I lean forward from the ankles and the load goes down my spine. The mesh transfers it.
If I slack off the ‘load lifters’ and let the top of the pack lean away from my back, then I feel a backward pull, but with the top of the pack snugged tight against my back – no.
Does wearing my pack affect my gait? Well, I am sure it must, as the pack makes me heavier – although an extra 12 kg is not a lot. I suspect being overweight might be worse.
To be sure, what works for one person may not work for another. So we have diversity. Much fun.
CheersAug 4, 2020 at 9:31 am #3668791
Yup – whether you lean from the hips or the ankles, hanging a weight from your back without a counterbalance on the front is going to affect your gait – there’s simply no way to avoid it.
The only issue is whether you feel this is a big enough problem to put up with the mild inconveniences of the Aarn solution.
For you, clearly not. There’s no argument with that – as you say we’re all different, and find our own way to enjoy the hills.
I’m on the other side – for me the bodypack is a no-brainer – it significantly improves my comfort and enjoyment if I have to carry any kind of load. I find the payoff starts as low as 8 or 9 lbs – eg for pretty much any overnighter.
My only aim is to alert people to the option. Because Aarn has such tiny market exposure, most people aren’t even aware that there is another way to carry loads, and even fewer have ever given it a fair trial for themselves. I am pretty convinced that a lot of people would benefit, particularly those who walk with neck and back pain.Aug 4, 2020 at 6:11 pm #3668928Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
I have to question the diagram . . .
If you have a well designed pack whose frame is properly shaped to the curvature of the spine and doesn’t collapse, weight of gear properly distributed in the pack, and effective load lifters that pull the pack forward to keep it balanced and lift weight off the shoulders, one isn’t going to have those extra forces on the top and front of the shoulders. Pretty easy to transfer 90% or more of all the forces to a well designed hip belt and keep the pack well balanced.
As it happens, my pack in the picture below weighs 35 lb. 6 oz. (~ 16 kg). No excessive forward lean and I’m walking uphill. Keep in mind the top of my back has extreme curvature, which I’ve posted pictures of, before. Plus, at the time, I was a spry 62 years young. That pack doesn’t have load lifters either, but the frame doesn’t collapse with 35 lb.
For me, I hate anything on my shoulder straps or on the front of my pack, except a very small shoulder strap pocket, which I don’t always use. I have tried water bottle pockets, camera attachments, and binocular attachments — I hate all of them.
To have those large front pockets would feel claustrophobic.
If the Aarn pack works for someone, then great, by all means keep using it. But if someone is looking to purchase one because their current pack is poorly designed, then attack that problem first.
IMO, of course.Aug 4, 2020 at 7:09 pm #3668944
Nick makes a very good point here. If the model you are using is wrong, then none of the conclusions drawn from it can be valid. If the way you carry a pack does not match the diagram above, then your results WILL be different.
OK, the one above may be a shade extreme.
This one was real however. Yeah, bad pull on the shoulders.
Pity these poor kids. (Thank you Ken T for the photo.)
But in the case below, what load on the shoulders?
There’s daylight there.
Sue carries a fairly large pack, but it is well-packed with the weight near her back, and the frame FITS her back. She only leans at the ankles.
And when you are XC skiing, you can’t lean from the waist anyhow. It just does not work. You lean from the ankles. (Photos available, but maybe that is enough?)
It all depends on what model you start with.
CheersAug 5, 2020 at 11:19 am #3669231Jon SolomonBPL Member
Geoff, I’ve used Aarn’s Natural Balance and really really like it.
The design features aren’t limited to the balance pockets. There are a ton of neat things about the pack. The hip belt allows for awesome freedom and side to side pivot, while the shoulder straps allow for total freedom of movement offset to the hips.
For reference, I also tried the Mountain Magic and found that the execution of some of the same ideas used in the Natural Balance wasn’t nearly as effective.
I didn’t find the Natural Balance particularly effective, however, for carrying really heavy loads (I used it once for a three week unsupplied trek). The main packbag only has one stay, and I wonder if that has anything to do with it? While weight transfer to the hipbelt is very effective, it isn’t easy to shift some of the weight back up to the shoulders, which I like to do now and then.
Somebody on here adapted the Balance Pockets (not the Universal version but the Expedition version with the snap buttons) to a Seek Outside Revolution pack. Maybe they could chime in with their experience. Seems like it would be a good combination, especially if the SO packs live up to their reputation for allowing pelvis sway.
Aarn’s ideas are really cool. If only the packs could be made with lighter materials like carbon and dyneema grid (which is what Will Rietveld said about them a long time ago).Aug 7, 2020 at 9:35 am #3669737
John, where would you pt the weight limit for the Natural Balance?
The Featherweight Freedom has the same suspension as the Natural Balance but is 50L in the main bag. Both packs were recently redesigned and very recently were also released in a dyneema grid fabric (70d main body, 200d reinforcements). The dyneema “Pro” version of the Featherweight Freedom is almost half a pound lighter than the normal version. The normal version is 100d robic, so one would think the 70d dyneema grid would be tougher, but not sure. I’m looking seriously at those.
Apart from the Universal Balance Bag that the OP asked about, another option for getting some Aarn front bags onto ones pack would be to buy the “Pelvic Form” hipbelt used on the larger packs, including the Natural Balance and Featherweight Freedom, and retrofitting it to an existing pack. Two packs I have currently, the Seek Outside Flight One and the Ohm 2.0, both have velcro connections behind a lumbar pad and I imagined (though not sure) that the Aarm Pelvic Form belt could be swapped into those packs with minimal fiddling. That belt looks very interesting, from an ergonomic perspective, and has the connectors on the front that take the Balance Bag stays.
Question for those that have used Aarn: If I hang four pounds from the ends of the load lifter straps (or therabouts) on a conventional backpack, this will effectively counterbalance the backward tipping or rotation of a conventional backpack loaded with 25 pounds. Such a modest front load works this well because of the lever arm applied so high above the axis of rotation at the hipbelt. The Aarn front bags are not hung from the load lifters or shoulder straps so much as they are supported by or sit on the front of the hipbelt. Does that arrangement counterbalance the backward rotation of the backpack as well? I can see how the frontbag resting on the front of the belt would counter the tendency for the belt itself to rotate up in the front and down in the back, but do the Aarn front bags actually counter that backward lean of the main backpackbag?Aug 7, 2020 at 12:53 pm #3669753jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
Roger posted a picture of a Luxurylite pack with cylinders. I use the LL frame and belt with a frameless pack strapped on. It’s remarkably good at transferring weight to the hips and off the shoulders. And it carries a bear canister fabulously on the little flanges lip at the bottom of the frame (which you can’t see in the picture–it sits below the lowest orange soft cylinder.)Aug 7, 2020 at 4:26 pm #3669797
Stumphges, great tip about the “Pelvic Form” hipbelt. I’m going to look into that.
Today, for the first time, I hiked with Aarn balance pockets. I decided to skip the universal bags I asked about in my initial post and instead go with the Compact Balance bags for now. Using Z-clips they were surprisingly easy to adapt to the 3 non-Aarn packs that I tried them on.
Anyway, to comment on your question about counterbalancing, what I found is that 5 pounds in the balance pockets (2.5 lbs ea), nicely counterbalanced the 6.5 pounds I had on my back. There was no weight on my shoulders at all. It was very comfortable. From my readings it appears that Aarn recommends keeping fore and aft weight similar, so this would align with what I found. Not sure how this would work out for you, but you might have to rethink how you load your pack if you go the balance pocket route.
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