Any users of Aarn universal balance bags?
Aug 10, 2020 at 11:09 am #3670240
Glad to know that helps, Paul!Aug 10, 2020 at 11:12 am #3670241
re: especially if you want the backpack to work conveniently both with and without the pockets
Despite what Aarn claims (somewhere, can’t remember where), you can’t, well, I can’t, use the Natural Balance at all independently of the Balance Pockets. I tried and it didn’t work at all.Aug 10, 2020 at 12:10 pm #3670247
Our own Dave Chenault argues that you can retain some flexibility in a pack rated up to 18kg simply by using a single-stay system. He’s tested this pretty extensively and says it carries the load just fine
He also says it is about 90% as good. We have to remember that Dave is fairly young and obviously a very strong hiker. That makes a difference. One large stay isn’t going to save much weight over two smaller ones. With a lighter load, I actually like two stays which helps keep the shoulder straps where they need to be.
I’m surprised to hear that disabling the sliding shoulder strap (which is basically a load lifter strap that runs all the way to the base of the main packbag where the shoulder strap connects to it; the shoulder strap itself is tightened by a separate strap also connected to the base of the main packbag at the same place) didn’t make a difference. Even for lighter loads it made a difference for me.
The sliding shoulder strap, is similar to McHales by-pass. It is just a simpler way to adjust the load lifters (or stabilizer strap) to pull the pack closer to the body and lift the shoulder straps off to top of the shoulders. On a “conventional” pack, there is some compression of the suspension system with heavier loads, and the load lifters help uncompress, but really just lifts some or all of the load from the top of the shoulders. It seems that if the Aarn “balances” the load with weight in the front, this wouldn’t be as big a deal as it is with a more conventional pack. I don’t need them most of the time on my big McHale and just remove the bypass harness and frame extensions (P&G Bayonets) most of the time. I use them in winter snow trips, which is by far my heaviest kite. My small McHale doesn’t have them at all.
Of course if one has a single stay, then load lifters cannot be incorporated because they need to attach to a frame structure above the shoulder straps.Aug 10, 2020 at 12:12 pm #3670248
The sliding shoulder strap, is similar to McHales by-pass.
Dan originally leased the patent from Aarn.Aug 10, 2020 at 2:26 pm #3670259
Dan originally leased the patent from Aarn.
Do you have a source for this information?
I really don’t know. But I really like it especially that I can remove the harness and top stays.Aug 10, 2020 at 3:27 pm #3670263
I tried to look for an online reference to that tidbit of information expecting questions about it would come up. It used to be somewhere (on Dan’s website?) a long time ago and was common knowledge among people. But that info seems to have disappeared. I just wrote to Aarn and asked him about it.
Dan’s packs are very innovative, for sure.
I purchased my first pack from McHale a couple of decades ago.Aug 10, 2020 at 11:51 pm #3670332
Hey Nick, I got it backwards. My apologies.
The bypass harness was developed by Dan Mc Hale. Aarn started to use his idea when McHale’s patent expired.
Another thing I didn’t know: what Aarn calls the U Flow system (that allows for coordinated opposing movement between hips and shoulders) was copied by Black Diamond, who pay a licence only for Australia and NZ because Aarn is too small to undertake the burden of applying for patents around the world (mainly the US, I suppose). I wonder which BD packs use this system?Aug 11, 2020 at 2:31 am #3670342
What Dan’s design does, it makes it very easy to adjust both the load lifters (stabilizer straps for old guys like me) and the shoulder straps at the same time. Adjusting internal frame packs with load lifters was often a mysterious cult-like ritual before the Internet came along so we could more easily research these things and communicate with others. With this design, which Aarn is now using, it simply makes it easier to properly adjust the stabilizer straps.
Decades ago I had an early Mountainsmith Frostfire internal that was not only heavy (over 7 lb.) but had so many adjustments that I could never set it up correctly. The problem was, it was my first internal and I didn’t truly understand how an internal pack should work and fit. I didn’t use it many times and went back to my externals. Many years later I bought a huge Gregory internal. Super heavy and over engineered. And I still didn’t truly understand how an internal should work. Even had I learned how to set it up, the over engineering and weight just made it the wrong pack for me.
Dan McHale, over the course of several phone calls, taught me how an internal pack should work and how to properly adjust it. I am not trying to pass myself off as some sort of expert. But I like to share what I have learned. That’s all.
It is my opinion that in the years since Dick Kelty revolutionized externals and Jeff Lowe came out with the first internal, pack design has incrementally improved design-wise. There hasn’t been a lot of huge innovation and I don’t think there will be, other than new materials. McHale has refined it, especially with the materials used and improving all the smallest details. I will say that many people think the only advantage to a McHale is a custom fit. I would argue that Dan has perfected so many finer details that each pack is an efficient integrated system.
This not to say that Aarn hasn’t done the same. He’s been designing gear for almost as long as Dan and has worked for some very well know and respected companies.
Aarn has done some nice things from what I have seen. But it is still an internal frame pack. In my mind, the question is whether or not the front stabilizing pockets make a significant difference. Obviously some think his packs are the cat’s meow and I won’t argue against that, nor would I try to attempt to change someone’s mind who wants to buy one.
My point is, a lot of people are constantly buying packs because they have never had one that was well designed, and more importantly, are not fitted correctly. Usually they are too small. Heck, I’ve even seen some BPL reviews (articles not forum posts) where the reviewer praises a pack and in the pictures it doesn’t fit right or something like the load lifters cannot function properly.
So sometimes in these kinds of threads, it might be useful to discuss how a pack should work in the first place.
I am certainly not saying anyone posting in this thread doesn’t understand the mechanics. I think those of use who have written several posts are older and look for any advantage that minimizes the aging process. I especially want to point out that Geoff and I have gone back and forth a little bit here, as he has experience with Aarn packs and is thinking about a MIY modification. Geoff and I have engaged in several threads about different kinds of gear over years, and he truly knows his stuff when it comes to backpacking and equipment. Because we have engaged in these conversations, I have a lot of respect for his opinions and insight.
If someone wants an Aarn pack, by all means buy it if it is the solution you need and/or want. I would say, just make sure you are not trying to solve a problem with your present pack if it doesn’t fit or is poorly designed, without understanding the fit or design problem.
I do have a lot of expertise with tent trailers and travel trailers. I even rebuilt and redesigned a tent trailer from the ground up. So I get a lot of people asking me questions about different trailers, especially first time buyers. I always tell them, “buy your second trailer the first time.” Meaning, do your research, anticipate your needs, and don’t buy something that won’t work for you.Aug 11, 2020 at 4:21 am #3670345
I went through similar training with Dan McHale in how to fit and adjust a pack.
I now have three McHales for about almost two decades: A SARC P&G in full spectra (it barely cost $600 in those days), a stripped down Popcan in spectra grid, and a Subpop in full spectra that I use with what Dan used to call spring aluminum stays. (I also bought an internal from Jeff Lowe before corporatization and an external from Dick Kelty way way way back when).
I totally agree with you (and praised your McHale review) that the advantages of a McHale pack go way beyond custom fit.
Aarn’s packs are different. To say that it is still an internal frame pack indicates to me that you don’t get it. Classification means something. I say, well Aarn says, that it is a bodypack (I think Aarn also calls them balancepacks) rather than a backpack. The significant parameter here is body vs back rather internal vs. external. I have no doubt that Aarn could design a bodypack around a packbag for the back that is supported by an external frame. The main thing is getting a balanced COG and a balanced body COG along with the freedom of supporting opposing body sway between hips and shoulders by placing all the weight evenly distributed on the hips.
My McHale SARC P&G is a great backpack but doesn’t work the same way as an Aarn bodypack.
Your warning however is totally appropriate. An Aarn pack (or any other pack for that matter) might be a solution to a problem that wouldn’t exist if people would learn more about how to fit and adjust packs. The recent trend towards prioritizing weight reduction above all else seems to have had a net effect of distracting people’s attention even more away from the key issues of fit, adjustment, and finally design.
Unfortunately, “doing the research” with a lot of backpacking gear just isn’t a substitute for hands on experience and experiencing different things, like bodypacks and backpacks, is fun and interesting in its own right.Aug 11, 2020 at 4:36 am #3670346
a problem that wouldn’t exist if people would learn more about how to fit and adjust packs.
I have had a lot of light-weight packs for review. I have dangled many of them in front of my wife – and she has dutifully tried them out, but they did not fit her properly. Did I fail to adjust them correctly? I don’t know.
She has gone back to her old Macpack Torre: a large (synthetic) canvas thing which weighs a lot more than the light ones she tested for me. But it FITS her. She does not notice the weight: the comfort is what matters.
And a second advantage: it is large, as I said, so she can rummage around inside it with ease. She had to half-empty some of the light ones she tested before she could find anything in them. That did not go down well in a storm.
There are times when a religious devotion to the UL mantra may be a shade counter-productive. We are, after all, here for the fun.
CheersAug 11, 2020 at 4:58 pm #3670441JacobBPL Member
I wonder which BD packs use this system?
Based on the descriptions in this thread, it sounds like what BD calls their ‘swing arm’ system, which I think is used on all their active suspensions.
I appreciate the background info on it since BD has almost no explanatory information on their website. This video talking about it isn’t even uploaded on BD’s channel anymore… In that video they admit to copying other companies, but they claim to be offering a unique final product.
I know the bolt24 has it, but I haven’t used it enough yet to comment on the extra degrees of freedom. Seems nice.Aug 13, 2020 at 4:46 am #3670592
Well, this thread certainly took a turn for the better – some brilliant posts above!
Looks like us crusty old-timers are agreed on Jon’s point that:
The recent trend towards prioritizing weight reduction above all else seems to have had a net effect of distracting people’s attention even more away from the key issues of fit, adjustment, and finally design.
I would say that most of the packs I see on the hill don’t fit properly, and as Nick says, they are usually too small.
I strongly suspect that many of the people who have rejected internal frames in favour of frameless packs have never experienced a properly fitting framed pack, because on every objective measure they should offer a much better carry. You see weird statements such as they find that hip-belts restrict their breathing – as if we breathe with our hips?
And as Dan Hale never tires of reminding us, a slightly heavier pack with a good carry will always trump a lighter pack with a poor carry.
I also agree with Roger that having a bit of extra space in the pack makes a lot of sense. You often see pissing contests where people strive to cram their gear into the smallest possible pack. But the weight advantage is insignificant, and it just makes the pack less flexible, harder to pack and harder to use. Having a few extra litres in hand offers all sorts of advantages provided you’ve got a decent compression system on the pack.
Back to the topic…
You say that your Aarn pack doesn’t work for you without the front pockets. Any specifics would be welcome! My own ideal would be to have a backpack that works as well as a McHale, with optional front pockets that can be re-configured as side pockets when required. I can’t see why there would be any need to compromise on the effectiveness of the backpack as a standalone element. Or am I missing something?
I suspect that your warning about the single-stay approach is well-founded – a useful reality check. A good rule of thumb – when in doubt, do what McHale does. I’ll focus on a twin-stay design.Aug 13, 2020 at 6:44 am #3670595
It doesn’t work for me primarily because it can only be carried in one way, with the load lifters pulled tight so that the pack is flush against the back. Otherwise there is just too much flex in the pack as a whole. Flex from the U Flow system and flex from the stay arrangement (a horizontal H in the upper 2/3 of the back all inside a wire rectangle around the whole outside of the back). The stay system is very flexible, almost too flexible, I’d say. So I find it practically impossible (not physically impossible) to loosen the load lifters to allow mucho airflow on the back when desired. Also the pack bag itself on the Natural Balance isn’t really designed for compression. Yes, it’s possible to rig a compression system with the loops along the two sides of the packbag plus the bungee cord on the back, but it ain’t elegant.
Used without the balance pockets as a traditional backpack, it certainly does allow for a measure of freedom of movement that most other packs don’t have. The torso length is also adjustable. But I’d much rather use my McHale SARC in that situation.Aug 13, 2020 at 10:35 am #3670611
Thanks Jon – another example of Aarn over-thinking his designs, I think. The ability to transfer weight to the hip belt should surely be prioritised over flexibility?
Do you find that the SARC suspension manages this balance? Meaning does it allow freedom of movement without swinging about and upsetting your stride?
People seem to really like the way the Seek Outside articulated U-shaped suspension combines the right degree of load-transfer and flexibility. I suspect it was influenced by the suspension McHale uses for his bigger packs.Aug 13, 2020 at 10:36 am #3670612
My own ideal would be to have a backpack that works as well as a McHale, with optional front pockets that can be re-configured as side pockets when required. I can’t see why there would be any need to compromise on the effectiveness of the backpack as a standalone element. Or am I missing something?
I agree. One pack to cover all trips, except for maybe quick weekend trips in pleasant weather.Aug 13, 2020 at 10:50 am #3670615
The SARC design isn’t specified to allow for flex movement at the hips. McHale’s belt is composed of two wings held in place by buckles attached to the main packbag.
Aarn’s design on the Natural Balance places all the weight on the hips and like the McHale evenly distributes it between the front and the back of the belt. It adds additional flexibility to sway the hips that the McHale doesn’t have. Conversely, it’s not very good at shifting some of the weight back over to the shoulders when desired or getting a nice bit of temporary back ventilation without adding too much sway.
I look forward to fitting a Seek Outside pack with their standard suspension with the hardware to support Aarn’s Balance bags. My imagined ideal, at least for trips with a lot of gear or very long unsupplied stretches, is very close to yours and Nick’s.Aug 17, 2020 at 8:26 am #3671102
Jon, thanks for all the info upthread. I’ve been away on a trip so just seeing it now. Your illustrated description of the Aarn suspension (the full belt suspension used on most of their 50+ liter packs) is surely the most complete anywhere online.
Note: it appears that the 2019-20 redesign of many Aarn packs includes an x-shaped stay system that is tensioned with a mesh backpanel. The ventilation issue you mentioned (not being able to effectively lean the pack back to allow for some) may have spurred this design shift. In any case, it appears that most new Aarn packs offer ventilation similar to other sprung mesh designs, although the gap appears, from very limited photos, to be much smaller than on Ospreys.Aug 17, 2020 at 9:26 am #3671139
I tried to look for information about the new frame, which Aarn calls a “flow frame,” but couldn’t find a dedicated page. On the new “Pro” packs using this frame, the features column mentions the following: “New stronger Flow Frame with reduced weight.”
I assume that the new frame attempts to address the problem that I mentioned above, namely that the pack is actually too flexible and could use a little more rigidity for loads above 10 kg.
There really isn’t much information about all the changes made to the new “Pro” versions of the old packs. Looking at the photos, it’s a lot more than just switching to dyneema grid stop.
There are some welcome improvements to the Natural Balance, including side pockets, a front pocket, and a revised front compression system. The (lack of a viable) compression system on a really large pack like that one really bothered me until I added some gatekeeper straps from Seek Outside, but even so the loops for the straps are not optimally placed for those straps.
Overall, it looks to me like the harness and backpanel are being made with components that are sourced from materials that Osprey is using. For this reason, I have a hunch that many of the changes in the new “Pro” version of the Natural Balance were imposed on Aarn by his suppliers/manufacturers in Vietnam. Aarn’s scale of production is so small I bet that he is forced to redesign depending on the availability of materials, which is something that depends on the decisions of large commercial outfits like Osprey. Anyway, that’s just a hunch.
I do like the dyneema grid stop fabric, and a stiffer frame would be a really good thing, but I’m a little bit skeptical about some of the changes, to be honest.
All this talk has made me decide to take the Aarn out for my next two week trip in the Alps starting tomorrow. ;-) It’s a whole kilo heavier than the Seek Outside Flight One, for instance, but with a moderate load below 10 kg including food for two weeks, the balance seems to make up for that.Aug 17, 2020 at 11:46 am #3671166
Given the exceptional range of experience that’s participating in this thread, I’d really appreciate some advice on which way to go with the suspension of the backpack element of my MYOG bodypack.
My aim is for something that will carry well with up to 15k for longish unsupported legs but still keeping as light as possible. I’m planning on around 50 liters capacity.
For lightness and simplicity I’m thinking of sewing the shoulder straps directly to the bag. For this level of load I suspect that would be good enough, though I’d welcome feedback.
The main decision is how to handle the hip-belt suspension.
The McHale approach in his smaller packs is quite rigid and looks rather difficult to pull off, as I suspect there is a lot of subtle detail to the design.
So I was thinking of using a lightweight version of the Unaweep approach, hanging a wrap-around belt off a U shaped frame. This seems easier to design, offers more flexibility, and everyone raves about the Unaweep carry.
I’ve seen an example by a guy who did a flat-bar version of the Unaweep and says it carries very well and still offers good flexibility. Flat bar would be a lot more practical for MYOG:
So I assumed that when Seek Outside were developing a smaller pack they would do something similar – but they’ve come out with a more conventional internal frame instead. Hmm.
Kevin has said that the 2-part belt with Velcro attachment is more adjustable for size during a long hike. But there’s actually a way to achieve that with a wraparound – I won’t go into details here as it’s a bit of a side-issue.
So I guess my question is, would a simplified Unaweep-style U frame be a sensible way to go? I’m hoping to use other people’s experience to zero in on a good design from the start and minimise the number of prototypes I have to build!Aug 17, 2020 at 2:17 pm #3671183
Jon, interesting take. I’d assumed the 2019-2020 redesigns (which are not limited to Pro versions, BTW, but go clear across the line), were driven by consumer demand – stronger frames, better ventilation (including with airy Osprey-like fabrics on shoulder straps and hipbelts), lighter, etc. But you may well be right that it’s supply driven instead.Aug 17, 2020 at 4:37 pm #3671209
And now for something completely different.
UL external frame made from Easton Al arrow shafts with a strong mesh back panel for ventilation and also for support to the frame (stop it from twisting). The hip belt is OPTIONAL: it does not have to be used. The load is transferred to my back by the mesh. The load lifters do not ‘lift’ the load; they just make sure the mesh is against my back. My shoulders are not carrying all the load.
This pack is my winter pack for ski touring. It can carry quite a large load, even without the hip belt. I mainly use the hip belt as an anti-sway mechanism, which is useful on skis, although it does help to keep the bottom end of the mesh against my back.
The moral here is to not believe all the hype about the importance of a hip belt. If the pack suspension is poor then a hip belt can take some of the load, but you can do it the other way around: improve the way the pack fits to your back. My 2c.
CheersAug 18, 2020 at 4:21 am #3671328
There are some very interesting myog designs being shown here from Roger and the other link in Geoff’s post.
One more thing that I wanted to mention about Aarn’s suspension is that the shoulder straps are completely connected to each other. There’s a channel running under the bottom of the main packbag that holds the webbing that runs continuously from left to right shoulder straps. This would be a modification of McHale’s bypass shoulder straps and a big one at that.Aug 18, 2020 at 9:42 am #3671365
Roger, if the sprung mesh is transferring a considerable portion of the load to you back, then you must be flexed forward at the hips. If you were erect as in unencumbered posture, the mesh would not transfer very much load to the spine because the trunk would be too vertical to accept that load.
Jon, I think the connected shoulder straps routed through a tunnel at the bast of the pack is what Aarn call “U Flow.” It is a significant innovation and one that Black Diamond copied with their ErgoActiv articulated suspension designs from around 2011. Wll Reitveld wrote reviews of their Infinity and Axiom packs around that time for this site. If you go back and read the comments you’ll find Mr. Tate objecting to the claim in the reviews that BD was offering completely new suspension designs, pointing out that his packs had articulating hipbelts and shoulder straps prior to BD’s packs coming to market. To my mind, the U Flow system was copied quite blatantly and I was surprised that someone from BPL did not acknowledge that Aarn had indeed come first.
In any case, it appears to me that the articulating shoulder straps appears on both the small (e.g. Mountain Magic) and large (e.g. Featherlight Freedom, Natural Balance) Aarn packs but that the articulating hipbelt that you described with photos, above, only appears on the larger packs, with the webbing belt of the smaller packs being attached in a more conventional (i.e. fixed) way. Is this correct?Aug 18, 2020 at 5:01 pm #3671453
if the sprung mesh is transferring a considerable portion of the load to you back, then you must be flexed forward at the hips.
That’s theory. Practice is that I am upright but flexed at the ankles.
The mesh transfers by friction I think.
Of course, there is a big difference between supporting a 20+ kg pack and a 10 kg pack.
CheersAug 18, 2020 at 5:57 pm #3671459jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
“I strongly suspect that many of the people who have rejected internal frames in favour of frameless packs have never experienced a properly fitting framed pack, because on every objective measure they should offer a much better carry.”
I might go further: suppose someone came out with a lightweight external framed pack–light enough to rival most internals. Would there be a market? Geoff has made a case that even relatively light loads carry better with an Aarn front suspension pack. I think the principle carries over: even light loads–15 to 20 pounds–carry better with strong framing that can transfer weight to the hips and legs.
In the old days of externals (audible snores) the adage was, “weight on the frame, frame on the hips.” The point was to use the muscles of the legs,which are by far the strongest in the human body, to carry the load. Packs that use the spine and back muscles and shoulders as part of the frame system are…crazy.
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