Kakwa 40 pack (user review)

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    Valjean “Bud”
    BPL Member


    I thought I’d try my hand at writing a quick review for the Durston Kakwa 40 pack since it is a new release, completely different than his last pack, and I’m sure others are considering buying it.

    More: See the Backpacking Light Durston Kakwa 40 Review here. – Mods

    I have been trying to find a pack that fits me well for… a very long time. The Kakwa seemed to have the right collection of features I was looking for, so I pre-ordered it earlier this year and just received it Friday.

    tl;dr nice pack, shiny new Ultra 200 fabric, fits great, excellent value, so far so good!

    I went for a 10 mile, 2500ft elevation hike yesterday with the pack loaded to 25 lbs. Overall, I’m very impressed with how the pack carries. The frame and hip belt system transferred all the load to my hips. The S-straps did not rub my sloped shoulders like J-straps do.

    Overall, this is the best-fitting pack I’ve ever worn, but I kind of suspected it would be given what I’ve learned from other packs I’ve tried. I am 6’4″ with an 18″ torso, a 32″ waist, and a fairly curved spine, and I have steeply sloped shoulders. I purchased the medium torso size. I suspect this pack fits me well because:

    1. It has a U frame (similar to Gossamer Gear but the stays are spaced further apart) which fits my curved spine well (the Delrin loop frames like Six Moon Designs uses do not work well for me). The stays can be bent and shaped to your spine, though it actually fit me well out of the box (I had to bend my GG Gorrilla stays to fit my back comfortable).
    2. The S-straps sit more comfortably on my sloped shoulders than J-straps do.
    3. The dual-strap hip belt comfortably cup my hips. I first noticed this when trying on my wife’s Superior Wilderness Designs pack (they also have a dual-strap design), and I’m glad my observation held up on this hike. I just did a week on the trail with a Gossamer Gear Gorilla before this hike, and I’ve always had to frequently adjust that hip belt to avoid hot spots when hiking with the Gorilla. I didn’t think about the hip belt once while hiking with the Kakwa, and I had no hot spots.

    For context on packs I have tried/owned, I have experience with the following packs:

    • Gossamer Gear Kumo (frameless)
    • Gossamer Gear Gorilla (U-frame, 2017 40L version)
    • Bonfus Framus 48L (frame pack w/ 2 separate frame stays)
    • Six Moon Designs Swift V and Minimalist (Delrin loop frame)
    • Various REI, Osprey, Gregory, and Deuter frame packs

    Stepping back from fit, here are a few other observations about the pack:

    • Build quality and stitching appears excellent. Dan mentioned in a podcast (iirc) that the pack is made in the same factory that makes Arcteryx products, so this was expected, but still nice to see since I’m sure they don’t have as much experience with Ultra fabrics. I’ve got lots more backpacking lined up this year, so I will be sure to comment if I notice any issues with the build quality.
    • The dual-strap hip belts are reverse pull. I like to cinch the hip belt fairly tight, and reverse pull straps are so much easier to tighten.
    • Another small but nice aspect of the dual-strap hip belts is there is a single length adjustment instead of two per side (like you see on ULA and SWD hip belts). At first I was worried it would affect the fit of the hip belt, but it doesn’t seem to. One less adjustment to worry about!
    • The side pockets are stretchy and good size. One pocket is cut at an angle for easy water bottle access, and that pocket can hold 2 1-liter Smartwater bottles. The other pocket is a bit deeper and cut horizontally. I was able to stuff my Deschutes tarp + net tent + polycro groundsheet into it, but it was a bit tight. A smaller shelter should fit no problem (e.g. single wall DCF tent or tarp + bivy).
    • The roll top design + Y-strap is great, and I love that he didn’t add any buttons or velcro to the top of the fabric. I’ve never understood why other pack makers do this in the first place, since you roll and snap it.
    • Compared to my GG Gorilla, the exterior pockets have less volume. In particular, the front mesh pocket is much lower volume (I’m guessing 3-4x less usable volume). Keep in mind the Kakwa pack uses a knit mesh compared to GG’s stretch mesh, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison.  Honestly, having used other packs, I think GG’s exterior pockets are particularly big, and I was just used to it. Initially I was a bit worried, but this actually forced me to stop shoving lots of small items into the exterior pockets, which will ultimately make it easier for me to find things. If I had to make a request, I would ask for a bit more volume or stretch in the front mesh pocket so I can more easily shove a puffy or fleece into it.
    • The knit mesh will (hopefully) be more durable than the stretch mesh, I put a small hole in the stretch mesh on my GG Gorilla and it grows every time I use the pack.
    • There is a zipper pocket sewn into the larger side pocket. In the video, Dan puts his cap in the pocket. I usually don’t take my cap off, and I can’t think of another use case for this pocket. Plus, if you stuff the size pocket to capacity, there is no real volume left for the pocket. So I’m not really sure yet what I will use this pocket for.
    • There is one length of compression cordage on each side of the pack. This allows for limited compression of the upper half of the pack body. Keep this in mind if you are accustomed to having more compression straps lower in the pack body. Personally, it’s the perfect amount of compression for me. The pack volume tapers from the top to the bottom of the pack (similar to SWD packs), so it’s easy to fully stuff the bottom half of the pack with quilt/shelter/clothes/etc. So even if you ate into the top half of your pack volume, you can roll the top down more and tighten the compression cordage to keep things snug.
    • The price point is really excellent. I don’t know of any other frame packs on the market that use Ultra 200 fabric for $250.
    • The pack is being sold through Kaviso. I’ve never used Kaviso before, but their customer service was excellent. I was in the middle of a move, so I had to coordinate some shipping changes with them, and Taylor was super helpful and responsive.

    I will be using this pack for several weeks of backpacking this year, so I may post a more detailed follow-on review after those trips. I’m confident I can carry a week of food, probably more, and all my gear in this pack. I’ll also try loading it up more (30-35 lbs) to test if the pack is still comfortable at higher weights. Durston claims the pack “comfortably and effectively manages loads up to 45 lbs” and I kind of want to test that claim :).

    Hope this is helpful!

    George W
    BPL Member


    My experience was similar, I did have one minor concern on this mornings hike. After I loaded everything in the pack and started walking a squeak developed where the frame tubing sits in the pocket at the hip belt. I could duplicate this squeak by pushing on this point while wearing it. After about a mile the squeak went away. Mid hike I removed the pack and when I put it back on the squeak started again. Again it slowly went away.

    With about a half a mile left in the hike I took the pack off and then put it back on, the squeak started again.

    I haven’t done anything yet to stop it, probably some chapstick or something similar will take care of it, or just time.


    Jon Fong
    BPL Member


    Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR

    I thought that I would repost Dan’s response on Trek-Lite.

    From Dan:

    A Note on the Kakwa Pack
    I was away this past week on a long hike (200 km bushwhack in the northern Rockies) but upon returning I’m glad to see many people were able to get their new Kakwa packs over the past week, and that generally people are finding them super comfy and well built.

    There have been some issues noticed on a small percentage of packs and I’m just getting caught up on those, but here are a some initial comments:

    Missing Sternum Straps
    Indeed the sternum straps were missing on about 3% of packs. This was an issue with the factory where they forgot to include these on all packs. As Kaviso noted a few days ago, they have now checked all remaining packs to ensure they all have this and if you did get one without a sternum strap you can contact them at [email protected] to get that sorted out.

    Hipbelt Sizing
    There are some comments that the hipbelt does not fit larger people. Aside from the webbing, the Kakwa has a similar width of hipbelt as the DD40 (e.g. both are 27″ from tip to tip). What is different is that the Kakwa has less webbing so it cannot expand as large (up to 42″ circumference instead of 54″).

    The reason for this is that the original pack could expand up to 54″ but it wasn’t ideal for that use because larger waisted people should have longer hipbelt wings and not just more webbing. If someone uses this hipbelt on larger circumference hips, then the hipbelt wings are starting to be too small as they won’t be properly on the sides of their hips but instead start to be too far back. So yes longer webbing can make that work, but it won’t be ideal. That’s why I stopped including extra webbing to sorta make it work – it’s a stop gap solution instead of the best solution which would be to offer another version with longer hipbelt wings. I would like to do this, but we couldn’t offer this size initially because the minimum ordering volumes at our factory are quite high (hundreds of packs) and this pack is not yet popular enough to sell that many. So my hope is that the pack catches on and then we can add more sizing to create an ideal hipbelt for a wider range of people (I hope to add both larger and smaller hipbelts, if we have enough interest).

    Foam Pad Sizing
    There are some comments that the pack is hard to close and/or the foam pad is too large or wrinkled. I am still looking into this, but most of what I’m seeing looks normal. The pack is supposed to be somewhat hard to close because you want a snug fit on the frame so there is no slop that would allow the frame to shift up and down.

    If you suspect an issue, first check that the frame is properly inserted (it needs to run through both the upper and lower sections of the sleeves on both sides). Then I prefer to stand the pack up on the floor and pull downwards (towards the floor) on the velcro flap to close it.

    For the pad, these can be wrinkled if they aren’t inserted nicely. They aren’t necessarily too large, but may have just been inserted in too much of a rush so they aren’t laying nicely. Start by making sure the pad is fully inserted to the bottom and the corners are sitting properly at the corners of the pack. Like this, it should be possible to close the pack without trimming the pad. Perhaps there are a few cases where the pad would benefit from trimming, but I would start by making sure it is inserted correctly and nicely.

    Thanks for your support,

    Lowell k
    BPL Member


    I purchased large and medium. The shoulder pads on the large are not even sized (width) and the yolk is a bit off center, so the pack doesn’t sit correctly. The medium is missing the sternum strap and the waist belt was not sewn in place on one side making it useless.

    Kind of annoying because I have to return them, but I get it’s first run issues.

    My arm actually reaches the water bottle side pocket which is awesome given I can rarely do that with a pack.

    The new up/down pocket zipper works well on one of the packs but not the other. I suspect it would loosen up but not sure.

    The overall design is awesome so I will do the exchanges.

    Dan Durston
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    That zippered side pocket does loosen up with a bit of use. It also works better if you have weight in the pack. If the pack is light and the zipper is new then the drag can make it hard to open, but with a heavier pack and/or a broken in zipper then it operates more smoothly.

    Alexey Abramov
    BPL Member


    Seems just too heavy for me. 790 g means 200 g difference with Zpacks Arc and 500g difference with Sub-Nero. A lot of weight.

    George W
    BPL Member


    I don’t see those two packs you mentioned being a good comparison, neither in price or size, and even the designed use is a bit different.

    Dan Durston
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    “Seems just too heavy for me. 790 g means 200 g difference with Zpacks Arc”

    This is mostly because our weight includes a lot of stuff that they make optional but you probably want. The Arc Haul 60 is about the same size (their 60L is counting external volume) and is 200g lighter, but largely because it doesn’t come with hipbelt pockets, shoulder strap pockets, and a Y top strap. If you add those things on it’s about 100g and $120, so now it’s about 790g vs 700g while the price is $250 vs $520.

    The other reason for the weight difference is more durable materials. Most notably, lycra mesh that they use for the front pocket is a lot lighter but it’s much less durable so it rips more easily and will sag/stretch out over time. Lycra mesh front pockets are a huge reason why packs reach the end of their lifespan, so I don’t think it makes sense to use that on a pack that is also using super durable Ultra 200 fabric. It’s inconsistent – why pay way more for super tough fabric when you have a mesh point that is going to wear out quickly? So yeah using a tougher knit mesh does add a couple oz to my pack but it could easily end up giving the pack a way longer lifespan.

    Link .
    BPL Member


    Dan, Don’t forget his other comparison the Sub-Nero which is a frameless pack with a lower carrying capacity, is smaller in size ect. and costs almost as much.

    Dan Durston
    BPL Member


    Locale: Canadian Rockies

    Yeah the sub-Nero is a really different pack. Frameless, no hipbelt, no load lifters, etc. It’s a nice pack for when you have a very light/compact load but I can’t imagine anyone deciding between this and the Kakwa 40 that is much more of a full suspension/all purpose pack.

    BPL Member


    Adding on a quick review now that I’ve got my first trip with the Kakwa 40 in –  2 nights in the eastern sierra, 12k vert, 30 miles.

    My pack was about 30 lbs fully loaded (photography gear, food, water, et cetera). The pack exceeded my fairly high expectations and is extremely well thought out. The only thing that isn’t perfect for me is I only need one shoulder strap pocket due to having my camera clipped on pretty much all the time (I shoved the pocket out of the way for now, might cut it later). The zippers all work smoothly with one hand on my pack, and I did like throwing my hat and headlamp in the zippered side pocket.

    My hiking partner coincidentally had a new pack this weekend too and I think he was pretty jealous I could easily grab my water bottle out of the angled side pocket, which he struggled to do with his pack (“Hey can you grab my water?” – rinse and repeat). Plus he put a hole in his white dyneema already while shimmying up the chimney on Williamson whereas the ultra 200 looks good as new on my end (thankfully or I’d be pretty bummed). I did manage to get some pine sap on it, came right out with some hand sanitizer.

    Anyways, stoked with the pack and especially with the price, I don’t think there is a better value out there for a new pack right now, I’ll have to follow up when I’m a few hundred miles in though to really see, but I have high hopes. Now I just need to find a backcountry skiing/mountaineering pack I’m as happy with as Kakwa.

    Bud’s tl;dr pretty much sums it up.

    Andrew D
    BPL Member


    Locale: Eastern Coast

    I’ve spent about five days with the Kakwa 40 so far and plan on doing a review, eventually…


    Observations – The foam pad piece – I do not find it purposeful. So thin I feel it doesn’t really provide any comfort anywhere. I am not trivializing Dan’s work, but it is not much more substantial than other types of rolls of foam you find wrapped around electronics. I hope it is not expensive to add (material + labor).

    The pocket/sleeve which the aluminum frame fits in – It would have been nice to of been able to accomodate my Z-Lite’s  half-folded width in that area in lieu of the provided frame. So used to doing this with other bags, I would have enjoyed experimenting and removing 95g from my pack and feel less bad about bringing the Z-Lite.

    This is a preferential qualm, not a knack against the bag as I know it wasn’t intended for it. 

    The bottle pocket with the angled cut. I’ve dropped a SmartWater bottle twice; being nabbed by brush on a trail. I’ve bought snap-on bottle clips to ensure I retain my water bottles without worry.

    The goods – This pack feels more durable than it needs to be. By this, I mean it will last more years than I will likely keep it as a gear reviewing outdoors writer. At this point, I find no qualms that it’ll last at least 500-days of backpacking. ***Pure guess at this time.

    • Comfort is more than adequate for my 67″ / 145lb body
    • Stitching is good
    • Carries the right amount for a 3-5 day trip for me.
    • Will survive until the next great material revolution begins
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