Multi-stage race backpacks

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Home Forums General Forums Speed Hiking and Fastpacking Multi-stage race backpacks

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    Ryan K
    BPL Member


    So what’s the general opinion on these type of packs for speed hiking/fastpacking?

    Some random examples include the WAA MDS Ultrabag 20L, OMM Classic 25L, Salomon Agile 20 AW, Raidlight Ultra Vest OLMO 20 (of course, most of these companies have a wide variety above and below these volumes, more/less vest, more/less hipbelt, etc.).

    It seems like all the talk here on BPL focuses on new SUL or FKT packs coming out from the big UL cottage companies like ZPacks, GG, MLD, SMD, and Hyperlite.  I guess none of these race packs are attractive to the SUL crowd because of their high ~25 oz weights compared to something like a ZPacks Zero, but if ultramarathon runners are choosing to race across deserts with 15-20 lbs in these types of packs, perhaps trying to minimize every oz of your empty pack is not the most efficient?


    Ryan K
    BPL Member


    Oops, I just saw the Ultimate Direction Fastpack thread below.  Oh well, my question stands: how do packs like these compare to new SUL/FKT packs from the likes of ZPacks, GG, MLD, SMD, and Hyperlite.

    Allen C
    BPL Member


    I’ve used the UD Fastpack 20, a Salomon 15-20L expandable race pack, and a 15L race pack from Inov-8 with a 1″ hipbelt, and as well as a few different running vests mostly from UD. I’ve also used a frameless Zimmerbuilt pack and a Zpacks Arc something with the tensioned carbon frame, and more traditional “heavy” Packs from Osprey, BD, etc. When I backpack I often run on some of the downhills, so I have some experience with this.

    The race packs with a “vest-like” harness system and no hip-belt are more comfortable than a traditional backpacking pack when you are actually running (even if they are slightly heavier) because they do not bounce around or ride up as you run (or at least any bouncing is minimized). The load is spread onto your shoulders/chest/torso which remains relatively stable when running, and typically there is no hipbelt as the hips/pelvis moves around quite a bit in 3 dimensions and any weight resting on them tends to get bounced around a lot. When running for days, an extra few ounces is not a big deal compared to a pack that is constantly bouncing around, chafing, etc.

    Packs with a load bearing hip-belt and more traditional backpacking pack design (shoulder straps and a single sternum strap typically) are much more comfortable when hiking with loads >15 lbs or so, as they take much of the weight off your shoulders and transfer it to the pelvis, but when you run they tend to bounce around a lot. The hip belt tends to ride up, and to keep the pack from bouncing around, you have to tighten the shoulder straps down so much that the hip belt is no longer resting on your hips and no longer taking any load. So the load ends up on your shoulders. Which is fine for a bit but sucks if you are running a lot.

    I think there are some packs that combine both the vest harness and a functional hipbelt, but I haven’t used any personally. I imagine they would be heavier but relatively comfortable for both hiking and running so a good compromise for a stage race where you have to carry 20 lbs or so.

    Loading a fastpack/race type pack with more than 15 lbs (for me at least) leads to sore shoulders after a few hours. I suppose you get used to it but it is not fun. There is probably some room to lighten up the race packs, so they are more competitive with the cuben backpacking packs. The vests tend to use lots of stretchy materials, have lots of pockets for fast access to your stuff, mesh for breathability, etc – all of which are heavier than cuben fiber and UL nylon.

    I’m not sure how big the market is for stage racing packs – I imagine it is pretty small but growing. It seems we are starting to see more of this crossover with the MLD FKT line etc.


    Jake J
    BPL Member


    Locale: Socal

    I’ve got an Osprey Rev 24 which is one of the hybrid types of pack that fits like a vest, has two sternum straps as well as a lightweight stretchy hipbelt with a couple of zip up pockets. With the included 2.5L reservoir it weighs in at 26oz (20oz for the pack and 6oz for the reservoir) I picked it up on clearance from REI to replace a flash 22 that was overall too bouncy when running on trail. I’ve taken it out a few times and am pretty happy with it. I really like the size and shape of the side pockets as you can reach in and grab things without taking off the pack. In hindsight I should have gotten one of the smaller size of this line¬†for the majority of the time as the 24L size is a bit¬†big for most of the runs I go on.¬†On the flip side¬†this size¬†will be perfect¬†for a few¬†light and fast weekend¬†trips in the Sierra this summer where I am planning on hitting the parts of the HST and using the bear boxes on the trail for food storage.

    Ryan K
    BPL Member


    Thanks for the info. ¬†I was thinking about trying out one of the¬†hybrids. ¬†I run a little bit, planning to try to do some faster 3-5 day AT section hikes this summer, using the lean-to’s,¬†bear boxes, and multiple resupply points to go lighter on shelter and food.

    The Osprey Rev 24 seems like a nice one to try out. ¬†Another cheapish one I was looking to test out (doesn’t really have a vest) is the¬†Terra Nova Laser 20 – $70 – 11.6 oz, ¬†or even the Terra Nova Laser Elite – $55 – 7.4 oz.

    Ryan K
    BPL Member


    Allen said: I think there are some packs that combine both the vest harness and a functional hipbelt, but I haven’t used any personally. I imagine they would be heavier but relatively comfortable for both hiking and running so a good compromise for a stage race where you have to carry 20 lbs or so.

    Ok, after some more research, I think the ideal for me to try out would be:

    • a vest with water bottle pockets and extra front storage options
    • a hip belt that actually loads some weight on the hips, either with foam padding or 3D mesh instead of just a webbing belt around the waist
    • around at least 30L total capacity, with most of that in the main compartment as opposed to large stretchy side and rear external pockets. Ideally I’d like to be able to squeeze in a BV450 for some trips, on top of my sleeping quilt and small dry bag in the main body.

    Here’s what I’ve found so far that might work:

    RaidLight Ultralight OLMO 20L – very popular for desert races, probably too small for me

    Ultraspire Epic 25L – new, can’t find any reviews of it, probably too small for me

    RaidLight UltraRaid 30L – new, can’t find any reviews of it

    Salomon Peak 30 – can’t find much¬†reviews¬†except for a good¬†Spanish youtube video

    SMD Flight 30 – John Abela reviewed the 2014 version, I can’t find any¬†reviews¬†on the 2015 version

    SMD Flight 40 – I can’t find any¬†reviews¬†on the 2015 version

    The Flight 40 is the only one that looks like it really has a frame to direct weight to the hips, also having the largest capacity of any pack with a vest I can find.  Abela, a major gram weenie, was using the older Flight 30 as his go-to pack for summer 3-4 day trips, so it sounds like the weight cost for extra comfort and features is worth it.  I really like the look and price ($93 on sale) of the Salomon Peak 30, but the 2015 Flights look really nice and more likely to allow me to cram what I need inside with the roll-top closure.


    Mike M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    if you’re going to do any running, this is where the running packs shine- yes generally a little heavier, but the way the carry trumps everything else

    that said, I’ve used a MLD Core doubling up the sternum straps and if “running” is more like jogging, it works just fine

    I agree with Alan, that 15 lbs seems to be very close to the limit with either style pack when trying to incorporate any “running”

    I’ve been very impressed with my Fastpack 30; it carries like a dream (under 15 lbs) and has a nice large main pocket and several well laid out pockets on the “vest”, I also like the stretchy panel pockets (these aren’t added into the stated volume, but obviously add to it)

    Ito Jakuchu
    BPL Member


    Locale: Japan

    Hi Ryan,

    I¬†have run with a semi framed Osprey pack in the (Japanese) Alps and up and down Mount Fuji. This was with (due to food and water) ‚Čą17~19 pounds of total pack weight. It was a bit heavy but doable. You do get some more bounce on your hips, but when hiking of course you get to take some weight off of your shoulders.

    I prefer now to go with a vest style pack though. When the vests carry well the weight doesn’t feel the same as just two shoulder straps carrying all the weight. I presume because when you get a good close fit the weight is more spread out over your torso. Not sure it makes sense the way I’m describing it but practically, my¬†Montane Dragon 20 or UD Fastpack 20 feel, light compared to when I just hold it up in my hands. If within weight, I don’t think you will miss the frame. Or at least my guess is you might¬†miss it less with a vest-pack than with a normal frameless back pack.

    What I pref mostly of the vest packs¬†is to just have the extra organisation up front. To have water up front, more on the side if you wish, all the other extra little organisation features – I vastly prefer a vest when actually on the move. Even hiking (if the weight is not more than ‚Čą14/15 pounds).¬†I’m now planning a trip to the Alps where I need to carry a bit more weight than the 15 pounds, so¬†I will shift a bit over 2 pounds by carrying a litre of water and some small stuff (compass, phone, map, some food) in a separate running hip belt. If you are running up the weight ‘limit’, that is something you could look into as well.

    You got already good list of example vest / packs that you could try there.

    You could also take a look at these:

    Montane Dragon 20 (reviews by Mike and me)

    or their

    Montane Via Dragon 20

    Ian Corless was raving about the fit of a smaller version of this Inov8 pack (but for me the bottles get in the way of my arm swing):

    Inov8 Race Elite 24

    Not sure if this is the one you mention above but Salomon recently came out with the

    Salomon S-Lab Peak 20

    I tried it on and for me it fits really nice.¬†But the vest pockets are less flexible I feel, would be very tight with standard¬†PET or other hard bottles. And I also don’t know how I feel about a giant zipper going the whole length of the pack if I’m on a multi day run/trek in the Japanese Alps or whatever.

    What I did like is the easy access (because of that same zipper) and the way you can compress the pack part down separate from the fit to your shoulders (it has same kind of zig zag little cordage as the ULA Ohm has). If your volume is often smaller I think this could be a great vest.

    Overall I think the UD Fastpack 20/30 is a bit less refined and there are some points it could be improved on. But it does fit well, the usage is more flexible and it is more robust too (less stuff to worry about).

    So in the end I prefer taking the UD Fastpack because I know it will last, I can use soft flasks or standard PET bottles, I can compress or expand because of the roll top, I have side pockets for more water bottles or food or microspikes storage, and I have a huge back mesh stow pocket for rain shell and whatever else you like to throw in there.

    Hope you find what you need and have fun

    Ito Jakuchu
    BPL Member


    Locale: Japan

    Just saw the occasional need for bear can.

    I think first things I would try are the UD Fastpack 30 and/or the SMD Flight Series.

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