Editor’s Note: The Mountainsmith Ghost is still available for purchase, but not for much longer. Mountainsmith eliminates the MountainLite line (including the Ghost) for 2006, and is introducing a new TrekLite series. (See Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005 dispatch here.)
The Mountainsmith Ghost is a lean-and-mean panel-loading single-compartment 3,000 cubic-inch (50 L) internal frame backpack. It features an interior hydration reservoir pocket, two hose ports, two exterior side pockets, a front panel criss-cross bungee cord, and a Delrin rod frame with an HDPE-and-Delrin top assembly supporting the shoulder yoke and load-lifter straps. Weighing but 2¼ pounds with a suggested 25-pound load limit, the Ghost is suitable for lightweight hikers who prefer a frame and rugged pack fabrics but can do without bells, whistles and compartmentalization. It also easily swallows bulky wintertime day-hike loads that overwhelm typical rucksacks. This review evaluates how well the Ghost handles when carrying the recommended load (and a bit more), its packing flexibility, and its toughness in the field.
|Backpack||2005 Mountainsmith Ghost LT|
|Style||Panel-loading, internal frame|
|Volume||3000 ci (49 L)|
|Weight (as measured)||36 oz (1.02 kg)|
|Fabrics||Dimension Polyant VX-21 nylon (sailcloth), coated rip-stop nylon, nylon mesh, breathable Brock foam shoulder straps and waistbelt|
|Features||Interior hydration reservoir pocket, two hose ports, two exterior side pockets, front panel criss-cross bungee cord|
|Volume to Weight Ratio||83 ci/oz|
|Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity||BPL determined: 25 lb (11 kg)|
|Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio||11.1 lb/lb|
- Featherweight suspension system that’s both comfortable and effective
- Retains its structure and support with partial loads
- Easy to load and unload, easy access to gear
- Useful pack space that allows carrying a bear canister vertically or horizontally
- Tough fabrics require no babying
- Spacious side pockets accessible while wearing the pack
- Front bungee to hold light, bulky items like clothing, lower straps to hold groundcloth and/or sleeping pad
What’s Not So Good
- No back length adjustment
- No provision for strapping clothing or gear on top
- Centrally located ice axe loop cannot be used simultaneously with bungeed items
- Auto-opening zippers
Panel-load backpacks such as the Mountainsmith Ghost have fans and detractors. A major plus to the design is ease of packing, viewing, and retrieving your gear. Panel-loaders however, have historically been heavier than simpler top-loaders and the panel zip has sometimes proven to be a weak point: spreading open unexpectedly and discharging gear and presenting a prime rain entry point. As a result, the majority of lightweight backpacks load from the top, making the Ghost unique in its size and weight class.
Capacity and Loading Schemes
The Ghost swallows a lot of gear and supplies, despite initially appearing rather like an overgrown daypack. I can easily pack a comprehensive solo kit and roughly four days’ food with room left for a few extras, and I’m confident that long-distance hikers who exercise more gear self-restraint could carry a week’s worth. Fact is, the Ghost has been carried on numerous AT and PCT through-hikes.
Sample Gear List
- Shelter: Tarptent Virga
- Sleeping Bag: Mountainsmith Wisp
- Sleeping Pad: Short Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4
- Kitchen: Primus Ti Alpine stove, 220 gram cartridge, MSR Ti kettle, MSR Ti mug, etc.
- Food, hangsack, and cord
- Water: 1-liter bottle in exterior pocket, filter bottle in other pocket, Miox, 3 quart Nalgene canteen (carried empty)
- Clothing: Typical three-season kit
- Other necessities: Toiletries, first aid kit, headlamp, map & compass,
I’ve alternated between carrying water in the interior hydration pocket (sewn to the inside of the back panel) and in the side exterior pockets, depending on the size of my load. With a full load, I stuff clothing in the hydration pocket to take advantage of the storage space and carry water outside; when I don’t need the space I’ll use the hydration pocket, routing the drinking hose out of one of the ports and tucking it under an elastic keeper strap conveniently provided on the front of each shoulder strap. The back panel padding does a pretty good job of keeping the water cool on a warm hiking day.
Each side pocket accommodates a 1 liter bottle plus a few extras – they’re that big. Unlike many side pockets I’ve used, the Ghost’s pockets are both large and sufficiently low-topped to be accessible while walking, and there are no interfering compression straps. (Now, was that so hard?) Trekking poles can be carried by putting them handle-first into the pockets and strapping them underneath the load control straps.
Ghost pockets have plenty of room.
Other exterior packing features include the bungee cord, an ice axe strap and a pair of lower carry straps. A rain jacket or windshirt, or the day’s laundry can strap beneath the front bungee cord; a groundcloth or compact sleeping pad can strap on the lower carry straps; and an ice axe straps on using the furnished loop and a user-supplied strap or cord through the short daisy chain above. The axe strap is at the same height as the pad straps, probably to keep the axe accessible. The problem I have with this arrangement is that my long (non-technical) axe juts nearly a foot above the pack, placing it in accident-waiting-to-happen mode.
Good news for those who venture into wily bear country: the Ghost stores a Bearikade Weekender (9” width x 10.5” height) vertically or horizontally. Of course, as with any pack this size the canister dominates the interior, forcing some creativity in packing around it while maintaining load balance and comfort. The canister inevitably reduces effective pack volume.
The test Ghost is an LT (large torso) claimed to fit a 19-22 inch range. Because the shoulder strap attachment yoke and waist belt are sewn in place, there’s no back length adjustment. (There’s also a small Ghost and a women-specific Seraph in the series.) The yoke attaches rather low on the back panel compared to some packs so the shoulder straps wrap well over my shoulders in back, even though I’m on the shorter end of the specified fit range. While this configuration has caused control problems on other packs (excessive sway and a tendency to pull away from the shoulders) it doesn’t seem to affect the Ghost, possibly because it’s a short pack. In sum, the test pack fits me very well although I urge anyone on the long end of the torso range to fit-test a loaded one before purchase. Note too that because the Ghost only extends to shoulder height, it doesn’t interfere with the head while looking up, nor collide with a full-brimmed hat.
Upon loading the Ghost, hoisting it and adjusting and cinching down the various straps (a. waist belt, b. shoulder straps, c. sternum strap, d. waist belt side control straps and e. top load control straps) it forms a lively, even springy load. The vertical rods bend and flex with the back, always keeping the back panel close and the load in control. Tellingly, the Ghost’s fit doesn’t impress until I cinch the top load-control straps: at that moment the fit goes from run-of-the-mill to stellar. (It feels much like a smaller brother of the Osprey Aether 60, my favorite long-haul pack, which uses a similar loaded rod [hoop] frame scheme.)
I’m constantly trimming great lengths of webbing from backpack waist belts because they’re intended to fit EVERYONE, from the reed-thin to the Santa-sized. But there’s no need with the Ghost; Mountainsmith has cleverly sidestepped the problem by including a waist belt extender. It’s an extra length of webbing that buckles to the belt for those who need it. Smart! No more snip, melt, and sew. Other straps on the Ghost are likewise appropriately sized and are fashioned of the lightest webbing appropriate to the task, clear signs of evolutionary improvements.
The Ghost’s front zip panel only opens roughly two-thirds of the way down, meaning it doesn’t completely expose the main compartment. This didn’t prove much of a limitation in the field and, as a benefit, means I can access the contents without laying the pack completely flat – a boon in the snow where a warm back panel quickly becomes soggy from snowmelt. The two-way zipper is of the water-resistant variety and is rather slender (the sliders comprise 100% of the metal found on the Ghost). A pair of side load-compressor straps also reinforces the zipped opening. I found I needed to close the zipper tabs near one of the straps, otherwise the zip had a tendency to spread open on its own on the trail. As an extra protection I clip the zipper loops together. Nobody wants to have their pack open up and spill gear in their wake.
Zip sliders can open up on the trail.
I generally followed Mountainsmith’s suggested maximum 25-pound load as my target. I also explored weights up to 30 pounds, as it’s not uncommon to tote several pounds of water between fill-ups later in the hiking season. The Ghost handles wonderfully at or below 25 pounds, and not badly up to 30 pounds. There’s something special about this suspension and how it seems to dynamically manage the load. No magic here, just cunning suspension design that shuns metal stays and bulky padding, yet works. About the only flies in the ointment were that over the course of a few hours, the shoulder straps seem to rotate a bit inward and cause some irritation across my chest, and that I notice the load volume reducing as I used up water stored in the inner reservoir pocket, allowing items packed nearby to shift.
On level terrain, the Ghost hugs the back docilely, staying close but not drawing attention to itself in any fashion. On steep ground, there’s only a minor tendency to bounce and shift. Proper strap tensioning maintains good load balance and control. I hiked a number of steep snowfields during this test, putting a premium on good load management, and the Ghost always came through.
I intentionally carried 25 and 30-pound loads that only partially filled the main compartment to see whether the pack maintained load control. (Frameless packs, by contrast, rely on rigid loads for structural support.) To its credit, the Ghost still carried well despite a lot of airspace (some of which can be reduced by cinching down the two compression straps). Weeklong hikes with significantly diminishing load volumes shouldn’t affect the Ghost.
Wear and Tear
My test period included moderate bushwhacking and some rocky cross-country travel. The Ghost showed no ill effects from my travels. The Dimension Polyant fabric comprising the top and back panel and the heavy nylon rip-stop used for the bottom panel are tough, and show only the lightest of scuff marks. From experience, I know that a silnylon pack would show considerable wear given the same treatment, if not outright tears and punctures. There’s some permanent distortion of shoulder strap and hipbelt fabrics and padding.
Tracking the Changes
The Ghost has been out several years and Mountainsmith has listened to user feedback, making a number of improvements in response. The current Ghost maintains the original basic form, with several alterations:
- Sizes expanded from one to three: small and large Ghost plus the women’s Seraph
- Lower weight
- Volume reduced: 3100 to 2600/2800/3000 cubic inches (Seraph/small Ghost/large Ghost)
- Interior zip pocket eliminated
- Side ski holsters eliminated; rear/bottom load straps added
- Maximum load reduced: 25 from 35 pounds
- Waist belt redesigned and a belt extender supplied for those requiring extra girth
- Webbing width and weight reduced throughout
- A drinking tube port added for two, total
- Frame redesigned, with the former single hoop rod separated into two vertical segments connecting to a framesheet-and-rod assembly across the shoulder yoke
- Mesh side pockets now stiffened and reinforced with fabric panels
- Bungee cord now detachable and replaceable, with more attachment points
- Color now a muted brown (“bronze”)
- Price drop to $150
Seemingly alone as a panel-loader in this weight and size class, the Ghost delivers the goods as an internal frame pack that carries 25 pounds comfortably and in complete control, while weighing only 1 kilogram itself. The dynamic pack frame seems to offer advantages in comfort and load management over more typical metal stay plus framesheet designs, and provides superior comfort and control compared to frameless packs, especially when carrying a partial load. The fact that it accomplishes all this at such a low price makes it a truly remarkable pack.
There’s not much I’d change about the Ghost, but I’ll suggest a few additions and one alteration:
- Add strap anchors to the pack’s top.
- Add ditty pockets to the waist belt wings.
- Add a clip for locking the zip tabs closed.
- Add a securable pocket inside the main flap.
- Move the ice axe strap down to the bottom seam.