No doubt about it, the new Six Moon Designs Essence frameless backpack was designed with the intention of not following the “pack”. It’s definitely thinking “outside the box” to try and come up with a better frameless pack. The Essence, at 3,200 cubic inches and 13 ounces, is a panel-loading frameless backpack with a large top pocket, voluminous mesh side pockets, and large hipbelt pockets. The feature set is terrific, but how well does it perform for ultralight backpacking?
- Panel loading provides convenient access to pack contents
- Huge zippered top pocket
- Three large mesh side pockets
- Two large hipbelt pockets
- Wide, contoured, padded shoulder straps spread weight
What’s Not So Good
- Available in only one size (medium)
- No effective load compression system
- Mesh side pockets are not very durable
- No reinforcement of the shoulder strap attachment
|Six Moon Designs (http://www.sixmoondesigns.com/)|
|Frameless, panel loading, front drawcord closure, top pocket|
|One Size Fits Torsos 17 to 22 inches (43 to 56 cm)|
|3,200 ci (52 L)|
|13.05 oz (370 g) measured weight, manufacturer’s specification 13 oz (369 g)|
|Body is 70 d silnylon, backpanel and bottom are 420 d pack cloth, extension collar is 30 d silnylon|
|Three mesh side pockets (one full height on left, two half-height on right), large zippered top pocket, two large zippered hipbelt pockets, contoured/padded shoulder straps, 1.5 in (4 cm) webbing hipbelt, front panel access with extension collar and drawcord closure, front weather flap with braided cord attachment system, one ice axe loop, haul loop|
Volume To Weight Ratio
|245.2 ci/oz size (based on 3,200 ci and a measured weight of 13.05 oz)|
Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity
|20 lb (9.07 kg) estimated maximum comfortable load an average person can carry all day in this pack|
Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio
|24.4 (based on a 20 lb load and measured weight of 0.82 lb)|
Six Moon Designs is noted for innovation, and their new Essence frameless backpack is no exception. The 2006 Essence is the only front-loading frameless backpack around that also has a top pocket. At 3,200 cubic inches and 13 ounces, the Essence is a perfect size for multi-day ultralight backpacking.
The Essence is a panel-loading frameless backpack (left) with 3,200 cubic inches of total volume and weight of only 13 ounces. The frontpanel weather flap is secured with five small side-release buckles, and holds a bungee attachment system. The backpanel view (right) shows its large zippered top pocket, wide contoured shoulder straps, and large hipbelt pockets. The sternum strap shown is a prototype that is not currently available.
To access the pack’s contents, you lay it on its back, open at least three of the side-release buckles that attach the front weather flap, open a drawcord, and the entire pack body is readily accessible. When loading the pack, the first thing that goes in is your sleeping pad, which lies on the bottom against the backpanel. It’s held in place by three thin straps with side-release buckles. The remaining gear is loaded in the usual fashion: sleeping bag on the bottom, heavier/denser items in the middle against your back, and lighter items at the top and further out. After you close up the pack, there is a drawcord system on the weather flap that snugs up the frontpanel and provides a place to tie on a jacket or wet gear.
Under the weather flap (left), the Essence has a drawcord closure. Looking inside (right), a sleeping pad is secured against the backpanel with three thin straps.
The zippered top pocket is huge and handy. It’s big enough to hold rain gear, snacks, maps, and anything else you want to keep handy. Then you still have a lot of storage space left in the mesh side pockets. They’re also huge. The left one is full height and has an enormous capacity. The two half height mesh pockets on the right side provide still more space for frequently used items. And then you still have two large hipbelt pockets to fill up. You get the picture, this pack has tons of convenient storage!
Pockets everywhere! The top pocket (left) is huge and will hold rainwear and a lot more. The left side (middle) has a full-height mesh pocket, while the right side (right) has two half-height pockets. With the pack on, I could reach and replace a water bottle in the lower right pocket.
I found that a lightweight 2-liter Platypus bladder and hose works very well in the left full-height side pocket, and it’s easy to access when you need to refill it. If you use water bottles, I found that it’s possible to reach and replace a water bottle in the right lower pocket. The hipbelt is 1.5 inch wide mesh and has two integrated pockets that locate to the side when you wear the pack.
The 70d silnylon hipbelt pockets are located at your sides (left). Each pocket (right) has 45 cubic inches of capacity, so they will hold a lot of stuff. The zipper is not water-resistant, but it does have a storm flap.
The Essence has ultra-contoured padded shoulder straps that curve toward the center after they pass over your shoulders. I found they worked surprisingly well to contact a larger area of the shoulders and distribute weight. The next generation of the Essence pack will include a sternum strap, which I found to be very functional with this pack.
One issue I have with this pack is the sizing. The pack is available in only one size that fits torsos 17 to 22 inches. That’s a very wide range for this pack to “fit”. I measured the pack torso length and found it to be 17.5 inches. What this amounts to is if you have a medium torso length (16 to 19 inches), this pack will fit like your palm against your head. But if you have a longer torso, the pack “fits” with the shoulder straps wrapping over your shoulders and down your back. I found that this approach works, but it’s not my preference. I would prefer a pack with a longer torso length that actually fits my back, so I recommend that the Essence be made available in a larger size for larger people.
Sizing is an issue with the Essence. It comes in only one size that fits well on a person with a short or medium torso (left), but it hangs lower on the back on a longer torso-ed person (middle). For the pack to “fit” a longer torso, the shoulder straps wrap around the shoulders and down the back (right).
A second issue is a lack of pack compression options to adjust pack volume and really tighten up the load to make it carry as a unit. As it is, the front loading system with its extension collar bulges out, and the bungee system on the weather flap is not adequate to constrain it. Backpacking Light’s publisher Ryan Jordan used this pack for a March backpacking trip in southern Utah, and found it difficult to stuff his bulky insulated clothing in the Essence. In his words, “It was difficult to stuff things into the panel opening without something else popping out”. The lack of effective load compression moves the pack’s center of gravity out away from the body, which is less comfortable and less efficient. Also, if the connectors on the weather flap were to give away, you could have a yard sale on the trail! The Essence really needs two to three lateral compression straps that work like a straight jacket to cinch down the load so it acts as a solid unit.
A final issue is the mesh used on the side pockets is not very durable. It extends all the way down to the bottom of the pack, and there is where it’s showing the most wear. I found that even contact with Velcro will do serious damage to the mesh. Overall the pack construction is very good, except the attachment of the shoulder straps has no reinforcement material.
The mesh used on the side pockets, although lightweight, is not very durable. It especially abraded on the bottom where it came into contact with the ground. Velcro easily snagged it.
As a load hauler, the Essence gets average marks. I carried it on a total of seven backpacking trips carrying loads ranging from 15 to 23 pounds including food and water. With the pack’s shorter torso length, I found that when I snugged up the shoulder straps to pull the pack against my back, it put too much weight on my shoulders and I had shoulder fatigue in the afternoon. If I let the shoulder straps out, the pack rode lower on my back, but was more comfortable to carry because more weight was transferred to my hips. Based on my experience, I would rate the comfortable load carrying capacity of the Essence at 15-20 pounds, depending on how well the pack fits and how strong the user is.
The Essence is a “mixed bag”, so to speak. On the one hand I really like its innovation and feature set for convenience and ease of use. The panel access enables the pack to have a large and very useful top pocket. The large outside mesh pockets and hipbelt pockets are just what users want.
However, the shortcomings kick in with the pack’s single size and lack of an effective load compression system. If you have a small or medium length torso, this pack may really work well for you, but if you have a long torso you may not like the fit at all.
In its present design, the Essence carries like a sack of gear. It really needs some effective load control to make the pack and contents act as a solid unit. With improvements in sizing (pack torso length better matching user torso length) and pack compression, the Essence could be an outstanding frameless pack.
The Essence is the only ultralight frameless backpack that is panel loading and also has a top pocket.
Recommendations for Improvement
Accolades for the innovation embodied in the Essence pack, and I really like its feature set. However, I believe it needs a few refinements to make it more comfortable and effective.
- Offer the pack in a larger size
- Add lateral compression straps
- Use more durable mesh on the side pockets
- Use a more durable fabric on the bottom of the mesh pockets
- Add reinforcement to the seam at the top of the shoulder straps