As we approach winter I know that a lot of hikers begin to reappraise their kit and think about new purchases for the winter or the spring. I’ve had a lot of interest in the Exodus pack. I’ve reviewed it before — Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 2011 Backpack — but this ha the benefit of prolonged use.
I’ve also written this as an introduction to lightweight packs and their use in UK or cooler climate conditions.
The Benefits of Lighter Packs
You know the principle of lightweight hiking — the less weight you carry the more pleasant is your hiking experience. It is now far easier than it was a few years ago to find a decent pack at a reasonable weight. This months TGO magazine features a number of reviews of backpacking rucksacks all of which are easy to get hold of in the UK. These include the Lightwave Wildtrek 70 (1.5 kg) and the Osprey Exos 58 (1.37 kg). These are by all account good packs but a lightweight backpacker will find them to be far too heavy!
You can get much lighter. My Exodus (with additional belt pockets) weighs in at around 500 grams a full kilogram lighter than the Wildtrek and yet it has far more useful features!
It is the use of this specialist gear that really gets base weights down. For example, my shelter and inner net weigh about 620 grams together which is half a kilogram lighter than many of the popular one person tents at the lighter end of the scale. So, just using a lightweight pack and shelter so as these I can be saving 2 kilograms on mainstream gear — and that’s before considering other kit and equipment!
There’s not much point in making a much lighter pack unless it works properly and is comfortable! Of course, lightweight hikers tend to be carrying lighter loads than usual but even so a really good lightweight pack will still be very comfortable to use.
For me the real differences lie in the design and the experience of those designing lightweight kit. Good mainstream kit is designed by people who know a lot about gear, functionality and so on, but, great ultralight manufacturers know a lot about backpacking! While you might be sacrificing weight with a lightweight pack from one of the leading companies you won’t be sacrificing comfort and genuinely useful features. Mountain Laurel, ULA, Six Moon Designs, Gossamer Gear and others produce great kit which ha sheen tried and tested over long trails over years now. These guys really do know what they are doing!
Before I move on to look at the Exodus it is worth repeating again that as we get lighter pack/gear volume is as critical as weight in many ways. A 50 litre pack should see most lightweight hikers through much of their normal use — but their gear will take up less space than conventional gear. Don’t expect to fill a lightweight pack with conventional and heavier gear! As ever, lightweight hiking is about creating a lighter system overall!
The Mountain Laurel Exodus
This is a lightweight pack of basic but effective design. The pack is constructed of lightweight dyneema material which is as light and as tough as you can get. Dyneema features a cross thread of material that is used to produce bullet proof vests. You may be able to puncture your dyneema fabric but the hole simply won’t run past the tough thread.
My Exodus is equipped with optional extra hip belt pockets and the total weight of the pack is 510 grams.
The Exodus is a frameless pack although there is a ‘full suspension’ version available which uses a carbon fibre frame and an inflatable pad. By all accounts this system works very well. The full suspension Exodus weighs in at about 650 grams — about 150 grams more.
A frameless pack needs some stiffening and protection at the back. I use two or three sections of an old Gossamer Gear Nite Lite sleeping pad, the three sections together weigh just 100 grams. I find this system gives me more than enough support and protection at the back of my pack and I have been comfortable carrying quite heavy loads with it. I would have been carrying the mat with me anyway — I use it as protection for my inflatable mat and also a backup in case the inflatable fails; it can also be used as a seat/cushion. So, even with the addition of the pad this pack weighs considerably less that the mainstream competition.
Now, let’s consider pack capacity. This is a big issue and one which depends on your own patterns of hiking. I have a good walking compatriot here in Midlands, Gordon Green, who tried the Exodus and found it too big, however, Gordon doesn’t often set out to carry as many days supplies as I do.
The main body of the pack will hold around 40 litres. The front pocket holds another 6 litres and so this is basically a 50 litre pack. However, much weight and volume is taken up by food supplies and it is here that the Extension Collar becomes very important. The Extension Collar of the Exodus adds another 8 to 10 litres.
In the photograph you can see the Extension Collar in use. This photo was taken at the end of a trip and the Extension Collar is basically taken up with my shelter. Normally, the shelter would be sitting in a side pocket and so the Collar would not be prominent at all. And this pack still had about 2 to 3 days of food in it.
The choice of food provisions is a very personal thing but I find I can carry 5 to 6 days of food quite happily with this pack using the Extension Collar.
Key Design Features
A lightweight pack like the Exodus saves weight by cutting out unnecessary features such straps and back systems. But it still needs to be comfortable.
The Exodus is a very comfortable pack to wear. The shoulder straps are well designed and constructed of a very strong foam which gives as much protection as you would ever need. The hip belt is also padded with the same foam and while it is a smaller belt than you would find in the mainstream it too is comfortable and effective.
Over a period of prolonged used I have come to appreciate the ability of this pack to never ’slip’. Adjust the solder straps and the stern, strap to your preference and they will basically stay in place. With other packs I have used I have found myself adjusting straps as I walk and I simply don’t have to do this with the Exodus. The sternum strap features a whistle. I found the sternum very frustrating to use at first until I realised that I had clipped the strap on the shoulder pads the wrong way round — correcting this made a big difference.
Both the front pocket and the side pockets are constructed of a tough mesh material, the side pockets constructed exclusively of mesh. Now this is where the experience of backpacking early counts. Mesh side pockets means that wet gear can sit in them and easily drain as you walk. I always find a good mesh front pocket preferable to a solid fabric simply because you can easily locate you gear in the pocket. I am neurotic about leaving my tent pegs behind at some camp or another. I have my pegs and pole booster in a green stuff sack and I always place this in the same position in the front pocket in such a way that I can always see that it is there! Mesh on the front pocket also means that wet gear can drain easily.
I am a great fan of hip belt pockets. I use these to carry sun cream, midge repellant, a swiss army knife and trail snack such as nuts and fruits that can easily be accessed as I walk. The MLD pockets easily fit onto the back permanently although I find the font connection point on the pockets often comes loose which rattles me a bit — but this is only a mini quibble.
As I have said already this is very dependent on your food load. Mountain Laurel reckon that a load between 9 and 13 kilograms is about right for maximum comfort. My base weight is often 8 kilograms and I find that carrying an additional 3 days of food provides me with no problems at all. On my last TGO Challenge I carried a lot of food at the start, probably enough for 6 days. I also carried a 1 kilogram camera tripod. This was beginning to test the Exodus a little but overall it was still comfortable and, of course, day after day the pack became lighter. On a recent trip to the Highlands I carried far more food than needed, again probably enough for 5 or 6 days, but left the tripod behind _ the pack was never anything than comfortable.
The Exodus has a very useful system for cutting down the size of the pack. This uses a couple of easy clip loops that effectively reduce the volume of the pack. I get asked about this system a lot. It works very, very, well and if you don’t need a large capacity makes the pack easier to handle and more comfortable to wear. I could easily use the pack in this format as a day pack, indeed, it is lighter than my usual day pack!
As you can tell I am very pleased with this pack and have never really found it wanting for anything. If the capacity is too big for you then have a look at the MLD Prophet and if you need a load carrier — based on this experience — the first product I would consider is the MLD ARC.
The only downside here is that you have to order from the USA and place your order 8 weeks of so in advance of delivery. But, basically, you have a superb piece of kit designed for backpackers which is available at a decent price.
There’s not much to dislike.