Ultralight Backpacks And Winter Hiking

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DayTrip

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For awhile now I've been considering the purchase of an ultra light pack to replace my MHM Divide 65, a pack I love but which is very heavy relative to most other packs. I'm curious about how they hold up in Winter though. I've read much about the durability of Dyneema and GridStop but I'm curious how that translates to having snow shoes strapped to it, spikes in the side pockets, etc. etc. If I am ever going to solo overnight for Winter I need to do some serious weight shaving across the board so I'm looking at my pack, tent and sleeping bag (all of which are pretty heavy). I intend to use the pack year round but it is Winter use that particularly concerns me.

If anyone is using such a pack, particularly in Winter, I'd be curious to get some feedback on how it's held up, regrets, things you would do differently if you bought another one, etc, etc. The model I'm thinking about most right now is the ZPacks Arc Haul Zip. It is very similar in design and capacity to my Divide 65 but is nearly 3.5 lbs lighter. It also appears to have a lot of adjustments that other ultralight packs don't have without a real weight penalty and from what I've read is much more comfortable than other brands.
 
No experience with any gear marketed as ultralight but whenever I've wanted to shave 3-5 pounds from my load, I often find the easiest place to do it is my own body weight. Dropping 5 pounds from my gear is damn near impossible, but dropping the fritter is not as tough.

I'm rarely accused of going light though. Rather, I'm often asked how long my trip is in winter when I'm day hiking. The answer is, "overnight if I need to be."

Keep your spikes enclosed in a sack IMO if you go with a light pack. Consider short trips at low elevation to keep things reasonable when testing gear. Funny, I don't think much about weight in winter but I do think about staying warm. My gear is all reasonable in weight. I don't like heavy packs either.

Good luck. Pack technology has come a long way since ultralight gear came out.
 
Whatever you do, don't skimp on size. If everything but your snowshoes does not fit inside somewhere, old man Winter will try to rip it off as you navigate those tightly packed trails.

I also have a winter rule for my clothes, one item per pocket. You reach in to pull out your gloves, and your [whatever] slides out and into the snow. Gone forever.
 
I have a Cuben Fiber Hybrid material my main winter pack is made of, a Seek Outside Unaweep. I have more of a problem with butt-sliding on granite slabs than snow and ice. The water bottles pockets are patched with duct tape at this point. My packs made of Robic has fared much better. I like the fact that I can straps snowshoes, shovels, sleds, or skis to the outside of the pack with no problems. Very modular. At some point, I'll probably replace the pack bag with one made from X-pac. its cheaper than replacing the entire pack.
 
My winter pack is also a Seek Outside but the Divide. I love the xpac material. I got the heavier x42 fabric to stand up to bushwhacks. The thing is bomb proof, showing no signs of wear after a couple seasons and the kost comfortable thing I've ever put on my back. It's bigger than the Arc Zip but I'm a hammocker and subzero quilts are bulky. It's overkill for a legit 3 season UL load, though.

As far as the Zpacks you mentioned, zippers make me nervous. Especially with bulky winter loads in a smaller pack with few outside attachment points. And zippers with gloves or mittens is usually tedious. I have my eye on the Arc Blast for my next 3 season pack though.

Another line you might want to consider is ULA. The Circuit is a serviceable winter pack that isn't overkill in the summer.
 
No experience with any gear marketed as ultralight but whenever I've wanted to shave 3-5 pounds from my load, I often find the easiest place to do it is my own body weight. Dropping 5 pounds from my gear is damn near impossible, but dropping the fritter is not as tough.

I'm rarely accused of going light though. Rather, I'm often asked how long my trip is in winter when I'm day hiking. The answer is, "overnight if I need to be."

Keep your spikes enclosed in a sack IMO if you go with a light pack. Consider short trips at low elevation to keep things reasonable when testing gear. Funny, I don't think much about weight in winter but I do think about staying warm. My gear is all reasonable in weight. I don't like heavy packs either.

Good luck. Pack technology has come a long way since ultralight gear came out.

Diet and exercise is on the agenda. Can definitely stand to drop some weight. And I too get the "overnight" question when people look at my pack in Summer and Winter.
 
Whatever you do, don't skimp on size. If everything but your snowshoes does not fit inside somewhere, old man Winter will try to rip it off as you navigate those tightly packed trails.

I also have a winter rule for my clothes, one item per pocket. You reach in to pull out your gloves, and your [whatever] slides out and into the snow. Gone forever.

Definitely not. I always use a large pack and prefer to have everything inside. I'm not sure how people hike in the small packs they say they use unless they have a yard sale of stuff tied to the outside.
 
My winter pack is also a Seek Outside but the Divide. I love the xpac material. I got the heavier x42 fabric to stand up to bushwhacks. The thing is bomb proof, showing no signs of wear after a couple seasons and the kost comfortable thing I've ever put on my back. It's bigger than the Arc Zip but I'm a hammocker and subzero quilts are bulky. It's overkill for a legit 3 season UL load, though.

As far as the Zpacks you mentioned, zippers make me nervous. Especially with bulky winter loads in a smaller pack with few outside attachment points. And zippers with gloves or mittens is usually tedious. I have my eye on the Arc Blast for my next 3 season pack though.

Another line you might want to consider is ULA. The Circuit is a serviceable winter pack that isn't overkill in the summer.

I haven't had any issues with zippers in Winter, although the MHM Divide has big, burly zippers so maybe that is why. Are the Zpacks zippers small and dainty where they would freeze?
 
I know some guys that carry Hyperlite packs. Very well made and yes, light. Made in Maine. Just a snapshot, the 4400 Porter is 4400cu and is rated to carry 60 lbs. and weighs 2.49 lbs. Cost 380.00.
 
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I know some guys that carry Hyperlite packs. Very well made and yes, light. Made in Maine. Just a snapshot, the 4400 Porter is 4400cu and is rated to carry 60 lbs. and weighs 2.49 lbs. Cost 380.00.

That was the company I started looking at first. Like the "local angle" and they got very high ratings for quality. Saw several reviews though suggesting they were not very comfortable, particularly when carrying loads close to the pack's capacity rating (which I would likely be doing with Winter gear). That spooked me a bit. Like many other gear categories I didn't realize how many companies and offerings there were until I started researching.
 
That was the company I started looking at first. Like the "local angle" and they got very high ratings for quality. Saw several reviews though suggesting they were not very comfortable, particularly when carrying loads close to the pack's capacity rating (which I would likely be doing with Winter gear). That spooked me a bit. Like many other gear categories I didn't realize how many companies and offerings there were until I started researching.

In my opinion you have to decide what your ultimate goal is. The lightweight gear is light, but there's a reason, they get rid of stuff. It's not for me, I need bomber straps, suspension and so on. I'll dump other items to lighten my load. Don't take this wrong, but you might look at redundancy in your gear. How many fire starters do you carry, stove, fuel, food, water, water systems, that the shit that really adds up. You seem to favor more then one of items for safety, it's actually better to have one good one and have to carry less. Just my opinion.
 
The lightweight gear is light, but there's a reason, they get rid of stuff. It's not for me, I need bomber straps, suspension and so on.

You'd be surprised. My Seek Outside is an external frame with an insanely comfortable, infinitely adjustable harness system, and over 75 liter capacity for under 3 lbs. The materials are so light these days companies aren't cutting a whole lot of features for the weight anymore. You can get everything a Dana would have for half the weight. UL hunting packs like Seek Outside and Kifaru are good places to start if you don't want to lose a lot.
 
In my opinion you have to decide what your ultimate goal is. The lightweight gear is light, but there's a reason, they get rid of stuff. It's not for me, I need bomber straps, suspension and so on. I'll dump other items to lighten my load. Don't take this wrong, but you might look at redundancy in your gear. How many fire starters do you carry, stove, fuel, food, water, water systems, that the shit that really adds up. You seem to favor more then one of items for safety, it's actually better to have one good one and have to carry less. Just my opinion.

I don't have as much redundancy in Winter, despite what some of my other posts would suggest. I carry more crap in the Summer because I like to experiment, be comfortable, eat really well, etc. and with the ability to filter water and carry lighter clothes and tents it isn't too bad getting around with a load even if I carry all of my water (I'll bring as much as 4L depending on where I go - I like to camp up high as close to summits as possible so filtering at my campsite is generally not an option). Most of the things I've bought over the years were made based on function with little thought to their weight. On day hikes I can generally carry whatever the hell I want without penalty, especially in the Summer. Now that I've been overnight hiking though I've become painfully aware of how heavy things can be.

My Winter pack is approx 3-3.5 lbs heavier than what I've looked at, I have a synthetic sleeping bag which from what I've seen is probably 1-1.5 lbs heavier than a down counterpart and my NF Mountain 25 tent is wicked heavy, and probably my most obvious problem (although it is bomber and I LOVE that freaking tent). If I were splitting the weight of the tent with a partner it wouldn't be too bad but alone it really is a deal breaker. Need to take a hard look at that item too. Those 3 items could save me a huge amount of weight, maybe close to 8 lbs.

P.S. You don't need to keep adding the disclaimer "no offense" or "don't take this the wrong way". I know you mean well in your advice and appreciate the feedback, even if you're politely trying to tell me I'm nuts. I am not easily offended. And given how idiotic some of my questions are you'd be right to assume I might be some sort of moron for asking. :p
 
I don't have as much redundancy in Winter, despite what some of my other posts would suggest. I carry more crap in the Summer because I like to experiment, be comfortable, eat really well, etc. and with the ability to filter water and carry lighter clothes and tents it isn't too bad getting around with a load even if I carry all of my water (I'll bring as much as 4L depending on where I go - I like to camp up high as close to summits as possible so filtering at my campsite is generally not an option). Most of the things I've bought over the years were made based on function with little thought to their weight. On day hikes I can generally carry whatever the hell I want without penalty, especially in the Summer. Now that I've been overnight hiking though I've become painfully aware of how heavy things can be.

My Winter pack is approx 3-3.5 lbs heavier than what I've looked at, I have a synthetic sleeping bag which from what I've seen is probably 1-1.5 lbs heavier than a down counterpart and my NF Mountain 25 tent is wicked heavy, and probably my most obvious problem (although it is bomber and I LOVE that freaking tent). If I were splitting the weight of the tent with a partner it wouldn't be too bad but alone it really is a deal breaker. Need to take a hard look at that item too. Those 3 items could save me a huge amount of weight, maybe close to 8 lbs.

P.S. You don't need to keep adding the disclaimer "no offense" or "don't take this the wrong way". I know you mean well in your advice and appreciate the feedback, even if you're politely trying to tell me I'm nuts. I am not easily offended. And given how idiotic some of my questions are you'd be right to assume I might be some sort of moron for asking. :p

Fair enough. The reason, I say things like that, is I consider you a seasoned hiker and want to be critical of small things without impugning your overall ability. Respect, that's all.
 
I've got a compressed disk in my back and found a Kelty external frame on craiglist a few years ago that I got as a cheap experiment. Wow. I'm never going back.

Parkas, sweaters, sleeping bags, stoves... they're all bigger and heavier in winter.

My Kelty (now sporting upgraded belt and straps) weighs in at 5.5lbs. Could I get a lot lighter and still have the ability to carry all that stuff? Maybe so. But I'm not giving up the carrying ability.

Untitled by Pinnah, on Flickr
 
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