After a hiatus of three years, Ms. A and I are backpacking together again.
She’s worked hard these past few years to get her masters degree. And now that she’s finished, it is nice to explore the backcountry together again.
Part of this backpacking is finding a pack suitable for someone to use.
In the past, we used an old GoLite winter pack picked up used locally.
The pack was OK. A bit too much pack regarding weight for the size. Not being a true three-season pack, it lacked some features that are nice such as water bottle holsters. And it has a lot of extras that typically not meant for three season use. Still, it was inexpensive and did the job at the time.
But, now that Ms. A is going backpacking again, I wanted to make sure she had a pack that worked well and was not a compromise. I wanted her to enjoy backpacking and having comfortable gear is part of that enjoyment.
Since I am hauling the stove, shelter and related gear, a light and smallish pack fits my needs in my collection. I have a ULA CDT that works well for me when I need a little more carrying capacity vs. a sub-1 lb pack.
The problem with these light and frameless packs are that even with a hip belt, more weight is still put on the shoulders than some people may be comfortable carrying.
Due to my gene pool, I look like central casting’s idea of a dock worker. 🙂 What this means is that I can carry a lot of weight when needed and reasonably comfortably even with a frameless pack. (And, if I play up my Northeast accent, I am sure to get a job in many Scorsese movies!) The downside is that even if I can carry the weight, stuffing that much weight in a pack not meant to carry all that weight will destroy the pack. Which is how I ended up replacing my older (and lighter than current, bloated versions) GoLite Jam II with the ULA CDT. Too many dental floss repairs on the Jam from carrying too many pounds of pork roast. 😉
I sensibly carry a framed pack for heavier loads now. Something that can carry the larger and heavier loads without being destroyed.
And Ms. A, who thankfully does not look like central casting’s idea of a dock worker, the frameless packs aren’t very comfortable for her.
The logical step would be a framed pack about the same size as the GoLite Jam, but with a real frame suspension system.
At ~3000 cubic inches and 36 ounces, it is a lightweight (not ultralight) pack that can carry heavier loads easier..or light-moderate loads very comfortably.
A perfect pack for Ms. A and just what I had in mind for our use.
A collaboration between Ron Moak and Brian Frankle of ULA fame who is now working with SMD designed the pack. The legacy of ULA lives on in some of the details: The full suspension, amply sized hip belt pockets and the roll down pack top with buckles. As such, my gut feeling is that this pack is a step up from a larger frameless rucksack (the classic GoLite Jam), but not a more substantial pack concerning cubic inches like the ULA Catalyst. Using the ULA comparison, the Fusion 50 seems to be in line with the ULA Ohm regarding features, size, and weight. Ron states that the Fusion, however, can comfortably carry more weight vs. the ULA packs.. An estimated 50 lbs. That’s a lot of pork roast for hut trips! 🙂
The hip belt is very wide and gives ample support. The load lifter straps allow for some fine adjustment.
I tend to have a more minimalist bent in wanting pack features..so I prefer a simple drawstring closure rather than a buckle system. But I do not think this pack audience is the minimalist crowd.
Ms. A, who will ultimately be using this pack, had the following observations:
- Initial fit was very comfortable. Hardly any weight felt on her shoulders. Hip belt distributes the weight nicely.
- She enjoys the roll down pack top. Feels it keeps out the weather more vs. the drawstring top that is my preference.
- She did not care for the white pack fabric. She felt it would get dirty too easily.
- She *loved* the large hip belt pockets
A Quick Test Drive
Originally, we were going to go backpacking together over Labor Day Weekend, but the Mrs had a cold. So I went solo and gave the Fusion 50 a test drive.
I purposely loaded up the pack with some extra gear (a Lunar Duo, a more substantial foam pad, some puffy pants, and even some canned green chilies ) to give a little more bulk and weight to my normal load.
I wanted to see how the pack felt with a bit more weight than my typical solo kit.
After about forty miles +/-, here are my initial impressions of the pack:
- It was indeed comfortable with hardly any weight felt on the shoulders.
- Easy to adjust
- Being a foam pad holdout, I liked the bottom straps for attaching my pad. Most people who buy this pack probably won’t use the feature admittedly.
- I, too, loved the ample hit belt pockets
- The bottle holsters were adequately sized, but *just*. A little larger/deeper bottle holsters would be my preference
- The front stow pocket is surprisingly small. I can shove a rain jacket and a Nalgene Catene in the front, but not much else. Esp for fall hiking (when the weather can change quickly) I like being able to keep a hat, gloves, and other items handy. The stow pocket up front was not very deep or large at all considering the size of the pack.
Overall, I think it is a nice lighter pack for someone who wants a bit more support vs a frameless rucksack. The framed suspension system means that any weight is distributed more and rides more comfortably. A good pack for someone whose basic load is light, but not ultralight. If you had to schlep in a bear canister or extra days of food or even a lot of water, the pack should ride just nicely, too.
As an aside, Ron Moak stated that “the exterior pockets on all of the packs are undergoing a makeover, they will be deeper with a closure mechanism.” The bright white color is also going to be replaced with a more neutral gray, and there should be more variety in the color panels as well.
Later this month, I hope to update this article with some input from the Mrs! I suspect her initial impressions of the pack will continue to hold, and it will be her pack of choice. It is about the right size, the right weight and fits her well. I am looking forward to taking her on a trip or two where she will get to use this pack.
UPDATE JANUARY 2015: Ms. A did not care for the pack as it did not fit her very well on a trip we took. She ended up liking my old Catalyst quite a bit. But pack fit can be challenging (Oddly enough, however, she has been using it as a “heavy hauler” in town for bike commuting and liked it quite a bit for that purpose).
I‘ve been using it as a ski pack the past few weeks, and a climbing pack a couple of times this Fall. I plan on taking it overnight in two or three weeks depending on my on-call/husband/social schedule (someone Ms. A has a funny way of sneaking in things for me to do :D)
I don’t think I will, personally, use it for three-season backpacking esp solo. But I like it when I have to haul more weight or bulk (climbing rope, ski gear, and winter gear, possibly overnight this coming spring/summer).
I still miss a bigger front stash pocket!
Probably write more next month.
Disclosure: Six Moon Designs provided the pack for free. None of my funds were used in the purchasing of this pack.