Monday, 5 March 2007

What is Lightweight?

I`m finding it increasingly difficult to understand what lightweight is.

Let me explain.....

When I started backpacking back in the last century (1985). My pack was a Karrimor Panther 70 (70 litres) which weighed in at 1.4 kg (3.1 lb), this pack had two compartments, a padded hip-belt, two good size pockets, aluminium stays, adjustable for different back lengths and made from nylon.

Now; I wouldn't call this pack lightweight, it's a normal weight for a pack of its time.

Move on; twenty years and packs are weighing a whopping 3 kg (6 lb) that's the weight of my Karrimor Cougar. This pack is bombproof, built like a tank, strong heavyweight material, a big chunky hip-belt. Great for big heavy loads but not for my kind of backpacking.

About six years ago names like GoLite and GVP started to be see, on the internet and being mentioned in some magazines. These packs were only any good if you carried a total weight below 14 kg (30 lb).

I don't do trip much longer than a week, I don't normally carry that much food and my total pack weight is around 11-13 kg (24-28 lb). So by using one of these lightweight packs; I can save 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).

So; by changing just the pack, I can get the total weight into the 8.5-10.5 kg (18-23 lb).

The first pack was the GoLite Gust 590 g (20 oz). This pack was O.K. but its a big pack and was never full, so tended to be a bit floppy.

Next up were the GoLite Trek 1.1 kg (2.4 lb) and GVP G4 (homemade) 500 g (17.6 oz). Again the GoLite Trek was a big pack and again I had trouble filling it so had similar problems.

The G4 was ideal; big enough to take all the equipment I needed plus a bit spare if needed. One problem was the it needed looking after and the material could get damaged easily but it was also easy to repair.

Finally; the pack I`m currently using the Sixmoondesigns Comet 780 g (27.5 oz). This is very similar to the G4 but has aluminium stays and a hip-belt which can be removed.

My needs for a multi-day trip are; minimum of 50 litres, decent sized outer pocket(s) and a reasonable hip-belt and below the weight of 1.1 kg (2.4 lb).

So where am I going with this?

The latest edition of TGO have 109 packs listed and reviews of five of these. The OMM Mountain Mover 55, GoLite Pinnacle, Osprey Talus 44, the Gregory Z55 and the Macpac Amp Light 45.

The GoLite Pinnacle is 73 litres.

Now; all these packs are classed as lightweight but personally I would consider them all to be a normal weight for a decent multi-day pack with the exception of the GoLite, which I would class as lightweight. Maybe the Talus 44 could go into my lightweight category but I feel this would be a cop-out because it's less than 50 litres.

Some people will say 'I can get all my equipment into a 44 litre pack for a two week trip' and I say 'good for you' but I can't and the reason is bulk. I use a tent, it can be bulky, I use an Insul Max-Thermo sleeping pad (bulky).

If I were to use any of the reviewed packs other than the GoLite, it would be either the OMM MM55 or the Gregory Z55 to give me the volume but the weight of the packs would be an issue and with tent and pad would be over 4 kg (8.8 lb) compared to 3.5 kg (7 lb) with the GoLite Pinnacle or the Sixmoondesigns Comet.

Obviously I could save more weight by either not using a tent or choosing a lighter tent and sleeping pad but should I have to have a heavier pack because I wish to use a tent.

I maybe going about this the wrong way, I look to reduce weight in certain areas so I can have more comfort in camp. I cannot sleep on Therm-a-rest or closed cell pads anymore.

In the article, I could only find five packs that I would class as lightweight. Some of the packs can be lighten by removing some of the components but what parts these are I don't know; hip-belt, aluminium stays, shoulder straps (I can do this with the Comet but its not a pack when that is done, just a big bag).

Some manufacturers are reducing the weight and still able to keep the volume but some seem to be getting the weight down by reducing the volume.

I do feel as there is a bit of the smoke and mirrors/Emperors new clothes with some of the new lightweight packs. Yes; the packs are lighter but in some cases at the expense of litreage (is that a word!?).

'Look at our new lightweight packs; eh no please don't look in there (you may see how small we've made it to get the weight down).

My Criteria for a pack and its weight.

Minimum 50 litres, decent sized outer pocket(s), a reasonable hip-belt and below the weight of 1.1 kg (2.4 lb).

500g or less Ultralightweight
501g - 1100g Lightweight
1101g - 1500g Normal weight for multi-days
1500g and above Heavy


  1. George, you forgot one that was mentioned the Lightwave S54 it is under a kilo and around 50 litres.

  2. Ah but that wasn't one of the packs reviewed :-)

    That was one of the five I hinted at, I wasn't sure about posting to much information incase TGO sued

    Along with John, I interest to your S54.

  3. George,
    I think the best way to compare packs to each other is the ratio between weight and volume. You can of course debate if the volume the companies measure is always done using the same method (e.g. including volume of side pockets or not) and we also know if we put the pack on the scale weight might differ from what the producers tell us but at least this seems to me the best comparison. As you've said a real lightweight pack that doesn't have the volume you need is pretty useless.

  4. Good stuff george- and somthing i need to start thinking about before my next big trip.

    My pack weighs in at around 5-6lbs from I can remember and is time for a change.

  5. Interesting stuff George. I don't think TGO would be likely to sue! As the author of the piece in question I agree with Roman that it's the volume to weight ration that is the key. That solves the problem of makers describing packs as lightweight when in fact they are just small.

    Your Panther back in the 80s was actually quite light for the time. Karrimor's top of the range backpacking sacks then - various Jaguar models - weighed considerably more. Today most packs over 50 litres weigh well over 1500 grams, many well over 2kg. I think the fact that you'd class the packs in TGO as normal weight shows how far things have changed in the last few years. Ten years ago you'd have found it difficult to find any decent packs in this weight range. Packs over 50 litres in the 1100-1500g range still aren't the norm however.

    My definition of a lightweight pack is one with a higher volume to weight ratio than average. For the tables in the feature I set 2kg as the maximum weight. I didn't work out the volume to weight ratios of all the packs included - that would have taken too long! It's easy to do for packs you're interested in. The Lightwave S54, which I gave a good review in a past issue, comes in at 27 litres per 500 grams, which makes it much lighter than average.

    Chris Townsend

  6. Hi Chris

    Thanks for the feedback. :-)

    While I agree with you & Roman about volume to weight ratio, I think most people looking for to buy a pack will use the 'how big, how heavy is it?' method when chosing a pack.

    It is good to see the manufacturers starting to produce the lighter packs and the market has a much better choice than a couple of years ago.