FIELD REPORT: Equinox Katahdin Pack -- Ken
I'm back from the hike. Being a hardcore tester, I tried very hard to get
rained on, but all we got was a distant rumbling of thunder and big, ominous
clouds. So here's my report on the Equinox Katahdin backpack, and I might
even have it up on time <grin>.
You can view the html version in the TESTS folder:
Field Report: Equinox Katahdin Pack
August 3, 2004
Name: Ken Bennett
Height: 6¹ 2²(190 cm)
Weight: 215 lbs (98 kg)
Email: bennettk at wfu dot edu
Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
I have been backpacking for twelve years, all of it in the Southern
Appalachians. I am fortunate to live within a two-hour drive of the Mt.
Rogers National Recreation Area, and I try to hike in that area at least
once a month year-round. I have completed several hundred miles of the
Appalachian Trail in two-day to two-week sections, and along with my family
have set a goal of completing the entire trail over the next decade or so.
Like many backpackers, I started out carrying far too much gear, but over
the years I have pared down my pack weight to a more reasonable level.
Manufacturer: Equinox Ltd.
Model: Katahdin Pack
Listed Weight: 22 ounces (624 g)
Weight as Delivered: 23 ounces (652 g)
Size: 1 size, 3350 ci (55 L)
MSRP: U.S. $120
Location Where Tests Were Conducted:
The tests were conducted in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in
southwest Virginia in May, June, and August, with moderate weather and
temperatures from 50-F (10 C) to about 90-F (32 C). Elevations ranged from
4000 to 5700 ft (1220 - 1740 m). This is a beautiful and relatively rugged
area, covered with open, rocky balds, and it receives heavy use from hikers,
equestrians, and mountain bikers.
I used the Equinox Katahdin pack on several 10-12 mile (16-19 km) day hikes,
and two long weekend hikes. On every hike, including the day hikes, I
carried a full load of lightweight backpacking gear. This included a 40-F (4
C) down sleeping bag, various kinds of sleeping pads [see below for
descriptions], a Tarptent or a hammock, an alcohol-stove camp kitchen, a
change of clothing, my Waldies camp clogs, my personal items, a jacket,
water, 3 days of food, and a water filter. The loads ranged from 16 to 22
pounds (7 to 10 kg).
Using the Katahdin: Convenience.
The Katahdin is basically a giant silnylon stuff sack with a suspension
system grafted to one side. There is one large main compartment, which
closes at the top with a drawstring and a cord lock, just like any common
stuff sack. There are two mesh water bottle pockets and two very small
zippered pockets on the sides of the pack, but the pack is otherwise
undifferentiated. When I first received the pack, I was worried about
several things: being able to find my gear when I needed it, segregating my
wet tarp and camp shoes, and keeping all my gear dry. I also noticed the
lack of a pocket for my water bladder, and the lack of any easily-accessible
pockets for small items.
I have several other packs that have just one main compartment, but all of
them have at least a lid pocket to carry small items that I need during the
day. I was concerned enough on the first day hike that I attached an outside
pocket to the Katahdin to carry my water filter, toilet gear, and rain
cover. For the rest of the test period, however, I worked out a packing
system that put everything inside the pack, and it worked much better than I
The Katahdin has the easiest access to the interior of any pack I have ever
used. The top of the pack opens quickly, and the pack body is short and
wide, making everything inside available. I used a small silnylon stuff sack
to carry everything I would normally put in a lid pocket, and I kept it in
the very top of the pack, along with a rain shell and my snacks for the day.
As I wrote in my journal, 'using the stuff sack as a lid pocket worked out
fine -- I was expecting to be annoyed, but I wasn't.'
Keeping all my gear dry was more challenging. While the Katahdin looks at
first glance like a silnylon stuff sack, one whole side is made of stiff,
open mesh where the suspension is attached. In addition, the standard
drawstring closure leaves a small hole in the top of the pack, no matter how
tightly it is closed. In even light rain, water gets inside the pack, and
starts to fill the bottom of the pack body. My solution was to line the
inside of the pack with a heavy plastic trash-compactor bag, which I
purchased at a local supermarket. This bag weighs 2 ounces (57 g), is large
enough to fit the inside of the Katahdin, and is amazingly
puncture-resistant (I have been using these bags for years in my other
packs). On top of that, I put a silnylon rain cover over the outside of the
pack to keep water from entering the hole in the top opening. Together,
these keep my gear dry, though water can still enter the pack through the
Unlike some other ultralight packs, the Katahdin lacks any large mesh
pockets on the outside of the pack body. I was concerned about this, because
I don't like putting a wet tarp or muddy camp shoes inside the pack body
with my nice, dry gear. I solved this problem by closing the plastic liner
bag down inside the pack, leaving enough room inside the top of the pack
body to carry my Tarptent and my Waldies, along with any other wet gear.
Again, this worked out better than I expected based on my prior experience
with lightweight packs.
Finally, I had to relearn how to use a water bottle. I had become very
dependent on my water bladder with a drinking tube, since it makes it very
easy to drink while hiking. There's no pocket or compartment on the Katahdin
for a bladder, but it does have two mesh water bottle pockets that are large
enough to swallow a 1-qt (1 L) Nalgene bottle each. The good news is that I
can remove and replace both water bottles while wearing the pack. The bad
news is that I still haven't figured out a way to do this without stopping
for a minute or two. On my last hike, I started to get dehydrated because I
wasn't remembering to stop for water breaks. (This is, of course, not the
fault of the Katahdin, but one more sign of your tester's advancing age.)
Also, the Katahdin lacks any small, easily-accessible pockets for things
that I need while hiking. I was able to attach a small pouch for my camera,
but there's no place for snacks, maps, compass, hiking guide, etc. I solved
this by wearing a small waist pack on the front of my waist to carry those
items. (Which had several unexpected advantages, letting me carry small
items around camp at night, and giving me a useful purse in town.)
Wearing the Katahdin: Comfort.
The Katahdin is a lightweight, frameless rucksack, with an innovative
compression system that attempts to stiffen the load enough to transfer
weight to the hip belt. When I first received the pack, I was impressed by
the suspension system: the hip belt is one of the best I have ever worn, and
the shoulder straps are very well-designed and comfortable. I am happy to
report that the compression system does work the way it was designed, though
it took me a lot of time and effort to figure out the best way to load the
pack. However, my experience with the Katahdin leads me to conclude that,
like any ultralight rucksack, it has a maximum comfortable load of around
20-25 pounds (9 to 11.5 kg).
The first trip was, frankly, a disaster. The Katahdin was comfortable to
start, but as the day wore on, it became more and more painful on my
shoulders. The pack has load lifters, which are designed to take the weight
off the shoulders while keeping the pack close to the body, but lifters
don't work at all when the whole pack is sagging downward like a sack of
potatoes. I kept tightening the compression straps to try to stiffen the
load, but nothing seemed to work. Every time I tried to loosen the shoulder
straps and tighten the lifters, the pack just sank lower and lower on my
back. All 22 pounds (10 kg) was on my shoulders, and it left me in serious
pain for several days after the hike.
I spent some time after that hike trying to figure out the best way to load
and use the Katahdin. I tried different sleeping pads for support, and
several different ways of loading the pack to get the load lifters to work
properly. What worked the best for me was to keep the load as tall and
narrow as possible, and then to tighten the compression straps as much as
possible. Having a tall, stiff pack put the load lifters up above the
shoulder straps, where they needed to be in order to work properly. However,
the body shape of the Katahdin, which is short and wide, made it harder for
me to create the required tall, narrow shape. For one thing, I found that I
was unable to use my 3/4 Ridgerest sleeping pad as a 'frame' inside the
pack, because it accentuated the short, wide shape of the finished pack.
This was unfortunate, because lining the pack with the Ridgerest made it
very easy to handle and load.
Here's what I found the be the most comfortable way to load the Katahdin:
First, I lined the inside of the pack with a trash compactor bag. Then, I
folded my Thermarest Prolite 4 mattress in quarters, and slid it inside the
trash bag, down to the bottom of the pack. My clothing bag then went
sideways in the very bottom. Then I put my sleeping bag and my food bag (an
Ursack TKO) next to each other vertically on top of the clothing bag. Then I
put my small ditty bag of personal items on top of that, and stuffed my
windshirt down in front of the stuff sacks. Then I rolled the trash bag
closed over all the gear I wanted to keep dry. On top of the closed trash
bag went my camp shoes, my hammock or tarp, my rain shell, and my small
silnylon bag with all the little stuff I would want during the day (see
above). I slid a very small piece of closed-cell-foam pad down the inside
front of the pack, between the pack body and the trash bag, to spread out
the pressure of the three compression straps (I used this as a sit-pad
during the day). I put my toilet gear in one small outside pocket, and my
alcohol fuel in the other. Two plastic soda bottles went in the mesh water
After I loaded the pack, I had to cinch down the compression straps to make
the pack body as stiff as possible. At the same time, I was trying to force
the load into as tall and narrow a shape as possible.
So, does it work? Does the compression system transfer the weight to the hip
belt, and make the pack more comfortable to wear? As comfortable as a pack
with a frame? The short answer is: yes and no. I found that the compression
system does work to shift some of the pack weight to the hip belt, as long
as I am careful to load and compress the pack properly. However, this system
has its limits. Whenever I was carrying more than about 22 pounds (10 kg) in
the Katahdin, I found that the area where the hip belt is attached to the
pack started to collapse under the weight, which then put most of the weight
back on my shoulders. Also, like many ultralight packs, the Katahdin needs
to be full or close to full in order to function properly. As my food bag
got smaller during a hike, it was more difficult to make the weight transfer
to my hips (though as the weight decreased, this became more and more
unneccesary). I think my personal weight limit with the Katahdin would be
about 20 pounds (9 kg), at which weight it is more comfortable than other
ultralight packs that I have tried.
The 2-inch (5 cm) nylon straps on the hip belts don't have anything on the
ends to keep the quick-release buckle from sliding off. As a result, when I
loosen the buckle without paying attention, it slides right off the webbing.
Two minutes with a sewing machine will fix this, of course, but it's still
The top compression strap is shorter than the other two. This makes it hard
to tighten when the pack is full, since there's not a piece of webbing to
grab. (At least it has a little sewn-down tab on the end, unlike the hip
belt webbing. Had they made this tab an inch longer, this wouldn't be an
The flat zippered pockets on the sides of the Katahdin are impossible to
load once the compression straps are tightened, because they are pulled
completely flat and taut. I have to remember to re-load these pockets before
I compress the pack.
Testing with Various Sleeping Pads:
The Katahdin requires the use of a sleeping pad inside the pack to support
the load and keep sharp objects from hitting the back. I tested the pack
with every type of pad in my gear closet:
Z-Rest 3/4: This pad fit well inside the pack, and provided a fair amount of
support as the 'frame'.
Z-Rest (full length): This pad took up a lot of room inside the Katahdin.
It's probably not usable with this pack. Also, both Z-Rest pads are commonly
folded up then opened in half to make a support that is two panels wide.
This is much narrower than the Katahdin interior, and it was difficult to
keep it centered.
Ridgerest (full length): This pad took up most of the room inside the pack.
Ridgerest 25x77-inch pad (64x196 cm): There wasn't room for much of anything
inside the pack once this huge pad was unrolled inside. However, the 25-inch
(64 cm) width did a better job of supporting the full height of the pack. If
I were willing to cut it into a torso-length pad, it might work well.
Ridgerest 3/4: This pad unrolled nicely inside the pack, and made it much
easier to load and unload. But see above for how well it worked as the
internal support system.
Thermarest 3/4 (older style): Folded into thirds, this 20-inch wide (51 cm)
pad covered the entire width of the pack, and with a little air blown inside
it provided the best support of any pad.
Thermarest Prolite 4 (standard length): Folded in fourths to cover the
entire width, this pad also worked well to support the load and provide some
padding for the back. It wasn't quite as supportive as the Thermarest 3/4,
probably due to all the cutouts in the foam making it less stiff.
I will continue to use the Katahdin for day hikes and backpacking trips
until the weather gets too cold for me to keep my total load under 20 pounds
(9 kg). I am very interested in the overall durability of the lightweight
materials in this pack.
Things I liked:
The hip belt and shoulder straps are well-designed and comfortable.
Access to the inside of the pack is very easy.
Construction is excellent.
The pack is very light at 23 ounces (652 g).
Things I didn't Like:
The pack requires very careful and fussy loading for comfortable wear.
The mesh back panel and the drawstring top allow rain to enter the pack.
There is no external pocket for wet gear; nor any small, accessible pockets
for small items.
Thanks again to Equinox and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the
- Hi Ken,
This is a marvelously detailed and complete report. It
sounds like you have really taken the time to form a
system to use and waterproof the design. Great work.
I have my suggested changes below.
> Size: 1 size,Suggestion: I have no problem with you spelling out
> 3350 ci (55 L)
your units, but for 'ci' might I suggest the standard
> temperatures from 50-F (10 C) to about 90-F (32 C).Comment: You use dashes for F units, and no dashes
for C units. Perhaps one or the other? This also
occurs a few times below in your report, so if you
change it you'll probably want to search-and-replace
the whole report.
> change of clothing, my Waldies camp clogs, mySuggestion: I seem to remember you have a good
> personal items, a jacket,
Waldies description in your IR. You could refer your
reader to it here if you like. :)
> enough to swallow a 1-qt (1 L) Nalgene bottle each.Comment: Well, 1 qt is not quite 1 L, but enough folks
> The good news is that I
will know what you mean, perhaps.
> became more and moreEdit: ...unnecessary...
> unneccesary). I think my personal weight limit with
> Thermarest Prolite 4 (standard length): Folded inComment: Above, when you were talking about how you
> fourths to cover the
> entire width, this pad also worked well to support
> the load and provide some
> padding for the back. It wasn't quite as supportive
> as the Thermarest 3/4,
> probably due to all the cutouts in the foam making
> it less stiff.
packed your pack, you specifically said that you
shoved the Prolite to the bottom, and then seemed to
load things on top. I thought that was odd, since I
thought you needed your pad covering at least some of
the gear to support it. Here, you seem to fold it and
place it somehow along the length of the pack.
Perhaps some clarification in one of these two spots?
An excellent report. Thank you, Ken. Take whatever
you wish to change, and upload at will.
Thanks for the edits. I will incorporate your suggestions and upload this
evening. Also, I added a couple of photos to the report.