Round 2 of testing the Vargo Ti-Arc titanium external frame backpack was just as scenic and enjoyable as the first. Carrying 12 lbs. of gear never felt so good. Here’s a glance as to what we did. But first, let’s look into why we’re going through the process of making a titanium external frame backpack anyway.
First, there were frameless backpacks. Then there were external frame backpacks which were awesome at carrying loads with lots of support. They were on every body going everywhere. Then…there were internal frame backpacks which came along and pretty much annihilated externals all together. Though they were sleeker, “sexier”, and more nimble, they continued to lack the support of an external frame backpack. If more support equals more comfort, why were backpackers then and backpackers now shying away from externals?
Speaking from our own experiences (light- and ultralight backpacking only), we think one of the biggest reasons was the weight. As internal backpack designs became more advanced, their weights dropped significantly below external frames. One could comfortably trade some support for lower pack weight. Today, most external frames (from the few that are still made) weigh in anywhere from 4 to 8 lbs. or more. Even though they typically cost less than their internal counterparts, the trade off for most people just isn’t there. As backpackers continue to desire less weight on their backs, packs are becoming smaller and correspondingly less supportive. That is, their ability to comfortably support loads above a certain weight range is decreasing. Even frameless backpacks have made a comeback. However, comfort is still sacrificed. Though lighter loads can be tolerated longer on the shoulders, it’s more comfortable to get the pack’s weight to the body’s strongest muscles-the glutes and legs. And nothing does that more efficiently than an external frame backpack.
So we thought it was time for a change.
Lightening up the soft goods on a backpack (the bag, hipbelt, shoulder straps, etc.) was easy enough to do. What we wanted and needed was to create an ultralight support system that could handle various loads from week long trips (up to 30 lbs.) to weekend epics without being overkill. Just so happens we know a thing or two about titanium…
Our first attempt at the Ti-Arc yielded about a 3.5 lbs. 36 L backpack (the Ti-Arc CF with cuben fiber weighed a little over 2.5 lbs.). While not as light as we wanted it, we immediately loved the comfort and load transfer it provided. Fast forward to this past weekend and we’ve already gotten the Ti-Arc below 3 lbs. and the Ti-Arc CF to just around 2 lbs. for the same capacity. With updates to both the titanium frame and soft goods materials, we’re continuing to drive down the weight while scaling up the comfort by pairing better technology with better design. Though still not quite what we are aiming for, a final version is in sight–an ultralight backpack that combines the best of both internals and externals…with a few added extras.
On our first slightly unofficial Vargo company backpacking trip, we hit up one of Central Pennsylvania’s top trails: The Old Logger’s Path. A 27 mile loop-trail in the Loyalsock State Forest, it follows miles of old logging rail road grades through second growth hardwood forests and by some of best streams in the region. Though past the peak of autumn’s glorious arrangement of colors, there were still plenty of leaves showing off various shades of reds, yellows, and oranges. Temps were in the low-30s to mid-50s with frost covering everything the morning we departed. Idyllic.
Plowing through 1,000 foot climbs and descents, 13+ mile days, walking on knife edge rocky terrain, we were again confirmed in our belief that regardless of the weight of your pack, it’s more comfortable to carry it when the weight is transferred efficiently to your leg muscles. And external frame backpacks transfer the load better to your legs than an internal or frameless backpack can. Even with low pack weights, we welcomed the support the Ti-Arc provided. While others in our group were toting internal frames with hiking poles to counter balance their counter balancing (i.e. the internal frame forward lean), we were walking upright and comfortable every step of the way. Regardless of differences though, great times were had by all which gave us this reason to celebrate on one of the many trail vistas.
With a few more modifications, we’ll be ready to launch the Ti-Arc in early 2014. Stay tuned for more updates!