Paradox Unaweep: the category killer

Regular readers will know that I have a deep and abiding fascination with backpacks, though terms such as obsession or problem would not be entirely amiss.  This being the case, the Paradox Unaweep I’ve been using for not quite three months now presents a serious problem.

Our lookout rental this past weekend was a steep (300 vertical feet) quarter mile trail from the car.  As seen below, the obvious and easy solution to getting our beer, wine (and large block of ice), steak, ribs, bacon, and so forth up there was to strap the cooler to the Unaweep and carry it.  I’d spitball the total weight at 60 pounds, and aside from the inherent awkwardness and poor weight distribution, the pack did very well, and by well I mean that the belt stayed put with no more tightening required than if I’d been carrying 15 pounds.

As I’ve been running the Unaweep (detailed below), it weighs a bit over 3 pounds.  That attributes like these so easily coexist breaks a lot of rules.


M photo.

Obsession is fed by new things, which in the case at hand is fed by dissatisfaction.  Occasionally I’ve bought or built a pack out of the desire to just try something new, but almost always the primary or only mover has been things which didn’t work properly on a recent outing.

Increasingly, I’ve become disgusted with new stuff for new stuffs sake, and am thus very loath to keep messing with new packs unless I have a good reason.  The problem here is that the Unaweep doesn’t give me much.  It can carry anything I can fit in it, as comfortably as I believe a pack can.  It’s tough.  It’s close enough in weight to anything save much smaller, less durable, and/or less capable (and usually all three) packs that not bringing the Unaweep, or trying to replace it for a given task, just seems silly.  For example, back in June I brought this pack to save weight.  I regretted it the whole time, because the Unaweep would have done so much better.


I have made a few modifications to the Unaweep as it came to me.  The big one was building the two chambered orange camo pocket shown above and below.  The side-opening pockets measure roughly 16 inches high, 6 wide, and 6 deep when stuffed full.  Together they add a bit more capacity over the stock Paradox Talon pocket, and quite a bit more organizational capacity.  The blaze fabric, a 600D polyester plain weave from Rockywoods, was the only thing I could find of a decent weight and in non-monolithic orange.  Good for hunting season, it has actually ended up being an impressively tough and waterproof fabric.  This project was a huge success.


Unaweep 3900 at right, HMG Porter 4400 at left.  M photo.

Additionally, I added a haul loop near the shoulders, fixed the bottom compression straps to buckles on the bag (rather than the bottom of the Talon), cut out the carbon rod and associated fabric near the top of the frame, and sealed some of the seams.  Eventually I’ll add a hydration hose port.


A haul handle is nice for donning and doffing the pack, and very nice for hauling it on a rope, which I don’t do all that often.  If you put a half-twist into your handles they stand out a bit more, and are easier to grab with mittens.


Having the bottom panel attached to the bag makes compressing the bottom when the bag is not full a bit easier to do, and possible independent of the Talon.  The Unaweep 3900 is long and thin, and when it’s not full keeping the weight from sagging to the bottom is crucial.

These things being done, I’m left with very few beefs.  The side pockets are rudimentary, but perfectly effective.  The pack is around 5-6 inches deep, which is quite skinny, and can limit how you pack larger things (to keep them from poking you in the back).  The benefit is a load which is exceptionally close to the body, a price I’m more than willing to pay.  The pack is also quite wide (14″ at the bottom), which is occasionally less than ideal when down climbing or scrambling through tight rocky places.  The metal frame along the bottom is also a concern when I pack it in my Scout, which on first try put it unpadded against the floor, something easily fixed with a foam bad or just the hipbelt wrapped around the right way.  Again, when I think about making a pack to address these issues I come back to how much I’d be giving up in the quality of the load carry, and leave well enough alone.  Easy to do given how well the VX-42 fabric has held up to everything, and how the pocket array and compression panel easily manages everything I want of it, from packrafting gear to rifle to snowshoes to ice axe and skis.

Aside from a smaller pack for day trips and light 2-3 day hikes, the Unaweep seems to be all I need for everything I do.  Imagine my disappointment.

12 responses to “Paradox Unaweep: the category killer”

  1. Ive been working myself up to drop the cash for one of those mythical full spectra Porters, but all this talk about the Unaweep has me thinking. Any perspective of the Unaweep vs. the Porter as for as load carry? I dont carry particularly huge loads, by weight or volume, but I’m looking for something to take on climbing and canyoneering expeditions, and eventually packrafting. All that means more weight and more volume.

    PS. Went through Gravel Canyon a couple weeks before your technical canyoneering article, you’ve put a few more trips on my list, thanks!

    1. I’d direct you to the 10th post in this thread ( for the only real world comparison I’ve seen. I would say that the wide Unaweep frame is probably most prominent canyoneering, and not in a good way. Then again, I wouldn’t want anything else for something like the Grand Canyon trip I did this past spring.

      1. Great! Missed that thread. Yeah it seems that the Unaweep kills it in load carry. The point about the frame while canyoneering though, thats a big takeaway for me.

        I’ve got an old prototype windrider in x Pac and I prefer that fabric to what I’ve seen of the hybrid cuben. The full spectra though…

        Thanks for the tip, I’ll post back if I ever make a decision.

        1. I’ve thought a lot about the width issue, and have yet to think of an easy solution. The belt attachment points on the frame are almost 13 inches apart, which has a lot to do with how well the belt works. I’m not at all sure you could move them closer without messing with things like how well the belt folds into your lumbar. Technical slot canyon use is the one big area where the width down at hip level is a serious issue. For what it’s worth, I scratched the frame up good on the Grand Canyon trip and it took the abuse no problem.

  2. how small can this pack / compress down? as in, i want to be able to carry it on a bike trip, preferably without wearing it, so i can get bike + gear on back / chest when i have to go around, over, or through areas where the bike cannot be ridden… including someday, floating out via pack raft.

    i’ve been looking at a home brew solution, but the image of you with that cooler on the back has my attention.

    1. The bag easily compressed flat to the frame, but that would still leave you with a roughly 14″ by 26″ package, which wouldn’t be the simplest thing to pack on a bike. If you unbolt one side of the belt from the frame you can remove the frame, break it down in half, and stow that in the bag, giving you a roughly 8″ by 26″ bundle, which could be strapped to a rack or something similar. The Unaweep would be a good choice for carrying a bike. The headtube could go in the bottom compression panel, and the Talon would hold the frame and wheels easily.

  3. Hmm…I had looked at these last year but was too cheap to buy one new to try it. Do you line the bag for packrafting? Or it is fully submersible w/o?

    1. I put key stuff in light drybags. I sealed the bottom seams to minimize water entry when it’s sitting in water in the bottom of my Scout, and the top seams to keep sustained rain out. During all-day drizzle, or when the pack is tied to the bow of my Yak (and not sitting in water ever) the VX-42 is functionally waterproof, but would still leak if thrown in a lake. Truly waterproof packs still strike me as a dumb idea, given the inevitability of pin holes (and the fact that if the latest HMG packs are any guide, interior seam tape doesn’t hold up well to repeated stuffing).

      1. Thanks, Dave. Figured as much. I’ve been toying with the idea of a frame pack because I like the versatility. Have you ever used a Naos or Arrakis? Heavy, but I’d be impressed if you could put a pinhole in one. I’m trying a Porter (since that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days), but still like my 40l Arrakis (which I got for $160 thankfully), because it can comfortably carry more than you can put in (and on) it and I like that I can remove the harness easily and stow inside when boating.

  4. […] of training long, multiday packouts of deer sized animals is totally possible with a pack like the Unaweep.  This opens up a massive range of possibilities.   For reference, the four bone-in quarters […]

  5. […] good as the Unaweep is, and every time I use any other pack I’m reminded at just how good and how versatile it […]

  6. […] Seek Outside Unaweep.  I haven’t used this pack much this year, but there have been quite a few occasions when I had something else along and wished I could zoom home and instantly swap packs.  Simply put the Unaweep is the reference for how a larger pack should carry and function, and anything I come up with or buy has to equal it in all ways and exceed it in some to be worth keeping.  That is not easy to do.  As detailed in the previous post I cut a few things off my Unaweep, and I’ve continued to monkey with different Talon panels, but having it in the closet as a dependable option for anything beyond a light overnight it always welcome. […]

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