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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.