Stone Glacier Solo bag, and homebuilt frame

The Stone Glacier Solo is a pack which had immediate aesthetic and ideological appeal. The reason is right up front in the product description: “A 3300 cubic inch bag fits all your ultralight 4-season gear and week of food.” 3300 cubes is plenty for a week backpacking in summer, even with a packraft, but the hunting and legit four season gear is bulky. The number of folks who could do a week with either out of 52 liters is fairly small, let alone both. The Solo is an ultralight pack not just because of weight, it’s minimalist design and modest size is built explicitly for the expert user. For a company to make it their flagship product (even if the newer, much larger packs sell much better) is a bold and laudable statement. Contrast the product description with this review, where “When the Solo was used on an overnight scouting trip, even though the shelter and sleeping bag were a bit more than required, an otherwise basic kit filled the bag.”  If you’re the sort of hunter whose overnight kit takes up 40 liters, this is not the pack for you, or rather, it will make a fine daypack.

R0010385Last year I bought a Solo bag used for a good price.  I’ve hunted with it on an encasement for the Paradox frame, which was extremely comfortable but aesthetically lacking (the Solo is 11 inches wide at the base, the Paradox frame 14).  I finally got around to building a frame specifically for the Solo which uses some of my all-time favorite frame concept and suspension components, while being sleek and trim in a way which befits the Solo bag.  Initial trips around the neighborhood have been promising, and I’ll likely hunt out of it next month.

R0010359R0010376The central attribute of the Solo is the load shelf, which allows meat to be carried between the frame and the bag.  This keeps blood off your gear, and allows you to use a smaller pack.  I followed the conceptual details of the Stone Glacier Krux frame, explained in detail here.

Two 26″ by 1″ by 1/5″ 7075-T6 aluminum stays form the backbone.  T6 is the only way to go with stays, and for this application 1/8″ is too flexy, while 1/4″ is too hard to bend.  The Paradox hipbelt is bolted directly to the bottom of each.  A pocket between the stays and the user holds a plastic framesheet and foam pad, which provide lateral structure and prevent pack contents from getting too pokey.

The framesheet/foam combo provides just enough structure, while still allowing the stays to flex and move individually.  In the top photo the stays look like they could be bent more towards my back.  I’ve yet to do so because there’s enough give that tensioning the load lifters bring them forward and creates a very pleasing springy and engaged load carry.

R0010377R0010378The tops of the stays fit into pockets at the top of the bag, and two straps attached to the bag (blue, below) thread into buckles on the frame (3/4″) to hold the stays up into said pockets.  This system is fairly simple, fairly easy to use, and very secure.

Grommets in the frame encasement allow the stays and belt to bolt together.

R0010373R0010372R0010367The Solo bag has a massive mount of compression straps, which for a hunting bag is not overkill.  The two lower side straps in particular are crucial to keeping heavy, slimy meat up high where the weight will carry best.

R0010371The upper two sets of side straps are sewn into the across-the-back straps as shown above.  This arrangement is very effective, it combines the directional compression of designated, sewn-in side straps with the versatility of compression straps which circle the whole bag.  The back straps reinforce the big main zipper, and near complete access can be had by only undoing one buckle.

The small top pocket is separate in volume from the main bag, and can be accessed completely when the compression straps are totally cinched.  Little details like this matter, and are a delight to see done so well.

R0010388I’ve only modified a few things on the Solo bag.  First I cut off the integrated load shelf/flap and relocated the cinch straps which hold the bag down on the frame.  I also swapped the load lifter buckles from 1″ to 3/4″.  I replaced the interior pocket, which closed with a velcro tab and let things fall out, with the green zippered pocket shown above.  Lastly I removed the ice axe loops.  Should I need to carry an axe I’ll put a bit of cord through one of the bottom compression buckle tabs.

My hope is that this pack will serve when I want a load hauler which is a bit sleeker than the Paradox packs I have and use (my load monster is huge, and my Unaweep has become a frequent loaner to friends who want to try it).  The Paradox frame is still my reference point both for effective load carry and for truly minimalist and ultralight design, but it does have at least one limit, the size and bulk.  It cannot for example fit into the cargo fly of my new packraft, which this pack can.

Hopefully I’ll have good, relevant news in a few weeks.

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11 thoughts on “Stone Glacier Solo bag, and homebuilt frame

  1. I have one of those, and took it a weekend trip in Monkman Provincial Park about 3-days long and for a week-long trip in Willmore. There’s enough room for autumn clothes and hunting for sure. Except there is one caveat. I barely fit enough food for Monkman inside the main bag. For Willmore, I ended up having to carry all the foodstuff in a dry-bag.

    The use of the load shelf for carrying food is something which get overlooked a lot in the reviews of the Solo. For winter backpacking or cold-weather hunting, I would look at north of 70L. Supposedly Luke Moffat said to accommodate 4-season gears and packrafting equipment for hunting goats in northern British Columbia in October or November, he had to utilize 140L bag with a Kifaru.

    I like the KRuX frame, but I would definitely upgrade to the Sky 6200 Archer just so I don’t have to load the food onto the shelf.

    1. Just glad that I experimented with the Solo over the summer to figure out what minimalist hunters need to do to make the system work. Could probably run it into end of October before snow settles in if I am like this guy:

      http://fwp.mt.gov/mtoutdoors/HTML/articles/2011/PortableElkCamp.htm#.Vdok4PlVikq

      The guy hunted out of a fanny pack. But again, he’s a former Marine Force Recon.

      But based on the logistics and personal preference, not a fan of storing food outside of my pack just to accommodate all of my gears. Much rather have them inside the bag for better centre of gravity.

  2. Dave, I’ve been seriously looking at the paradox pack for general backpacking and hunting uses. Bulk and size aside, is the paradox still a good pack for those activities?

      1. Tristan, a more complete answer now that I’m not on my phone in between diaper changes:

        The suspension of the Paradox is just fantastic. The hipbelt works extremely well, and the frame is good for super heavy stuff while being truly light and flexible. The design minimizes material, and thus weight, to an impressive degree without having to cut corners on durability. The extent to which it does both of these things so well is a truly impressive accomplishment, and to my knowledge no other pack comes close.

        The cost of that design is that with only one layer of fabric between your back and the load it does have to be packed carefully. This alone limits the appeal to users who only get out occasionally. For example, the Paradox is probably a bad choice for most midwestern big game hunters who rarely if ever backpack apart from an annual trip out west. Without a substantial body of prior experience they’re just not going to be able to load it well enough to get maximum performance.

        The outwardly spartan feature set and aesthetic reinforces this. I really like the simple lines on the Unaweep, mainly because I can see how the simplest to build solution was chosen for each design problem, something which saves the user lots of money. The Unaweep 4800 with a 26 inch frame, basic Talon, X42 fabric, and cobra buckle upgrade is 418 dollars today. That’s a heap of change, but you can’t buy a pack which works as well for less, period; and the only ones which sortakinda come close are sewn in Asia. To get something comparable which is also sewn in the US you have to spend 150+ dollars more.

        I nitpick the hell out of packs, and to that end I do prefer wider shoulder straps than the Seek Outside harness, and do take issue with the width of the Seek Outside from (in a few applications). Overall however the system is a total sleeper and deserves much more recognition than it has thus far gotten. Quite frankly, the only reasons I can see for it not having done so are Seek Outside’s modest website and marketing efforts, and more widely the preoccupation of most customers with fashion in a variety of permutations.

        Good luck with your pack purchase. If I didn’t enjoy experimenting I’d get the aforementioned Unaweep, a ~25 liter daypack with the features I want, and need no other packs ever.

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