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.
Last 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
I’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.