Seek Outside Unaweep Divide review

Disclaimer: no way around it, I’m biased as hell about this pack.  Seek Outside gave it to me for free, and it is based in small part on feedback I gave on previous Seek Outside packs.  Beyond that, I like the folks at Seek Outside a lot, and they’re always a pleasure to talk to.  That said, I know they wouldn’t want me to hold back when discussing their work, so I’ve done my best to give all aspects equal weight.

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I think the Seek Outside Unaweep Divide 4500 (hereafter, the Divide) is a damn good pack.  For a lot of people, and for a lot of uses, I think it is one of the very best packs money can buy.  It is also one of the best values to be had in the pack world, when one takes weight to function into account, and especially if one cares to enter the fact that it is sewn in Colorado into the equation.  I have a number of small complaints concerning the Divide, but overall it is a nearly mature product.  When a fully dialed feature set is added to the existing stellar suspension, the Divide will be a remarkable backpack.

I discussed the dimensions and features of the Divide here, so if necessary peruse that before proceeding, as familiarity will be assumed.

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The shockcord cinch on the side pockets has been one of my favorite features.  It is dead easy to loosen a pocket, get something out of it, put it back, and cinch it down, all with one hand while walking.  The pockets can be cinched very tight to provide security while bushwacking.  They do need to be a bit bigger, and a bit taller on the non-user side.  When the main bag is really stuffed full of hard objects (like a rolled up packraft), fitting a standard 1 liter nalgene is a bit harder than it ought to be.  But overall, A grade on these.

Historically I haven’t been a huge fan of mesh pockets, but the Divide one isn’t bad at all.  it’s big enough for plenty of clothing, a wet mid, or even a pair of crampons.  The shock cord cinch closes it securely.  I go back and forth on this feature, on the one hand I want it taller, broader, or both, or even replaced with a big bellowed zip pocket.  On the other it works fine as is, and much of the time I could do without it at all.  The mesh has stood up to abuse very well, including being hauled up a few chimneys with crampons inside.  No real complaints.

The lash straps below the mesh pocket I also have mixed feelings about.  It’s not really a good place to put much, besides a foam sleeping pad, and I can’t imagine anyone actually carries a bear can there.  On the other hand they are removable, potentially handy, and extending the mesh pocket longer would be a likely invitation to overstuffing.  My one sustained quarrel is with the metal bachelor buckles, which require tension to stay put when not in use.  I’ve replaced these with Kuiu hook/carabiner buckles that stay hooked when loose, but can be detached when tying on something bulky.

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The bachelor buckles on the compression straps I like, but they need a small modification to work ideally.  They great because they detach like a quick release, while being unbreakable and being much shorter.  This last is important because it gives the compression straps more travel, and allows the bottom of the pack to be pinched off completely when hauling meat while hunting.  The downside is that they unhook when loose, which can be a pain.  The solution, seen above, is to sew a slightly greater than 1/2″ loop into which the buckle can hook.  It will still come loose, but only with enough effort that it is never accidental.

The harness, hipbelt, and frame are the same Seek Outside ones I’ve been raving about for years, and the last few months of trips have only reinforced my enthusiasm.  It is an external frame, insofar as the frame is outside the bag, and in that the frame doesn’t give or flex under load, and can thus support whatever your muscles and will can.  At the same time, the frame flexs with the body when necessary, and is wide enough that the load wraps around your hips, and is uncannily stable.  In most places there’s only a single layer of fabric between your back and the pack contents, the result being that the Divide is below 20 pounds second only to frameless pack when it comes to dynamic stability, and at 25 pounds and above is the most stable, body hugging pack I’ve ever used.  It is, to put it mildly, counterintuitive that the same pack which can haul out a deer in one load can also stick to you while downclimbing 4th class choss, but the Divide does exactly that.

I do dislike the way the load lifter and top strap buckles are sewn into the same bit of webbing, with some slack between them and the frame.  This is intended to introduce some give into the unyielding frame, which makes sense, but on the rare occasion you need to tighten the hell out of the both the top strap and load lifters the result is an irksome tug of war.  I cut and resewed the load lifters to remove this source of conflict.

Having a 21″ torso, I’ve been running my pack with 2″ extensions cut down to 1.25″, which gives me just a bit of additional lift for heavy loads.  25.25″ isn’t as good as the full 28″ of my Revolution frame when it comes to straight hauling, but it’s a good compromise that ensures I never have to fiddle or adjust anything, no matter when the trip.  At this height the frame is still tucked up against the bag quite seamlessly.  I recommend anyone with a torso of 19″ or greater order 2″ extensions with their Divide so they can experiment.

Other details and complaints are minor.  The X42 fabric is tough as, and the olive a nice low profile color I like (though it sucks in photos).  The lack of a white interior scrim makes it a dark hole of a pack, and finding stuff at the bottom can be a chore.

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The tapered packbag is one of the more inobvious strong points of the Divide.  Volume increases exponentially as you fill it further, which means that a bag barely filled to the top of the frame (top photo) is a much smaller one than the same bag stuffed full.  In short, the Divide accommodates both a full load and a partial load quite well, with minimal sag and flap.  The tapered bottom panel, which slants both in and back, does a fantastic job of sliding off ledges and snow, and adds to the climbing prowess.  I do wish the bag were just a hair (2-3″) taller to provide more overload room, and that the rolltop stiffener was stiffer.  I prefer to clip the rolltop to itself, which is faster and cleaner then using the side straps (which I remove).  A stiffer closure would make it easier to get a good seal when the bag is close to max volume.

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The Divide isn’t a sexy pack, unless your definition is centered around spare lines which cede nothing to anything but function.  But it has that in spades, which makes it equally suited to backpackers of all stripes, hunters who prioritize weight, and semi-technical mountaineers and canyoneers who need both load carrying and agility in the same package.  All the bad things I can say about it are pretty minor, and for personal trips this spring I’ve used nothing else, which I suppose is all the endorsement I need to give.  Because of its spare elegance and above all versatility, it is probably my favorite pack, ever, or at least thus far.

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13 thoughts on “Seek Outside Unaweep Divide review

  1. Accurate review. I carried the first iteration Divide last season and found myself reaching for it over my ULA packs almost every trip and for every load (ultralight or otherwise) simply because the suspension is such a pleasure. I’m now carrying around a 4800ci Fortress bag on the Revolution Guide frame with 4″ extensions and am even happier. I carried out a ~300lb spring bear over a few trips a few months ago with it—it really is true that it carries as much as you can. I had hip-belt pockets made by Chris Zimmer in the style of ULA but with Xpac and waterproof zippers. It makes the pack (minus the slightly tight side pockets) nearly perfect.

    Do you feel significant differences with the Revolution and new Divide?

    1. The Revolution is different only in that it’s optimized for a taller frame, and has the two horizontal stays to prevent barreling. The one horizon cross stay helps in the later case with the Divide, but the Revolution is still better. Otherwise I think the stability is just about the same. I used the Revo with a homemade bag for a skirafting back in March because the Divide was a hair small, and was able to ski 35 degree stuff no problem.

  2. Kevin and Luke over at SO are really awesome people. Very generous with their time, and for people selling a product, very honest in helping you choose what is best for you.

    1. Main difference (aside from Talon v mesh pocket) is bag shape. The fortress bags are the same diameter all the way up, while the Divide is smaller at the base.

      The Divide is better for folks who will be carrying a partially full pack often (easier to keep the weight higher) while the Fortress is better for consistently large loads and especially for the versatility that the Talon provides for awkward load hauling. You can run a Talon on the Divide, it just take two extra buckles and some fiddling.

    1. If you buy a Unaweep or Divide today you might end up noticing that the roll top closure is stiffer and more weather tight. The bottom frame retaining system has also recently become a little more sleek and strong, but that was all Luke’s idea.

      Other stuff still in the pipe. We’ve got more (good!) ideas than we have time or resources, so its a matter of picking focus and making sure those projects have enough field time to be appropriately tested.

  3. Any updates on a pack with a bit of top organization and a good water bladder solution? Any thoughts on the new Gila 3500? I came across an older post on a pack that you made with a top zip map pocket and a partial zip closer, any further improvements to that? I’ve been using a Osprey Exos 58 for the last year and don’t love it. Hip pockets are too small, too strappy, venting is nice but can be squeaky. Here’s my wish list:
    60-68l- something large enough as not to have to strap items to the outside, but still compressible
    Not to tall that I can’t fully look up
    frame that moves with me
    water bladder compatible or even better accessible for the outside
    Functional belt pockets that don’t get in the way while hiking, enough space for 8×30 binos or small camera
    a little organization for small items, maybe like a Talon or your map pocket, but not so much that I lose things
    Xpac- Never had an Xpac pack but like the idea of waterproof and durable
    good to great back venting for my sweaty ass
    35 to 45lbs load range, Im often lighter but have delusions of packrafting and longer trips and maybe hunting
    streamlined and silent and not to strappy
    2.5 to 3lbs or so

    possible candidates:

    Divide or Unaweep, maybe Gila
    Flex Capacitor
    Exped Lighting
    Chenault Custom Pack?

    1. Thanks for checking in Scott. My argument against making any Unaweep-based pack smaller than 4000 cubes has always been that with the 14″ wide base of the pack bag anything smaller gets too thin. Anything narrower than 6″ limits what you can put in it, though when the load fits that skinny of a pack carries great.

      The Lightning, Flex C, and Divide (or Unaweep 4800) all fit most of your criteria. In a SO pack frame height for head movement will depend on your height, if you have a torso less than 18″ the Divide and a 24″ frame will give you better head space. Both packs will come up a bit short on organization, but the frame is burliest of your options and would obvious transition well to hunting. The top pocket on the FlexC is ideal for little, pesky things like maps and headlamps. The fabrics of the Flex C are cheaper than Xpac, and I think I’m fair in guessing less high performance in truly bad conditions, but probably equivalent the majority of the time. The Exped has the little above the harness stash pocket, which is very effective, but there version is in my book a little short. 9″ is a good length for good usability, though more is better.

      In short, if you envision being towards the high end of your load range often, get a Divide. The Flex and Lightning are pretty similar, though I think SD makes the more polished product, so that choice comes down to preference over opening method and compression.

      I have a few new things I’m testing this fall, though sewing has taken a back seat to learning about home renovations and auto repair. I hope to have some new ideas in public form by late winter.

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