Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Aarn Featherlite Freedom

I own a 2009 model Aarn Featherlite Freedom and for me it is an ideal pack, why I hear you ask?

Aarn packs are well known for their front Balance pockets which are intended to offset of the weight of the backpack and thus make carrying more comfortable, which in my experience is true. However, there are some subtle differences which make this pack better than some of the alternatives that I have tried.

Aarn packs will never be the lightest pack, they are a New Zealand based company and gear from NZ is renowned for its longevity. I first owned a Featherlite Freedom in 2005 shown below in Rondane National Park Norway. Yes I wore leather boots in those days.


Strangely though I sold it and experimented with other packs.

But in 2009 I returned to Aarn packs when they became available in Denmark. I played with and used the Marathon Magic 33 and then the Mountain Magic 55. In each case I was happy with the packs for their intended purpose but never really felt "at home" with them, upon reflection, it was the harness was not ideal for me. But don't get me wrong the MM 55 got me through 10 days in Lapland in 2010 and by the end of the trip I recognised the qualities of the pack and the way it carried a load.  However, I also recognised in my planning for a 3 week trip in 2011 that the MM 55  had its limitations.  Fortunately I came across a 2009 version of the Featherlite Freedom (FF) and immediately realised how well it suited my body shape.

Since the trip to Lapland in 2010 I have played with the pack and used the FF on a few trips envisioning using it in 2011 on my 3 week trip to Lapland. Following is my thoughts on the pack.

The Aarn Featherlite Freedom weighs in at 1860 grams which includes a tape sealed waterproof liner, removing the liner the pack weighs in at 1730 grams. The waterproof liner which, in my experience in prolonged rain works, has a central divider passing through it connecting the front and the back of the pack. The divider is intended to ensure that the load is spread evenly within the pack, on the 2009 model the divider is connected by a zip to the front of the pack, however, I find the zip undoes too easily as a consequence I have dispensed with the divider and the liner, preferring to carry Exped dry bags.

What makes this pack special to me is the hip belt and frame, the hip belt not only fits but is also shaped to fit the hip bones.  In the picture below note the curve on the hip belt indicated by the arrow the top half is padded while the bottom half is more rigid and the design is intended to enclose the hip, it works for me.  The reverse pull on the hip belt ensures that it fits snugly to the hips, providing an excellent support for the load and adjustments can also be made with the connection between the hip belt and the pack ensuring that the fit is completely dialed in.


The internal side of the hip belt consists of a fine matrix mesh (used here and in the shoulder straps) providing some padding however the padding is minimal which in my view allows the hip belt to fit.

The hip belt is also adjustable to dial in the fit around the hips, it is possible to buy 3 different size hip belts but more importantly once you have chosen the appropriate hip belt you can then adjust the location of the belt on the back panel to ensure a perfect fit.  Below is a photo of the hip belt "rolled over" to show the velcro attachments, it is possible to relocate the hip belt wings to the desired position to ensure a wrap around fit over the hip bones.



The frame consists of a single stay vertically in the centre accompanied by a U-lite frame around the circumference of the pack, these two items ensure a comfortable carry especially with the large pored matrix mesh on the back.

The back length can be adjusted, as shown below, thereby ensuring that the pack fits the user, I have also found that at times with heavy loads I actually adjust the back length for a more comfortable carry, then re adjust as the load decreases.



The shoulder pads area also made of matrix mesh and once fitted properly work well in reducing the pressure on the shoulders.


The Front Balance pockets are removable and as a consequence on recent overnight trips I have not used them, instead adding a set of MLD hip belt pockets, without the liner as well as removing the front balance pockets the pack weighs a respectable 1360 gms. The front balance pockets can also be used as a day pack and once connected together as shown below gives a 10 litre (or bigger depending on the size of the balance pockets) daypack or carryon luggage.




and the front view




There is a number of accessories available for the pack and in particular I like the Lasso Locs, shown in blue in the photo below, they enable the attachment of mats, tents etc to a number of places on the pack. They consist of clips that can be connected to strategically placed loops on the pack.


Lasso Locs connected to the Aarn Featherlite Freedom.

For me this pack, which is expandable with larger balance pockets to 75 litres, provides an ideal choice for someone looking for a framed pack to carry big loads or smaller loads. Its simplicity in the design, with its single bag construction combined with two outside mesh pockets makes it, for me, easy to pack and organise. There are clearly options for reducing the weight of the pack, but I find it so comfortable no matter what the load and as a consequence I feel no need to lighten it.


Ultimately the choice of pack comes down to fit, comfort and whether it meets the users requirements, for me when I put the Featherlite Freedom on, it fits, it is comfortable and I barely notice it being there, YMMV.





17 comments:

Ken Wahl said...

I envy you for having found you ideal pack but until I do, I'll still prefer using a slightly awkward 250gr pack to a perfect fitting 1500gr one. ;)

gauperaa said...

Nice overview of an interesting pack. Hope to take a closer look at it a future NOL meetup :)

joenewton said...

 Looks like a great pack for your summer trip Roger, especially when considering a potential 2 week stretch with no resupply.

nielsenbrown said...

Thanks Ken, yeah admittedly the Aarn packs are not for everyone, and really this is my load hauler, which I am happy to use all the time till I find a lighter 2 to 3 day pack.  a lighter 2 to 3 day pack. 

nielsenbrown said...

Thanks Thomas, hopefully we can organise a NOL meetup after summer.

nielsenbrown said...

I agree Joe, that is what I like about it, it is a good load carrier. I would still like to find a 2 to 3 day pack, I like the look of the HMG Windrider but I have been caught out to many times before with packs and now if I can't try it on most likely I want buy. Sadly this approach limits the choices here in Dk. buy. Sadly this approach limits the choices here in Dk.

Sol said...

I love my FF as well. No sore shoulders or what so ever.
Which exped dry bag do you use in particular? Cause the divider is annoying .

nielsenbrown said...

Welcome to the blog Sol,  I think the divider probably ensures a better carry in the pack, but for big loads, when the pack is full it is less useful. I use Exped Fold Drybags, though I also like the Seatosummt eVAC Dry Sacks and the Granitegear eVent Sil Drysack bags as they do allow you to compress the sack further. I would love to hear more about you experiences with the Aarn pack.

Sol said...

Hey,
Well I don't like it (the divider) at all, it kills some of the available space and it is not really needed imho . anyways, I forgot those event bags, maybe I get myself one of those. I was actually curious which size you use? 40 oder even more liters for the dry liner?

What else is to say about the Aarn pack:
It really takes a while to adjust it, but once it's done it is a dream.

Taking it on and off is also easy. Definitely the best pack for me so far. Absolutely no sore shoulders. And you don't look goofy wearing it. The front packs are really usefull, better than side or hip belt pockets.

Now we just need one made of Dyneema and no divider...

nielsenbrown said...

Hi Sol, I use two dry bags, one for the sleeping bag (13l) and one for gear (10l) I don't worry about getting a full size bag for the pack, most things can cope with moisture. I agree about the adjustment taking time and yeah you do look a bit goofy but I am comfortable so I don't really care. Lighter fabrics are always nice, time will tell.

Ken Wahl said...

I envy you for having found you ideal pack but until I do, I'll still prefer using a slightly awkward 250gr pack to a perfect fitting 1500gr one. ;)

Guy Laden said...

 Hello Roger, I wonder if I may bother you with a question regarding the Aarn pack? I've just purchased a Peak Aspiration and am trying to get the hang of it. One problem I'm having is with the plastic to which the hip-belt attaches to with velcro's. It significantly bends while I wear the pack fully loaded - there seems to pressure on it from the sides (i.e. the hip belt) which cause it to twist and bend. Have you experienced this with the Featherlight Freedom? I'm worried about damaging the pack and am wondering if I'm missing something.

nielsenbrown said...

Hi Guy. Thanks for your question, I have looked closely at the photos of a Peak Aspiration and at my FF, it seems to me they both have the same hip belt design. I am not entirely sure what you mean by "significantly bends" under load. I find when the pack is loaded the hip belt and the plastic to which it is attached bends around my hips and back and conform nicely making it a very comfortable load carrier. Note though there are two straps connecting the hip belt to the pack, these straps slide thereby allowing the pack to pivot as you walk. It may be that these straps are too tight (or too loose) thus causing the deformation. If this answer is not helpful, reply to this message and we can try and work through the problem.

Guy said...

Roger thank you for your reply. I will post a reply later in the week with a photo of what I mean wrt the bend in the plastic. Its quite pronounced even once the pack is taken off which didnt correspond to photo's I've seen (like the one in your post). Adjusting the straps connecting the hip belt to the pack does help but at the cost of limiting flexibility at the hips when I walk. Maybe its a matter of perfecting that adjustment.
I think part of the problem may be a too-large hip-belt (even after all adjustments) which changes the position of the plastic on the back as the belt slides down a bit. I will order a replacement and see if that makes a difference. Buying packs from overseas without being able to try on first is always a challenge.
But I must say that having tasted the hip/shoulder flexibility and the balance afforded by the front pockets I am very motivated to find the right Aarn pack for me / dial in my fit. Your post helped motivate me to give this a try and for that I thank you again.

Guy said...

Hi Roger, Here are photo's of the bent plastic. If you have any thoughts I'd be glad to hear.

Guy said...

Though I attached the images to my previous comment I don't see them in the blog. Are you able to see my email (I entered it in order to post the comment)? If you do see it, then if you are willing, perhaps you could drop me a line and I will reply with the images. Thanks, Guy

nielsenbrown said...

Hi Guy At the bottom of the blog in the copyright information there is a please contact me link. Send me your email address in that and I will reply.