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.
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.