How a packable backpack became the best hiking backpack of 2021
October 20 2021 – Kristin Shearer
Over the past year, Gear Patrol, Popular Mechanics, and HiConsumption put hundreds of backpacks through rigorous testing, ultimately looking for the best hiking backpack of 2021. Matched up against some of the biggest companies in the outdoor industry, in a competitive field filled with heavily-featured frame packs, the Beast18—a packable backpack—topped all three lists. Packability without compromise is something you'll hear us say frequently. And if this doesn't prove it, nothing will. This is the story of how a packable backpack came to be named the "Best Hiking Backpack of 2021" not once, not twice, but three times.
“Nobody cares about a 10% improvement. What if we went for a 10X improvement instead?”
This was our product development prompt for the new Beast18 and Beast28 packable backpacks. We cracked the code nearly 2 years after the expected launch date. All told, we were almost 3 years late to launch. Maybe we’re slow, or maybe that’s what it takes to build something that much better. Either way, it was worth the wait.
Traditional packable backpacks have two major tradeoffs: Structure, and durability. Solving for durability was pretty straightforward – we used the toughest materials and construction methods on the planet, even though they’re expensive. Adding structure to a packable bag, on the other hand, was an entirely different story.
Ordinary frame packs also have a few compromises: They’re heavier and the rigid back panel restricts your movement. They also don’t fit neatly in your luggage for those far-flung adventures. The flexible frame we developed for the Beast line of packs solves all the issues with both packable and traditional backpacks.
Ten times better. If a product is ten times lighter, ten times more compact, or ten times better by any estimated metric- we know we have succeeded. If it’s ten times better, people will need it. Developing a product that is ten times better is just as much about process as it is experience or expertise. Our product development team prioritizes performance over timelines, and it’s this dedication to progressive design and engineering that gives us an edge. In the case of the Beast backpacks, we needed more development time for over two years. Simply put- if we met our first timeline, we wouldn’t have come up with the best hiking backpack of 2021.
When we started the Beast program, there were real performance differences between packable and non-packable backpacks. For the second generation of the Beast pack, we set out on a mission to close the gap. We set packability further down our feature list, focusing on agility, weight distribution, and trail ready features first and foremost. We knew a backpack for our kind of people needed to be part hiking pack and part approach pack- moving with them, keeping weight close to the body, and carrying comfortably all day.
Over a year into development and testing, we narrowed in on a full hoop flexible frame suspension. With a traditional stiff hoop frame as our starting point, we refined the cross section until we had a frame that was stiff vertically, but flexible in a twisting motion. We tuned the shape of the hoop channel to reinforce these qualities, maintaining stiffness in some directions and enabling as much torsion as possible in others. Our flex frame is lighter and more agile than any other frame out there, but stiff enough vertically to carry weight effortlessly. We had all the makings of the best hiking backpack we had ever used on our hands- and our field test feedback confirmed it. There was just one more thing- packability.
For a stowing strategy, folding in half gave us the most versatility for fitting inside any luggage format, from rollaboard to top-load backpack. The same limitless torsion of the frame that gives us agility, also lets us twist the pack to order to fold it. We chose a specific stainless spring steel that could flex to stow and reset instantly when unpacked, while the engineered cross section and channel shape offer trail performance.
So how did a packable backpack become the best hiking backpack of 2021? Not by accident. We spent over two years using our experience to build the lightest, most agile, comfortable trail backpacks we could. We have found that with focused iteration we can resist the compromises that appeal to our competition. Much like our prototype field testers had predicted, the Beast28 and Beast18 packs have continued to impress real world testers and users. These packs are ten times better than any other packable backpack out there. In fact, they’re some of the best hiking packs out there, period.