I borrowed a couple of early frameless Go-Lite backpacks for our Skyline to the Sea trek. A bit risky to try new packs on a thirty-two mile trek, but we did load them and take them around the block once. It seemed worth it to drop eight and a half pounds from our combined pack weights.
The packs are really light, but not all that comfortable. On the last day, I put the pack on after lunch and had to stop and repack because it was fitting so oddly. I didn’t really get it right, but it was good enough. When you are carrying under twenty pounds, “not bad” is usually good enough.
My pack weighed 1.75 pounds, my son’s was 1 pound. Our starting weights (with water) were 30 pounds (plus 3.25 pounds of camera over my shoulder) and 20 pounds. We came off the trail three days later with 15 and 14 pounds (dry weight, add the camera).
The heavier pack is bigger, has mesh side pockets, a hydration bladder pocket, a top cap/pocket, and five compression straps instead of two. I’m used to packing a “black hole” pack, since I normally use a 1980’s Lowe Expedition, with no outside pockets, a top flap/pocket, two custom-bent aluminum straps for a frame, and ten compression straps. The big difference? When the Go-Lite is half full and you crank on the (few)compression straps, it turns into a cylinder with lumps where ever the stuff inside happens to be. Do the same to the Lowe, and it turns into a lumpy half-cylinder with a nice smooth S-curve where your back goes. Guess which one is more comfortable.
Since the Lowe is over four pounds heavier at six pounds, the Go-Lite mostly comes out ahead. The biggest annoyance (besides needing to pack carefully) was the pack carrying a bit heavy on the shoulder straps and requiring more back muscle. This gets worse when the pack is less full. I seriously considered jamming a couple of sticks into my pack as a frame, but I didn’t think it would really transfer weight to the hips. The last afternoon, my back and my son’s neck were a bit sore. That shouldn’t happen with such a light load.
I think the right setup (and what you’ll find from several manufacturers now) is something a lot like the 1980s Lowe, but built out of modern lightweight materials so it weighs only two or three pounds. I would have gladly carried an extra pound to get a frame and there is a good selection at that weight (2 pounds 12 ounces). Now all I need is some extra cash and another backpacking trek. And a lighter camera.