Gear Review: Northern Ultralight Sundown
The Northern Ultralight Sundown is built for ultralight thru-hiking. It has a simple roll-top design that’s made to withstand the elements of the trail. One of a very few Canadian cottage-brands, NUL gives us a light and versatile pack that performs in numerous circumstances.
The Sundown Specs
Weight: 1.6 pounds (size medium)
Volume: 46L (36L in body, 10L in external storage)
Sizes: Four torso sizes; four hip-belt sizes available
Materials: X-pac on main body and 210D Nylon/Dyneema ripstop on outside features
Maximum Load: 35 pounds
MSRP: $255 USD ($336 CAD)
Circumstances of Review
The Sundown was essentially an extension of me this fall. I spent a substantial amount of time living out of it on dusty trails, wet trails, and everything in between. It came with me on the Wind River High Route back in August and on the Long Trail in September. Additionally, I used it on trips to Baxter State Park, Acadia National Park, and multiple times in the White Mountains.
Removable features: Hip-belt and frame system (two aluminum stays) are easily removed for additional weight savings when carrying lighter loads
External storage: Heavy-duty front mesh pocket and two roomy side pockets (fit up to three Smartwater bottles) that are reachable and feature compression straps to keep them tight
Front water storage: Shoulder water bottle attachment loops for front access
Volume reduction: Option to reduce the size into a daypack
Attachment loops: For an ice axe and stretch cord for hanging additional items
Add-on features: Additional storage options include hip-belt pockets (not overly large but big enough to hold a few snacks and phone) and a shoulder strap pouch. A compression Y-strap option gives users the ability to securely latch a bear canister to the top.
Design: The simplicity of a roll-top design with only necessary added features make the Sundown a highly functional pack. I found the no-frills design very user-friendly and the video that Northern Ultralight made going in-depth on the pack is a great tutorial. I had more than enough internal storage space in the Sundown and could fit a bear canister inside vertically. The side pockets provided enough space for multiple water bottles and the stretch cord was useful for securing trekking poles and other items.
Versatility: Versatility of any pack is highly important to me, and I really loved the adjustability of the Sundown. The volume can easily be increased by maxing out the main-body space for winter trips, or reduced by syncing the bottom together. For trips where I wasn’t carrying more than 15 pounds, I removed the hip-belt and aluminum stays for additional weight savings. All these changes were quick and easy to do. It’s pretty ideal to have a pack that can work for multiple kinds of trips.
Weight: Weighing in at 26 ounces for a medium as a semi-frameless pack, the Sundown is super light for how well it carries. I had a six-day food carry on the Wind River High Route, which put me at about 25 pounds fully loaded and the pack still distributed the weight really comfortably. Without the hip-belt or aluminum stays, the pack is about one pound.
Durability: The superb quality of the Sundown is obvious, especially over time. I appreciated the small details for added durability that this handmade pack included, like a reinforced bottom and heavy-duty front mesh. This pack is built to last for thousands of miles and I’m very confident it would. It should be noted though that overloading this pack (30 pounds or more) could age it quicker.
Fit: Maybe it was just my body type, but I felt like the shoulders were slightly too wide, even in the small-sized frame. So while it wasn’t uncomfortable by any means, it didn’t feel snug when I wore it without the hip-belt.
Not compatible with hydration packs: Hikers that like to use a hydration bladder will run into trouble with the Sundown. There’s no sleeve in the frame to accommodate one. Since I don’t use a bladder, it wasn’t a factor, but thru-hikers who use them during desert stretches will want to make note of that.
No Dyneema option: While I think the price-point of the Sundown is really fair for the design and quality of this pack, I’d also love to see a Dyneema option for increased weather-resistance. Obviously that would come at a higher price, but a favorable choice for thru-hikes that travel through wet environments.
Narrow shape: The narrow body of this pack isn’t atypical for ultralight packs. It keeps the pack sleek, which is really crucial on trails that involve a lot of bushwhacking. I’m on the petite side and really appreciated the shape, since most packs stick out beyond my hips. The shape does mean that you have to be strategic about packing bigger loads to prevent it from getting top-heavy.
Shipping costs: It’s important to factor shipping into the overall cost. Canadian thru-hikers normally take a pretty big hit when they have gear shipped to them from the US, sometimes as much as $50. Northern Ultralight is based out of British Columbia, so shipping costs $15 CAD within Canada and $30 CAD, or $22 USD for US shoppers.
Tight front pocket: I liked that the front mesh was tight, because that means it’s built for the long haul and won’t get stretched out over the course of an extended thru-hike. But, it does mean that at first things are tightly packed and a little tough to get in and out.
The Sundown is built with the ultralight thru-hiker in mind. Its simple design and versatility make it a fantastic choice for thru-hikers and backpackers who carry loads under 30 pounds. The ability to customize many features including fit and storage options at an affordable price make this a pack that’s built to last multiple thru-hikes.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400
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Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48L
$230, 1.1 pounds
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40L
$260, 1.9 pounds ($215, 1.3 pounds without hip-belt)
Disclosure: This product was donated for purpose of review.
Contributing photos: Emily Sawchuck
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