Gear Review: The Atom+ from Atom Packs

As I planned my PCT thru-hike, I held off on upgrading to an ultralight pack, opting instead to do this in the USA. I waited so long because my research showed that there just wasn’t a well-established brand in Europe providing what I was looking for. The ultralight gear movement in the US is more mature, with a good few players who understand the fundamentals of how to make a good thru-hiking pack. It felt like European manufacturers had missed this niche.

So when a member of my trail family recommended I check out Atom Packs, a UK-based gear company specializing in custom ultralight packs, I was immediately drawn to the Atom+ — an adaptable, lightweight pack that’s modular enough to be comfortable on a day hike, weekender, or getting you across the country on a thru-hike.

The Atom Packs Atom+ At-a-Glance

Image via Atompacks.co.uk

  • Volume: 40 or 50L. Our review model is the 50L pack
  • Weight: Starts at 20.5oz (580g) including the hip belt. Mine was 26 ounces (736g) for a 50L XL torso with the hip-belt & pockets attached but drops to 20 ounces (570g) without the hip belt.
  • Suggested maximum carrying capacity: 30 pounds (13.5kg).
  • External pockets: Two large side pockets, elastic Dyneema front and bottom pocket, and dual stretchy shoulder pockets.
  • Compression straps: Front zig-zag elastic, side compression straps at the top and across the side pockets.
  • Fabric options: VX07, VX21, LS21, 210D Robic Extreema
  • MSRP:
    • 40L: £245 ($326 at time of review) for the base model
    • 50L: £265 ($353) for the base model. Atom is currently doing a special promotion on a 50L Robic Atom+ for £215 ($290) here.
    • Additional customizations are priced as per the website or, for more extreme customizations, drop Tom and the team a line and they’ll work with you to design the pack to your liking.

Who are Atom Packs?

The Atom Packs Workshop

Atom Packs is a cottage gear company based in the Lake District in the UK. It was founded by Triple Crowner Tom Gale, a professional mountain leader with over 12,000 miles under his feet. This custom gear company has built itself a great reputation over the last few years, with over 1000 packs shipped to customers that are hiking their way across many of the world’s best trails.

When buying from Atom Packs, not only are you supporting the cottage industry community, but you’ll get a product bespoke to your needs. Packs are made to order. While there are base models that can be easily ordered through the site, customizability is where Atom Packs shine. Whether it be custom colors, materials, pockets, or other features, you’ll get a personal service and feel like you’re designing the pack in partnership.

Conditions of Review

This pack had 250+ miles on them before we started to ink our review. I have taken the Atom+ on half a dozen multi-day hikes, including the Serpentine Trail in the South Downs, a section of the Norfolk coastal path, a loop wild-camping in Dartmoor, and a few days rambling in the Peak District. I’ve also been on a number of long day hikes as the COVID situation changed in the UK.

Features of the Atom Packs Atom+

Removable hipbelt: One of the biggest features of this pack is the removable hipbelt. Removable hipbelt pocket loops are standard on all the packs so that the pockets can also be added or removed depending on the conditions (note that these cost £20 extra per pocket). The removable three-inch hipbelt is held in place by strong Velcro.

I found it a bit of a challenge getting the hipbelt on and off but if you take a piece of cardboard and slide it between the hipbelt and the pack it’s much easier to remove. This also allows you to position it better to ensure it is centered when putting the belt back on.

A very generous roll-top closure helps for those times you need to pack out a bit more trail food.

Main compartment: The main compartment featured a roll-top closure with snap buttons to help with alignment. The compartment opens tall, which enables you to overfill the pack if necessary. There is then a single strap that clips over the top of the pack. The inside of the pack is minimalist with no internal pockets apart from a sleeve where the carbon fiber frame loop and a 5mm closed cell foam back panel is housed. These can also be removed for further weight savings.

External pockets: The pack features two deep side pockets large enough for two 1L Smart Water bottles, two shoulder pockets for phone or snacks, a bottom pocket, and a large stretchy front pocket.

The front stuff sack is great for layers and items you need through the day.

Compression straps: The side pockets and top sides of the bag have elastic compression straps that help keep your weight close to your pack and help secure items like tent poles or water bottles that are external to the main body of the pack. There are also compression straps across the front pocket that can be used to secure bulky items (like chips) or to air dry your pants and socks.

Ice axe/trekking pole holder: An ice axe loop, which also doubles as a trekking pole holder, helps you keep all your gear in one place and ensures that you don’t accidentally leave your poles in someone’s trunk after hitchhiking.

Sternum Strap: The pack features a height-adjustable elasticated sternum strap.

I opted to change the top strap to a Y strap for when I carry a bear canister.

Customizability: One of the hardest things about writing this review is that pretty much everyone’s pack will be slightly different—a great feature in itself! Not only are the materials customizable, but you can swap in and out features to your liking. As an example I upgraded the strap over the top of the bag to a Y strap for the odd situation I’ll be carrying a bear can. My torso is also slightly longer than the largest size so the pack was made slightly longer to accommodate this.

The Positives

The bottom pocket makes for great accessible storage and adds to the toughness of the bag.

Accessible storage: This pack has plenty of accessible storage. There are two large side pockets, shoulder straps pockets, removable hipbelt pockets, and a bottom pocket, all usable on the move. The cavernous hipbelt pockets hold just under a liter and the side pockets accommodate two 1 liter Smart Water bottles each.

I love the design of the shoulder pockets. The super stretchy horizontal design makes it easy to stow a phone, GPS, or snacks in a super accessible location, keeping you on the move.

The bottom pocket: My favorite feature, though, has to be the bottom pocket. I find myself using it the same way I used to use the front stuff pocket on my previous packs, but I don’t need to set the pack down to use it.

There is also a trash port on the opposite side of the main opening of the bottom pocket, which helps you quickly get rid of a candy wrapper by poking it through this small hole. In addition, both the bottom and front pocket use a custom woven elastic Dyneema made specifically for Atom Packs. This adds extra toughness to the Atom+, helping it last longer.

The Atom Packs Atom+ being used for a fast and light adventure.

Modular design: This pack is an all-rounder. With a removable hipbelt and back panel, my pack can drop to about 1.2 pounds (550g) for when I am doing a day hike or weekender, yet with the hipbelt it is good to carry 30+ pounds comfortably for a thru hike. It doesn’t ever feel too much, yet is easily capable of performing when I need it to.

I could see this pack performing really well on a trail like the PCT, where a hipbelt and extra pockets would be helpful in the Sierra, but could probably be ditched in NorCal/Oregon where long water carries, snow gear, and bear cans become less of an issue.

Personalization: This is a pack with a lot of options to match your hiking style. With all packs made to order, they can be built exactly how you want them. I really like that you’re able to choose the fabric of the pack—unlike a lot of cottage companies that typically choose one fabric and stick to it.

Our packs are in trusty Robic Extreema, which is durable yet lightweight. However, if I were to go again I would probably use Xpac due to its additional waterproofness.

The Drawbacks

I found the removable hip belt pockets sat too far back and became a hindrance when full.

The hipbelt pockets: I’m not the biggest fan of the VPAC hipbelt pockets that come as an optional extra with this pack. For one, I think they are in the wrong place and I find my arms constantly brushing the stiff VPAC fabric as the pockets sit more on my hips than across my front as I’ve had on other packs. Secondly, I know this sounds odd, but I find the zippers too loud. At times I have felt like a Morris dancer as I jangled down the trail.

A plus is that these pockets are detachable. I only add them to the pack when required. My advice would be to buy the pack without them, and add them on if you are short on storage—the Atom+ comes standard with the hip belt pocket attachment loops so they don’t need to be ordered alongside the bag. With the shoulder strap pockets and bottom pocket, you may actually find you don’t need them. Alternatively, you could opt for a fanny pack instead.

Long lead times: As all these packs are made to order, the lead time on packs can be quite long. The small issue of a global pandemic forced the workshop to close for a few months. Combine that with Atom Packs’ skyrocketing popularity, and you’ll understand why the current lead time is around seven weeks.

Should I go for the Mo or the Atom+?

The Atom Packs Atom+ (left) and the Atom Packs Mo (right).

We reviewed the Mo here so take a look at what we thought about the Mo first.

While the packs look very similar, we think the choice will ultimately come down to how much weight you are planning to carry. If you think you’re going to frequently be putting more than the suggested recommended load of 30 pounds, then the Mo will be much more comfortable. On the other hand, if you are looking for an all-rounder and have your gear honed to a lighter base weight, the Atom+ would be our choice.

My Verdict

The Atom Packs Atom+ is the bomb for anyone who’s tuned in their gear and is looking for a dynamic, light, robust pack. Every detail on the pack feels well thought out, and you’re able to dial in the pack to your exact specification through boundless customization.

The pack can get expensive with a lot of modifications, and the lead times currently are long. But once it arrives, you’ll have a piece of kit on your LighterPack to make you the envy of fellow thru hikers. The pack has become my “no thought required” go-to for any trail, no matter the distance, due to its versatility, ruggedness, and weight.

Shop the Atom+ here

Comparable Packs

Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50

  • MSRP: $240
  • Weight: 30 oz (medium)

Read our review of the Gorilla 40.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400

  • MSRP: $310
  • Weight: 30 oz

Read our review of the Windrider 3400.

LiteAF 40L Curve

MSRP: starts at $265

Weight: 15-26 oz (size and hipbelt-dependent)

Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 40

  • MSRP: Starts at $259
  • Weight: Starts at 27 oz

Read our review of the Long Haul 40.

This pack was donated for the purpose of review.

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    CK : Nov 30th

    Stop promoting their packs, the wait time is already long enough!

    I kid; super pumped for atom packs finally getting the recognition they deserve.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Joal and Jenny : Dec 1st

      Haha! you’re so right CK! My hope is that as they get bigger the lead times get shorter 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Gabriel : Jan 27th

    Great review Joal and Jenny!

    Found your guidance on Mo vs Atom+ particularly helpful. What’s your views on the 40L Atom+ for a longer distance hike, such as the PCT? How do you find the 50L Atom+?

    Many thanks in advance

    Reply

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