Frameless Packs – Fitting and Packing

I recently bought my first frameless backpack, the Mountain Laurel Design Prophet 48L.

I was always very hesitant to get a frameless pack since I have an autoimmune disease that affects my spine, pelvis, and hips. I thought I needed the frame of the backpack for support. However, the draw of saving 1 whole pound on my base weight was too good to pass up, so here I am.

Pack Choice and Fitting

When I tested out frameless packs I quickly learned that they can actually work very well for someone with back problems. That’s because they can mold better to your back and give a more custom fit. This will not work with everyone with back issues since everyone’s body is so different, but this worked for me. My best advice would be to go to a gear shop and try some packs on. Put some weight in them, walk around the store, and get a feel for what you like. Make sure to measure your back correctly and get a pack that is sized properly to the length of your back. 

I decided on the Mountain Laurel Design (MLD) because they make ultralight packs around 1lb, for 220-250$. They also have Dyneema Carbon Fiber (DCF) versions for an added 55$ with better waterproofing and durability. They are so well made and have very responsive customer service as well. I added on a shoulder strap, mainly to hold my cell phone, and a hip pocket that is basically like a mini fanny pack where I keep snacks and tp. 

How to Pack a Frameless Backpack 

One of the most important considerations when moving to a frameless backpack is how you will pack it so that it maintains some sort of structure. Most people will tell you to use a loosely rolled foam sleeping pad so you can stuff your things in the middle and have that frame created by the pad, but I found a new way to pack.

  1. I start by putting my sleeping bag and tent in my backpack first, towards the small of my back. This works for me because I use a Dyneema tarp tent that’s soft and it doesn’t use tent poles. The sleeping bag and tent are soft but firm and the crevasse between them cradles my spine perfectly.                                                                                                   
  2. Then I stuff my rolled-up sleeping pad away from my back which holds the sleeping bag and tent in place and helps create the form of the pack.                                                                  
  3. Then I stuff extra clothes down in the crevices to firmly pack the bag from the bottom up.                                                                                                         
  4. Towards the top, you’ll need to put your more frequently used items, food, layers. Try to keep the softer later towards the back of your head for comfort. 
  5. Make sure not to put anything hard like your pot/fuel or electronics near your back, keep the softer stuff there. This has worked brilliantly for me.

When you are done packing up, a good test to observe the weight balance of your pack is to stand it on its end to see if it leans and falls in a certain direction. If it’s leaning or falling backward, it’s likely to pull you backward as you walk. This will make you off balance and create worse pain and chafing on your shoulders. As you can see my pack stands straight and is well balanced, although with water on the outside this can be an issue. I try to keep the water reservoirs inside to be better balanced, but it’s something to pay attention to. 

Overall, I would fully recommend at least trying out a frameless pack to see if it’s for you. And don’t think you need a foam pad to make it work. It’s a great way to save a lot of weight and so you can be lighter and happier during the day while hiking – that’s what this whole thing is about anyway, right?


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Comments 2

  • Pete Schiller : Apr 15th

    I have a herniated disk in my lower back, so my initial thinking was that I needed to go with a pack that has an internal frame, so most of the weight will be carried on my hips. Like you, I found the weight savings of a frameless pack too good to at least not give it a try, so I recently bought a Gossamer Gear G4-20. I haven’t gotten out on the trail with it yet, but one positive aspect already is that it has forced me to take a hard look at everything I was considering taking on a thru hike, so that it was within the weight comfort range for a frameless pack. I also intend to carry a Bearikade Blazer bear canister the length of my anticipated AT SOBO hike later this year. I just don’t want to deal with the hassle of properly hanging a bear bag every night. I’m thinking that the Bearikade will provide structure and weight transfer to the hip belt, much like an internal frame would do. I’m just waiting for my Bearikade to ship.

    My base weight starting out will be under 12 pounds, and is a very honest and complete base weight. My plan is to put my quilt and sleep clothes in the bottom of the pack, the Bearikade centered on my spine, my NeoAir XLite vertical in one corner against my back, the fly and struts of my Tarptent Notch Li in the other corner against my back. Vertically in the outer corners of the pack I’ll have the Notch interior and my polycro groundsheet. It seems like that will keep the bear canister in place where I want it to be. Hopefully that’s not too much of a hassle when packing up. The many remaining odds and ends will either be in an outer pocket, or on top of the bear canister, but it doesn’t amount to much in terms of volume.

    I looked at the Prophet, and it seems like a great really pack, but with the Gossamer Gear discount that can be found by listening to “Backpacker Radio”, the G4-20 is a bargain. I also like the blue of the G4-20.

    I hope the Prophet works out well for you. I’m looking forward to testing out my G4-20 on a 3-4 day trip in the White Mountains, prior to starting the AT.

    • Yvonne Fochesato : Apr 26th

      Some good comments about a pack. Getting ready to make my first purchase, great things to think about. Good luck on the trip!!


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