User Review: Mountainsmith Mountainlight 4000
Number of Pockets: 1
Max. Load Carried: 35
Height of Owner: 5'10"
Price Paid: $295
I picked up the pack the day before yesterday. It came without any packaging or instructions. Luckily, I kept a Xeroxed copy of a prototype Mountainlight brochure (with fitting instructions) that a woman at Mnt.Smith sent me 6-9 months ago after much pleading. I found the instructions (Mt. Smith should really include a copy with the pack!) and proceeded to work on the pack. I opened it up, played with the buckles, Velcro, straps, zipper, etc.
I ordered a red pack. I guess they can only ship green at this time. The green isn’t the usual Mnt.Smith green. It's more of a teal. But, what does that matter anyway? Maybe this new green is lighter :-)
The pack is well made, and, I believe, very well thought out. Whomever spearheaded the Mnt.light project at Mnt.Smith has done a great service to lightweight backpackers--in at least getting things going in the right direction. Don’t let them stop here. Other designers/manufacturers need to get going on this now too!!! I can’t believe Dana is still making 4-6 pound packs. (Are they still making their "Technora" Arclight?)
Anyway, the pack! Just as I expected, the pack is minimalist. I hope other packmakers will take notice and follow suit. Seams and zippers are minimized. Seams are taped, zippers sliders have pull loops. They use a very "big" zipper. I wonder if they could’ve saved even more weight by using the same type of zipper Wild Things uses on their Andinista pack. I’ve never had a zipper blow out on mine! The MtL 4000 has double lightweight-webbing reinforcements in vulnerable and high stress areas on the top and sides; areas where compression straps pass through, and lash-down points for sleeping pads and such. They didn’t have a scale at REI, so I haven’t been able to confirm the pack’s actual weight. I’ll take it to the Post Office today.
The pack bottom is double reinforced; two layers of their special light-weight material. By the way, what’s so special about this fabric Mnt.Smith claims to have exclusive use of? It just looks like a lighter weight Cordura to me. I’d like to know the whole story. The pack bottom is not one piece - there is a seam running the circumference of the bottom of the pack. A design necessity I guess. At least the pack will sit up when loaded. Maybe something they wouldn’t have to do if the pack was a top loader. A top-down view of the pack reveals a "D" shape to the pack’s design; with the flat section of the "D" against one’s back. This is even more pronounced while viewing the pack from the bottom.
The urethane coating on the inside face of the fabric looks great, was applied well, and is thick. However, I’m not taking any chances - I think the pack would leak like crazy in a moderate rain…I also bought their Raincover II.
In typical Mnt.Smith fashion, the pack has little webbing attachment things and plastic rings all over it - on the waist belt, on the back of the pack - for the multitude of heavy accessories Mnt.Smith offers. Now why would someone spend all that $$$ on a state-of-the-art lightweight pack just to put a bunch of weighty, convenience oriented accessories on it? It makes no sense to me. I’m considering cutting them off.
There is some redundancy in the yellow bungee department. The pack has Mnt.Smith’s signature yellow bungee permanently attached to it. But, at the same time, the pack also come with a "beaver-tail"/Tramp/Velcro-pocket sort of thing (removable) with another yellow bungee on it. I took it off. I probably won’t use it. However, since the pack is a panel loader and has no top pocket for those little things you need on the trail, the small pocket might be convenient for a knife, TP, lighter… Mnt.Smith also offers a Larger "Tramp pocket" made out of the same light-weight material. But, I think you could drop the weight of the pack another 5-8 oz. by cutting the accessory attachment points off and leaving the stock Tramp pocket at home. ***BTW, why didn’t they make the ice axe loops removable? Or just offer 1 instead of 2? This isn’t a mountaineering pack! …or is it?***
The only thing I REALLY don’t like about it is its shape. It’s the goofiest damn thing you’ve ever seen. The pack is so darn tall and narrow, it makes you look like a Dr. Suess character when you have it on and it’s fully loaded, and I’m almost 5’11". I ordered the same size pack for my wife - 5’6"…The thing’s going to tower over her. The problem is that when the pack is only partially loaded, it still towers over your head because of the stays. Why didn’t they make it a 3500ci top loader?! That would minimize seams even more as well as eliminate the zipper. We’re only carrying 20-25 lbs. of light-weight/low-volume gear with us: Feathered Friends Swallow bags, Bibler I-Tent, Titanium stove and pots, etc… I checked the Wizard…I like the size, but I can’t justify the weight! What do you need all those zippers on a 3500ci pack for?
So, for the first day I had the thing I seriously considered sending it back because it looks so goofy when you have it on. However, after going back to 4 outdoor shops here in Anchorage, and once again reviewing their selection…I came to the conclusion that there’s NO WAY you’re going to find a pack of this quality, construction, comfort, and carrying ability for so little weight!!!!! The thing is like a feather - no kidding! So I figure the way the pack looks is a small price to pay for functionality. Perhaps next year Mnt.Smith will introduce a 3000 panel loader or 3500 top loader. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but it seems that the top loading pack design is inherently lighter because of fewer seams and lack of zippers!
I tossed exactly 30lbs. of weights in, laid top to bottom against the back and held them in place with some pillows, to fill out the rest of the pack. The pack seemed to ride well, both on the hips and shoulders. It didn’t flop around due to the compression straps and the adjustablility of the suspension. However, I think you’d get some flop if the pack was only partially loaded. I’m taking it out on an overnighter this weekend - up to the Reed Lakes, Hatcher Pass area of the Talkeetna Mountains. Just a short trip, I’ll probably have 30lbs. in it.
I am having slight difficulty getting the pack to ride exactly in the small of my back. But I think I’ll be able to correct it. So far, the pack prefers riding on the front of my hips (good) and the top of my butt (bad). Perhaps I’m just built weird. My 17 year-old Lowe Expedition has always fit this way. My Mnt. Tools Enchilada, however, snugs up perfectly into the small of my back.
Belt system is similar, but not identical, to the Wizard. The 4000’s is even more simple, if you will. I figure if you’re hauling 35-40lbs. then this pack is not for you. However, if you’ve applied the "lightweight backpacker philosophy" ruthlessly, and you are able to keep your total load down to 18-25 lbs. (pack weight, food, water, fuel, etc. included) this is the right tool for the job.
The shoulder pads are thin, but appear adequate for the size load I’m expecting to carry. I don’t expect to have any problems with dreaded "shoulder pad roll" due to the minimized weights we’re intending to haul. The fabric used on the underside of the shoulder straps has a cottony hand to it - much better than Cordura nylon against the skin. The straps are plenty long enough for a large torso. One thing I REALLY like about the suspension is the mesh covered foam channel system that rests along your back on either side of your spine! This seems to be a very successful design!!! With 35lbs of weights, pillows, pack…the loaded pack rode very well, suspended off my back via the two mesh covered foam pads creating the channel. Very comfortable! Lots of ventilation!
The rest of the suspension is as you would expect from a Mnt.Smith pack, except that everything is lighter weight webbing and those carbon fiber stays (COOL!!!). The suspension appears to have a lot of adjustabality, covering a broad range of body sizes. The lumbar pad has a small triangular patch of Hyplon (I think) sewn on it to prevent the pack from slipping.
So, after inspection and consideration…I like the pack. I’ll keep it! I figure it will be a very good three-season backpacking pack. I don’t think I’d consider using it in the winter or on a mountaineering trip. Maybe, after some experience with it I’ll better understand its limitations and test it under different situations. But for now, it’s only for summer-time backpacking.
I think it's the best thing going by far. But the design can still go further. At least someone’s heading in the right direction! I’d prefer the same pack as a 3500 or 4000 toploader!
THE GOOD: Featherweight, successful suspension design, comfortable when used within its intended hauling range, effective.
THE BAD: Damn thing looks funny; narrow and tall, towering, might carry poorly when partially loaded.
Let me know if there are any particulars you want to know about or anything I missed. I’ll give you a full report on how it carries this weekend.
P.S. I took it to the Post Office to weigh it. Mnt. Smith advertises it as 2lbs 5oz. I weighed it at 2lbs. 13.9oz.!!!