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Sunday, April 10, 2011

First Impressions: TrailLite Designs Singletrack Pack

First Impressions: Traillite Designs Single Track pack

In the current market of cottage industry UL packs, the low volume multi-sport day pack is often overlooked and underdeveloped- far too often day packs materialize on shelves in the form of oversized floppy stuff sacks with some silly daisy chains tacked on the back and a pair of rudimentary shoulder straps- little if any attention is given to how the contents fit and ride inside the pack. No secret, there is an established heritage of lightweight multisport/adventure based packs from the likes of: Salomon, Inov8, Golite, Nathan, Osprey, Gregory, Ultimate Direction, Terra Nova- these are mainstream companies with years of development and feedback from wearers. What is currently available in the cottage industry for those looking to support the "Made In USA" small guy? Not much...nada. Where does that leave those of us looking for a multi-sport day use pack amongst the cottage industry makers? Seemingly left to Google search and pick your poison amongst the fray in the day pack market, or peruse the REI walls.

Enter the Single Track pack (Prototype 1) from Traillite Designs. Contributing Backpacking Light.com member Thom Darrah has been working up ideas for a sub 10oz. UL multisport day pack geared toward day hikers, trailrunners, adventure based outings, and other off pavement pursuits. The multi-sport day pack is a difficult corner of the pack world, unlike a traditional Jardine derived UL backpacking rucksack, the demands and feature requirements of the multisport wearer will vary tremendously for such activities like: trailrunning, day hiking, mountain biking, scrambling, ultramarathons, SUL overnight mountain raids, bc skiing, to name a few- making a single pack that can meet many of the needs of such a wide variety of users is no easy feat.

Is the Single Track pack successful? Too soon to tell, but it's looking promising.

"Run Report":

I recently took the Single Track pack through the paces on a short 7 mile early morning trail run along one of my daily trail routes to see how it rode- running is such a repetitive activity and a great revealer- inadequacies and weaknesses in your body's bio-mechanics and in your running kit (shoes, clothing, socks, shells, packs) are brought to light in short order.

Typically, for a run shy of 15 miles, a single handheld water bottle or two is sufficient for year round trail running in the desert for me. The Single Track being a 850-1200 ci. pack would likely be a pack that I would save for trail marathons, ultramarathon distance runs, and long day hikes. So for this short initial run I simply loaded up the pack with a typical kit I'd use for a trail race, but for reference, these items could very easily assume the role of items many of us take on a nice day hike.

Giddy up.

IMG_2714 - Version 2

Early morning light breaks over the top of Tortugas Mountain, my local go to run route, a generous title considering Tortugas 'Mountain' only gains just shy of 1K in elevation from the base, however it is prominent and offers great technical trail running within city limits.


Corridor into a series of switchbacks that gain footing up the West face of Tortugas Mountain, brief but steep, they expedite heart rate elevation off the bat

IMG_2728 - Version 2

The short pitchy climb is rewarded with great views of the Organs- early morning runs are what it's all about.


This is one of those sections of single track that makes running effortless.

Pack profile

In atypical fashion, I stopped mid-run for several minutes to do the Single Track pack justice and share some of the simple but functional features of the pack for this post. Aesthetically speaking, it's one sharp SOB if that's of concern to you, the stealth Xpac cloth making up the entire body of the pack has a nice low key matte finish to it and should provide most importantly, durability! Let it be known, a 7-mile run is obviously to brief a window to really comment on the durability of the pack, but having used other day packs with flimsier materials with no ill effects under normal wear and tear- FWIW I'd have no concern of the longevity of the Single Track pack with it's current Xpac body.

Pack profile

Key Features:

- compact asymmetrical design
- dual side bottle pockets with mini-cord locks for retention
- internal hydration bladder sleeve and top exiting hose port
- genius single pull compression cording
- large rear pocket
- slender main pack body for load stability
- simple webbing belt with quick release buckle
- spacer mesh shoulder straps w/ daisy chains to attach accessories
- black pack body *for stealth SUL mountain raids or urban graffiti missions
- RiRi waterproof zipper
- Xpac material for durability and weight savings
- sternum strap
- haul loop

Shoulder straps

Shoulder straps make a pack

The shoulder straps are superbly made and comfortable. Christopher Zimmer was the craftsman behind this pack, responsible for formulating Thom's ideas into a tangible object of UL desire... well you know what I mean. 3D spacer mesh lines both sides of the curved shoulder strap, sandwiching a layer of Xpac in between- I think this is generous, perhaps too generous, as some weight could be saved here as well as decreasing material surface contact with the body by only using a single layer of 3D spacer mesh. The shoulder straps attach to the pack body pretty straight forward, however there isn't a flaw in the construction and Chris was diligent in hiding seams and disguising the building process- it's clear that durability was the prevailing goal in the project.

Shoulder pocket

Cute handy little shoulder accessory pocket...yeah I said cute, what!?

Simple webbing runs down the middle of the shoulder strap for attaching accessories and pockets, of which are in the works according to Thom. The accessory pocket on the Single Track prototype I received is clever, attached with 2 short runs of cord and a mini-cordlock per cord to cinch up wherever the wearer prefers on the shoulder strap. The accessory pocket has 2 compartments, one front open pocket for gels, phone, compact camera, and the 2nd compartment is a RiRi zippered pocket for ID. I found the design to be slick, however the dimensions were a tad to small, all my items took some effort to get in and out. Accessing items required me to stop which isn't ideal in a "fast and light" pack geared toward forward momentum. This should be addressed, perhaps a stretch mesh outer pocket with a simple cord lock top closure for storing gel wrappers, sunglasses, camera, Clif bars etc. that would accommodate more items on the go with minimal effort while running or hiking.

Bottle holsters

Upright bottle sleeves hug each side of the Single Track pack, accommodating standard 20oz. and 26oz. bottles, 2 standard Aquafina bottles fit as well if you're of that ilk. Mini-Cord locks run through a collar at the top of the sleeves to secure the bottle while moving. I'm a handheld user for trailrunning, this is the easiest way to transition at aid stations and refill bottles quickly and painlessly, hydration bladders suck IMO in most cases, so the option to use both bottles or hydration bladders should make everyone happy. One glaring issue I found was that the construction of the sleeve was so spot on, the tolerances were just too tight and made loading and extracting a bottle a two handed operation that required more effort than my lazy arse cared to expend at the time- this did wonders for my confidence that I wouldn't lose a bottle however.

Compression system

No two compression systems are alike, this is definitely the case with the Single Track- single pull compression held my Houdini in place just fine on the outside

The compression system on the Single Track is nifty, single pull via the bottom of the pack stabilizes the entire pack load, compresses the items in the rear stuff pocket, as well as providing tension on items lashed on the outside of the cording. It's a fast compression system that doesn't require any thinking. I dig it.

Loaded items

Not items I typically take on a 7 mile run in early spring, but this kit simulates what I take for a longer run upwards of 15 miles in the mountains

Gear list items in pack on this run:

- x2 Ultimate Direction kicker water bottles
- Patagonia Houdini windshell
- Pata Capilene 3 zip shirt
- pair of socks
- Defeet gloves
- x2 GU gels
- electrolytes (in tube)
- Canon S21400is compact camera
- Petzl Tikka XP2 headlamp
- ipod nano + headphones (currently playing the heaviness of the new Mogwai album)

I'm not a scientist, in fact I'm horrible at math, so I'm going to spare you the postulating on volume and dimensions. I'll sum it up to this: it's big enough. If you're going out for a short hike or extended run and need to throw in a windshell, lightweight insulation piece, liner gloves, headlamp, carbs, hat, camera, FAK, rattle snake anti-venom, SUL tarp or bivy, 40oz. of Steel Reserve... this pack has you covered for day use and for the savvy kit assemblers, could even do a SUL overnight, perfect for that personal epic.

loaded pack triptych

Triptych showing all items loaded up and ready to go

The pack is clearly compact and svelte, however I had difficulty filling up the entire pack body even with my ample running kit, leaving a small void in the pack that was 'floppy' towards the top, which leads to my biggest issue with the Single Track pack as a trail running pack, the bounce factor. I had to cinch tightly down on the shoulder straps and secure the sternum strap snugly to maintain a smooth ride while running, but this didn't completely address the issue. This is where fully developed running packs shine, in the harness system, and also where the Single Track pack needs to be further fine tuned in the next phase of design. I was able to slip my full hand under the shoulder straps as they bounced on the flat sections of trail- where pack bounce was most pronounced. I find this to be the only real glaring disappointment amongst a stellar piece of kit. I didn't enjoy wearing the webbing belt while running, so I cannot comment on if or how much the belt would improve the pack movement.

Pack carry

Pack rides nicely high on the back as it should, however accessing bottles while running was impossible for me, this is a stop and go sort of pack in it's current state


Running along Deer Trail on the E side of Tortugas Mountain, sunlight starting to fill in the creosote, ocotillo, and mesquite bush of the upper stretches of the great Chihuahuan Desert.


A super highway for the desert dwellers both two legged and four.

Thoughts, remarks, suggestions, and feedback:

- The Single Track pack is veering towards becoming a "Double Track" pack, pun totally intended. The pack is slightly confused on it's intended purpose- Is it a trailrunning dedicated pack or is it a day hiking pack? Is it a multi-sport pack or is it a SUL overnight pack? All of the above? I still don't know, it has potential for all areas and all kinds of users. I think it could serve many purposes with some tweaking.

- The shoulder straps are a thing of beauty, but the harness as a whole system needs work if this pack is to be suitable for extended trail running and brisk day hiking. It's all about the ergonomics, which is why many available hydration packs are designed and worn like a 2-point upper body hugging harnesses resembling a brassiere... embrace the support! A heavier load would've easily offset the bounce I noticed, but running with a fully loaded day pack just isn't something I do often.

- Accessory shoulder pocket dimensions are a touch too small- increase size and volume

- Xpack material is excellent, not the lightest solution, but durable

- Some hardware could be pared down to save a minimum amount of weight without compromising durability

- Construction is flawless!



  1. Glad you dropped me a line and I found your blog. Thanks. Great photography! I look forward to following along.