The Ultralight Backpacking industry’s future began to change in January of 2016, when Brandon McIntyre (Stitch) and Ashley Thick (Good Lady) started designing a line of backpacks to fit their adventurous lifestyles. Today, they offer an innovative solution to their more-expensive competitors.
Handcrafted in a local Michigan basement, Superior Wilderness Designs is beginning to navigate uncharted territory. By using a combination of X-pac and Dyneema, their packs still offer the weather resistant properties of top-of-the-line packs without breaking the bank.
Although a handful of companies like Arcteryx and Topo Designs have dabbled in X-pac production, it’s not commonly used in mainstream backpacks. By stepping outside of traditional product guidelines, Superior Wilderness Design’s is making Ultralight equipment cheaper without compromising efficiency. And their end goal is to reduce the cost of customized packs even further.
What do they make? Why do you care?
One of the greatest draws to investing in a Superior Wilderness Design’s pack is their ability to customize each pack. They’re set up to hand make exactly what clients want. This means each pack will fit your torso perfectly, and you can add or subtract pockets and hydration sleeves. Plus the colors (which vary from a clean-cut white to bold teals and reds) are “pretty fun”, as McIntyre puts it. And the cost to weight ratio is one of the lowest in the UL market.
Depending on your needs, they offer a minimal frame by adding two removable aluminum stays on the interior. SWD’s use of X-pac makes their backpacks more abrasive resistant than many of their Cuban fiber/Dyneema alternatives. Manufacturing costs are cheaper, and the materials are more durable. They also use multiple grades of X-pac to reinforce areas of the packs that see a lot of wear.
If durability is a personal concern, they can make the entire pack out of a tougher material. And the weight difference is a marginal 1-2 ounces. Although they haven’t yet begun to navigate this territory, they could even begin to manufacture packs that could withstand climbing expeditions.
X-Pac As Defined by the Manufacturer:
Dimension-Polyant fabric is unique in that it is 4 layers laminated together instead of just one layer with PU coating. The layers of the VX styles are: C6 DWR water repellant coating, woven Nylon face fabric for abrasion resistance, X-Ply polyester yarn insert for bias stability and tear strength, clear film for waterproof and stretch control, and woven polyester backing for seam strength and durability. The WX and X-styles are similar to the VX, but have a clear polyester film backing instead of woven polyester, for lighter weight and lower price.
Our fabric is relatively more expensive than traditional PU coated nylon, but for its weight is stronger and lower stretch than anything else available, and is always waterproof (no PU coating to wear off).
The use of a multi-layer fabric guarantees the efficiency of the end product. Each layer is designed to offer specific, groundbreaking properties to the end users. This means that X-pac trims the fat by including only what’s necessary while adapting to include better features than current market products.
Compare and Contrast:
When placing Superior Wilderness Desgins in the same ring as Hyperlite, Zpacks, and Mountain Laurel Design’s, how do their packs hold up? Here’s a side-by-side analysis of several ultralight backpacks that use similar materials.
I selected these packs based on popularity and the likelihood that they’d be selected for a thru-hike. Using Superior Wilderness Design’s 50L Long Haul, Hyperlite’s 3400 Windrider, Zpack’s 55L Arc Blast, and Mountain Laurel Design’s 57L Exodus CF, I analyzed cost, weight capacity and pack weight to determine the pros and cons of investing in each product.
Interpretation of Data
Superior Wildernes Designs is right in the middle of the bracket, which is unreal for a company that’s been selling packs for little over a year. The Long Haul can carry about 35lbs, which makes it competitive in both the Dyneema/Cuban market (due to efficiency) and the UL Nylon market due to cost.
Hyperlite is the packhorse of UL packs. They manufacture awesome products for hikers who are beginning the transition into UL backpacking because you can still carry upwards of 40lbs without damaging the backpacks. But the pack weight is about two pounds, which isn’t a lot less than the ULA Circuit or Osprey Exos. For the financially savvy dirtbag, the $100 difference in packs might push them towards UL Nylon counterparts.
Zpacks sets the bar with an awesome pack-weight to load-capacity ratio, but the product cost is still high. Given the current market outlook on Dyneema, it’s not likely that the cost of those products will fall in the near future.
Mountain Laurel Designs does an awesome job of manufacturing light packs for a reasonable cost, but you have to be really efficient in your backpacking setup to be able to rock one of these packs. The weight capacity could make it hard to hike long stretches with a lot of water in places like the Pacific Southwest.
The reality of this analysis is that each of these companies has an area of expertise. Rather than competing with one another, they’re making UL backpacking more available, while challenging one another to adapt to the growing market. The backpacking experience is really specific to individual needs. For one hiker, weight capacity might be the most important factor. For another it could be the cost.
Superior Wilderness Design’s unique approach to weather resistance in a market where competing materials aren’t falling in price makes them a force to be reckoned with. Innovation allows them to fit in with the most elite backpacking companies after little over a year of operating. While a pack from any of these companies would be a treasure, Superior Wilderness Designs is bringing some earth-shattering properties to the outdoors market.
The masterminds behind the operations commented that they hope to continue to expand Superior Wilderness Designs’ product lines. Although not much is available online just yet, they’ve begun experimenting with tarps and hope to design tents in the near future.
Note: The views expressed in the above article are those of the author and not necessarily TheTrek.co. Superior Wilderness Designs did not compensate the author in any way in exchange for this review.