PRODUCT REVIEW: PBD Ultralight So-Lite 50 Dyneema Backpack

After a busy spring of work and house projects, my wife and I decided it was time to stretch our legs and get in a backpacking trip. Unlike the West Coast or Rocky Mountain states where epic backpacking opportunities abound, the East Coast is fairly limited if grand views and varying terrain and ecosystems are your thing. What we have is a lot of tree cover with break out views here and there. I think our time on the John Muir Trail and the Colorado trail spoiled us! Regardless, we packed our gear and headed off for what is considered a "crown jewel" of hiking in the east: Dolly Sods in West Virginia. We had been there before, but wanted to explore it once again. 

Since this is a review of the pack, I wont get into the trip, but suffice it to say, the weather was absolutely perfect! high 60s during the day, mid 40's at night, abundant sunshine and a light breeze. What a great weekend!

This was my first real test of the So-Lite 50 and I was looking forward to putting it through its paces. The one I tested had the optional carbon support frame to allow it to carry heavier loads comfortably, but since my pack weight for the weekend was only about 23 pounds, I did not need the frame but left it on anyway. 

While packing, I was really impressed with the storage feature of this pack. The rear mesh panel swollowed literally everything I could stuff in it: Water filter, rain jacket, head lamp, toilet bag, etc. I was also super impressed with the double side pockets. This pack features HUGE side pockets for water bottles, but then has pocket "skins" made of lycra mesh that allow you to stuff extra things such as snacks, etc. Each side pocket easily holds 2 smart water bottles, so there is tons of storage that you can access while you hike. Because water is plentiful in Dolly Sods this time of year, I opted for one water bottle and then put my hammock tarp in the other pocket so I could deploy the tarp first in the event of rain (which they were calling for on Sat night). The outer skins held some snacks, hand wipes, etc. I loved this set up way more than my Gossamer Gear Mariposa that I used on my AT through hike. The internals of the pack are simple. Its literally just a big dry bag, so I stuffed the rest of my gear in there (no need for a pack liner as the pack is waterproof already) with plenty of room to spare. The internal storage is 35 liters, the outer pockets and rear mesh pocket making up the balance of the 50 liter total capacity. There was ample room in the main body for my hammock, stakes, quilt, underquilt, stove, clothes, puffy and fleece layers and food. I even had enough space to put my camp shoes in the pack instead of hanging them, but still chose to lash them to the outside. All in all, it made for a very tight and compact set up. I was anxious to get it out on the trail!

We arrived at the sods and I threw the pack on my back. I was immediately impressed by the comfort of the shoulder system. It was literally as if the pack weighed half what it actually did. I could easily have opted to not use the removable hip belt at all. Admittedly, the sternum straps come from the manufacturer in a ridiclous location, very high up the shoulder straps so the sternum strap wants to choke you to death, but it is super easy to relocate them to a lower molly loop, which I did and this made the pack fit like a glove. 

The waist belt was super comfortable and the optional/removable waist pockets were perfect for my phone and some snacks. However, my biggest complaint of this pack relates to the waist belt. First off, I ordered mine in the largest size they offer and I only have a 35" waist. Still, the waist belt only wraps just past my hip bones, leaving the straps very long. I much prefer a bit more padding wrapping my waist so I would probably want to have them make a custom belt to a size I specify (something they will happily do). The other complaint I have about the waist belt is that the buckle seems really small and frail, not up to the task of holding the pack to your hips. Sure enough, about 10 miles in, the buckle began to pop loose periodically. After returning home, I ordered an aftermarket buckle from Sea to Summit which was a 1 minute fix and actually upgraded the buckle system to a failsafe unit I can trust. I will say, the comfort of the hip belt was outstanding. Because the hip belt features a top and bottom strap on both sides, you can independently yoke the hip belt to your hips and conform it to YOUR hip profile very easily. This was a way better set up than my Mariposa and allowed for a fit that resulted in no "day 1 hip flexor pain" I am used to when I have not bakpacked in a while. 

The pack rode beautifully as well. I had no hot spots and it fit like a day pack. The back panel did not feel hot or confining. Even though this pack does not feature a trampoline like so many packs these days, I did not feel the need for one. Air flow was superb. The best compliment I can give this pack is that, if I were to do the AT again (and I have designs to do the northern 700 miles this year and next as a series of 3 week section hikes), I would choose this pack HANDS DOWN over the Gossamer Gear Mariposa...and I LOVED that pack on the Appalachian Trail, never thinking I'd find one I liked better. I just loved the way this pack rode, the comfort of the shoulder straps, the fact that it is Dyneema and therefore waterproof and the super smart storage features. 

Sure, there are other Dyneema packs out there from companies like Z Packs or Hyperlite, but I felt really good supporting a small cottage company who absolutely will NOT sell out to having his stuff made for him in foreign countries. He pays his seamstresses here in the US and makes sacrifices to stay a100% American-Made product. And the field testing and R &D that went into this pack shows. Quality stitching, smart design and well thought out features mean that it is a pack I will be using until it wears out at which point I will order another!

If you want to watch our video review of the pack, check it out on the product page!