Elemental Horizons Kalais
Weight (manufacturer): 24.9 oz - 27.1 oz (706-768 grams) depending on size. 1.34 ounces (38 grams) for each pocket, 1.2 oz (35 grams) for the hydration sleeve, and 4 ounces (113.4 grams) for the aluminum stay.
Weight (tested): 27.38 oz (776 grams) for the medium pack due to a +1.41 oz (+ 40 gram) change to ACU material, 2.68 oz (76 grams) for two large belt pockets, 0.79 ounces (22.4 grams) for the water bladder sleeve, and 3.99 oz (113 grams) for the stay. Total = 34.84 oz (978.4 grams)
Capacity: 2580 ci - 3260 ci (42.2 to 53.4 liters) depending on size. Tested size medium = 2920 ci (47.8 liters)
Frame type: None included, optional pad or aluminum stay.
Price: $190 + options.
Price as tested: $269.97 = Pack stay, water bladder sleeve, and two large pockets added.
Most weight carried: ~ 40 lbs (18 Kg)
Owner height/weight: 68"/180# (173 cm, 81.6 Kg)
In 2009, after I failed to finish the Appalachian Trail due to injury, I started looking at things that I might want to chance from my hike. One of the things I was happy to have used was the Moonbow Gearskin as my pack. But one shortcoming I had with it was the fact you had to have everything ready to pack all at the same time in order to put it together. It wasn't a show stopper, but at times I wished I had a pack where I could put things into it as I had them ready when breaking camp. So one of the things I started looking into was a new pack.
A couple of friends have been using ULA packs with great satisfaction, and I got the chance to try one of them out. I was satisfied as well, so I got a ULA Circuit and hiked with it a couple of years. Some things about it were never quite satisfying, but overall I was happy. Early in 2012, I was looking at the BackpackingLight comprehensive gear review on backpacks, and I was interested in seeing how the ULA packs did since I've seen them all over the place. I was surprised to see that they were only rated as "average". I decided I would look to see what was rated at their highest rating, which was "Highly Recommended". That year, in that load range, it was two packs I was not familiar with: the Sixmoons Designs Starlite and the Elemental Horizons Aquillo.
Fast forward a couple of months and I am staying at a cabin at Amicalola Falls with Tin Man of Anti Gravity Gear, Awol the publisher of "The AT Guide", and a friend of Tin Man's: a guy name Matt. Matt and I were sitting in the cabin one morning, and he has this cool looking red pack sitting there he is going to use in a lecture he is giving on how to properly pack a backpack. I ask him if I could try it on, and of course he agrees. It is like putting on a coat and wearing it instead of strapping on a rock. I'm highly impressed and ask him what the make of this pack is.
His replied, "It is a new pack I am getting ready to put on the market. The Elemental Horizons Kalais."
Suddenly I realize this is the guy that makes the Aquillo that got the super high rating by backpacking light. Now I am very interested.
Every free chance I could get, I was over at his display looking at his packs. He showed me his modular pack accessories like bladder sleeves, hip pockets, and a special case for fly fishing stuff. He also showed me some swatches of optional materials in different colors and patterns, one of which was ACU digital camouflage. I was hooked like a ten-year-old wanting a new bike. When I got home, I had to convince Household 6 I needed a new pack...
The Kalais is made from 70d ripstop nylon that has a clear urethane backing,
unless you get the ACU fabric like I did, then it has a "blackout" urethane backing, and Dyneema X Gridstop fabric in the areas of high abrasion. To provide
in contact points, spacer mesh is used generously along the back and suspension
straps. The overall effect is not
only strong, but looks cool, especially in the custom ACU digital
camouflage. On a side note, you would be amazed how many people on the trail
asked me if this was something I used in the Army.
On the back of the pack, the hip belt, and the straps, spacer mesh is used to provide moisture wicking, which came in handy a few times. The pack straps are a nice 2.5" wide, ergonomically designed, and include load lifters. The hip belt is removable and is available in three sizes. Attachment points are on the outside of the belt for connecting Elemental Horizons modular accessories. The hip belt is an "X" adjustable system so that the top and bottom of the belt are actually adjusted in a way to conform to the shape of your hips. The top and bottom can be adjusted separately.
At the top of the back is a pocket for a pad. The pack comes with a thin sit pad which you can use, or replace with a thicker pad if you wish. I found the stock pad works great, and the access at the top makes it easy to get to when you stop for a break. I also found this to be a cool place to stash things (nothing thick) which you may want to keep hidden away.
I ordered the hip belt pockets and found them to be a very solid mount due to the clips that Elemental Horizons uses in addition to elastic straps, which is usually the only securing method for other manufacturers' add on pockets. These two clips do add a couple of extra grams, but in my opinion they are worth it. A real gram weenie could replace the clips with some cord or something.
On the outside, you have two side mesh pockets for water bottles. I honestly never use these sorts of pockets for water bottles. I use them to keep those items you may want to have handy access to such as rain gear, maps, bug spray, etc. The front pocket is big enough for a tarp and a few other items, and is stoutly made with a Dyneema X panel for part of the compression system, which attaches via a strap to help compress the pack top. Over the top of this front pocket is a lightweight bungee for attaching lightweight items, which I found a little too light for what I wanted to put there. So I replaced it with a draw cord and hook system which you see here. Another modification I made to make the pack work with my packing style was to add some cord loops for attaching pockets and water bottles.
On the sides of the pack, there are three separate compression straps to reduce the pack volume, which comes in handy for me when I am doing summer packing and my load is super small. The roll top closure system really does roll and close unlike some packs which try to have such a system that either halfway works as intended, or won't work right at all.
On the sides, there are attachment points for connecting other modular items like a water bladder sleeve. The same sorts of attachment points are inside the pack in case you want to hook a bladder into the inside of your pack, and the pack includes hydration tube ports to run a hose system through.
Inside the pack there is a good sized pocket to put a pad in to provide extra support, if so desired, and on top of that there are sleeves for the optional aluminum stay legs. I found the factory bend on the stay was already a perfect fit for my back (after I put it in the right way).
The pack comes in three unisex sizes, and sizing instructions are on the Elemental Horizons website and are easy to follow.
I was very excited to receive my pack hot off the sewing machine. This year, I had about 300 miles of hiking planned for April and May, and I wanted to put this new pack through its paces. Of course, the first thing I did when I it got to my home was take it apart and weigh everything. This is the point where I found my material choice had added a whole 1.41 ounces (40 grams) to my pack! For a gram weenie, this could be a major issue, but I am super stoked about the material. The standard stuff is 70D urethane coated ripstop nylon, which is some pretty stout stuff, but the digital cammo is a different material in that it is made with a black urethane "blackout" coating which, is slightly heavier. I also put it back together and put it on for the first time and thought "boy, this stay is going to take some adjusting". But I had put the stay in backwards. After I put it in right, it turned out the stay was perfect!
As soon as I had it back together, I was off to the Smokies despite the rain, for a preliminary over night hike. I loved it! There is a famous quote from Wayne Gregory, the founder of Gregory Packs, that goes something like this: "a properly designed pack is not carried, but worn 'Like a shoe'". Well this pack wore better than any shoe I ever put on. I didn't have it too loaded up, so I knew I would have to put it through its paces.
This April, I had the good fortune to get two weeks off work and had a plan to start where I last left off on the AT, trying to finish what I started on my failed 2008 thru-hike attempt. I've been working hard to rehab my ankle so I can hit hard trail miles without the stinkin' brace anymore. I planned to go through the Shenandoahs without getting off the trail for resupply, and I had no idea if I could do long days soon after getting on the trail. So I hit it with 6 days of supplies, my full three season gear prepared to go down to freezing snow, and a good attitude. It turned out I needed the snow gear too...
The first day, my starting pack weight was about 36 pounds with food and water, which is a little over the recommended limit for the Kalais with the stay. But that day, were were hiking to a dry campsite for the night, so about half way we stopped for water, where I added 2.5 liters of water to my pack, which upped my carried weight to a little over 40 pounds. I hiked that weight for about 5 miles that day and didn't notice any difference in comfort on my back. I did notice, however, that the hip belt would slip a little over time, which caused me to have to occasionally tighten it up a tad. During the rest of the hike, the weight continued to drop and my legs continued to get better. We did end up hitting snow and got "escorted" out of the park. But I kept on hiking. When I got to Harpers Ferry, I turned around and jumped back to where we left the park and finished it up. Unfortunately, the only picture I ever got of me carrying the pack only shows the straps.
A ~160 mile hike turned into about 175 miles, but no complaints because it was an adventure! My longest day in the Kalais was over 21 miles, including a part of the infamous "Roller Coster", and I loved every minute of it. I've got to say that though I've not tried as many packs as Will Rietveld, I've got to agree with his assessment that this is the most comfortable pack I've ever worn.
Now, as if that wasn't enough, I also did a couple of trail maintenance trips with the pack, including a 45 mile trip through the Smokies doing campsite cleanup, where I carried a shovel, pounds of trash, and other assorted things to be packed out. Temperatures were up into the 90s during that trip and I found the back panel to breathe very well through the spacer mesh backing, better than I expected. To date, I've hiked about 300 miles with this pack since I got it this year, and I cannot wait to take it back out. I haven't been this excited about a pack in years.
Saying I highly recommend this pack is an understatement. I should say:
You should get one of these packs now, so when everyone else is wearing them, you can say " I got mine before everyone else knew about them".
Someday, I can say I knew him when he was just starting. He is already being picked up by some of the best outfitters like Mount Crossings at Neels Gap. If you want to be able to say this, you better get in on it quick.
I cannot say how happy I am to have met Matthew Lagas-Rivera in Amicalola when I did, because I think Elemental Horizons packs are going to be the next thing that everyone "discovers". Matt is one of those pack makers that hikes his own gear. If you have heard me on this subject, then you know this is about the best thing I can say about a gear designer. It just plain shows through on the gear. Every detail in the strap construction as to where the curves of the straps ride around your shoulders, to the way the hip belt gets it just right. When you tighten it down, is like the pack was tailored to the wearer. Which is downright amazing considering there was no custom fitting done, just the standard medium. Add to that, the little touches like the accessory system, which is downright cool. You can add outer pockets, and since the system is so versatile, I can image other parts and pieces coming available someday. I even tried my hand at making some spare pockets, so I could add to my pack when needed for trail maintenance and such.
I'll add this in, too. I think the pack (even the ones that ain't ACU) looks cool. I'm not just saying that. Some packs these days look like duffle bags with compression straps on them and a suspension system. The lines of the Kalais are a pleasure to look at. I may sound hokey saying this, but this is a functional piece of backpacking fashion.
The only complaint I have? Well, I like an even smaller pack for trail maintenance, when I do those short day trips or summer overnight hikes. And yes, I could use this pack since it is light and can pack down, but I want to see one even smaller. So I asked Matt if he had thought of it, and, of course he said he has some ideas on the table. I hope to see one on my back someday, but I will wait. Matt is a pack maker that reaches the level of artist, and you cannot rush an artist...