Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) ‘Core’ Backpack

Getting ready to unpack my MLD Core 22l backpack.

Greetings Adventurers!

Back in February of 2016 I ordered a Mountain Laurel Designs ‘Core 22L’ backpack for use as my primary summer backpack – it was my first backpack from MLD and it will not be my last – quickly fell in love with this backpack!

The MLD Core is offered in two different volumes, a 22L (1300ci) and a 28L (1700ci) volume – I went with the 22L knowing that I could get all of my gear into it and about three days worth of food. YMMV.

One really has to ask themselves what the targeted market is for a backpack as simple as the MLD Core. Let me try to share my thoughts on that.

It is a pocketless backpack, something few hikers like – but something I have been promoting for years.

A 10 mm (0.39 inch) waist belt is included, which is super easy to remove, and is only 14 grams (0.49 oz) but I have never used mine.

By default (as of 2017) the Core does not seem to have any external compression straps, or straps of any kind sans the rolltop/ice axe straps, though they have added this as an option it seems. I custom ordered mine without any straps or compression of any kind.

In the world of backpacks, the MLD Core is a niche of a niche.

In the world of big milage hikers a backpack without side pockets and a front mesh pocket is mostly an unthinkable.

Even in the world of ‘day packs’ not having side pockets is an unthinkable – all the yuppies out there have to have somewhere to put their heavy aluminium water bottles after all, eh!

So why buy, and use as a primary backpack, a backpack that does not have any side pockets or a front mesh pocket?

Because I do not need side pockets or a mesh front pocket. Ok, sometimes a front mesh pocket can be nice, that I will agree too!

Thing is… I have never owned a backpack that has side pockets that I can reach pack into and grab/put stuff. This is not a fault of the backpacks but because my arm just does not contort in such a way. For me to get something out of a side pocket I have to take the backpack off. So why even have side pockets. I sure do not need them just for the extra volume, this backpack is already big enough for my needs. Better to just have the gear inside the backpack and zero out the chance of losing the gear, and zero out the chance of getting the backpack stuck on bushes, trees, cactus, and all the crazy ferns I have to bushwhack my way through when I am out building new hiking routes, which makes up about 95% of my time out hiking.

A pocketless backpack is traditional narrower too. This makes it better for moving fast. Don’t believe me? Take a look at most of the Ultra Trail Running vests/backpacks on the market. They tend to be narrow and tall. I like narrow backpacks. It affords me the ability to move quickly through the underbrush, it means more pack load weight directly on my spine, and I just prefer the feel of a narrow backpack. If you order the Core with the Extra Sternum Strap option, only 8 bucks, it adds a second sternum strap that can be used to help control bounce when running, and I have done my share of trail running with my Core 22L. While it may not offer the stability of say a UD PV Vest, at a smaller 16L volume, when it comes to being a running backpack, the MDL Core can handle things well enough if you get it loaded up right for your body. I highly recommend getting the extra sternum strap if you want to do any trail running with the Core.

So who is the MLD Core designed for? Should you buy one? That answer really all comes down to if you like a pocketless backpack or not. The market for 20-24L backpacks is pretty small, and getting smaller each year it seems. These days one almost has to go with a Trail Runner pack/vest in order to get into these volumes. The MLD Core checks off almost all of the must-have features for those of us that went a pocketless low volume backpack that can handle the day trail, the long trail, and even the occasional trail run.

If you are the hiker that wants/needs side pockets and a front mesh pocket, consider going with the MLD Burn.

The MLD Core 22L can spec out to around a low of ~150 grams (5.3 ounces) depending on configuration. Compare that to the 16L volume and 377 grams (13.3 oz) of the UD PV Vest, or the 38L volume and 370 grams (13 oz) weight of the MLD Burn.

Over the years that I have used backpacks like the MLD Core (including the zpacks zero, zpacks xs zero, ultimate direction vests, etc) there have been two questions that have been the most asked.

Where do I carry my water?

The answer to that is simple.

Three different ways:

The first is in my hand. As somebody that gave up hiking poles, years ago, and made the switch to either the single Zpacks staff, or nothing at all, this frees up my hands for other things. It might seem strange to carry water in your hands, but some of the top ultra trail runners in the world have been using handheld water bottles for years. I personally use a UD Jurek Grip attached to a 20 oz (591 ml) hard bottle, which they no longer offer and now offer it attached to some strange shaped and smaller 600ml bottle. RunBikeRace wrote about the Jerek Grip a number of years ago, also giving it high praise. When I do not feel like carrying it, I just toss it into my backpack. Easy huh.

The second option includes tossing a couple of water bottles, or bladders, into the backpack itself. Big whoopie do there too, huh. There always seems to be this stigma against doing this, and I have never ever understood it. Treat the weight of the water the same as you do your food (probably your heaviest thing in a backpack of this size) and place it where it should be placed to handle load weight distribution.

The third method involves using a waist belt of some kind designed to carry water. For me, this use to exclusively be the Zpacks multi-pack, which I co-designed with Zpacks specifically to hold three of those smart bottles bottles. More recently I have come to find it nicer to wear the Ultimate Direction ‘Groove Stereo‘, and while it cannot hold as much water, it gives a far superior level of comfort, plus a way to have items in the back and the front, such as my wind pants, wind jacket, sun gloves, and my iphone if I take it with me.

By combining together the UD bottle/Jerek Grip, plus the UD Groove Stereo, I can carry upwards of 60 oz (1.77 liters) worth of water without any of it ever adding to my backpack load weight, thereby allowing me the ability to reduce the bearing load weight of the backpack itself. Any water beyond that can go inside of larger water bottles inside the backpack.

The second most popular question I get about these small volume backpacks is:

How do I fit all my gear into it?

This second question has always made me scratch my head.

I suppose the average hiker looks a backpack this size and thinks it is a day pack or something. But many an experienced long distance hiker has been out on the trails, for years, with pack volumes of under 25 liters. While the 35L volume is a bit more desired for long distance trails, that is not always the norm.

You can always check out the video below of my gear setup, in which I used the MLD Core, as an example setup.

Simply put: the average hiker carries way too much crap with them. Eventually one has to discover that it is about ‘what do I really need to have‘, not ‘what should I take with me‘ or ‘what do I not need‘ – both of which are steps along the way of reaching a small pack volume. Most of us started our first hike with backpacks of 40 pounds, if not more. We eventually work our way down into the 20 pound range, and feel so good about ourselves. Some folks decide to push things further and get into the teens, that is where you start learning what you do not need to take with you. The rare few decide to take things further and discover for themselves what they really need. At that point, you have reached the point where a backpack like the MLD Core 22L becomes a backpack for you.


The price of the Core backpack, when I bought it was only $93 bucks.

Since that time, MLD has added the ability to order it without the straps, almost like my configuration, and dropped the price to only $85 bucks!!

Given the price of so many other backpacks these days, and the use of Dx fabric, that is a pretty sweet price point.

The aforementioned UD PB Vest will hit your wallet at $169.99

The Zpacks Nero will cost you $200 bucks — granted it is twice the volume and features, but currently their smallest volume backpack.

Are their lighter and less expensive backpacks in the 22L volume size on the market? Sure, but not a lot, and probably not with Dx fabric and the amazing build quality that you get from MLD – you just do not hear/see people complaining about anything from MLD, be it their backpacks, shelters, quilts or bivvies. They have what is probably the best reputation in the industry, and have been in the cottage industry since the very early days.



Here is a brief video (~3 minutes) that I did while out on a recent hike, that goes over the basic features, which is pretty much as talked about above.


Here is a video showing my gear loadout on a hike, using the MLD Core 22L, back in September of 2016.

Where To Buy:

You can buy the MLD Core backpack directly from the MLD website:


In Closing:

At $85 bucks, the MLD Core 22L backpack is a steal. No joke. In this day and age of backpacks (granted, waaaay larger) that are $400+ bucks, a sub $100 backpack is just, well, wow.

In the end, a Mountain Laurel Designs ‘Core’ backpack purchase comes down to needs, likes, wants. Do you need a backpack that is only 22/28 liters? Do you like a pocketless backpack? Do you want a streamlined & featureless rock solid backpack?

I ordered mine in the Wasabi Green Dyneema X fabric. I love it. Not my first backpack made with Dx fabric, and it will not be my last. In regards to the option of going with DCF, that one I will leave up to you. I like this Wasabi Green colour and a trash compactor bag is a hell of a lot less money than the extra $40 bucks for the DCF.

If you are a hiker that fits into that needs/likes/want category, and really want to know what I think about this backpack, after having used the vast majority of backpacks in this volume size, I would have to say this little MLD Core 22L ranks at the top of the list of ones that I have used.

If you are a day hiker that just happened to stumble across my website, and you are just looking for a small little pack to toss somethings into, and you are not one of those folks that wants side pockets to hold your yuppie aluminium water bottle in, the price tag of the MLD Core 22L is probably less than what most small backpacks at your local outdoor gear shop is going to be. The build quality of the MLD is probably a bazillion times better than the crap in your local outdoor store, the price is probably less, and the Dyneema X fabric is probably waaaay tougher, so just meander on over to the MLD website and buy yourself one of these Core backpacks!

4 thoughts on “Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) ‘Core’ Backpack

  1. Thanks John, I miss these longer, more in depth articles. I have a larger core and agree they are great. I know this is a stupid question, but some photos of how the core works with the groove stereo would be great. I wish MLD would offer a mini-burn.

    1. Hey JP,

      Thanks mate.

      Yeah, sometimes I feel like all of the work/time/effort that I put out to do all the little posts throughout the month, cottage news updates of such, has really killed my desire, and free time, to do these kind of longer articles. Of course, at the same time, as I tend to mostly only do long(er) term use articles, and as I have been using mostly the same gear the last few years, the amount of gear to write about is getting smaller and smaller.

      Hmm, let me see if I can get some photos, maybe a very quick video, of how I use these backpack + hip belts. Not sure if it would turn out very well, but I will give it a try.

      What kind of total volume are you thinking, in regards to the ‘mini-burn‘?

      1. A mini-burn would be 23-28L, I reckon. Although as you say in your article, you’re getting in to niche-niche territory.

        What I like about your set up is its versatility and price. Also, MLD don’t charge an arm and a leg for international shipping, which is nice.

        Look forward to your video.

  2. Hi, Thanks for the great review. I have the MLD Prophet which is still pretty small for me. Still cutting though. I carried an old Kelty White Cloud with the lid and detachable pockets removed with the aluminum stays. That cut the weight to 18 ounces.. I think it was some early form of Cuban Fiber. I carried my water bottle inside the pack which had a draw string closure. I went to the Prophet to save 4 or 5 ounces (no hipbelt). I think the Cuban Fiber version is worth it.
    Happy trails & God bless,
    John Stephens

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