A couple months ago I was up at the Six Moon Designs offices, just South of Portland Oregon. While I was there I had a chance to check out their latest backpack, the ‘Minimalist‘ – and they even allowed me to share a picture of it on my Instagram page.
They asked me if I would like to try one out when they got in stock and I said sure, of course, testing out new packs on the market is something that I love to do. So a few weeks later one showed up at my house. Free of charge, which is always cool. It is super rare for me to accept free gear, but at the same time, there are just so many new packs on the market right now that buying all of them has gotten to be too blasted expensive. Thankfully a few friends have sent me a few backpacks to do some testing with (such as when I did the initial-look of the Pa’lante Simple Pack, and another buddy is sending me his Pa’lante V2 to do the same, woot!) but anyway, yeah, full disclaimer, Six Moon Designs sent me the Minimalist free of charge, and with any obligations beyond reporting directly back to them my thoughts on what I like and did not like.
So onto my insights into the backpack, and down at the bottom of this article will be a video that I did while out on the packs maiden voyage.
Starting off the discussion of just about any backpack is what the main market of the backpack is.
I really think that the Minimalist is going to be an exceptional backpack for weekenders. Folks needing a 40 liter (50 with collar extension) backpack that does not break the bank, has all of the main features that tick the boxes for a weekender backpack, has a class-leading suspension system that can handle light to heavy loads, and a broad differences of torso heights.
It certainly can have a place in the long distance hiking market, but I think a few things put it at a disadvantage in the current long distance backpack market. What it can certainly do, and exceptionally well, within that market, is fill the void of those who are after a backpack that can handle its own in the comfort department, as well as fill the void for those that need a suspension system due to having a bad neck, bad shoulders, or bad back.
When you pair up the hip belt with a properly formed spinal system and then go with the vest/pectoral shoulder straps, you will have what I have always felt is the best overall suspension system of any backpack that I have ever used for those with injuries.
If you can keep your base pack weight in the sub 10-pound range, the Minimalist really should be considered a viable thru-hiker backpack!
At around 1000 grams (~35 ounces) depending on your hip belt / shoulder strap configuration, it is never going to be able to take on the likes of, say the MLD Burn, which is only 370 grams (13 ounces) but one must remember, the MLD Burn is a frameless backpack, whereas the Minimalist has probably the finest frame/suspension system on the market. So, all in all, we just should not be making the comparisons of frameless/full suspension backpack, if we are to be fair. In the end, it all comes down to your needs.
The Six Moon Designs Minimalist suspension system is composed of five parts:
- Shoulder Yoke
- Adjustable Torso
- Delron Hoop Stay Frame
- Hip Belt
It all begins with the Spine. This is a spine shaped piece of some combination (unknown to me) of fabric and stiff material, which runs along the very middle of the backpack, and sits right against the hiker’s spine. This provides the contact point between the bag and the hiker and accounts for a good part of the LWD (load weight distribution) but by no means all of it. The Spine, while stiff, is bendable and attention to bending it to fit your torso before you go out and hit the trail is highly recommended.
Next is the Shoulder Yoke (their term for shoulder straps, basically) and they offer both a J-style and a Vest-style (aka: pectoral). No S-straps are available for the Minimalist, but the few ladies that I have seen talk about wearing the Vest straps have all had good things to say about it. I do want to note that both the Vest and J-straps have Load Lifters attached to them. Even for a backpack that is designed to carry 10 pounds loads, I love seeing load lifters designed into packs.
Next is the Adjustable Torso. By no means unique within the backpack industry anymore (at least in the big name, non-cottage, industry), an adjustable torso system is really dang sweet because it allows you to really dial in the torso height of the backpack to fit your individual torso height.
Next is the Delron Hoop Stay frame. This hoop frame is shaped in a really brilliant manner, in that it is angled inward right to the bottom of the Spine, thereby allowing for maximum Load Weight Distribution. I cannot remember seeing this on any other backpack that I have encountered. btw, Delron is one of a few brand names for Polyoxymethylene and is one of those ‘light but really strong’ thermoplastics. Six Moon Designs first used it in their Fusion 65 backpacks but used two single shafts. By making the transition to a single hoop it should help with overall LWD. On a side note, this frame does add a fair bit of stiffness to the backpack. If you find the backpack to be too stiff and want a softer feel against your back, or just want the backpack to hug your back a bit more, consider taking out this frame. You will, of course, lose a bit of LWD, but in the end, this is a backpack with a rated max load of 12 pounds (5.5 k) so should not be too much of a big deal.
Next is the hip belt. If you feel the need, or just have a heavier pack weight, the Minimalist has a hip belt that does very good at hugging the hips, with a superb buckle/hardware system in place. The hip belt has velcro on it allowing you to remove it if you have a lower pack weight.
When putting together everything as a whole system, what Six Moon Designs has with their overall suspension system is, I feel, by far, the leading suspension system of any of the backpacks that I have ever used.
Vest-Style Yoke (Pectoral Straps):
This is the yok/straps that I chose to go with. Having used them on my SMD Flight 30 (one of my top all-time favorite backpacks) I just knew that I would want to use these pectoral straps on the Minimalist, and I am glad that I went with that option.
Six Moon Designs made a couple of changes to the pectoral straps with this new backpack.
First, they lowered the top pocket. This is really dang nice because on the old pectoral straps they road up way to high, almost up at the apex of my shoulders. With this redesign, the top pockets are now down at the top of my pectoral area, where they should be.
Second, they redesigned some of the primary pockets. Not really sure if I am happy or disappointed with this change, at this point. I think I prefer the older style, but need to give this new arrangement a try some more.
The pectoral straps also seem to be a bit stiffer. Not a fan of this. I like pectoral straps that really curve, hug, and conform to the body, around the ribs. The stiffer of material they put inside of the straps the less they wrap around and really hug you. While really important for a running vest, I guess, with this not being a running vest, it will probably not be all that much of a big deal. Time will tell.
All in all, I love the Six Moon Designs harness system. The Vest/Pectoral straps are pretty much all that I want on any backpack anymore, especially of backpacks with volumes over about 25 liters.
When it comes to the features of the backpack, you are going to get all of the standard features that folks expect to see on a fully featured 40-50 liter backpack in this current market.
Side mesh pockets (one extra tall to hold your tent), bungee compression straps, mesh front pocket, and so forth.
There is also a lid/brain/whatever-it-is-suppose-to-be-called on it. It is a pretty good size one and has an easy access zipper on it.
On top of the lid/brain/whatever is a mesh pocket that you can shove some gear into. Bars, trash, other snacks, etc. Not sure that I would trust it enough to put important things like a ditty bag or maps, or such, into, but for daily snacks, should be perfect.
The Minimalist has a roll-top closure. It works really good. My only (big) complaint/issue is they decided to put some stupid velcro on the closure system. Seriously. WTF. We do not need velcro on a roll-top closure…. it ROLLS down, after all.
Inside the backpack, there is a mesh compartment. The ever-popular “passport and keys pocket” that seems to be all the rage in the big-brand backpack market these days. Personally not a fan of them, they just seem to cause trouble when trying to stuff gear down into your backpack.
There are some aspects of this backpack that would require me getting used too, or result in me taking a pair of scissors to it. The internal pocket is not something I would ever use. The brain/lid/whatever I loathe. I wish the back mesh pocket went all the way to the bottom of the pack (and was not ‘u-shaped’) so that it could take full advantage of max volume/size. These are, of course, just “me” issues. Not saying they are negatives in any way/shape/form, just things that I find that I do not like.
What makes me really happy to see is that Six Moon Designs has gone away from two different weight/strengths of fabric and have gone to the lighter weight fabric. This knocked off a few ounces of weight. Sadly, all of the bells-and-whistles they added into the ‘minimalist’ just added weight back to it, basically nullify the move to a lighter weight fabric. Like with many other full-featured backpacks, grabbing a pair of scissors and cutting stuff off is totally fine. I remember doing that to my first ULA backpack and a couple of Zpacks backpacks too. It would not take much time/effort to trim down the Minimalist to a pack that might fit your own personal needs.
The suspension system on the Minimalist is, I feel, unquestionably the best that it out there. It has taught me that there are times when adding weight to a piece of gear makes up for other aspects – such is the case with the Six Moon Design suspension system. The extra weight it adds to the backpack more than makes up for the comfort, neck/shoulder pain relief, awesome Load Weight Distribution, and overall ride of their backpacks.
Here is my ‘Initial Look’ video in which I go over the features of the Minimalist backpack.
The 2018 Six Moon Designs Minimalist backpack is a pretty sweet mid-volume backpack. If you are looking for a thru-hiker backpack or a weekender backpack, the Minimalist should tick off a lot of the check-boxes needed. It offers all of the features that the vast majority of thru-hikers and weekenders need, at least for those looking for a mid-volume backpack.
What Six Moon Designs has seemingly attempted to do with the Minimalist is to bring to a backpack all of the features of a large-volume backpack into the mid-volume backpack world. This has resulted in a number of features not typically seen (wanted?) in the mid-volume backpack sector, and only you can decide if that is what works for you. When most other companies are going the other direction, it is nice to see that Six Moon Designs had tried to market something going in this direction, whether you/I/we think that is a good idea or not.
Overall, the Minimalist has been a nice backpack to try out. At ~50 liters in volume, it is massively oversized for my typical use, so my time using it in the future will probably be very little. The Minimalist does have some cool features, like the extra-tall side pocket, and I love the mesh fabric they are using, really nice stuff. I can see the Minimalist becoming a really good backpack for a lot of folks!