Atom Pack’s Atom Review

Price: £145 (USD $190 as of the 7/20/18) + delivery
Weight: 13.9 oz / 390g
This weight includes sternum strap, one chest pocket, bottom pouch and minimal side compression.
Size: 16 inch back (custom)
Volume:

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My brand new Atom

45L total / 2450 ci

  • 35L main compartment
  • 5L side pockets
  • 5L front mesh pocket
  • A little in the bottom pouch and chest pockets (~1.5L that I did not include in the total volume)

It is worth noting that this the 40L version from Atom Packs as they do not take into consideration the volume of the front mesh pocket.

Left: MLD Burn (2014 model), Middle: Atom Pack’s Atom, Right: HMG 41L

This pack is about as large as I would go for a frameless pack without a hipbelt – for reference, it is smaller than the older model MLD Burn (their new model has significantly reduced in size for some reason). I have not come close to filling it up with a 6lbs / 3kg base weight. I probably would get the same volume again.


Material:

  • VX7 X-Pack body (70d fabric over the X-pack waterproof membrane)
  • 500d Waterproof Cordura back panel
  • VX21 X-Pack bottom panel (210d fabric over the X-pack waterproof membrane)
  • 210d Dyneema Ripstop Nylon side pockets (custom request, normally xpack)
  • Mesh front pocket (custom request, normally powernet)
  • Lycra bottom pouch

Atom Packs has taken a slightly unique approach to the material used on the pack. What they have done is an extremely beneficial to the lifetime durability of the pack as it has taken the benefits of x-pack and mitigated its weaknesses.
X-pack is a relatively cheap waterproof fabric that has decent durability for the weight. The biggest downside of is that it does not hold a seam very well and has a high likelihood of failure at the shoulder seam. The 500d Cordura back panel is what Atom Packs has used to mitigate this. Not only has the pack used an extremely durable back panel fabric that can hold a seam, but have a small strip of 500d Cordura above the shoulder strap for additional reinforcement.
The second biggest issue with X-pack is average to poor abrasion resistance. The VX07 / 21 is fairly standard across the industry, and I think that their use in this pack is perfectly durable for hiking on a trail. I would be very hesitant to use VX07 for scrambling or off trail use, as it will wear out quickly and won’t be good value for money. For off trail, I would look at replacing the VX07 with VX21.
I would also recommend opting for the 210d Dyneema Ripstop Nylon side pockets as well to increase durability. Side pockets cop a lot of abuse when scrambling or bushwacking, and the extra few grams of weight is a real benifit in this location to add a lot of life over x-pack.
I chose the mesh front pocket mainly for the visibility of stored items so I can locate them batter.
The 500d Cordura is very comfortable against the skin.

Packing out abandoned water cache, Arizona Trail | Approaching Grey’s Peak, CDT 2018


Design:

The pack is an extremely simple, slim style of pack that is loaded with quick access pockets that are easily reached while walking. This is the perfect design for people that want walk all day, such as 30+ mile a day PCT hikers.
In addition to the fabric changes mentioned above, the only other design alteration I requested was the ice axe loop to be located on the edge with the linelock above rather than in the middle. I used the linelock to adequately secure the top of the shaft.
The shoulder straps are wider than most other packs in this category at 2.75 inches. They are extremely well positioned and the most comfortable I have used to date on a frameless pack. The wider straps slightly offsets not having a hip belt.
It is worth noting that I found that the shoulder straps were most comfortable with the back sitting slightly lower on my back then other models. I did not find that this affect anything other than it sat lower on my back.
The side pockets are easy to reach (even for me that is lacking flexibility!) and large. On one side I store a Gatorade bottle, my sun bandana and occasionally my warm gloves, bennie. On the other side I either have just food or, in the desert, another water bottle and food.
The bottom pocket holds up to 10 bars in it. The elastic entrance spins horizontal when in use and this offers a barrier and prevents the bars falling out.
The chest strap pockets are large and has a good high location – the bottom does not get under my arms as I walk, and the top sits about an inch from the top of my shoulder at a height that I can easily access. I keep my miscellaneous things that I want throughout the day in it, and is full when I load it with a sandisk MP3 player, 2oz deet bottle, 1oz travel sunscreen, 1oz toothpaste and a cut down toothbrush. The top only has a loose elastic closure that I was at first suspicious of, but I have not had any of these fall out throughout the day. It can fit a medium sized phone or a 400ml water bottle.
I did not use the major compression tabs and bungee cord on the front of the pack. Insead of compressing my bag through the cord, I leave my sleeping bag uncompressed in my bag to take up the minimum room of the bag.

Argentine Spine Alternative, CDT 2018
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Side view of 950ml bottle

Load Rating:

According to standard frameless consent the max load rating is 20 lbs / 9kg. However, without a hipbelt I would not want to be consistently over 15 lbs / 7kg.
I have taken 5 days of food + desert water (6lbs BW + 11lbs food + ~4.5lbs water = ~21 lbs / 9.5kg) and been surprisingly comfortable, but I would not want to be up around this weight constantly.
If you are often carrying above 15lbs / 7kg, a hip belt will add significant comfort for the small additional weight.

Looking at Grand Teton, Teton Crest Trail 2018

Durability:

I have used an Atom for just under 3,000 miles / 5,000km now, so this is not a long term review, but demonstrates what you would get out of a Thru Hike.
The majority of my time has been on established trails, but I have spent around 150 miles completely off trail, with 60 miles of it pushing through dense brush. I have not experienced any holes from this.
I have had one hole that was caused by the tip of my hiking pole (I was forced to put my hiking poles inside the back by the airline in order to check it in when I was flying. It was my own fault really as I should have taped the ends or even put a glove over them). I put a square of Tenacious Tape on both sides of the small hole. This tape sticks extremely well to x-pack. This happened before I used the bag on the way to trail, so the repair has lasted for a considerable amount of time.
I have also had no signs of any seam coming apart, especially in the critical area around the shoulder straps.
The only durability issue that I have faced to date is the shoulder strap foam collapsing much earlier than should be expected. This is a critical issue as the loss of padding reduces comfort of the pack, and one of the reasons that I retired my previous pack. I have spoken to Tom about this issue and he immediately changed to an 8mm EVA foam “that is really good”, so I am guessing that this is not an issue going forward. Saying that, out of the three bags that I have used to the point of collapsing foam, this is by far the most comfortable. I therefore have hopes that with a better foam padding, this pack can remain comfortable for a very long time.
The bottom pouch has some microholes where my back rubs against it, but this has not affected its use. It also stretched out slightly over time and does not quite rebound fully anymore. I would caution overfilling it as it might get to the point that it does not rebound.

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Compression of the shoulder strap padding
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Red Cone, CDT 2018

Customer Service / Custom Options:

I think that this is what sets Atom Packs apart from other companies at the moment. They offer a wide range of custom option, and will eagerly build a totally custom bag for you.
Tom will literally build anything for you. He is a very experienced hiker having completed the triple crown so he has used and abused enough packs in his time that he should know what works and what does not. He is also responds extremely fast with a passion for hiking packs that is slightly on the abnormal side (in a good way).
The biggest custom change that I got was a unique torso length. I loved this as I am usually right on the border of two different sizes. As mentioned above, I also changed the fabrics.
Neither of my changes come at additional cost. I am not sure what the go is when it comes to a totally unique pack.
On the delivery front, my pack took about a week longer to make than originally quoted. They were very easy to change addresses. As I was already hiking, Tom added a postage bag without asking in order to easily post my old pack home.

LRM_EXPORT_20180705_123954-1.jpgCollegiate West, CDT 2018

Additional Thoughts:

Overall I think it is a simple, well thought out pack.

There are a few very minor improvements that I would like to see implemented.

  • A small strip of solid fabric, with drainage holes, at the bottom of the mesh front pocket. This would increase both the durability and practicality as it would mean a reduced chance of a hole and the corresponding loss of gear.

  • A better drainage hole in the side pockets. (edit: this has now been added)

  • The back of my arm touches the side pocket bungee cord. I ended up cutting it to size and it was fine, but I would like to see the line lock on the far side of the pocket from me.

  • The side linelock cord should be altered to below the shoulder straps, as it currently comes loose if I open the bag and and the bag is minimally loaded.

Recommendations:
I think that this is a great pack when taking into consideration that Tom has corrected the only major fault when he changed to the better EVA shoulder strap foam. It is also the most comfortable frameless pack that I have used to date, and the waterproof material adds an extra positive aspect over traditional Dyneema Ripstop.
I have not used this pack long enough to destroy it, but I suspect that the Cordura material around the shoulder strap will give this pack a longer service life than other companies who use X-Pack.
Would I get another Atom Pack? Yes, but with the saturation of frameless packs out there there are other good options available. I would definitely look to Atom Packs if I wanted any custom work done. If I am happy with an off the shelf frameless pack, the Atom would be a coin flip with MLD’s Burn. I think that the Atom is a more comfortable option with a lot more features are very good, but the Burn has all their features exactly right. Given how fast Atom Packs are refining their product, I would not be surprised if the pack becomes perfect in the near future.


Note: I did not pay for this pack. I was hiking a lot of miles at the time and could provide real, long distance feedback to Tom as quickly as possible for him to update it. I was under no obligation to provide a review.