13-Ounce Carbon-Fiber Backpack Frame Supports More than 150 Pounds

June 20, 2016
Kuiu Backpack Frame
KuiuKuiu’s wafer-thin carbon-fiber backpack frame.

This could be one of the most significant innovations in backpack design in decades. Kuiu, a manufacturer of ultralight hunting gear, has developed a featherweight backpack frame that can handle stupendous loads without deforming.

It’s an innovation that way well ripple into the hiking and backpacking world as manufacturers seek to upgrade ultralight packs to handle heavier loads when needed without increasing the pack’s weight.

This technology could help address one of the annoying conundrums of ultralight backpacking. That is, if you want to hike with an ultralight backpack, you must also carry lightweight gear. As a general rule, such packs simply aren’t built to handle heavy loads. Many packs will start to deform—and ride poorly on your shoulders and hips—once the load gets much above 30 pounds or so.

Enter the carbon-fiber frame from Kuiu. It weighs in at a scant 13 ounces, yet has the equivalent vertical strength of a five-pound aluminum frame and comfortably handles loads far north of 100 pounds (per this excellent write-up and explanation of the underlying tech from Outside Magazine).

Kuiu Icon Pro 3200.
KuiuThe Icon Pro 3200.

The frame is available in Kuiu’s Icon Pro series, which are designed for backcountry hunters who need to lug out heavy loads of meat after a successful excursion. Four different sizes are available, from the Icon Pro 1850 ($375; 4 pounds, 1 ounce) to the load monster Icon Pro 7200 ($475; 5 pounds, 13 ounces), though the mid-sized Icon Pro 3200 ($425; 4 pounds, 4 ounces) is probably the most versatile option for hikers and backpackers.

It’s worth noting that these pack weights are not particularly light by ultralight hiking standard, primarily because the packs are designed for heavy-duty use and abuse and thus feature heavier-weight fabrics and materials. They’re also pocket- and feature-rich for the needs of their intended users—hunters with a lot of heavy and activity-specific equipment.

It’s easy, however, to imagine that ultralight gear makers could radically cut the weight down with lighter fabrics and more streamlined designs. My guess is that we’ll start to see this technology in the mainstream backpacking world within the next few years.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.