Aarn Featherlite backpack review – the best yet?

We have owned several hiking backpacks over the years. Most recently, our tried and trusted One Planet Strezlecki’s have been carried to many wonderful places but after our daughter Clare invested in an Aarn backpack we started thinking about a change.

We are heading towards our late 50’s and want to keep seeking adventure in the outdoors as long as we can. Carrying a lot of weight does not help the cause. The last couple of trips we have had sore feet, damaged toenails and blisters. Include a sore back into the equation. It was becoming hard work.

Checking out the Aarn website we were intrigued by the following statement:

Aarn Bodypacks are the most efficient, comfortable, stable, practical and healthy way to carry load on the human body. They challenge traditional thinking on pack design.

Backpacks significantly disturb the posture, balance and movement of the body. Backpacks create leverages on the torso that act to distort the natural curve of the spine. Backpacks are a stressful and energy wasting way to carry a load.

It was time to seek an alternative.

We headed off to Backpacking Lite in Melbourne to check them out. In our opinion, if you are purchasing something like a pack you, really need to try it on, get it fitted and understand it before you purchase it. Buying it online is not a great option.

After a thorough play around with the pack we were convinced they might be for us and purchased one each.

Review of Aarn hiking backpacks

Sue and Hannah with their Aarn packs

A couple of weeks later,  without any pre-trip experimenting with the packs,  we loaded them up and headed off for 7 days on the Overland Track in Tasmania. Yes, the first time we wore them loaded was heading off. Crazy? Yes!

After a wonderful trip, the new Aarn packs proved to be winners.

Positives:

  • light, around 1.5kg (3.3 lbs), about 1.5kg lighter than our One Planets.
  • fit like a glove, very comfortable, easy to walk, little stress on our backs or feet.
  • you can walk upright in a comfortable position.
  • we were balanced and stable while we walked.
  • it is waterproof so you don’t need to pack gear inside your pack in dry bags.

Negatives:

  • you look weird compared to other walkers you meet
  • you spend time explaining how the pack works
  • there are many straps, fittings and adjustments. This can be very confusing at the beginning.
  • we found it a fiddle to get the back length right

Things to look out for:

  • try and get it fitted by a professional when you purchase it. Especially the height adjustment. Getting your head around adjusting the pack, when you have no idea how to do it, and it is fully loaded,  is a challenge.
  • be careful packing sharp items as each compartment is lined with a dry bag. Once perforated you need to replace it or accept the pack is not waterproof.
  • The Aarn website has a STACK of information and video’s on how to adjust and fit a variety of their packs. The site can be confusing as there seems to be a several videos for each pack and the different adjustments for the pack

This video is a basic comparison between our old One Planet Strezlecki packs and our new Aarn Featherlite packs.

Hope it helps explain the differences and gives you some good information if you are in the market for a new pack.

Have you tried an Aarn backpack?
Do you love or hate your existing pack?
Do you have any recommendations for our readers?

Shoot us a comment below, we would love your feedback and ideas.

Comments

  1. Darren says

    Thanks for the review Frank. I’m seriously considering swapping my Strezlecki for one of these too. I’m interested in why you chose the ‘Featherlite Freedom’ over the slightly bigger ‘Natural Balance’, (also from Aarn). Did you find the volume sufficient for the Overland Track – which I presume took you about 6 days and included a tent?

    • Frank says

      Hi Darren,
      As we said in the article, did not put a huge amount of thought or research into the purchase…… Yes the Featherlight was easily big enough for the OT but we could spread gear (like a tent) between three of us. Must say , day one and two it was pretty jam packed but after eating a bit of food, space appeared!

      Also packed waterproof stuff in the external pockets on the slots on the back of the pack(like gas bottles) that created a bit of room.

      Good luck!

  2. says

    Hi Frank and Sue –
    I am TOTALLY a lover of Aarn Backpacks. I have been using the Mountain Magic since November of 2010, and it is the best thing that has happened to me! After a couple of seasons in New Zealand with my Aarn, in 2012 I soloed the Pyrenees (Haute Route) from Hendaye (Atlantic) to Banyuls sur Mer (Mediterranean) – 500 miles. I think Aarn has my “testimonial” on one of his web pages. Anyway – in 2013, I hiked the AV 2 in the Dolomites (I got a smaller Aarn for that trip). And next Northern summer (2015) – I plan on hiking the Colorado Trail (About 500 miles). Since I am in my late 60s – I am pretty happy that I am still able to get OUT THERE. I really think that my Aarn Packs have given me these extra years of backpacking!!! As you can see, I am totally sold on the packs – and if you need more info, I would be more than happy to talk to folks.

  3. says

    Great timing as I’m looking at getting a new backpack.. I’m in my 40s and starting to really feel the weight of a pack on my neck and shoulders. It’s limiting the lengths of my walks particularly now that it’s summer and I have to carry so much more water. I’m on a tight budget but considering how important our spines are, it’s probably worth it to spend a little more. Thanks for the info. Jane

  4. Sarina Mueller says

    My hubby loves his. Not only for the comfort but for the easy access to lots of things in his “boobs” as he calls the front thingys on the pack.
    He broke a part on it and we were in Christchurch on our way to do some hiking in NZ and dropped past Aarn’s workshop/design studio and he fixed it on the spot for free.

  5. mark says

    Hi Frank

    I bought an Aarn Effortless Rhythm in Sept from Backpacking Light in Melbourne and while I have only used it for an overnighter in Girraween Nat Park in SE Qld, I am very happy with it. The shop did a good job of fitting it, but I recommend purchasers watch the various YouTube videos that explain the finer adjustments for all the straps and loops. etc.

    I am looking forward to giving it a better workout on a 6 day section of the AAWT after Christmas.

    (PS – I agree that it feels funny having the Mae Wests out in front, and I am rehearsing the explanations I will need to give my friends when they start making smartarse jokes)

  6. Katt says

    Unfortunately my husband and I had to order these packs online as they are not available in stores in the US. I’m so glad we did. 15 years ago I broke my back and thought I would never be a mileage monster like some people. This pack has made all the difference!!! No pain and no feeling of weight and best of all I wasn’t as Klutzy!!! (My husband’s trail name for me is Tippy McGee, but thats a whole other story). I highly recommend the bags!

  7. Kate says

    I bought an osprey a few years ago… Backpacking Light staff tried to talk me into an Aarn though, they were raving on about them. I just couldn’t bring myself to looking that dorky though! Anyway, I used to get a sore back and shoulders with the osprey so eventually I toughened up and went and bought an Aarn and sold the osprey on eBay. BEST thing I ever did. I find the Aarn so comfortable to wear, no soreness at all. Good on you guys for making the purchase! The more people wearing these packs the less dorky we’ll look lol.

  8. Chris H says

    My wife has used a Featherlite Freedom for a number of years and loves it. I had bought some of the front pouches and grafted them on to my Macpac mainly to carry camera gear. The benefit was obvious. We bought an Aarn large daypack for my son and my wife bought the FF. I am going to replace my Macpac as we move to lighter gear and I think the FF is the one I will go for as well. The trick with these packs is to get them set up well in the first place and then get as much weight as possible in the front pouches. You can’t just put odds and ends in them. You have to find some dense items to pack in there. If you need more volume there are larger pouches. Also they have rather neat add on loops to tie a tent on top outside the main dry compartment or walking and tent poles at the side.

    There are few stockists of Aarn packs. I suspect retailers are wary of the time it takes to fit them and the different look. You can set them up yourself if you watch the videos of course. They are not complicated but they do look complicated. The pouches are the obvious benefit but there is more to these packs than that, The shoulder straps allow better upper body movement and the waist belt system really let’s you carry the weight there and not on the shoulders. The waterproof ness is a bonus. They a reasonably light weight but still wear well.

    Chris

  9. says

    Several years ago I was in the market for a replacement for my Mountain Designs rucksack. A friend, whose bushwalking know-how I trust, had recently bought an Aarn pack and was always singing its praises. I borrowed it for a trial run and was easily convinced that it was significantly more comfortable that any previous pack I have owned. The main negative for me is that It’s a bit fiddly to put on with the balance pockets. But I would never go back to the standard rucksack design now. I have used my Aarn Effortless Rhythm for several years mainly on multi-day walks and It may look weird with the balance pockets but I reckon I’m on a winner with my Aarn.

  10. Tamsin says

    Frank, I appreciate this review. I have been researching the Aarn backpacks and plan to buy one within the next few weeks, ready for an overnight hike in November. My main concern had been about the balance pockets impeding your view on uneven terrain, but nobody ever seems to cite this as an issue. Thank you for your review, it’s been really helpful to me.

    Tamsin

  11. Anne Davies says

    I have had an Aarn Featherlite for a few years and even used it through dense bush in southern Tasmania. I love it. It is a small pack but my husband now has an Aarn Load Lifter and between us we can do 7 day walk. I agree with the summary of pros and cons but since getting my Aarn pack I would never go back to a traditional type. Example – on one walk I was looking around for my pack after a morning tea stop and couldn’t find it, then realised I was already wearing it. They are so comfortable. Also you camera and water bottle are always in reach. Love the Aarn packs!

  12. Susanne says

    I have had a Featherlight Freedom for 3 years and I’m very happy with it. I have a back problem, and the Aarn is the only backpack that doesn’t worsen that problem.
    I hiked i Lapland for 3 weeks this summer, carrying food for 10 days at the time plus my tent, and the necessary gear for sleeping and cooking. I stuffed my raingear into a little bag that I strapped on to the top of the pack, and the tent sat in one of the side pockets. Admitted – the pack was FULL almost to the breaking point, and I’m not sure it’s even built to carry so heavy a load (17 kg), but it made it through the hike, and is still working great.
    I did have back pain, but then again, I do have that every day anyway. The point is, it doesn’t worsen. And as long as my physiotherapist recommends that I keep walking, that’s what I’ll do. Any other pack I’ve tried makes the pain worse, and adds to it cramps and neck problems, plus instabilizes my body.
    I covered more than 200 km this summer, and I felt great. I don’t think I’ll ever by any other backpack.
    Susanne

  13. SML says

    Thanks for the review. The other feature worth mentioning is that the front balance pockets convert to make a small day pack.

  14. Janna van Eysden says

    My husband and I are both in our 60’s and were looking to invest in new packs to walk the 800 km Camino de Santiago de Compostela. We purchased a Natural Exhilaration each, completed the Camino and continued on to walk another 120km in all weather conditions and across all sorts of terrain because we were just so comfortable carrying those packs! We agree with all comments made so far in this review and would highly recommend Aarn packs for any type of hiking.

  15. Philip WIlkie says

    I think I was one of Aarn’s first customers back around 2001. I had basically given up on tramping due to a neck injury. Then I met Aarn by accident when he was still on the road repping in a local outdoors shop – and 10 minutes later I was out the door with one!

    Never ever looked back – everything all these people are saying about BodyPacks is true and it’s wonderful seeing more and more people slowly catch on to the concept. The one and only drawback I’ve ever encountered is a tendency for the front-pockets to get in the way when rock-scrambling in steep terrain. If you are aware of it – you can anticipate the problem.

    Aarn keeps evolving the product and every few years you can see how the meticulous attention to detail has made useful improvements. We now own a stable of four of them for various types of trip[. Sure they will not be for everyone in every situation – but if you want to keep walking into your 50’s and beyond with comfort and balance – this is the way to go.

  16. Jill Hill says

    I’ve used the FF Aarn pack since about 2003 – twice to walk the Camino de Santiago (800 km) and five different 500 km plus walks in France. Love it and would never go back to an ordinary pack. We’re walking again next year and the FF will be on my back (and front) loaded with a tent and enough gear for five weeks of walking in Europe. I’m in my 60s and barely know I’m carrying a load. But it really is worthwhile spending time watching the Aarn videos to understand how to fit the pack properly.

  17. Glenys says

    Do you know of Brisbane stockists? I can buy and get fitted, then.. I should check their web site for the info too, I just kept reading and suddenly was here:). Some of the comments are really valuable bits of info. THANKS

  18. says

    Hi Frank, Thanks for your review and video. Having considered one of these for about 12 months you have now moved me up a notch in the buying stakes. I have a couple of questions.
    1. You say it rained quite a bit on your trip. Did any condensation appear between yourself and the front pockets?
    2. Same question for the back panel. How does it allow your body to breathe. Do you feel like a greenhouse?
    3.You say the supports are steel, i’m surprised they are not aluminium alloy?
    4.Is there any drainage in the large sack rear pocket and is it elasticated.
    5. Does rain soak into the material or does it have a DWR like jackets. I am a little concerned the weight could drastically increase when wet.
    6. How long does it take to dry. A couple of hours, overnight, or something like 24hrs.

    All i have to do now is mentally get over the strange look and raid the Piggy Bank .

  19. Lorraine says

    Hi Frank and Sue,
    like you I am getting older (65) and wondered how I could extend my trekking life seeing I only started at 57. I considered lighter packs that would shave a kilo or two from my old faithful Macpac but thought that would make little difference in the long term so I decided I had to carry the load more efficiently. I had been researching Aarn packs for 2 years, stopping anyone I saw with one and finally I bit the bullet and flew from Adelaide to Melbourne for the day to go to Backpacking Lite and be fitted for the Effortless Rythm. rucksack. I have never looked back, It was worth every cent, I will never go back to a conventional rucksack with full load on my back again. The pack is a little larger than yours and has been more than enough for trips of 8 days. My first weekend out we covered 27kms on the first day with an accent of 1300m and descent of 1050m and the pack lived up to its name – Effortless. I have scrambled down waterfalls and boulder hopped down creek beds and the balance packs do not get in the way, you just have to change your thinking. You don’t need to explain the unconventional set up to anyone, just SMILE, you are the winner here, Aarn packs are a real winner.

  20. Marion says

    We used Featherlite Freedom to walk the Camino del Norte ..1000kms every step of the way across the north coast of Spain in 2013. We were NOT long time trampers and in our late 50s so it was a new experience. The Aarn packs were magic to wear..incredibly comfortable……. the only draw back was that although after walking 8 hours in pouring rain the INSIDES were dry, the outside of the packs/balance pockets were soaked and although had dried off by morning they left large puddles wherever we left them!! BUT I see Aarn is producing a jacket/backpackcover/balance pocket cover all in one called Water Wizard……check it out on their website!! I cant wait!

  21. says

    Really appreciated your post and well written one . As, i am working as a trekking guides since a long time and faced a sore back and shoulders pain problem. i think this one is great idea for my trip.

  22. Annepom says

    Thanks so much for this great article! I was wondering, what is the difference between Featherlite Freedom Short and Featherlite Freedom Long? Thinking to order it from their distributor website because Brisbane doesn’t seem to have any sadly.
    http://www.backpackinglight.com.au/store/aarn-featherlite-freedom-short/dp/2347
    I will definitely have to check all the videos to adjust it myself I guess!

    Also, I am thinking about going on the Larapinta Trail this year if I can, would this bag be enough for this trail or would you consider a bigger one like the ‘Natural Balance’ one mentioned earlier in some comments? I am wondering because it seems to be a trail where we have to be really fully self-sufficient with very few water points. http://www.larapintatrail.com.au/endtoend.html

    Looking forward to your advice! Thanks!

  23. Rosy says

    What size Balance Pockets is Sue wearing in that picture? Are they the Sports pockets? Or are they the Expedition Pockets?

  24. John says

    Hi Frank, thanks for the informative review. I’m seriously thinking of getting a Featherlite Freedom but wondering whether you find it annoying that your vision is obscured a bit. I know you can see your feet between the balance pockets, but also I like to be able to see the tiger snake at the side of the track before it slides in front of me. Also wondering if restricted visibility is a problem on steep descents, scree, rock hopping etc. Any thoughts on this?

    • Frank says

      Sorry about the delay John,
      We don’t have a problem with vision on the track. The balance pockets are too the side so they don’t seem to effect what we see.
      Frank

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