the lightweight backpacker




© Copyright 1999


Mountainsmith Mountainlight 5200


From: Charles Lindsey, 03/14/98
Type of Gear: Backpack
Name of Gear: Mountainlight 5200 (1998 model)
Manufacturer: Mountainsmith
Capacity: 5200 cu inches
Weight: 2lb 15oz (after trimming excess webbing)
Cost: $295 w/aluminum stays (carbon fiber stays $60 option)
Reviewer's Height/Weight: 5'9", 165lbs

Recently received a Mountainlight 5200 from Mountainsmith -
I've been putting some serious test miles on it. Just got back from carrying it 4.5 miles on terrain with fairly steep grades with 41 pounds of weight in it (at the same time comfortably wearing the Merrell Peak Speed trail running shoes- but that's another review).


It is definitely ultralight - made of a tough, light, water-resistant fabric called "Magnalight". After trimming, with carbon fiber stays, I'd say it'll weigh about 2 lbs 15 oz, or so.

Had it out in the rain for about an hour without a rain cover. It has a thick waterproof coating on the inside of the material and has very few seams, so this pack does well in wet weather even without a rain cover. Although the water was beading up on the outside, I think it would do even better, for a longer period of time, if it had an extra application of Tectron DWR or Gore ReviveX.

I haven't had it long enough to talk about durability, but the Mountainsmith brochure says that "... Mountainsmith founder Patrick Smith has logged over 600 miles on his Mountainlight 5200 without a trace of tearing".


I am pleased. It was about as comfortable as 41 pounds can be, I guess. But the carry was very similar to the Mtnlite4000, which I like alot. The carry was stable (didn't flop around), balanced, and comfortable.

Like its 4000 cu inch sibling, this pack fit me right out of the box, no adjustments necessary. It is adjustable, however. The shoulder pads can be moved up or down to accommodate different torso lengths. The distance between shoulder straps can also be adjusted to accommodate width of one's upper body.

These Mountainlight packs seem to be conducive toward a comfortable ride for me. The lumbar pushes in on the top of my buttocks area rather than (higher up) into the small of my back. Thus, it actually supports my lower back rather than putting downward pressure on my tailbone, which most packs do. That's why most packs, nowadays, hurt my back, but this one does not.

The combination of the significant lumbar pushing in on my upper buttocks / lower back, and the two sets of lumbar region snugger straps make for a snug, form-fit as this pack wraps around my hips and lower back. I found there to be ample head room even with the pack was fully loaded. Also, because the Mountainlight packs are relatively tall, the load lifter straps are effective at (1) lifting the load up off the shoulders and (2) securing the pack against the upper back. The Mountainlight 5200 measures 33 inches tall (maybe more if fully extended). It carries tall, also. There's potential for hitting tree limbs and such if you travel off-trail, so be careful.

I find that I'm still a little skeptical, however, of the hipbelt. It appears to be lacking in padding, but, surprisingly, it seems to do the job. I haven't experienced any discomfort or "hot" spots during the carry nor any soreness afterward. The belt covers enough area alright, but the padding is only about 1/4" thick - quite a different strategy than with other packs this size. But, like I say, it seems to work and because it isn't beefy and stiff, it does conform rather well to the shape of my hips.

I really like the slim profile - it in no way throws off my center of gravity when packed full, plus, because it's a fairly tall pack, it should carry well for long-trail usage. I'm thinking about a 9-day 117.5 mile section of the PCT in late August which would be without resupply so I got my eye on this pack as a likely candidate for that trip. Also, because of the slim profile, it maintains a good balanced carry even when not fully loaded

I especially like the comfortable back pads - closed foam cushion covered with moisture-wicking mesh (Dri-lex®) - one on either side of the spine. I like the idea of not having a framesheet and stay running the length of my spine, pressing on it and encumbering its free movement. The two (approximately 29 inch long) carbon fiber stays run almost the entire length of the pack and are positioned directly behind the back pads. Between the cushioned pads runs a "Spinal Chimney" ventilation space which allows for ventilation that is non-existent on most other internal frame packs.


It has a nicely contoured top lid which doubles as a large hip sac. The hipsac hip belt is built-in and is stored inside a little pouch under the lid. The belt is made of 2" webbing with two sets of compression (snugger) straps which attach to the sides of the lid. The comfort level of the hip sac is comparable to any other hip sac which features a webbing belt. Inside the lid is a little pocket for loose stuff like car keys, lip balm, sunscreen, etc.

The pack has two quick-release ice-ax loops and side webbing for lashing gear if you need to. I tested the ice-ax loop for quick access. Without taking off the pack, or straining to reach my arm around to the back of the pack, I easily reached around, unsnapped the clip-lock and pulled out my ax. It took me three seconds.


There doesn't seem to be as much excess webbing on this 1998 pack as there was on the 1997 Mountainlight 4000 - maybe it's just my imagination. Maybe if I look at it a little more intently, I'll see excess :-)

I cut off 8 inches of hip belt webbing (I have a 33 inch waist). One of the ice axe loops has to go. I've got my eye on 10 little buckles that have questionable value. That's about all the excess in materials that I can find. This pack is fairly trim right out of the box.

Other potential weight reducing ideas. The lid / hip sac. If you won't ever use the hip sac, there's weight savings galore. You can cut off the web belt, the little pouch that houses it and the four buckles on the side of the lid that the belt attaches to. A significant weight reduction. If you want to keep the hip sac functionality, you can still reduce weight by eliminating the two-piece belt buckle. It is identical in function to the one on the pack. When using the hipsac just remove the buckle from the pack and attach it to the hipsac belt. I find it interesting that the buckle for the hip sac is actually heavier than the one used on the main pack belt (1.2oz vs. 1.1oz).

If you don't need a hip sac and the pack isn't crammed full to capacity, leave the entire lid at home (8.9 oz including hip sac configuration). In rainy weather you might need a partial rain cover just to cover the opening at the top of the pack, but other than that it would work fine.


Now all I "need" is a 3000 cu in and a 4000 cu in, top-loading Mountainlight, and then I can stop looking for those "ideal" ultralight packs that I've been searching for.

If you are looking for an ultralight pack for long-distance treks, without resupply, or to carry that extra Winter gear, or just for the extra capacity - just in case - I recommend giving the Mountainsmith Mountainlight 5200 a serious tryout.

UPDATE:  2/28/99  I've been using the pack for nearly a year now and have not changed my opinion. I've logged 300+ miles on it in all kinds of weather. It continues to be comfortable and reliable as well as durable.


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