the lightweight backpacker




© Copyright 1999




From: Charles Lindsey, 04/13/99
Type of Gear: Backpack
Name of Gear: Mountainlight 5000 (1999 model)
Manufacturer: Mountainsmith
Capacity: 5000 cu inches
Weight: see Pack Weight below
Cost: $289 w/aluminum stays (carbon fiber stays $60 option)
Color: Red
Reviewer's Height/Weight: 5'9", 170lbs


I recently received a Mountainlight 5000 from Mountainsmith for test and review, and now that I've put three weeks and 40 miles into the pack, it's time to publish the results.

If you are familiar with the 1998 Mountainlight 5200 -- well publicized with photos, descriptions, and reviews in the Gear Reviews section of this website -- then you will recognize similar materials and features on this year's model. However, there are also many improvements and differences to note. Throughout this review, in order to help you paint a mental picture, there will be comparisons between last year's ML 5200 and this year's ML 5000.


ML 5000 stated weight-1999 catalog (with aluminum stays): 4 LBS
ML 5000 tested weight (with aluminum stays): 4 LBS, 1.15 OZ
ML 5000 tested weight (with carbon fiber stays): 3 LBS, 13 OZ

NOTE: The carbon fiber stays weigh 4.15 ounces less than the aluminum stays. Hey, that's over a quarter of a pound!!!

I also weighed my "uncut" 1998 ML 5200:

ML 5200 tested weight(with aluminum stays): 3 LBS, 5.15 OZ
ML 5200 tested weight(with carbon fiber stays): 3 LBS, 1 OZ (2 LBS 14 OZ w/o hipsac hardware).


I cannot yet comment on long-term durability, but this pack has new materials and reinforcements in all the right places to make it considerably more durable than last year's model. As you may know from my ML 5200 review update, "I've logged 300+ miles on it (the ML 5200) in all kinds of weather. It continues to be comfortable and reliable as well as durable".  I would suspect the ML 5000 to be even more durable.

High quality of design, build, and materials was my first impression of the pack -- right out of the box. My subsequent examination and attempts to "pop open" seams and dislodge compression straps substantiated my first impression that this is, indeed, a well-made pack with quality materials.


Like its predecessor, the new ML 5000 is made of a tough, light, water-resistant fabric called "Magnalight". I've used it in the rain with no rain cover and it sheds water like a Mandarin Wood Duck. I have not yet, however, tested it in prolonged rainy-wet, long-duration hikes.

As I suggested last year, "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".

The hipbelt is new. Although I thought the 1998 hipbelt was adequate, the new one is an improvement. The new one is of the "Omni" belt design wherein it has a center stitching and cupped to fit comfortably over the hipbone. It is not at all stiff and has what appears to be 1/2 inch closed-cell foam. It weighs 2.9 ounces more than the older belt. The old belt weighs 7.25 ounces and the new one 10.15 ounces.

Although the belt's lumbar straps are not attached to the new belt exactly in the same place as they are on the old belt, they are, nevertheless, interchangeable with the ML 5200. I put the new belt on my older ML 5200 and it was comfortable and accurately functional.

The shoulder harness is "basically" the same with a little thicker padding and what appears to be a more durable, hydrophilic mesh inner lining. The back pads are wider and thicker (1.5 inches thick and 4.5 inches wide) versus last year (1.25 inches thick and 3 inches wide) and they have the same durable mesh lining as the shoulder harness.

As stated in last year's review, "I like the idea of not having a stay and framesheet 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." With this pack on, I can bend over without anything pressing on my spine.

The new lumbar pad is nicely contoured to provide a snug fit and adequate support to the lumbar and upper buttocks region. The design is much different than last year's model. It is covered with the same, durable, moisture-wicking "hydrophilic air mesh" that is used in the shoulder pads, backpads and waistbelt. The lumbar pad lifts up to allow for installation, adjustment, and removal of the hip belt, shoulder straps and stays. It has two "lobes" which have velcro tips that slide up under the back pads and attach. Very easy to attach/unattach the lumbar pad. Of course, its base is permanently connected to the pack.


When you lift up the lumbar pad, you will immediately notice an empty pocket on top of the hip belt (this portion of the belt that is underneath the lumbar pad also houses the bottom tips of the stays). The pocket can contain an 8-inch-wide by 4-inch-high by 1/2-inch-thick piece of closed-cell foam. I inserted a 2-inch-high piece in the upper portion of the pocket which resulted in the lumbar pad sticking out more. This allowed me to achieve a more specific nestling into my upper buttocks region. It made the fit more snug and comfortable.

The sticky patch on the 5200 lumbar pad has become a longer sticky strip on the 5000--in fact, 12 inches long and 2 inches wide.

The top lid is much smaller than last year's model and although it is detachable from the pack, it does not function as a hip-sac. In fact, the difference in overall capacity between the ML 5000 and ML 5200 appears to be due to the reduced size of the top lid. The main pack body looks to be the same size. The lid zipper on the ML 5000 is only 9.5 inches wide which I find to be annoyingly restrictive when trying to get a fleece jacket into or out of the pocket. The top lid also has a "hidden" pocket (8 inches x 4.75 inches) for small items like keys, wallets, lip balm, sunscreen, etc.

The pack has two quick-release ice-ax loops. I tested the ice-ax loop for quick access, and 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. It also has side webbing for attaching additional gear.

This year, the "tramp pocket" is permanently attached. The "pocket" has dual daisy chains and a bungie cord with cord lock for attaching gear. It has adequate size for snow shovels, outer wear, sleeping pad, etc.

The top of the pack as well as the bottom use a more durable material, this year (don't know the techie name for it) which should extend the life of the pack. In addition to the reinforced patch, the top of the pack's lid also has four webbing loops for attaching hardware.


There are multiple ways to adjust the pack's fit to meet your requirements. The hip belt and shoulder harness are removable -- different sizes of both are available to provide a better fit for you. There is an adjustment strap toward the top of the pack (above the shoulder pads) which, when tightened, brings the shoulder pads & back pads closer together (in effect, narrowing the frame). In addition, each shoulder harness is individually adjustable up or down. I find these adjustment features very useful since I have a "funny" shoulder alignment which requires a little tweaking to get an exact fit.

The " < " shaped design of the two bottom hipbelt/lumbar compression straps is well-suited for creating a comfortable, body-hugging fit for just about anyone. As the " < " design suggests, one strap pulls the pack downward into your lumbar and the other pulls the pack upward into your lower buttocks. There are so many combinations involving the two hip/lumbar compression straps, the very-effective load-lifter straps, and the shoulder straps and hip belt (and various sizes of each) that the pack should be comfortable for just about anyone.

The only caveat:

Wearing the pack with the hipbelt centered on my hip bone -- which is the suggested way to fit a hip belt -- the back pads and, consequently, the point at which the shoulder pads come off the back pads, sits approximately one-half to one inch higher on my back than I would like. For me, this isn't a big deal, but if you have a torso shorter than mine -- mine is 19.5 inches -- the pack may ride a little high.

Conversely, if I wear the pack low -- with the top of the hipbelt one inch above my hipbone -- the pack fits better and the back pads are more correctly placed.

Bottom line, if you have a short torso and/or don't like to wear your packs low on your hips, go ahead and make the purchase, but make sure you can return it (without restock fee !!!) if you cannot achieve an agreeable fit. Also, keep in mind, this is just my opinion -- you really need to try it out for yourself.


Although I've covered much of the fit and comfort already, here are some additional details.

Even though the back pads are sufficiently thick to keep protruding objects from poking your back, it is still prudent to pack carefully. Remember, this pack doesn't have a framesheet. Also remember, it doesn't need one. The two aluminum or carbon fiber stays are most supportive. I tested it at 40 pounds and it handled the weight quite satisfactorily. The only caution is that the pack doesn't provide much top load control for full loads. Last year, the top lid was large enough to engulf the upper pack, compress it, and bring it under control. This year, the lid isn't large enough to function in that capacity, so pack carefully.

Plenty of head room. I can put my head all the way back without a problem. Unrestricted movement.

It has a tall, narrow profile. It can be a tall one -- the pack, full up, is 35 inches tall.

No floppiness. While engaged in jumping jacks, bending over frontward and from side to side, the pack sticks to me.


  1. Wider "wrap-around" zipper on the top lid (if not a little larger lid).
  2. Lower the back pads (approximately one/half inch), in order to better accommodate a broader range of torso lengths.
  3. Add internal load-control strap (similar to Dana Design packs). The top lid does not cover and compress the load like the ML 5200 did. The load tends to "pooch out" from under the lid. The internal load control strap would enable a trimmer more compact and stable upper load.


Not much!

Maybe a few inches of hip belt webbing, shorten a couple of straps and get rid of one of the ice ax loops. There's four buckles on the hip belt and four more on the bottom of the pack that add convenience "just in case" but are really unnecessary. The four webbing loops on top of the pack's lid could come off. The pack's draw cord closure can be shortened a couple of inches and the plastic end piece can come off. The plastic end piece can also come off the tramp pocket bungie cord. Both draw cord and bungie cord could have lighter cord locks. I generally replace all cord locks anyway with my favorites which are lighter and easier to grip. The pocket inside of the lid is expendable

Other than that, I can't see much.


This is a very nicely crafted backpack. I think I'll keep it.

What can I say, a 5000 cubic inch pack at 3 pounds 13 ounces certainly falls within the definition of lightweight. In addition, and more importantly, it is comfortable carrying loads of 40 pounds (I never carry more than that even when testing).

As I recommended last year -- I'll also recommend this year -- if you are looking for a lightweight 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 5000 a serious tryout.



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