Miracle diets are likely to weight loss without suffering never work, right? Wrong. We found an exception: Mountainsmiths Mountainlight pack series. These lightweight backpacks do allow you to shed pounds without sacrificing load control or comfort.

Five editors and several gear testers carried the four backpacking models on this packing line (Auspex, Chimera, Ghost, and Specter), and every one of us came home happy. For a hike in Arizona’s the San Francisco Peaks, I loaded up the near-expedition-size Specter with a week’s worth of gear and a decadent selection of fresh food. I figured Id use the 2-plus pounds I was saving in pack weight to brighten my eating options with weighty foods Id usually leave behind: apples, carrots, cheese, chocolate chip cookies. Because the Specter proved just as comfortable as similar-size packs Id carried, I almost felt as if I were cheating. Gain with absolutely no pain.

So what gives with Mountainlight packs? Zippers, for one. These heavy, metal things are kept to the bare minimum, along with compartments and external pockets. Nor will you find extension collars or full foam back panels. There isn’t even a frame sheet on the midsize and weekend models. Instead, the featherweight but supportive suspension system employs two aluminum stays cushioned with vertical strips of foam; there’s also generous lumbar padding, and triangular Delta straps on the hip belt snug the load against the lower back.

Another major weight savings comes from the pack bags nylon Dimension Polyant fabric, which is significantly thinner and lighter than Cordura but just as abrasion-resistant. The packs we tested survived extensive abuse, ranging from getting dragged down Arizona slot canyons to being hauled to the top of talus-strewn Canadian peaks.

Thanks to the Mountain lights efficiencies in load control, materials, and pack design, you’re certain to lose weight with these packs. It’s just a matter of picking which dieter, the model is right for you. Read on to review your choices.


“With a capacity approaching expedition size, the Specter is the model that tests Mountainsmiths lightweight suspension most severely,” notes Managing Editor Jonathan Dorn, who carried the pack filled to the brim on a week long hike in the Grand Canyon. “If the system were going to fail, it would fail here. But I didnt experience a moment of discomfort. That’s pretty remarkable, given that many quality packs in this size range weigh 2 pounds more.”

Sporting a long, slender profile, the Specter is a single-compartment, top-loading pack with a large, J-shaped zipper that offers easy on-the-trail access to the bags innards. Slider adjustments on the shoulder harness (also on the midsize Auspex and Chimera) make modifying the torso length a breeze. Complaints about the pack were few, but centered on its off-trail performance: The tall bag felt a bit unstable while we were scrambling; brush tore the shallow, mesh water-bottle pockets; and the bungee cord atop the lid caught on low-hanging branches.

Auspex (men’s)/
Chimera (women’s)
Photo by Jonathan Dorn

Mountainsmith Auspex

The pack bag on these models is a long, slender, single-compartment top-loader. Jon used the Auspex on a series of fall weekends and winter overnights, applauding “the just-enough-but-not-too-much harness and features.” I carried the Chimera on a weekend hike with 35 pounds of gear and found it amazingly comfortable. Even though there’s no frame sheet, the load control and load transfer are superb, keeping the weight on your hips, not your shoulders. We appreciated the weight savings, which equals as much as 3 pounds over comparable-size packs. I also liked the way the shoulder straps and hip belt contoured to fit a woman’s body. An earlier version of this kit (called the Mountainlight 3500) earned top honors in our lightweight pack field test (“Light And Easy Packs,” June 2000). After trying out the newest models, we’ve found that only improvements have been made to an already modern design.


Mountainsmith Ghost

Northwest Editor John Harlin made friends with the Ghost during 100 miles of hiking in Californias Sierra and Alaska’s Brooks Range. He reported that it “comfortably carried everything I needed for ultralight fair-weather backpacking trips of up to a week.” John and Jon, who tested the Ghost along the Appalachian Trail with loads of up to 25 pounds, call it the best pack they’ve found for ultralight backpacking, noting its adequate weight control and superior freedom of movement for scrambling and even climbing. A Delrin rod across the top of the pack bag gives the Ghost structure and helps channel weight to the full, flexible hip belt. The lightly padded hip belt tapers from the middle of the back panel and keeps the load pleasantly snug against the lower back. Twin water-bottle pockets and a bungee cord round out the primary features.

Price: $299
Capacity: 5,600 cu. in.
Weight (mfr./BP): 5 lbs. 5 oz./5 lbs. 6 oz.

Price: $249
Capacity: 4,200 cu. in.
Weight (Auspex size regular; mfr./BP): 3 lbs. 14 oz./3 lbs. 12 oz.

Price: $179
Capacity: 3,100 cu. in.
Weight (mfr./BP): 2 lbs. 6 oz./2 lbs. 8 oz.

Contact: Mountainsmith, (303) 279-5930;



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