Gear Review: Katabatic Gear Helios 55 Backpack

posted in: Gear Reviews | 2

Why Buy?

For the last 2 years, I’ve been working hard to reduce my pack weight. My first couple of overnight backpacking trips were miserable, a direct result of carrying too much weight. After keeping track of the gear I carried on hikes and what gear was actually used, I was able reduce pack weight by simply leaving unnecessary gear at home. At that point, I started looking at the weight of my “Big 3” items. A hiker’s backpack, sleep system (sleeping bag/quilt + sleeping pad or hammock) and shelter (tent, tarp) are referred to as the “Big 3” because they are likely the heaviest and most expensive items they’ll buy. In order to be considered lightweight, a hiker’s Big 3 should weigh less than 9 lbs. When starting this process, I owned a backpack that weighed nearly 6 lbs. When researching backpacks, I had some criteria in mind, based on what I thought my max weight would be, as well as the volume gear I would want to carry:

  • Weight: A pack that weighs around 3 lbs.
  • Capacity: ~4000+ CI of volume, bear canister compatible, and the ability to carry up to 40 lbs if needed.
  • Multi-use: A backpacking pack that can be compressed enough (or is light enough) to be used for dayhikes (or is modular with something that be used as a summit pack), as well as winter hiking trips where more gear is needed.

One problem that I ran into is that most of the lightweight packs that I found had a max weight of 30 or 35 lbs. While I hoped to get my pack weight (for multinight trips) down to 30 lbs or less, I knew it would be a while before I would be able to do so. One of the few packs that met all of the criteria I set was the Katabatic Gear Helios 55. For comparison sake, here are some specs for the ~65 liters backpacks I’ve used over the last couple of years:

   Gregory Baltoro 65  Six Moon Designs Fusion 65 (2014)  Katabatic Gear Helios 55 Backpack 
 Retail Price  $299  $230  $350
  • Double-diamond ripstop nylon
  • flat weave nylon
  • 420 Nylon robic (Pack Body)
  • 210 Nylon robic (Side Panels)
  • Cuben Fiber (body)
  • Dyneema / Polyester ripstop (bottom)
 Capacity (size large)  68 liters  65 liters2  63 liters
 Pack Weight  5.875  2.43 lbs  2.1 lbs
 Capacity to Weight ratio1  11.5 liters/lb  26.6 liters/lb3  30 liters/lb
 Max Recommended Weight Carried  50 lbs  40 lbs4  40 lbs


1 Since the packs aren’t exactly all the same capacity, I thought that “capacity to weight” may be a good way to compare them to one another.
Six Moon Designs (SMD) advertises the Fusion 65 as having a 65 liter capacity. This 65 liters includes both the capacity of the main compartment and the stretch pockets, which is not uncommon. However the outside pockets seem to be poorly designed and I’ve had gear fall out of the pack. In my opinion, the usable capacity of this pack is probably at least 10% less than the advertised 65 liters.
3 Considering the issue of “usable capactity,” I estimate that this number is probably < 25 liters/lb.
4 SMD claims that the pack can carry 40 lbs or more, but with my long torso (21″), anything more than 30 lbs is very uncomfortable. Based on my own experience and discussions I’ve read in forums, I’ve found that the pack poorly fits anyone with a torso longer than 20″ although it is advertised as fitting torso up to 22 in. SMD claims that they’ve fixed several issues with their 2015 redesign, although I’ve never seen them publicly acknowledge the issue with long torsos.

As time allows I will conduct more research and add items to the list above, focusing on items that are in a similar price range, weight or capacity to the Helios 55. This will show a more direct comparison.

Here are some ‘unboxing’ photos of the Helios 55:


My Observations

(Last update, Oct 2017) I’ve used the pack on several snowshoeing trips, quick training sessions in the local hills and overnight on backpacking trips. For snowshoeing, the pack has weighed about 30 lbs. On the local hikes and backpacking trips, I’ve carried close to 40 lbs.

  • The Good
    • Very comfortable. I’ve comfortably carried up to 40 lbs with little discomfort.
    • Weight – one of the lightest and largest packs I’ve owned.
    • Hook and loop closure on the roll top – you can really fill the pack to the brim and still close it securely.
    • Compression straps can be clipped on the inside or outside of the side pockets – you can cinch the pack down without making it difficult to remove your water bottle and other items.
    • Large hipbelt pockets – they are large enough to easily fit a iPhone 5 or Galaxy S5.
  • The Bad
    • Price – lightweight gear, especially gear that uses cuben fiber as a material, is expensive.
    • If you have a waist larger than 40 inches, you may find that the hip belt is smaller than you prefer. My waist is < 36″ and I have not had any issues with the hip belt.  A friend with a larger waist used the pack on a 3 day backpacking trip and noted that if he was carrying more weight (his pack weight was around 25 lbs), he would want the padded portion of the hip belt to be longer.
  • The Bottom Line 
    • This pack carries the weight very well and I am very impressed. The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that I only think about how much the pack weighs when I’m putting it on or taking it off. When it’s on my back, I’m not thinking about it. In the past whenever I’ve carried more than 30 lbs, it seems that my pack is always a distraction. With my experience this pack, as well as my Katabatic Flex 22 Quilt, I can confidently say that Katabatic makes some of the highest quality and well-designed gear out there. 
    • I was a little suspicious of cuben fiber’s longterm durability. Granted, I am cautious with this pack, but it has help with extremely well with nearly 2 years of on and off use.  

Disclaimer: The products reviewed in this entry were provided to by Katabatic Gear.

2 Responses

  1. Leslie

    Hi, Thanks for your review! I’m curious if you are still using the pack and if you have any further comments about it. I am especially interested how the pack does with a bear canister. I am planning an August JMT trip and will be using the Bearikade Weekender. Thank you!

    • TheHikingGeek

      I’m still using the pack and am still impressed with it. I use the BV500, which is a bit smaller than the Bearikade diameter-wise. I place the bear canister in first, then stuff my backpacking quilt or clothes around it.

      If you happen to purchase the pack, please try to post a comment here to let me know how it goes … and say hi to Kris for me when purchasing!