Gear Review: Seek Outside Divide 4500 Ultralight External Frame Backpack

Gear Review: Seek Outside Divide 4500 Ultralight External Frame Backpack

posted in: Gear Reviews, Hiking Gear | 1

After their first big trip, it seems that many backpackers put some thought and energy into reducing their pack weight. My first couple of overnight trips were miserable, a direct result of carrying too much weight. After keeping track of the gear I carried on several hikes versus what gear was actually used, I was able to reduce pack weight by simply leaving unused items at home. The really frustrating part of reducing my pack weight began when I started to look at my “Big 3” items. A hiker’s backpack, sleep system and shelter are referred to as the “Big 3” because they are likely the heaviest and most expensive items they will buy. A benchmark that many try to hit for their Big 3 is a combined weight of less than 9 lbs. My first large capacity pack (65 Liters) weighed nearly 6 lbs; I soon realized that I would need to buy a lighter pack if I wanted to get below the 9 lb benchmark.

Thinking about my experience with backpacking, my goal was to find a backpack that was capable of carrying the loads that a new backpacker was likely to haul, but not be so heavy that they’d want to ditch it as soon as they got their pack weight down.  Knowing this information, some might say “well just go out and buy the lightest pack available.” One problem with this line of thinking is that most lightweight packs seem to have a max weight of 30 or 35 lbs. For beginning backpackers, staying under these thresholds is difficult, unless they have a huge budget to work with. However for most people, this is not the case. For me personally, I can stay under these weights on a one night trip, but it becomes more difficult for multi-night endeavors. I tend to carry lots of camera gear (up to 10 lbs sometimes). Adding the camera gear to my base weight, as well as multiple days of food will usually push my pack weight to 40 lbs or more. I also like to winter hike and snowshoe and hope to winter backpack in 2016. With the added gear (winter traction, winter clothing) my day pack tends to be 30 lbs and when heading out overnight (4-season tent, heavier sleeping quilt), most trips, even day hikes, tend to be over 30 lbs.

With these things in mind, I came up with a set of criteria for my ‘ideal’ backpack. Some of the things considered are:
  • Weight: A pack that weighs around 3 lbs.
  • Capacity: ~4000+ CI of volume, bear canister compatible, and the ability to carry 40+ lbs if needed.
  • Multi-use: A backpacking pack that can be compressed enough (or is light enough) to be used for day hikes, as well as winter hiking trips where more gear is needed.
  • “Bonus” Features (not necessary, but wanted): PALS or Daisy chain attachment points to make it easy to attach items on the outside of the pack (snowshoes, solar chargers, etc) and large hipbelt pockets to hold snacks and my phone.

I ran across Seek Outside’s Divide 4500 Ultralight External Frame Backpack through a Google search. Here are some highlights from the Seek Outside website that caught my eye:

DIVIDE 4500 ULTRALIGHT BACKPACK $349

  • A performance driven hybrid external frame ultralight backpack that is comfortable with most any load
  • Lightweight top loading roll top design using waterproof fabrics
  • Designed for multi-day long distance lightweight style backpacking
  • Exterior Mesh Stuff Pocket, Dual Dimensional Bottle Pockets, and Aluminum Hardware.

Designed for the lightweight and ultralight backpacker that value performance, comfort and durability over saving the last few ounces on their backpacking kit. The Divide couples a very capable and comfortable suspension with a functional ultralight styled backpack. The Divide is capable of supporting the big water hauls of desert backpacking, and is capable of supporting the ultralight backpacker for 15 days or more of unsupported blissfull backcountry adventure.

Features:

  • 4500 CI (70L) Main Bag with Roll Top Closure, plus 1200 CI (20L) in Side Pockets and Attached Mesh Stuff Pocket.
  • 2/3 Attached Mesh Stuff Pocket with Center Daisy 
  • 10 Attachment Points for Added Compression Straps or Cordge
  • Multi-Lid and Talon Compatable can add 1000 – 1500 CI to volume
  • Comfortable from 5-100 lbs.
  • Micro forward adjust harness with Daisy Chain attachment points and Load Lifter memory location
  • Articulating, vertically stiff frame allows for fluid movement with stiff vertical support (Evolution Articulating Suspension™ )
  • Made in Grand Junction CO, USA

Weight:

  • Weight 2 lbs 12 oz Alpine Gray / 2 lbs 15 oz Expedition Olive
  • Optional strapping is 2.6 ounces (Over the top, optional 3rd compression,dual lower straps)
  • Horizon Cross Stay 2.5 ounces
  • Pack Includes Optional Strapping and Horizon Cross Stay

Rain Cover / Seam Sealing:

  • A rain cover is not needed for main packbag since it features waterproof material and a watertight closure. Users that want full submersion proof should seam seal from the outside

Bear Can Compatability:

  • Bear can can fit in pack bag through upper 2 /3 of bag
  • Bear can can be strapped to lower compression straps
  • Bear can can be carried under the top straps

 

Reading the description, I became very interested in this pack (the full description can be seen on Seek Outside’s website). After exchanging a few emails with Seek Outside, I soon had a Divide 4500 at my doorstep. Here are some “unboxing” photos:

 


My Observations

So far, I’ve used the pack on day hikes and one backpacking trip (Coyote Gulch – 3 days, 2 nights)

  • The Good
    • Very comfortable: I’ve comfortably carried up to 45 lbs with the pack so far. Two things that really stand out about this pack and probably affect comfort the most are the:
      • Hip belt – One way that ultralight packs save weight is reducing the amount of padding they use, since in theory, it isn’t needed with a lighter load. I didn’t think I missed the extra padding until I started using this pack. The hip belt straps are also inward pulling and arranged in a zigzag configuration, which provide a mechanical advantage during tightening. I find them easier to adjust than the outward pull straps I’ve found on most packs.
      • Suspension – While I don’t understand all of the mechanics involved, the Evolution Articulating Suspension effectively transfers the majority of the weight to my hips. Using the load lifters I can keep the weight close to my body, but off of my shoulders and pulling down (instead of outwards). This is something that I’ve had a hard time doing with internal framed packs. The design of the pack also provides back ventilation (air gap between your back and the pack), which is one of the main features I look for when purchasing a day pack, but haven’t seen in many overnight packs.
    • Durability: The body of the pack is made from a variation X-Pac fabric, which is known for it’s balance between weight and durability. The fabric used is also waterproof.
    • Large mesh pocket: The large mesh pocket is great for storing wet or dirty gear (camp shoes, wet water filter, wet/dirty ground cloth, etc).
    • Large side pockets:  I can store my tripod and a 1 liter Smartwater bottle in the same pocket. The side pockets can also be accessed while wearing the pack.
    • Bear Canister Compatibility: The bear canister can be placed inside the pack or strapped to the outside easily. I prefer to place the bear canister outside the pack if possible, making it easier to access my food on the trail. While I planned out each meal for my HST hike, I usually found myself wanting to eat something that I had put back in my bear canister, not what I had pulled out for the day. I had several instances where I needed to empty half of my pack to get to the food that I felt like eating.
    • Roominess: While I can fit my gear into a 65L pack, the extra capacity of this pack is nice. On a multi-day trip, one of my pet peeves is needing re-pack my pack perfectly to get everything to fit. This is not an issue with this pack.
    • Made in the USA!
  • The Bad
    • No hip belt pockets: I missed having hip belt pockets to store items I wanted to easily access. The pack has PALS style webbing on the outside of the hip belt, that will allow you to attach your own pouches.
    • No hydration sleeve: This isn’t really an issue for me since I rarely use a hydration bladder these days, but I thought I should mention it. In those rare cases where I want to use a hydration bladder, I have a hydration sleeve made from Tyvek that I can attach to the inside of most packs or store inside one of the exterior pockets.
  • The Bottom Line 
    • I really like this pack. I see it being my go-to pack whenever I carry more than 30 lbs, when it’s preferable to strap items to the outside of my pack for extended periods of time (snowshoes, bear canister, etc.) or when damaging my pack is a concern (brush and cuben fiber don’t play well together). While heavier than what most would consider lightweight, the comfort and durability of this pack are well worth the extra weight in my opinion. It’s one of the best packs I’ve ever used.


Future Testing

Over the next few months, I want to test

  • the pack’s longterm durability – while I have no reason to doubt it’s durability, a pack in this price range needs to last several years in order for it to be a sound purchase for most individuals.
  • weight capacity of the pack – this has more to do with curiosity than anything else, but SeekOutside’s specs say that this pack can be comfortable up to 100 lbs! I want to load it up with some weight to see how much I can comfortably carry with my long torso (21″).


Disclaimer: The products reviewed in this entry were provided to HikingGeek.com by Seek Outside.

One Response

  1. Dennis Wolfe

    Thanks for the review. I’m sure I have a Divide 4500 in my future. I noticed the bottom of the pack is a couple of inches above the bottom of the frame. Is this because you have the 2″ frame extenders installed?