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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > GoLite Pinnacle Pack > Owner Review by Ernie Elkins
Owner Review by Ernie Elkins
July 27, 2007
Name: Ernie Elkins
I've been an avid backpacker since the late 80s. Although I occasionally venture further afield, my usual destinations are in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest. I try to get out at least once each month, and most of my trips are two to three days in duration. I prefer solitude, so I usually hike alone. I also prefer a light and simple gear kit -- my base weight ranges from about 8-12 lb (3.6-5.4 kg) depending on the season, destination, and trip duration.
GoLite markets the Pinnacle as a large-volume, ultralight pack for a variety of backcountry pursuits, and it offers a simple, stripped-down design with a minimum of bells and whistles. For starters, the Pinnacle doesnít have a rigid, internal frame designed to transfer the packís weight to the wearerís hips. Instead, the Pinnacle incorporates a thin, pliable sheet of foam in the back panel for comfort and support. It also has no external padding on the back panel, including in the hip area, nor does it have a traditional, heavily padded hip belt. Instead, it relies on a pair of very lightly padded hip wings, which are stitched directly into the side seams of the pack body. The design is very simple Ė outer faces of ripstop nylon with an inner layer of foam padding thatís approximately one eighth of an inch thick. Each side is about 8Ē (20.3 cm) long, at the end of which is an adjustable 12Ē (30.5 cm) length of 1.5Ē (3.8 cm) nylon webbing with a quick-release buckle.
In contrast to the somewhat rudimentary hip wings, the Pinnacle offers more heavily padded, contoured shoulder straps that incorporate an interior layer of Brock foam and spacer mesh exteriors. The purpose of spacer mesh is to provide greater airflow and, consequently, improved ventilation. In addition to a sternum strap, the shoulder straps also incorporate adjustable load lifter straps that tie into the main bag at the seam with the extension collar.
The Pinnacle is a top loading pack, and it includes a 12Ē (30.5 cm) extension collar that closes with a nylon draw cord and plastic cord lock. Once the draw cord is pulled tight, the collar can be rolled and secured with the top compression strap, which is constructed from 0.6Ē (1.5 cm) wide nylon webbing and closes with a quick-release buckle. The main compartment includes a stretch mesh water bladder pocket, a short nylon ribbon with clip for securing keys, etc., two exit slits for a hydration tube, and a Velcro-sealed flap that allows the user to insert/remove the foam back panel.
The Pinnacle has a large rear pocket and two side pockets. The rear pocket covers nearly the entire rear panel of the pack, from the bottom seam all the way up to within about 4Ē (10.2 cm) of where the extension collar begins. It closes with a water-resistant zipper with dual pulls. The side pockets have angled tops to facilitate access while wearing the pack and measure approximately 6.5Ē (16.5 cm) tall at the front and 10.5Ē (26.7 cm) tall at the rear.
The body of the pack is constructed primarily from Dyneema gridstop, a lightweight, water resistant fabric with a 0.4" (1 cm) ripstop grid for added tear resistance. The hip belt, sides of the rear pocket, and bottoms of the side pockets are constructed from lighter duty ripstop nylon. GoLite utilizes a stretch mesh fabric for the side pockets, and tops them with an elastic band.
In addition to the top compression strap, there are two compression straps on each side of the pack. These, too, incorporate quick release buckles. GoLite has also provided two webbing loops at the base of the rear pocket and two elastic cord loops near the pocketís top. These loops work in conjunction for lashing tools or other gear to the exterior of the pack. Finally, the bottom of the pack incorporates GoLiteís comPACKtor system for adjusting the packís overall volume. The comPACKtor system is made up of two small cord loops that are stitched into the seam at the bottom of the back panel and two small clips that are stitched into the seam at the bottom of the rear pocket, just to the inside of the gear loops mentioned above. When connected, the loops and clips compress the bottom of the pack and greatly reduce its overall volume, the purpose of which is to allow the user to carry smaller loads more efficiently and effectively.
Iíve carried the Pinnacle on three backpacking trips so far, for a total of seven days in the field. The first trip was a short overnight hike in North Carolinaís Uwharrie National Forest in February of 2007. At about 400 million years in age, the Uwharrie is the oldest known mountain range in North America, and most of the peaks are less than 900 feet in elevation. Overall, the terrain is quite gentle in comparison with that of the nearby Appalachians. The weather was mild, with daytime temperatures near 60 degrees F (15.5 C) and nighttime temperatures in the upper 30ís F (3-4 C).
My second outing with the Pinnacle was a three-day trip in North Carolinaís Black Mountains in mid-May of 2007. Unlike the gentle, lower elevation trails of the Uwharries, the trails in the Blacks are extremely rugged, with steep grades and uneven footing, and include the Black Mountain Crest Trail, which traverses the highest peaks east of the Mississippi. The weather for this trip was about 10 degrees warmer overall, with the nighttime temperatures in the lower 40ís F (5-6 C) and daytime highs in the lower 70ís F (22-23 C).
My most recent outing with the Pinnacle was an overnight trip on the Appalachian Trail along the North Carolina/Tennessee border in late June of 2007. I hiked the section of the AT between Carverís Gap and Hump Mountain, which crosses several high, exposed balds at altitudes between 5500 and 6000 feet (1676-1829 m). Although not as rugged as the trails in the Blacks, this portion of the AT includes some steep grades and rocky, uneven footing. The high temperature on the first day of my trip was approaching 80 degrees F (26.5 C), but overcast skies and thunderstorms kept the temperature about 10 degrees cooler on the second day.
Packing the Pinnacle is relatively easy. Like all frameless packs, it benefits from a rolled or folded sleeping pad to add structure and facilitate load transfer to the hip belt. In my case, I use a full-length, ľĒ-thick (0.64 cm) closed cell foam pad that I fold and place against the packís back panel. In order to prevent uncomfortable bulges and to evenly fill the packís voluminous interior, I pack my gear rather loosely. I start with my synthetic sleeping bag, which I lightly compress in a plastic bag. On top of that, I pack my shelter, clothing, inflatable mattress, and, finally, my food bag and cooking equipment. The outside pockets are easily large enough to accommodate my other assorted gear (water bottles, emergency kit, etc.). I donít find it necessary to lash anything to the outside of the pack. Thatís a good thing, since exterior lashing points are at a minimum on the Pinnacle.
Once the Pinnacle is packed, the compression straps are very effective at cinching up the load. The side straps are well placed and donít interfere with access to the side pockets, and the quick release buckles are very convenient when it comes time to release the tension when unloading the pack. Since there is no top lid or cover, I simply cinch up the draw cord on the extension collar, roll the collar tightly and secure it with the top compression strap. Finally, once the pack is loaded and cinched up, Iíve found that I can eliminate any remaining lumps by pressing firmly against the back panel, particularly around the bottom of the pack where my sleeping bag is loosely packed.
My fully loaded pack weight (including food and water) for these trips ranged from 12-18 lb (5.5-8 kg), and I found that the Pinnacle handled these loads exceptionally well. Despite the lack of a rigid, internal frame, the improvised sleeping pad frame does a nice job of weight transfer, and the contoured shoulder straps and lightly padded hip belt are quite comfortable (no pressure points, etc.). Iíve discovered that the hip belt does slip a bit and requires occasional retightening, but thatís a common problem for me and may have more to do with my build than with any failing on the part of the Pinnacle.
Since the Pinnacle is the first frameless pack that Iíve owned, I wasnít sure that Iíd find the spare back panel to be tolerable Ė after all, the only thing between my back and the contents of my pack is fabric and a thin layer of closed cell foam. There are no external pads, no ventilation channels, no 3D mesh, etc. Nonetheless, as long as long as the main compartment is packed carefully, Iíve found it to be surprisingly comfortable against my back. Moreover, Iíve been pleasantly surprised that it doesnít become especially uncomfortable in warmer weather, when I expected the lack of ventilation to come into play. For example, on my most recent trip on the AT, the first few miles of the trail were completely exposed, the temperature was around 80 degrees F (26.5 C), and humidity was high, yet the Pinnacle didnít prove to be any more uncomfortable than the padded and ventilated framed packs that Iíve used in recent years. Thatís not to say that my back didnít become hot and sweaty Ė it did, but just not to a degree that was intolerable. Nonetheless, in order to improve the airflow, I experimented with loosening the shoulder and load lifter straps slightly to allow the pack to ride a bit more loosely, and this seemed to work well for enhancing ventilation without significantly affecting the packís overall stability
Iíve been especially impressed with how well the load lifter straps perform. Usually, load lifter straps are attached to the top of a packís internal frame, but, since thereís no frame in the Pinnacle, they attach at the seam between the main pack body and the extension collar. This led me to question how effective they would be. Despite these reservations though, I found them to do a very good job at pulling the packís weight closer to my body and, thereby, improving its overall balance. When I loosened the load lifters and relied solely on the shoulder straps for this purpose, the packís comfort and balance suffered noticeably.
Iíve also been very happy with the Pinnacleís stability on rough, uneven terrain. As I mentioned above, Iíve carried it on some very steep and rugged trails. Despite the difficult terrain, though, the Pinnacle has balanced superbly. Whether crouching to pass under fallen trees, descending a steep trail at a fast clip, or rock hopping across creeks, Iíve become quite comfortable with the fact that the Pinnacle will remain stable. Of course, Iíve also been carrying relatively light loads, so my experience is somewhat limited by that fact.
My most recent trip presented me with two opportunities to test the packís water resistance, both of them strong thunderstorms that produced very heavy rainfall. The first storm (actually, two storms in back-to-back succession) hit during the afternoon of my first day, about an hour before I set up camp. It rained heavily for about 15 minutes, and the packís fabric quickly wetted out. When I unpacked the Pinnacle, I found that water had worked its way throughout the interior. This wasnít a problem, because a plastic pack liner safeguarded all of my critical gear.
After emptying the Pinnacle, I turned it upside down and lashed it to a tree trunk, where I left it overnight. Another brief storm arrived shortly after dark, and the pack was still quite wet the following morning. However, once Iíd loaded it up and began moving, I was surprised at how quickly it dried out. Within a half hour or so, the back panel was dry, and the remainder of the exterior of the pack was dry to the touch soon after. The interior still remained a bit damp, but that was to be expected. I was caught in another thunderstorm later that afternoon, this one more prolonged, and the results were much the same Ė quick wet out and water penetration. Therefore, I would not advise using the Pinnacle in wet weather without a pack liner and/or pack cover.
Finally, the Pinnacle has impressed me with its solid construction and durability. There are absolutely no signs of wear on the pack so far, despite quite a few close encounters with rhododendron thickets, briar patches, tree trunks, and rocks. Iím especially impressed with the stretch mesh side pockets, which I would assume to be the most exposed and least durable of all material on the pack. Iíve also scrutinized the stitching, especially at high stress points (where straps tie into the pack body, etc.), and Iíve seen nothing to concern me there either. At this point, I have no qualms whatsoever about taking the Pinnacle into the roughest terrain, and I feel no need to treat it gently.
Overall, Iím very happy with the GoLite Pinnacle. Despite its minimalist design, it has proven to be a great performer. Itís comfortable, durable, supportive, balances well, and is refreshingly light on my back. Iíve spent quite a bit of time trying to think of ways that GoLite could improve this pack, but I consistently have little to offer Ė it works very well, as is. My one suggestion (and Iím not convinced that this is truly necessary) would be to improve the hip belt. An inner face of spacer mesh, as on the shoulder straps, might help to provide a bit more friction so the belt doesnít slip and would also have the obvious benefit of enhanced ventilation. Nonetheless, itís quite clear to me that the Pinnacle is the product of a very well thought-out design process and works exceptionally well as is.
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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > GoLite Pinnacle Pack > Owner Review by Ernie Elkins