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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > High Sierra Karadon 65L Backpack > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
High Sierra Karadon 65L M M/L
Initial Report: August 19, 2016
Field Report: November 28, 2016
Long Term Report: January 23, 2017
Trying out the Karadon 65 L for the first time
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking. I enjoy hiking with family and friends but also hike solo occasionally. Most of my hiking has been in the Southeastern US. I hike throughout the year but actually enjoy late fall or early spring the most with some winter hiking mixed in. I don't like the hot and humid weather of summer unless I can escape to the mountains were it is cooler. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability to a degree. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9kg) not counting food and water.
The High Sierra Karadon 65L M M/L is an internal frame backpack. As suggested in the name, it is a 65 L (3967 cu in) pack. The M M/L stands for men's medium/large. The list of features is pretty impressive on this pack. Of course you can't cram a lot of features into a pack and keep it lightweight but at 4 lb 4 oz (1.9 kg) it is not all that heavy for a pack this big and feels really good on my back. But first, a look at the pack. This particular pack series is available in men's and women's and in a 45L, 55L and 65L (2746 cu in, 3356 cu in, and 3967 cu in) volume pack. There are two additional size choices to make which have to do with torso length. I'm testing the medium/large which is adjustable for torso lengths of 18" to 22" (46 to 56 cm) in 1" (2.5 cm) increments. The smaller size (called the small/medium) adjust from 15 to 19 inches (38 to 48 cm). My pack is Lime/Kelly Green and has a rather military look which I like. Other colors are available.
The website information is minimal at best. Other than a few good photos and the general specifications there is not much about the details of the pack, what its intended use is or anything that would convince me to look at this pack as anything more than a casual duty backpack. Which is a shame, because it appears to be a serious contender in the upper end pack department. The tag hanging on the pack was not much better but did include a few very basic drawings on how to adjust the torso length and that the pack is best for multi-day use. The warranty is for the original owner for the lifetime of the product for any defects in materials or workmanship under normal recreational use. Notice it doesn't specify for the lifetime of the owner. I'm not sure what the lifetime of a product is but since it is for the original owner I'm going to assume at least as long as he or she lives.
Overall the pack seems very robust. I won't abuse it intentionally but I don't think I'll have to baby it either. The material toughness seem to correspond with where wear is expected, in the other words, the material on the bottom feels thicker and heavier duty than the material for the main bag compartment. I won't try to measure every strap, buckle or zipper opening on the pack. They're not wimpy like some I've seen on ultra light packs. I'm also not going to measure the interior of every compartment but the interior volume of the main pack bag is listed below in the specs given by the manufacturer. However, after filling the pack with gear I measured the outside. It stands about 26" (66 cm) tall, is about 12" (30 cm) wide (a little wider at the bottom with two water bottles in places) and about 11" (28 cm) from front to back. When wearing it the top lid sits well below the top of my head which is good. The top lid is pretty much like the top lid on most packs. It has two pockets, one on the outside (top) and one on the inside (under). It fastens with two adjustable straps at the back and a center strap on the front. All can be be let out if I need to cram extra gear in between the top lid and the top of the main compartment. BTW, I'm calling the front the part seen when being worn, the back would be where the shoulder straps and hip belt connect. The top lid does not convert to a fanny pack but I never used that feature on any pack that had it's no biggie for me.
The main compartment is accessed through several ways starting with the top which is secured with two drawstrings. The second drawstring is on a collar located down a little ways inside the bag. On either side of the pack are two side access zippers. They are each about 14" (36 cm) in length and have dual zipper pulls. Speaking of zipper pulls, all are massive. I think the idea is to be able to operate them with a glove on but I'm not sure. The last access point is near the bottom through a moon shaped zippered opening which opens to the sleeping gear compartment. I say compartment, it is really just separated from the upper part of the main bag with a piece of nylon fabric which is held in place in four corners by a strap and buckle arrangement. It can be removed and I probably will eventually.
The pack also features two side pockets for water or gear. They are huge but not saggy, I could easily fit a 32 oz (0.96 L) nalgene bottle in one. Just above these pockets are two more side pockets large enough for gloves or other small items. They are accessed with zippers and are right between the compression straps (two per side). Unfortunately the compression straps go over the two side zippers that access the main compartment so if I have something strapped under one and need in the main compartment via a side zipper, I'll have to remove that item first. Even if just cinched down with nothing under it, I'll still need to unsnap them to access the main bag from the side.
There is one more storage compartment on the front of the pack. It measures abut 10" (25 cm) wide and 12" (30 cm) tall and is about 2" (5cm) thick. It can hold bulky items (within reason) rather than just a sleeve that might hold a few maps. I wish the opening was at the top but it has two zippered opening on each side. I like a top opening because if I cram more than it will hold, gravity pretty much keeps thing inside.
There are two more pockets located on either side of the waist belt. They are big enough for a small phone, small camera, keys, snacks etc, but my iPhone 6+ in its waterproof case will not fit. I'm a little bummed because while I go to the woods to escape everyday life, I do use my phone as my camera. I will have to come up with a way to access it without needing to remove my pack. There are actually two more pockets on the waist belt which are just to the outside (or on top of) the zippered pockets. They are really just pouches made of a stretch type material. I would put anything in them I couldn't chance loosing. However, they should work great for snacks and similar items.
The hydration pocket or sleeve is located on the back side of the pack. It is open at the top and measures 16" (41cm) deep and about 10" 25 cm) wide. The drinking tube can then be run over either shoulder strap. The haul loop is located here as well. It is just a web strap but is covered with a clear tubing. The tubing may add a little weight to the pack but it really does feel comfortable when grabbing the pack by it, I like it!
There is one last pocket on the pack. It is located on the very bottom and holds the built in rain cover. I have already checked and the rain cover seems adequately sized to fit over the pack when loaded. I guess I should also mention the missing pocket....or as they call it, the hidden helmet holder. It must be hidden really well because I can't find it.
The suspension system is pretty complicated to describe. It basically consist of an inner and outer section. The inner section is what touches the wearer, is padded and can be removed to wash. I haven't tried to remove it yet but have already spotted a problem on the shoulder straps. The straps that hold the outer (non-padded) part to the pack must be undone at both ends in order to slide the inner part off. The top strap is fine but the one going down near the waist belt has a piece on it that will not let it slide though the buckle. I could easily cut it off if I really want to wash the padded part but I'll see how important I feel this is later during the test. The shoulder straps are connected in the middle of the back of the pack and secured to the pack with a hook and loop patch. I know this does not seem all that sturdy but trust me, I can pick the pack up by the shoulder straps and it does not budge. This is also where the torso length adjustment is made. There are a series of slots with corresponding lengths written above each opening. I'm using the 20" (51 cm) torso length so I just poked the tab up in that opening. Hope that made sense but here is a photo that shows it more clearly.
The pack is supported by aluminum rods which run from top to bottom on either side of the pack. They actually are as wide as the pack for about half the length but curve inward as it gets down towards the bottom. And by inward, I mean towards the center of the pack. The back panel is covered with a nylon material but it feels like some kind of hard plastic shearing is underneath it.
The waist belt also has an inner part that can be removed for washing. It looks like it won't be any problem to remove. The waist belt is plenty big for my 40" (102 cm) waist. I have about 14" (36 cm) of strap left over on each side which means I could let each side out another 7" (18 cm). I can't foresee wearing enough clothes to run out of room. The padded part of the waist belt is adjustable but not a lot. Since I'm fairly big in the waist I moved it out as far as I felt comfortable. The further you move it the less area the hook and loop fastener has to grip
The pack features several attachment points for securing gear to the outside of the pack. There is what looks like sleeping pad straps/holders down near the bottom of the pack. Unfortunately, they won't let out far enough to hold the pad I use with my hammock. There are hiking pole holders on either side of the pack.
I did find one blemish in the pack. The zipper pull connection on one of the small upper side pockets was not closed properly and would let the pull cord slip off. I squeezed it back to where it needed to be with some pliers and only slightly scratched the finish...
Zipper Pull will slide off
My repair job with pliers
Here are the key features according to the website.
• Open side pockets
• Open front pocket
• Drawstring main compartment
• Internal organization
• Hydration compatible: dedicated reservoir sleeve
• Zippered accessory pocket
• Padded waist belt
• Padded shoulder straps with sternum strap
• Tuck-away webbing grab handle
• Reflective light blinker loop
• Hidden helmet holder
• Adaptable back panel system
• Female specific offering
• Hidden rain cover
• Weight: 4.6 lbs.
Body Dimensions: 28.5" x 11.5" x 13.0"
Trying it on
I first loaded the pack with most of my summer gear. In other words, my hammock, the pad, a couple of changes of clothes and my insulated jacket and pants I wear instead of a sleeping bag. I just basically crammed everything in from the top and then stuffed my jacket into the sleeping compartment. I still had enough room at the top for a cook set and food but it was pretty full. I added a 32 oz (0.96 L) bottle to one side pocket and a 21 oz (0.62 L) to the other, both full of water. I then weighed the pack and came up with 18 lb (8 kg) This was heavy enough to adjust the shoulder straps and waist belt. As noted earlier, I settled on the 20" (51 cm) setting but tried the 19" and 21 " (48 and 53 cm) setting. I could make any of the three setting work but the 20" (51 cm) just felt better, leaving just a little room for a couple of my fingers to slide under each shoulder strap but I still felt like they were getting some of the weight as I moved around. I then hiked about a mile and a half on the road. Satisfied with how it felt, I took my shoes off and headed to the holler. I ended up hiking 3.21 miles (5.17 km) total. I got real sweaty headed back up the side of the mountain but the pack felt great the whole time. My biggest complaint was not being able to reach my water bottles while I had the pack on. I ended up taking it off twice, once down at the creek and once about halfway back up. When I was on the road I had my wife fetch me a drink once as well. I also had her snap a few pictures of the pack while we were walking. I took a few myself down at the creek. Here is what the pack looks like with and without the pack cover and a good view of the backside of the pack.
View of pack from the side with 32 oz (0.96 L) nalgen bottle in side pocket
Integrated rain cover deployed
Back (padded) view of the Karadon 65L
Test Locations and Conditions
All testing has been on local trails in northeastern Alabama. I used the High Sierra Karadon on four overnight hikes. It has been very dry with no measurable rain in over three months. As a result, it has been unusually noisy while walking. The trials are very hilly. I hike with hiking poles because it helps my going down the steep parts of the trail with my bad knees. I did not hike over five miles (8 km) in one continuous hike but did hike about eight miles (13 km) total on one overnight hike. My total mileage so far is around 26 miles (42 km). Temperatures were anywhere from around 75 F (24 C) down to 38 F (3 C).
Field Test Results
The High Sierra Karadon 65L has been a great pack for the type hiking I do. My loads never exceeded 30 lb (14 kg) and it carried those load very comfortably. I was able too easily load all my gear in it and keep items I might need during the day handy using the many exterior pockets. The one shortcoming in that department was finding a place for my cell phone which I use for pictures while hiking. This was aggravating but not a deal breaker since I kept the phone in a pocket in my pants or shorts. I especially liked the hydration bladder pocket which I used with a 3L bladder. I also used the top lid outer pocket for my toilet paper roll so I always knew exactly where it was. I also ended up removing the divider fabric intended to separate the main pack from the sleeping bag compartment in the bottom. I found it much easier to put gear in from the top opening and it was in the way for that.
I never did need to use the rain cover. After arriving at my campsite I would remove my hammock from the top of the pack. I also found that my 20 F (-7 C) synthetic sleeping bag was hard to remove from the bottom access opening so it too comes out from the top. Anyways, once my hammock was setup and my gear removed I hung the nearly empty pack from the suspension line at the head end of my hammock where it was not under the hammock fly and exposed to rain if there was any. Since there was none I'd be curious to see if turning the pack on its shoulder straps and placing it under my hammock with the rain cover up would keep it dry.
Pack hanging from hammock suspension line
Speaking of shoulder straps, I always found the pack comfortable but I'm not sure the load lifter straps were doing anything. They are parallel from the top of the shoulder straps to where they attach to the frame. However, the waist belt did a good job of holding the pack up enough so that I could always slide a couple of fingers under the shoulder straps. I doubt I ever go much over 30 lb (14 kg) so I need to load it down one time just to see how it does.
The one thing I'd change about this pack other than making the hip belt pockets a little bigger would be to add a way to attach a pad vertically on the back of the pack. I know all the pictures I've seen of various packs show a pad strapped horizontally across top or down under the pack but I never did like this arrangement. I also realize that pads are not all that popular anymore but I still use one in my hammock which is designed to use a pad in between the double bottom layers. I ended up putting my pad in a large stuff sack and carrying it under the top lid and directly over the main bag opening. The center cinch strap plus the top lid strapped down tight seemed to secure it safely. This was OK with my smaller loads but if I needed to fill the main bag full I would have to come up with another solution.
That's pretty much all I have to say for now. I look at this pack as a nice pack for summer and fall trips. I haven't filled it completely but I'm getting close and could easily run out of room on longer trips with more food and/or some of my bulky winter gear. This concludes the Field Report.
Test Locations and Conditions
My only trip during the Long Term testing phase was January 19 - 21 for a three day two night trip on the Pinhoti Trail in east central Alabama. I was hiking near and inside the Cheaha State Park which is the highest elevation in Alabama at 2799 ft (853 m). This is also where some of the steepest and rockiest sections of the trail exist. It was pleasant hiking weather but rainy, even stormy at times, so the trail was wet. Temperatures were unseasonably warm and ranged from around 55 F (13 C) to near 70 F (21 C). I also did several more short daytime fitness hikes with the pack on local trails near my house but apparently not enough...
Long Term Test Results
I still like this pack, but to be honest, I was using a large 20 F (-7 C) synthetic sleeping bag and could have used a slightly larger pack for this trip. My pack weight was 36 lb (16.3 kg) at the start of the trip with all my food and enough water for the first day. I carried a 3 L (100 oz) bladder in the hydration sleeve, a 1 L (34 oz) water bottle in one side pocket and a slightly smaller 0.6 L (20 oz) water bottle in the other. My food went in the front pocket. My small stove, mini water filter and a few other odd and ends went in the zippered side pockets. I kept a headlamp in one waist pocket and my knife and a brownie in the other. My toiletries and a few snacks went in the top pocket of the lid while I kept my kitchen pouch in the underside pocket. My hammock, sleeping bag, cook kit, extra socks and a change of clothes went in the main compartment. I did not have room for the bubble pad that goes in my double bottom hammock so I strapped it with the two straps located near the bottom of the pack. This actually worked fine and it also helped the pack stand up when I took it off for breaks etc. And finally, I kept my rain hat, which by the way isn't very packable, strapped to the outside of the pack hanging from a carabiner on one of the small side zip pockets. However, the weight of the hat slowly pulled the zipper open so I moved it to another location. I would say that means the zippers need to zip down to close but this might allow stuff to fall out when opening so I guess this means I shouldn't hang stuff from the zipper pull. I'm sure they were not designed for it. Here is my pack near the start of the trip.
Day one on the Pinhoti
I only hiked about 2.5 miles (4 km) the first day while wearing my pack but ended up walking about 10 miles (16 km) total. We set up camp early and did a day hike without our packs. I found that the organization offered by the many pockets on this pack worked really well as I could find what I needed without having to dig into the main compartment. I actually wouldn't mind a few more bigger pockets, especially on the waist belt. They are barely big enough for a brownie and my protein bars would not even fit. My phone was also much too big for this pocket so it stayed in my front pants pocket. It stormed hard during the night but my pack was safely hanging inside the shelter we were camped beside. This photo was before unloading gear for the night.
Blue Mountain Shelter on the Pinhoti
On the second day we hiked back to my truck and went into town for a late breakfast. We also assessed the weather and decided we should cut about 6 miles (10 km) off the days hike. We drove to another trailhead and hiked 1 mile (2 km) to another shelter. We set up camp again and did a long day hike. The storms were predicted to roll in around 3 AM but waited until 5 AM. We got packed in the dark with thunder all around and then waited inside the shelter while the storm raged outside. It slacked up around 8 AM so we made a mad dash for the truck in the rain. I used my rain jacket that also has a pack cover built in but it soaked through. My top lid was pretty wet by the time we got to the trailhead but the things inside were dry.
By the time we hiked out on the last day my pack was substantially lighter, I'm guessing around 25 lb (11 kg). I ditched most of my water and most of my food was gone. Anyways, even with the rain and slick trail, crossing a large creek, and walking on the edge of the trail most of the time, I hiked the 1 mile (2 km) in about 25 minutes. On the previous two days I had to crawl under a log, high step across other logs and cross several slick stream crossings. The Karadon 65L allowed me to be as nimble as possible but I won't say I looked very graceful crawling under or stepping over the logs or crossing the rocky streams.
The High Sierra Karadon 65L is a very good pack. The many outside pockets made organization a snap. I had it crammed full, as in "busting at the seams" full, but fortunately, none of the seams busted and all the zippers remained intact. The load-lifters on this pack are not high enough to do much good in my opinion but it also means the pack is not sticking up and catching on stuff as I hiked. With 36 lb (16 kg) it carried comfortably and my shoulders felt fine. The waist belt does a good job of supporting most of the pack weight. If I could only have one pack I could make do with this one but would prefer something bigger for winter trips. It would work fine for long summer trips since I had enough food left over for another day on this trip and most can resupply after several days on the trail.
This concludes my reporting for the High Sierra Karadon 65L M M/L. I would like to thank High Sierra and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.
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