The big ugly

I’ve been using a Paradox Unaweep 3900 in VX42 since last fall, which is the first pack in years I’ve used that I didn’t make.  Much has already been said about the Unaweep’s brilliance, but once you’ve made a pack or two, it’s impossible to just leave things as is.


The goal was to utilize the Unaweep’s near-perfect harness design, but in a slightly slimmer, more flexible package optimized for the canyon country hiking that I most often do.  This means a decent bit of scrambling, narrow spots, and bushwacking in canyon bottoms.  While the Unaweep moves more like a internal framed pack than other externals, it’s still rather stiff and wide for my usual needs.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fabric is X50 from Dimension-Polyant, which is 500d cordura, x-ply, .5 PET layer.  7.9 oz/sq yd.  I’m a big Cordura fan and this stuff is great.  It’s reasonably pliable and should be a decent bit more abrasion resistant than VX42, which I haven’t been terribly impressed with.  It could be made even better by removing the x ply yarn, which does nothing but add stiffness and weight in this heavy of a fabric.  Some colors other than black Multicam would be welcome as well.


I used .16″x.5″ 7075 aluminum for the stays.  It cannot be emphasized enough how differently 7075 behaves compared to 6061.  In addition to being much stronger, you can bend 7075 quite a lot and it just springs back to it’s previous shape.  6061 stays as you bend it.

Hipbelt attachment to the frame is the same as the Unaweep, although the attachment points are about 5.5″ apart compared to ~12″ on the Unaweep.  At least on my skinny frame this allows quite a bit better wrap.  After using the external-style hipbelt attachment I can’t imagine making or buying anything else.  You have to have a bottom crosspiece but I’d wager it still ends up lighter than wing style belts because you don’t need a lumbar pad, hipbelt stiffeners, reinforcement to the belt connection, etc.

Stay sleeves are all on the outside of the pack, which makes removal for other pack bags easier and allows for much easier sealing from the inside.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Removable front compression pocket has a #8 zip with plenty of fabric to protect the coils.  Rock kills exposed coils quickly.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Bottom compression strap can be placed over side pocket to keep it nice and tight (above) or under/inside the pocket to be out of the way (below).


This is achieved by not sewing the entire side of the pocket; it’s just bartacked with the daisy chain.


Dimensions are about 11.5″ across the back, 34″ circumference for the lower part tapering to 38″at the top.  Weight is 3 lb on the nose plus about 5 oz for the front compression pocket.



It’s first outing was a week long trip down in the Pollywog Bench area and it performed flawlessly.  Starting out with 7 days of not particularly light food, full packrafting gear and a six-pack of Tecate felt fantastic.  It won’t haul out an elk as comfortably as the Unaweep, but for loads up to 40-50 lb I can’t imagine much improvement.  It carries a more typical 20-30 lb more comfortably than I’ve ever experienced.


Like the Unaweep, it should make a great platform for future projects.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


10 thoughts on “The big ugly

  1. Brendan looks really great, with lots of well thought out features (like the compression strap at the water bottle pocket like Katabatic is doing). Do the stays run up to the load lifters? How does the shoulder harness attach to the pack? Too bad I can’t sew.

    • Thanks Alex. Yes, the stays end right at the load lifters. The shoulder harness is the same as on the Unaweep; two pieces of webbing go down through steel sliders hidden behind the back padding in the middle of the back and then up through ladderlocs next to the load lifters. This allows for easy torso length adjustment.

    • Thanks Andrey. I used a Sailrite LSZ-1. This was my first project with the Sailrite, which replaced an industrial machine that was taking up way too much room. I use an old Singer 401a for lighter projects.

    • Thanks Sam. All it would take is heavier, less flexible flatbar but I feel like if you’re going to be carrying that much weight, the primary advantage of this design (that it’s more flexible for scrambling, etc) isn’t really necessary and you might as well use the tubular frame of the Unaweep.

      • My current rig employs standard 6061 flat bar in a “x” shape and pocketed into the hipbelt and frontpanel (standard internal frame style) and it begins to deform around 75 lbs. so I’ve been researching options. Thanks for the reply.

  2. fantastic pack. solves my qualms with the unaweep for slots and desert stuff (too stiff/wide + overkill), though i havent tried one. If you find yourself inclined to make a version 2.0, I’d prob buy this one off you. Or if you’d just be willing to do some custom work, let me know.

    also, great to see some more posts, always exciting to see your photos and get some trip ideas

  3. Some very interesting ideas. I’m thinking of building something similar, incorporating some of Dave Chenault’s ideas as well. It would be helpful to know how the Big Ugly worked out now you’ve got some more miles on it. Anything you would change? Thanks for any feedback.f

    • It’s been great. I currently don’t have any plans for building another pack (which I don’t think has ever been the case before this one), so I’d call it a success. The Seek Outside hipbelt and shoulder harness don’t fit quite as perfectly as they could and I’ve thought about either some tweaks or rebuilding them but they’re close enough. The X50 is outstanding.

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