Kakwa 55 Backpack
Due to unexpectedly high interest we are sold out of the M and L sizes of the Kakwa 55. The small size is available, as are all sizes in the Kakwa 40. We are working on another run of the Kakwa 55 that will be ready in late summer/early fall. Please sign up to be notified when they are available:
The KakwaTM 55 is a premium ultralight, multi-day pack designed from the first principles of load carrying and ergonomics to provide the greatest function, comfort and usability for an ultralight pack. Developed from Dan Durston’s attention to detail and thousands of miles of backpacking experience, the Kakwa 55 has class leading load carrying, materials, and pocket design while weighing just 1.8 lbs (29 oz / 825 g).
Load Carrying and Comfort
The Kakwa 55 brings genuine load carrying capability into the sub 2 lbs weight class. Other packs this light generally sacrifice load carrying ability by omitting load lifters, lacking horizontal structure, and relying on less ergonomic shoulder strap and hipbelt shapes. The Kakwa 55 solves this tradeoff through more efficient design and advanced materials including UHMWPE fabric and hollow aluminum tubing. Hollow aluminum tubing is a more efficient use of structural weight than the solid metal bars found in competing packs, so we use this material to create a rigid frame with both vertical and horizontal structure at the same or less weight than competing packs expend for just vertical structure. This frame connects directly to the hipbelt for maximum load transfer and directly to the load lifters, which are rare on packs this light yet highly functional for shifting more of the weight off your shoulders and onto the hips. A capable structure is nothing without an ergonomic connection to your body, which is why the shoulder straps have a carefully developed S shape to contour around your upper body, while the hipbelt uses a dual strap design which cups your hips and has reverse pull 2:1 leverage for easy tightening. The result is a pack that comfortably and effectively manages loads up to 45 lbs.
Efficient access to your gear is a hallmark of modern pack design as it allows you to move more efficiently through the wilderness. What is needed is not simply a high quantity of pockets but rather a pocket layout that has been carefully considered to compliment each other and allow for a diverse range of storage possibilities while remaining simple enough to stay organized.
For this, the Kakwa 55 has four types of pockets to optimize on-the-go access to your gear so you can keep covering miles instead of taking off your pack. That starts with the hipbelt pockets, which are designed to reliably operate one handed and easily accommodate medium sized items such as snacks, sunscreen, phones, and headlamps. That storage is augmented by dual top opening shoulder strap pockets which provide an optimized place for your phone for quick photos and navigation. These top loading pockets also work well for small water bottles, sunglasses, and bear spray. Additionally there is the innovative QuickPocket which consists of an easily reached compartment in the sidewall of one side pocket where you can stow even larger items are normally too bulky to be quickly accessed on other packs, such as hats, mitts, maps and bulky snacks. Finally, a mesh style front pocket quickly swallows the largest items like rain gear, tents, and cook sets where you need to take your pack off anyways to use these items but the external storage here mean you still don’t need to open your pack. Collectively, the Kakwa’s pockets are carefully considered so you can hike all day with maximum efficiency.
Materials and Quality
In our backyard in the Canadian Rockies we often spend more time off trail than on, so durability in materials and construction is a top priority. With the Kakwa 55 we are using the innovative Ultra 200 fabric from Challenge Outdoor, where the face fabric is dominantly woven UHMWPE fibers (more commonly known by the brand name Dyneema®) which is several times stronger and more abrasion resistant than traditional nylon pack fabrics. This material is laminated with an eco-friendly adhesive to a backing film to build a material that is incredibly durable, lightweight, and waterproof.
Simply using a tough fabric is not enough if the pack has weak points in the stitching or supporting materials. That why the Kakwa 55 is fully double stitched with heavyweight thread by the same factory that builds packs for Arcteryx, and uses stronger folded seams. We’ve also used the same tough Ultra 200 material for the hipbelt pockets, and side pockets so these exposed areas also have maximum durability. The front pocket is generally less exposed to the brush, but still we’ve sourced the most durable knit mesh for this pocket that is much tougher than typical lycra mesh.
Overall, the Kakwa 55 genuinely offers the highest load carrying and usability in a 55L multiday pack to support your adventures. When similarly optioned, comparable packs are heavier, less durable, and more expensive while typically lacking the best-in-class load carrying and refined feature set of the Kakwa 55. It’s everything you need in a pack for just 29 oz /825 g.
Due to high interest we are sold out of the large size of the Kakwa 55. The small and medium sizes are available, as are all sizes in the Kakwa 40. If you are interested in the Kakwa 55 in large, please sign up below for an email notice when they are available:
Small, Medium, Large
Features & Specs
- Ultra 200 fabric is extremely durable and lightweight (3.5oz/yd)
- Inverted U frame of hollow aluminum for vertical and horizontal structure
- Load lifters for optimal load transfer
- Ergonomic S shaped shoulder straps
- Dual strap and reverse pull hipbelt provides 2:1 leverage for easy tightening and cups your hips with a wider contact area
- Tapered shape with a 42″ top circumference allows many models of bear canisters to store horizontally.
- Y-shaped top strap secures items like tents, sleeping pads, and bear canisters to the top.
- 8 grosgrain attachment loops enable ice axe carry and additional storage of gear on the front and bottom of the pack.
- Hipbelt pockets are high capacity with genuine one handed operation
- Shoulder strap pockets are optimized for quick access to phones, water, and bear spray
- QuickPocket on the side allows access to larger items while on the move
- Hydration bladder compatible (has hydration port)
- Front pocket with durable knit mesh allows access to large items.
- Seams are fully double stitched and seam bound
- High quality construction from same factory as Arcteryx.
- Complete backpack:
- Small: 795 g / 28.0 oz
- Medium: 825 g / 29.0 oz
- Large: 855 g / 30.1 oz
- The frame (90 g / 3 oz) and backpad (15 g / 0.5 oz) are included in the above weights and are removable.
- Ultra 200 fabric in gravel grey
- Heavy duty polyester knit mesh
- YKK AquaGuard zippers
Dimensions / Capacity
- Unrolled height: 32″ / 81 cm (S), 34″ / 86 cm (M), or 36″ / 89 cm (L)
- Top circumference: 42″ / 107 cm
- Bottom circumference: 33″ / 82 cm
- Frame length (bottom of pack to load lifters): 21″ (S), 23″ (M), 25″ (L)
- Shoulder straps connect 4″ below the load lifters
- Center of hipbelt is 2.5″ above the bottom of the pack
- Internal volume: 51 L (S), 54 L (M), 57 L (L)
- External volume: Approximately 15 L
- Torso: 15 – 18″ / 37 – 46 cm
- Typical user height: 5’4″ – 5’8″ (162 – 173 cm)
- Minimum circumference: 27″
- Maximum circumference: 46″
- Recommended waist*: 28″ – 38″
- Torso: 17 – 20″/ 42 – 51 cm
- Typical user height: 5’8″ – 5’11” (173 – 180 cm)
- Minimum circumference: 28″
- Maximum circumference: 47″
- Recommended waist*: 29″ – 39″
- Torso: 19″ – 22″ / 47 – 56 cm
- Typical user height: 5’11” – 6’3″ (180 – 190 cm)
- Minimum circumference: 29″
- Maximum circumference: 48″
- Recommended waist*: 30″ – 40″
Warranty: 1 year against defects
* Recommended Waist = Hipbelt pockets will be in ideal position and padding will wrap well around the hips. For waists larger than this but below the maximum circumference, the belt will still buckle but the hipbelt pockets will be further back and the padding may feel a bit short.
The Kakwa 55 provides best-in-class load carrying, usability, and durability for a sub 2-lbs pack. To illustrate this, the table below compares the Kakwa 55 two other other excellent packs in this niche (50-60L packs around the 2 lbs mark)
|Kakwa 55||HMG Junction 3400||ULA Circuit|
|Vertical frame structure||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Horizontal frame structure||Yes||No||No|
|S-shaped (ergonomic) shoulder straps||Yes||No||Optional|
|Dual pull hipbelt||Yes||No||Yes|
|Max rated load||45 lbs||40 lbs||35 lbs|
|Shoulder Strap Pockets||Yes||Optional (+$98)||Optional (+$60)|
|Accessible pocket for larger items||Yes||No||No|
|Reverse pull hipbelt||Yes||No||Yes|
|Mesh front pocket||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Top circumference (enables bear canisters)||42″||40″||38″|
|Y-shaped top strap||Yes||Yes||No|
|Durability and Quality|
|Main fabric||Ultra 200||Hybrid DCF 50D||Nylon|
(Ultra 200 + $100)
|Double stitched/folded seams||Yes||No||No|
|High durability mesh||Yes||Yes||No|
|Internal (protected) pocket elastics||Yes||No||Yes|
|Price & Weight|
|Price (with similar spec)||$260||$477||$440|
|Weight||29 oz / 825 g||31.8 oz / 904 g||37.3 oz / 1038 g|
|Weight (with similar spec)||29 oz / 825 g||37.2 oz / 1055 g||38.3 oz / 1056 g|
In summary, compared to its main competitors the Kakwa 55 offers greater load carrying ability, usability, and durability for less weight and a lower price. It is 3-8oz lighter and $20-$120 less expensive when comparing the fully equipped Kakwa 55 to minimum build for these other packs. When comparing the Kakwa to a similar build (i.e., more similar fabrics and including shoulder strap pockets) the Kakwa is 8 – 9 oz lighter and $180 – $217 less expensive.
Q) What does the “Kakwa” name mean?
Kakwa refers to the northern terminus of the Great Divide Trail (the most scenic and wild thru hike in North America). Kakwa is a park in the Canadian Rockies where you can find Kakwa Lake and has its origins in the Cree language where it means porcupine.
Q) How does the 55L version compare to the 40L verson?
The 55L version is a bit taller (1″) but mostly it is a larger circumference. The 55L has a more tapered shape, so the circumference is 2″ greater at the bottom and 6″ greater at this top. This gives more volume, and because that volume tapers to be quite a bit wider at the top it allows the pack to accommodate many bear canisters in a horizontal position. This increased circumference also increases the width of the side pockets and front mesh pocket.
Q) What bear canisters can fit horizontally?
It is hard to fit canisters horizontally inside a 55L pack, but the Kakwa 55 uses a tapered shape that is wider at the top to enable many to fit. It tapers from a 33″ circumference at the bottom to 42″ at the top. A canister needs to insert about a foot into a pack to close it. At this position the pack has a circumference of about 40″, thus bear canisters with a horizontal circumference under 40″ should fit.
For the BearVault line, the BV425, BV450, BV475 and BV500 will fit. For the Bearikade line, the Scout and Weekender will fit while their Blazer and Expedition canisters are too large. Other canisters that fit are the Bear Boxer, Garcia Backpackers Cache and UDAP No-Fed-Bear. The Counter Assault Bear Keg is too large. Canisters that are too large to fit horizontally can be stored vertically inside, or horizontally on the top of the pack under the Y strap.
Q) Does the 2023 Kakwa 55 have the same updates as the 40L?
Yes. Both the 40L and 55L packs are our updated 2023 design which incorporates user feedback and refinements compared to the 2022 model. This includes additional lash points on the front and bottom, longer hipbelt adjustment to accommodate larger waists, and a variety of refinements to improve durability including at the frame ends where we have adjusted the design and used more durable Ultra 400 to avoid the potential for wear points.
Q) How do I remove/reinsert the frame?
The frame slides into two sets of reinforced channels (upper and lower) inside the pad sleeve. It is easy to open the flap and remove the frame and/or pad. When reinserting the frame it is best to have the pad removed. Guide the frame into the upper channels and then insert it several more inches until it extends to the lower channels. Reach your arm inside and guide each end of the frame into the lower channels (failure to do this can damage the pack). You may need someone with a skinnier arm to do this. Once the frame is in the lower channels, insert it the rest of the way and then slide the pad into place and close the flap.
Q) Is the 55L volume including the external pockets?
The Kakwa 55 has about 55L of interior volume (not counting external pockets) but the interior volume varies based on size (51L, 54L or 57L for S, M and L) and on how much you roll down the top (the full volume assumes the minimum of 2 rolls of the roll top). There is also external volume that is primarily in the front mesh pocket and side pockets, which is difficult to measure but can accommodate up to about 15L.
Q) How much can this pack hold?
Ultralight hikers (e.g. <10 lbs of gear) with kits that are compact (e.g. down sleeping quilt) will find they can fit a week of food reasonably and can stretch that to 10 days or beyond. Conversely, hikers with light but not ultralight baseweights (e.g. 10-15 lbs) will find it is a good 3-7 day pack. Traditional hikers with ~20 lbs baseweights will find this to be a good pack for 1-4 day trips.
Q) Is this pack waterproof?
The Ultra 200 material is 100% waterproof with an impenetrable plastic backing on the Ultra 200 fabric that is much more durable than traditional PU coatings. However small amounts of water can seep in via the seams which are not taped. We do not tape the seams partly because bound seams are stronger, but also because our more capable frame requires seams that are too complex to be seam taped (e.g. many layers of material sewn into the seams). As a result, the pack ends up being water resistant but not fully waterproof. If it rains for hours, a little bit of water will seep into the pack.
Many people will find that it works well enough to keep sensitive gear like your clothes and sleeping bag in waterproof sacks and then everything else will be fine, but you can use a pack liner or seam seal the pack to increase the waterproofness.
Section Hiker: “Load transfer to the hips is excellent….the pocketing is fantastic….we think there are a lot of users who will find the Kakwa to be an excellent pack.”
BackpackingLight: “The Kakwa 40 proved to be the only backpack in the sub-two-pound weight class that was capable of carrying more than 50 pounds without torso collapse…..this pack has my favorite carry feel.”
The Trek: “I’ve become a huge fan of the Kakwa…the true beauty of the Kakwa is less tangible. It just works. It holds a lot of stuff, has smart places to put all that stuff, and carries it all comfortably. I love my Kakwa 40 and couldn’t be happier to have it for the remaining 2000 miles of the Eastern Continental Trail”
MyLifeOutdoors: “This is truly my favorite pack”