how i pack a smaller load in the smd starlite

The most common criticism of the Six Moon Designs Starlite backpack is that it's a large pack that lacks an adequate compression system for smaller loads.

After experimenting with stuffing my uncompressed quilt in the bottom of the pack and loading gear that I would normally carry in the outer mesh pockets into the main pack to fill up more of its volume, I settled on an approach that lets me keep my quilt compressed and my gear in the mesh pockets.

The Starlite's compression cord is located on the front of the pack and works by pulling the sides of the pack in toward the middle front of the pack. By angling the two sides toward the middle in this way, the footprint of the pack takes on a more triangular, or trapezoidal, shape. I've found that building a smaller load into a triangular shape against the back panel of the pack works best for me.  

Here are some photos to help you see what I'm talking about.

Layer 1: pack liner; compressed quilt loaded vertically in the middle of the pack; rolled mid-layer loaded vertically on the right against the back panel; socks, balaclava, and insulation vest loaded on the left against the back panel.

Layer 2: water bottle loaded on the left against the back panel; cooking kit and food sack loaded middle right; rain shell loaded middle front.

Mesh Pockets: tent fly, stakes, and ground cloth in the long pocket on left; ditty bag in the upper right; water bottle in the lower right.

Base Weight: 9.6 lb.


hiking in finland interviews

I recently stumbled upon this collection of interviews with ultralight and lightweight backpacking cottage industry folks. I'm so glad that the author, Hendrik Morkel, asks about their base weight and favorite gear.


six moon designs starlite backpack

The SMD Starlite is an ultralight backpack that's been around for several years and has evolved over time. Considering its longevity, I was surprised to find so few reviews of it online. The most helpful reviews I found include its coverage in "Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011" by Will Rietveld on Backpacking Light, the 2008 review from Section Hiker, and the following 2011 video from Only the Lightest/ Hike Light.

To these reviews, I'll add my own reasons for choosing the Starlite and my first hands-on impression of the pack.


I weighed the three components of my Starlite with a Brecknell model 311 digital scale. Here are the results.

Pack body: 19.5 oz.
Hip belt with pockets: 5.2 oz.
Aluminum stay: 4.4 oz.


The removable hip belt and aluminum stay make three pack configurations possible:
  1. Pack without belt or stay (19.5 oz)
  2. Pack with belt but without stay (24.7 oz)
  3. Pack with belt and stay (29.1 oz)
The first configuration rides comfortably with my sub-10 lb base weight and a 16 lb initial pack weight.

For initial pack weights over 16 lbs, I add the hip belt for a more comfortable carry. The belt also takes most of the pressure off the shoulder straps, which are attached to the back panel with a Velcro strap that makes the pack adjustable to the user's torso length. According to a few other Starlite users, this Velcro strap can support over 20 or even 30 lbs on its own, so I'm not concerned about a strap failure.

If my initial pack weight will exceed 25 lbs, I add the aluminum stay as well. While I rarely approach a 25 lb pack weight, I did test a water-heavy 31.2 lb initial pack weight with an overnight hike in the Joshua Tree backcountry. During the hike in with this load, the Starlite felt solid, stable, and as comfortable as 30 lbs on my back would likely feel. The next morning, I hiked out with about 23 lbs (8 lbs fewer consumables--mostly water), which was very comfortable in the Starlite. The aluminum stay would come in handy on the PCT through-hike I hope to do one year. With a 17 lb base weight rating and a 35 lb max load rating, the Starlite would make a capable through-hiking pack.

SMD Starlite, front

SMD Starlite, back
aluminum stay


It's this potential through-hike that led me to a larger capacity bag like the Starlite. I also wanted to have room to pack my sleeping pad rather than lash it to the outside of the pack. My standard gear fills 25-30 L, my sleeping pad fills 9 L, and my consumables typically fill 5-10 L; therefore, I was looking for a 40-50 L bag. The Starlite has a 49 L main bag, a 6.5 L extension collar, and 13 L in external mesh pockets. With a 49 L main bag, I can leave the extension collar for overflow consumables and the mesh pockets for water bottles and wet/dirty gear.

The compression system does a fair job of reducing the overall bag capacity around a small but tall and narrow load. The small load should be tall and narrow because the compression cord pulls the sides of the pack in toward the middle of the pack until the side mesh pockets fold over the center mesh pocket, covering it completely. Compressing the pack to its maximum cuts off access to the center mesh pocket, but it does reduce the main pack volume by about 30% based on my informal estimate. If volume reduction is a priority, you can find more effective compression systems on other packs.

no compression
max compression
compressed 16 lb pack weight 


Even though I'm pretty careful with my gear, I like the 210 denier Dyneema Diamond ripstop used for the pack bag and the 420 denier pack cloth used in high-wear areas. The mesh pocket material feels coarse and fairly tough as well.


Finally, here are a few features I like enough to highlight.

The dry-sack bag closure is unique, and it's a refreshing alternative to the standard drawstring. With other packs, I always feel the need to slip the drawstring into the bag after I close it so that it doesn't dangle outside the pack. The lip of the main bag is lined with a 1/2 inch wide Velcro strip, so you'll have to hear that Velcro sound every time you open your pack.

pack top open
pack top closed

The suspension pocket for my sleeping pad is recessed into the body of the main pack via the back panel and lets me remove my pad without disturbing the other contents of my pack. This makes stretching out for a midday rest a lot more convenient.

back panel sleeping pad pocket

The external mesh pockets are a generous size, and they are arranged in a pretty unique and useful way. I keep miscellaneous quick-access items in the upper side pocket, and I'm able to roll up my tent in a ground cloth and slip it neatly in the long side pocket.

Starlite with 31 lb load


joshua tree backcountry

Sun setting against the rocks
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
GoLite Shangri-La 1 tent fly & Gossamer Gear polycryo ground cloth
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App