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Submitted: 05-13-2013 by Mikeknauf
I was hesitant to get one of these and had considered using a bare external frame and lash system to carry my dry bags. I decided to bite the bullet and order one to see what it looked like, and then if I didn't like the way it looked or worked I would return it. No pressure.
I am happy to say the issues that had been previously reported with this product failing at the top strap look to have been resolved. The top strap is looped and double stitched to prevent separation from the 'frame' section of the system. I won't say for sure if it won't fail but it doesn't look as though it will. NRS claims to have solved the problem with this design change.
Fitment is OK. The system could benefit from a torso adjust for the shoulder straps. It fits me fairly well (I'm a medium to medium/small on the Lowe system) but I would like the torso to be an inch shorter or so. Not a big deal though. It isn't uncomfortable to wear.
I loaded up a 55L OR dry bag which is what I plan on carrying my gear in and fitted it up to the system. Adjustment was quite simple and the clips and adjusters are of decent quality. I wouldn't call it amazing. For instance it doesn't feel as nice or as easy to adjust as my Lowe bags, which cost over 3X as much. Anyway the bag fit on there fine with plenty of extra space in the adjusters to fit something with more height and more girth.
There is a strap system for which one could attach a single bladed paddle on the back panel. I see how this could work in theory but I didn't try it yet. It looks as though the shaft might just whack you in the head. Nice idea but I don't know how practical it will be.
On the back panel there is also a bungee system and and lash points to tie on other things. Once could bungee a sleeping pad back here or the like. I'm not sure exactly how I want to orient my sleeping pad... I was thinking horizontally across the top as long as it doesn't mess with me carrying the boat.
There are two side pouches on the waist belt which I have no idea what use they may be. They are very small. Like pocket change size. One could put their keys in them but the system doesn't float (or at least I don't think) so if you flip, your keys along with the system will be sitting on the bottom of the pond.
The waist belt itself is pretty weak. The padding only about 1/4" thick although the width and the wrap are sufficient. It has a nice large clasp up front although the cinching was not as nice as a real backpack. I could get it tight but it was a bit fussier and didn't feel as nice as a backpacking bag. There are no load control cinch webs on the side of the waist belt but there are on the shoulder straps. The shoulder straps themselves have minimal padding and are a bit fiddly to adjust, just like everything else. It isn't horrible but it doesn't scream quality.
Onto the frame itself.
It had a molded foam and mesh pad built onto some sort of rigid plastic. I felt around on the plastic and there is something stiffer running up the spine. Either the plastic is thicker or reinforced there or there are some struts in there. Either way it is fairly rigid I suspect can support as much load as waist and shoulder straps can.
Seen as how I don't plan on wearing this for more than a mile at a time I don't see it as being a bad system. All in all it is lighter and more compact than a barrel setup AND/OR my backpack. The dry bag and the NRS system together weigh about half of what my pack does. It also folds up pretty compactly due to the thin padding on the belts.
My hope is to keep all my gear dry in the boat via the dry bags but also have an acceptable, and somewhat comfortable portage system. So far it looks promising.
Total: the NRS system with a 55L Bag: $100
The only other comparable product I found was the ULA Epic. Reviews on this one are mixed. It does come with a 65L Sea to Summit Dry Bag (I don't like them as much as the OR bags).
Cost on this one is: $275.
The ULA weighs about 1/2 pound less and has similar features. The padding looks similarly thin as well. Other features are somewhat similar. The ULA would have to be really comfortable to warrant that extra $175 because it doesn't look as though it would be any more durable. It does come in different sizes which would probably help the comfort.
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