Six Moon Designs StarLite Backpack Owner Review

Name: Mark Verber
Age: 41
Gender: Male
Height/Weight/Torso: 5'10" (1.8 m) / 180 lb (82 kg) / 19.5" (50 cm)
Email: email address
Region: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Date: May 17, 2004


Review Item: Six Moon Designs StarLite (first version)
Volume: 4100 cu (63 l)
Listed weight:  23oz with padded hip belt, 28oz with stays
Weight as delivered: 23oz with padded hip belt, 28oz with stays
MSRP: US$170 (1/8" Spectra Gridstop material, the padded hip belt, and stays)


See Six Moon Designs' web site for picture and a detailed list of features.  The updated StarLite uses a thicker shoulder strap.  I have not used a StarLite with the new shoulder straps, but I the new shoulder strap is also used on the Comet which I have used. The newer shoulder strap is significantly more comfortable than the original design.

The follow observations are a supplement their description.

This is a well designed pack. The pad pocket makes an effective frame for moderate loads, and the removable stays permits the pack to carry heavier loads with comfort. I found the size and shape to be excellent. My weekend gear fit nicely inside the pack bag without shifting when I cinched down the straps, but had enough room for my normal gear, food for 7 days, and 5L of water.  I also found that the pack was roomy enough for all my gear plus my daughter's sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a large stuffed animal she uses as a pillow.  My only complaint (this is very minor) is with a light load, the side-to-side closure on the top of the bag flops around a bit. The dry bag style closure for the top of the bag works well making it easy to quickly and fully open the top of the bag as well as being very easy to close the bag up. The only issue I had is that the velco would grab onto some of the items that I was putting into the pack.

The side mess pockets are a good size. The smaller pocket is perfect for a bag of snacks or a 1L water container. I could easily insert and remove items with the pack on my back. The longer side pocket is tall enough to hold a wide variety of items. The back mesh pocket is nicely sized for drying items, and the bungee cinch was adequate.  I think the cinch would be more effective if a normal cord rather than an elastic cord was used.


Hiking around the bay area, Santa Cruz Mountains, Ventana Wilderness, Henry Coe State Park, and the Lost Coast.  So far I have only used this pack for approx 240 miles.  Moderate weather (40-75F)


I played around with the pack in my neighborhood, adjusting the weight until I found what seems to be the point that comfort was noticeably better when using the stays. For me this was around 27lb.

I first tried using  a Pacific Outdoor thermo-max air mattress (my standard pad these days). I found that air mattress was usable (but not recommended) up to around 24lb at which point it did not provide enough structure. Using the air mattress was a bit odd because the pack would "wobble" a bit (e.g. the interface between my back and the outside of the pack was good, but that the rest of the pack moved somewhat freely).  The therm-a-rest made a better "frame". I expect a Z-rest would be significantly better than the therm-a-rest.  Most of my experience has been with a 3/4 length therm-a-rest ultralite pad.

Per Yellow Jacket's suggestion I folded up the pad so there was extra bulk at the bottom of the pad pocket. Furthermore I stuffed some socks into the pad pocket to make the lumbar area more pronounced. This was the single most important adjustment I made to improve the carry comfort of the StarLite. When the pad was a uniform thickness the pack carried a like a flat board and would pull away for my back making weight transfer to my hips fairly ineffective and placed a lot of pressure on my shoulders. By padding out the bottom, the pack made a good contact in the lumbar region and didn't pull away from my shoulder as much.  For me, the pack still pulls away from my shoulders more than I would like which hinders load transfer to the hips because I have to tighter the shoulder straps.  It has been suggested that I need to change  the amount of air in the therm-a-rest to eliminate the pack pulling away, but I never found the right setting. 

I found the StarLite (without stays) to comfortably carry the heaviest weight of any ultralight pack I have tried. I was able to carry up to 27lb for short distances (less than eight miles).  The limiting factor was shoulder strap comfort.  As noted able, the updated shoulder straps should have this problem. I have used the Six Moon Designs Comet for up to thirty miles resulting in only mild shoulder soreness (less than fifteen was always fine). This is the only frameless pack which I would be willing to use with loads over 20lb.  I think this pack was as comfortable for me as the Mountain Smith Ghost at 27lb, which is pretty impressive.

34lb w/ stays was comfortable. After a bunch of fussing with the pack and stays I finally found the adjustments (adjusting the curve of the stays and letting some air out of the therm-a-rest) which mostly kept the pack from pulling away from my back.  I found this pack to be acceptably comfortable to be carried for extended distances. I did find that by the end of the day my shoulder definitely knew I had been carrying a pack, but they were fine the next day.  Stuffing a sock under each shoulder strap helped, leading me to believe that the shoulder straps should be a bit wider or thicker.  In the updated design of the StarLite the shoulder straps have been widened which significantly improved the shoulder comfort. For me, this pack is as (or maybe more) comfortable than MS Ghost.

I thought the pack would benefit from a thicker hip strap... so I tried using the hip strap from my Granite Gear Vapor trail which is almost the same size but more padded.  I concluded that the extra padding didn't make a significant difference over the padded strap provided by Six Moon Designs.

The DriGlide Back Material is quite nice. This is a huge improvement over having sil-nylon against the back. This material seems to wick well and didn't bind against my clothing.


So far the pack has held up well and looks practically new except for two issues. First, a pin hole in the bottom which seemed to happen very early on, but hasn't gotten larger. Second, one of the stays wore through the web strap which velcos into the stay which has been fixed with a bit of duct tape.  I have learned from Ron that the webbing which holds the optional stays has been redesigned and should be more durable and he has offered to repair my pack free of charge.


I think this pack has a good "emotional design" (Donald Norman). This is the only ultra-light pack I have used which is capable of carrying more than 18lb with reasonable comfort. For many people I think this would be a perfect pack for the PCT where the stays could be used for the water heavy sections of the hike, and then could be mailed home. I really wish that I could switched to using this pack for all trips. I like the external pockets, the size and shape are great, and the materials used are nice.

[Note: To set context for the next paragraph I should observe that I am a wimp.  Many people seem to be happy with ultra-light packs to 25-30 lbs, and and think the GoLite Breeze is the cat's meow up to 20 lbs.  I find most ultra-light packs fatiguing over 18 lbs, and thought the Breeze was a pain over 10 lbs.]

For me, carry comfort trumps everything. The StarLite didn't hit the comfort of my current light-weight pack, a Granite Gear Vapor Trail (VT). The VT which seems to have been designed to fit me perfectly. I know it sounds funny, but I have actually forgotten that I had the VT on my back on some hikes. So while I hate the extension collar on the VT, that the pockets are close to useless, and that the fabric don't handle abrasion very well... I will continue to use my VT on most trips.   The StarLite is my pack of choice (without stays) when backpacking with my daughter since we cover less than eight miles in a day and I need the extra volume.

Backpacking Background

I did a lot of backpacking from 1972 through the '80s. I started by going to various destinations in Ohio, West Virgina, and Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Destinations expanded to include sections of the AT, the PCT, the Rockies (Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Tetons), The Big Horns, and various destinations in Canada. In the '90s my outdoor activities slowed down to make room for other aspects of life. Nearly all my backpacking was heavy-weight style. In 2001 I started seriously backpacking again... mostly in the Sierras. Over the next three years I switch from a heavyweight to ultralight to lightweight style. My three season base weight is now 8-11 lb (3.5-5 kg). Full carry weight including food and water is typically 15-25 lb (7-11 kg) depending on the length of the trip. Winter trips run a bit heavier.