I feel like we are in the Frameless Pack Golden Age. If you are looking for a very specific niche in an ultralight backpack, chances are that there is a cottage brand out there that already makes what you want. What if there was a pack that could organize your gear and keep everything you want within arm's reach? Look no further than the Meadowlark 30 from Neighborhood Packs.
Testing Locations: the Colorado Elk Range, the Sawtooth Mountains, the Arizona White Mountains, and the Coconino National Forest.
Gear List: https://lighterpack.com/r/wrya7k
- Made from Ultragrid (main pack body, side pockets and straps)
- 3 Ultra Mesh pockets - large front pocket, side entry front pocket, side entry bottom pocket
- Y-strap roll top
- Removable components: side roll top compression straps, front shock cord compression, sternum strap, and 1" webbing removable hip belt
- Pack weighs 14 oz w/out removables & 17oz with removables
- Pac is seam taped
- Main body: 30L
- External pockets: 10L
- Dimensions: 30" L (unrolled) x 10" W x 6" D (in medium)
- Recommended maximum load capacity: 25 lbs without hipbelt, 27 lbs with hipbelt
Pros of the Meadowlark 30 UL Frameless Pack
The Meadowlark 30 has six different places you can store and organize your gear. You have two side pockets, a front pocket, the main compartment, a bottom pocket, and a unique extra small pocket on the front.
Hayden designed the bottom pocket for small pieces of gear, such as your headphones, gloves, whistles, and the like. Most people are used to using the bottom pocket for food, but Hayden found that his food would get crushed from being placed on the ground.
Neighborhood Pack's unique extra small pocket on the front for snacks.
The other small pocket on the front side is where snacks are stored. I never found it too hard to reach for a snack despite my T-Rex arms. You could walk from before dawn to well past dusk, and never have to stop. Believe me, I’ve done it. All of the options the Meadowlark 30 sports for storage help you stay organized, no matter the occasion.
Here’s the Meadowlark 30 from the front and back. You can see all of the different attachment points: webbing, daisy chains, and mesh pockets. You could even use the daisy chain to attach a shoulder pocket, but I didn’t feel the need to add one; I just clipped my Garmin in.
Ultragrid came on the market within the last few years. Made with recycled materials, Ultragrid is durable and abrasion resistant. It is also a bit lighter (3.9 oz sq/yd.) than the older Dyneema X Gridstop (4.3 oz sq/yd.); yet is heavier than the DCF (2.92 oz sq/yd) and Ultra 200 (3.5 oz sq/yd), which are the two fabrics most commonly used in ultralight packs these days.
Ultragrid has a PU coating on the backside of the fabric face, so its “waterproofness” is limited (1500mm HH vs. Ultra 200’s 5000mm HH). Even so, it can take a beating, helped along by fully taped seams. Whether catclaw or scree, or the regular wear and tear of everyday life on the trail, the Meadowlark 30 had no problem keeping my gear dry during consistent downpours.
Ultra Mesh is a great complimentary fabric to the main pack body. It is highly durable, and won’t stretch over time. After a full season's worth of abuse, I don't see a snag in any of the mesh. The Meadowlark 30 is definitely a ‘cry once, buy once’ pack.
We’ve got slot canyons in Arizona too! And the Meadowlark 30 handled them just fine.
Because of the plethora of features and pockets, as well as the generous extension collar on the Meadowlark 30, it's a bag that can do it all. I’ve taken it peakbagging, on day hikes, as a travel pack, on overnighters, and on backpacking trips up to five days long.
If you can only have one bag in your arsenal, and you have an ultralight baseweight, the Meadowlark 30 could be your end-all-be-all pack. Just roll the collar to the desired volume, cinch down the many compression straps, and get walking.
Hayden embodies why cottage gear can be superior to the classic main brands. While both worlds can provide good customer service, working with a cottage brand can feel more intimate. You can often find yourself collaborating one-on-one with the creator of the gear you’re using on trail. It’s that extra attention that can take a customer experience from “good” to “exceptional.”
After getting a hold of the Meadowlark 30, I had some questions for Hayden. He was very generous with his time, and extremely thoughtful and helpful with his suggestions. As a result, I had a phenomenal first trip with my pack. As time passed, I began to have trouble with the pockets (more on that below). Hayden was empathetic, and took my feedback very seriously.
Hayden puts the neighbor in Neighborhood Packs.
You can see how big the extension collar can get. I was able to fit nearly a week’s worth of food and gear into my Meadowlark 30 pack.
Need to Know
I’ll preface this section by noting I received a tester pack for this review that was from Neighborhood Packs' inaugural batch. The pack did fall short in some places for me, which I’ll address here.
Hayden has taken the feedback from every single one of his customers very seriously. As you'll read, he has already addressed most of the issues I had with my first generation pack; and he’ll be addressing the rest in future iterations of the Meadowlark 30. As stated earlier, the level of customer service is substantial.
Here are some of the issues that Hayden has already addressed:
- moving the haul handle from behind the straps so they don’t share the same seam
- beefing up the connection seams to the straps
- elongating the strap ends that are sewn into the shoulder strap
- extra folds on the stretch pockets to keep items secure
- upgraded hardware.
- two Kam snaps instead of one on the roll top
- flat felled seams everywhere that is physically possible
- drain holes in the side pockets
The Meadowlark 30 is comfy to wear. It carried 25 pounds really well.
Drain holes on a backpack’s side pockets are such a common feature on modern packs, ultralight or not, that I initially didn't notice my Meadowlark 30 didn't have any. Every, and I mean EVERY, trip I've been on since April has dumped rain on me (occasionally even hail, yay!). I noticed pretty quickly, while in the field, the complete lack of drain holes.
The side pockets would collect a comical amount of rain, which I would then have to dump out at every break. The ‘rainwater collection barrel’ side pockets quickly became a nuisance. Luckily for you, this is one of the first changes Hayden made to his packs, and now all Neighborhood Packs do have drain holes in the side pockets.
There are all kinds of hidden gems around Coconino National Forest. Here’s the Meadowlark with about three days of food, and plenty of room to spare.
Elasticity of Side Pockets
The shock cord on the side pockets is something I brought to Neighborhood Packs' attention, and it seems like I may have not been the only one. On one fateful trip, I took a nasty spill on a wet boulder, at a raging waterfall, after a nice monsoon shower. It was a perfect accident waiting to happen, and I lost one of my water bottles, as well as other pieces of gear (more on that later). There was plenty of water to be had in these mountains, but I had essentially just halved my total water capacity in one moment.
Right now, the side pockets on the Meadowlark 30 can be cinched looser or tighter with a piece of shock cord and a toggle. At face value, that is a great feature. You can easily adjust how secure or accessible your items in the side pockets can be.
However, it’s easy for the shock cord to loosen up by itself over the course of just a few hours. You have to readjust the toggle constantly if you want the pocket to stay tight. To be clear, this problem is not specific to Neighborhood Packs; it’s a flawed feature present in many packs across the industry. The Meadowlark 30 isn’t even the only pack in my closet with this bug.
Despite having arms shorter than the length of a gerbil, I still found it easy to access both of the small pockets that had my most used items and food.
After talking with Hayden, it seems he’s wanted to redesign the sidepockets for a while now. Although he would hate to lose how adjustable the side pockets are currently, and how easy it is to replace the hardware, in future redesigns, he wants to integrate thicker shock cord into the top of the pockets. Moving the shock cord internally would cause less wear on hardwear, and keep consistent high tension to the top of the side pockets, firmly securing all items.
I feel like I might be beating a dead horse here (a real shame, considering my namesake), but I had the misfortune of losing items from all three of the mesh pockets on different occasions throughout the past year — from tasty snacks falling out of my bottom pocket, to sunscreen and chapstick dislodging from my other small mesh pocket. During that fateful fall I took by the waterfall, when my water bottle got lost, my headlamp also fell out of the main front pocket.
A light source is one of the ten essentials for the outdoors, and I was now without one. I could have used my phone in a pinch, but it felt unsafe to be in the backcountry without a proper light source. Especially with a new moon. I was too far from the trailhead to turn around and make it back before twilight, so I made camp and hoped for a serene night (everything turned out fine).
It was a frustrating experience on many different levels. Not only did I now have to replace all this gear I lost, a small price in the grand scheme of things, but I had to end this particular backpacking trip three days early.
Pretty soon after releasing the first batch of Meadowlarks, Hayden received feedback stating similar problems, so he has since redesigned the mesh pockets. The ends of all the mesh pockets are now folded four times, to keep your items secure.
The Meadowlark 30 is a versatile ultralight frameless pack that can handle everything from day hikes to extended backpacking trips. With every generation, the cottage-made pack gets better and better.
Thanks for reading : )
Rafael is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all of his adventures over on Instagram, or read more of his work over on his website.