I love backpacks. I own more than my fair share, I’ve reviewed them for Wirecutter, and for the majority of the last 4.5 years, I’ve lived out of one for months at a time while being a digital nomad.
However, backpacks can be annoying, especially if you’re carrying a lot of stuff. I try to pack light, but when you’ve got multiple lenses, cameras, a laptop, clothes, and various other necessities, it adds up. My go-to pack is an Osprey Farpoint, which distributes the weight well on my frame, but after a few miles walking I start to question it, myself, life, the universe, and whatever idiot idea it was to carry anything anywhere ever.
Since rolly bags are tools of the devil and should be banished from Earth, there’s no solid alternative (sigh, I just know typing that is going to get me inundated by emails from PR people hawking some terrible travel bag alternative. Please don’t bother, I’ve already seen them).
HoverGlide is a new backpack design that, the makers claim, will help reduce the pain of carrying a heavy pack. It looks a little weird, but I think you’ll understand once you watch the video:
So yeah, a full-on moving suspension system. Most serious travel and hiking packs have a “suspension system” but this is really just internal bracing that helps direct the weight away from your shoulders and onto your hips. This might not seem like much, but it helps a lot.
While some early writeups of this new design claimed it would make the pack “weightless,” that’s ridiculous. The weight is still there, more than a comparably sized pack actually, because of the additional hardware. What this does is, in theory, soften the secondary impact of the pack/human system. The first impact is your foot hitting the ground, the second is the pack hitting you. We all bounce a lot when we walk, and any other backpack is going to move with a slight delay compared to your bounce.
What the HoverGlide does is reduce the additional gravity-induced weight that the bounce creates. The suspension creates a sort of counter-bounce to make the pack seem lighter as you walk or run. Stationary, it’s the same.
Lightning Packs, the creators of HoverGlide, say this results in a pack that feels 8-12 pounds lighter than a traditional pack when you’re on the move. Not bad.
And if you’re like me and looked at all that movement and thought, huh, I wonder what would happen if you put a tiny generator in there to harness that wasted energy, well Lightning Packs is a step ahead of both of us. They also sell packs with exactly that functionality, but not to the general public.
There are three varieties available, the 55L Trekker, 30L Tactical, 30L Hiker, and 28L Commuter.
The Trekker looks well padded, with lots of pockets, and appears well suited for its obvious hiking task.
At 9 pounds it’s more than double the weight of the Farpoint 55 I travel with or the hiking-oriented Thule Versant, and nearly double the larger Gregory Baltoro.
The Tactical and Hiker share roughly the same design, with the Tactical made from heavy-duty 1000D Cordura versus the Hiker’s 200D.
The Commuter has a pleasant “canvas-look” to its 300D material and is slightly less deep than the other small packs.
Overall they look well suited for their individual missions. However, it comes at quite a price. As of this writing there are a few Kickstarter rewards left for a $419 pack, but once those are gone, it’s $500. Or you can pay $600 for 2. That’s a lot of money for a backpack. But I suppose if you hike a lot or regularly have shoulder issues from regular packs, that could be worth it.
I’m on record as recommending against the majority of Kickstarter/IndieGoGo hardware campaigns. No matter how interesting the product may seem, or how well intentioned the creators, putting hardware of any kind into the market is exceptionally challenging.
The HoverGlide has already passed its goal, with several weeks left (as of this writing). So they’ll have the money they wanted to start production. If you want to get in on it now, go for it, but my advice is to wait until there’s an actual product. Sure it might be a bit more expensive, but at least you’ll definitely get a pack. With KickStarter there’s no guarantee.
They’re hoping to ship by June of next year.
With that warning in place, here’s their KickStarter, and more info can be found on their website: LightningPacks.com.