Guiding light is one of the best hiking backpacks in that it allows you to stow or remove tools without taking the pack off. The Rope Door located in the section behind your head allows you to put in or roll out rope as needed. It doubles as a hydration port, with an easy access loop for holding your hydration bladder. The Tool Quivers on the sides are great for attaching skiing equipment or for accessibility to ice tools, snow stakes, avalanche probes, trekking poles, and compact tripods for photographers.
Pack features two backlengths, each of which can be adjusted up to 15cm, and a Pelvic Form Hipbelt, making the pack usable for people of all shapes and sizes.
U, Free, Multi, and Flexi-Flow design plus Free-Flow shoulder straps make the backpack exceptionally comfortable, while the several pockets and compartments make organization easy.
Add any model of Balance Pockets for a less fatiguing approach, or perfect balance when skiing. We recommend either the Sport or Expedition Balance Pockets (see Options tab).
Add Balance Gear Racks (see Options tab) to this comfortable backpack to take the weight of climbing hardware off your shoulders when climbing. The new generation 4 model has a revised frame which is lighter & stronger and an improved Multi-Flow pivot position for an easier to use hipbelt.
(click on button to evaluate and purchase options)
Sport: Mid-volume feels unobtrusive while carrying heavy loads
With its versatile design and lightweight construction, the Sport option is the perfect companion for all outdoor activities. Carry it on your next hike and experience the lightweight technology.
Design features waterproof Dri-liners, accessible zip flaps to protect items from the rain, and four mesh exterior pockets with compression cords.
Sport-S is 5cm shorter than other packs and is suitable for backlengths of 34cm or less
The sport version of the Effortless Rhythm has shoulder and sternum straps that allow it to convert into a daypack, which is carried on the front of the body for maximum security and accessibility. The versatile design makes it one of the best hiking packs available.
Material: 500D Kodura, 210D, 100D x 70D, 40D Ripstop Nylon
Expedition: Large volume handles heavy loads up front
The expedition version of the Effortless Rhythm lightweight daypack is the best hiking backpack for long and arduous journeys. It’s ability to comfortably hold high, heavy volumes makes it perfect for longer backpacking adventures.
Design features waterproof Dri-liners, accessible zip flaps to protect items from the rain, and four mesh exterior pockets with one map pocket.
Expedition L is 5cm longer and suitable for backlengths of 42cm or more.
The expedition version of the Effortless Rhythm has shoulder and sternum straps that allow it to convert into a daypack, which is carried on the front of the body for maximum security and accessibility. The versatile design makes it one of the best hiking packs available, especially for longer journeys.
Material: 500D Kodura, 210D, 100D x 70D, 40D Ripstop Nylon
These allow you to clip climbing hardware on the larger models with Pelvic Form Hipbelts.
Fit any pack. Quick to attach and remove.
Alternative to sternum straps when Balance Pockets are not used.
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out our recent interview with Aarn Tate, the talented inventor and designer of Aarn packs. His bags are filled with clever engineering tricks – keep reading, they’re awesome – but his main battle cry is for better ways to carry trekking bags. Enter the word bodypack. It’s not a fancy word but it’s a radically rational idea that could revolutionise the way we carry large packs in the backcountry.
Bodypacks are designed to distribute the weight you’re carrying in the front as well as in the back; simple, right? This balanced approach allows you to stand up straight and fully rest the load onto your hips – bye-bye bruised shoulders. Having some of your kit on the front also gives you very welcomed access to more gear than you’re used to having access to on the trail: camera, water bottle, whiskey flask…whatever you desire.
Aarn is a New Zealand brand with a surprisingly large range. They’ve got everything from expedition packs you’d imagine wearing on your way to Everest Base Camp to marathon-running bags for the cool ultra-marathon runners who are looking to shed weight but not features. We’d love to test the whole range but today we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the Guiding Light with Expedition front balance pockets.
“Bodypacks are designed to distribute the weight you’re carrying in the front as well as in the back.”
The pack and balance pockets accompanied me on a backpacking trip through Nepal for two weeks. It was my main bag and provided more than enough storage space and a few interested looks from the locals. They were either shocked to see someone walking so upright with a bag on their back or they thought I looked strange with the balance pockets carried on the front at the same time. Either way I was happy to be so comfortable carrying a pack.
Who It Suits
This specific bag and balance pocket combo is best suited to someone who is doing technical backcountry trips or often hikes with poles. It’s designed with the NZ backcountry guide in mind who may need to cross glaciers, climb mountains, and ski back down all in a single trip. This pack is for you if you’ve ever thought, “I wish I had a handy spot to store my ice axe so I can free up my hands!”
Who It Doesn’t Suit
If you have an aversion to green you’ll have to get over it or go somewhere else. For now the mossy green colour is the trademark colour of Aarn packs. It also doesn’t suit the person who wants a pack that they can pick up and use the same day with little thought. Aarn packs are cleverly designed – so clever in fact, that you’ll need to watch some YouTube videos to help you figure it all out. Getting the bag fitted is not trivial and I’d highly recommend spending the time in store with a trained rep to get the bag fitted correctly. The time spent there will pay dividends later.
The Guiding Light is not your average trekking bag. It’s designed for climbing, skiing, and any trip where you’ll be bringing some tools (read ice axe, not screwdriver). It has tool quivers on the sides, a rope door behind your head, and a thin profile to better keep weight close to your body. You ask, “Wait, did you say rope door?” Yup, there’s a special zippered flap that gives access to the main compartment where you can keep your climbing rope (it also doubles as a hydration port for those of us who don’t have a need for a rope door). The Guiding Light comes in a “small” 57 litre and a large 65 litre size. With optional balance pockets for your front carry you’ll be able to add up to 20 litres of extra storage. That brings the overall volume to 85 litres, which is plenty large for a multi-day overnight pack.
The detachable balance pockets convert into a very basic backpack, which came in handy a few times when all I needed was a day bag in Nepal. The comfort of the Guiding Light is like no other I’ve tried. Usually when carrying a backpack I assume a “lean forward” stance to balance out the weight on my back, causing the shoulder straps to put pressure on my collarbones. To counter this most shoulder straps are heavily padded; however, the Aarn shoulder straps were surprisingly thin and light because the balanced approach rests most of the bag’s weight on your hips.
“The detachable balance pockets convert into a very basic backpack, which came in handy a few times when all I needed was a day bag in Nepal.”
The hip belt is quite clever with dual compression straps, one high and one low. This allowed me to tighten the belt up so that it really hugged the crests of my hips. Aarn even put an extra-spongy material exactly where the front of your hip bone usually gets abused by your hip belt. After carrying it on the trail for 5 days I couldn’t find a single bruise, not even a sore spot; that’s impressive.
Aarn’s engineering genius was most apparent in the shoulder straps and the way they connect to the bag. It’s a patented system called Flow, designed to allow shoulder and hip belt movement independent of the main pack. The shoulder straps on the Guiding Light have what Aarn calls Free-Flow and U-Flow. With Free-Flow the stabiliser straps that come off the top of the shoulder straps are attached freely to vertical stays instead of directly to the pack. This allows them to slide up and down, automatically adjusting how much tension is needed. U-Flow handles the way the lower end of the shoulder straps are attached to the bag, or in this case attached to each other. Instead of attaching to the bag they are actually linked together through a slot in the bottom of the bag.
In practice this means if you lean left your right shoulder strap will get longer and your left shoulder strap shorter so that the shoulder suspension system essentially pivots. This keeps the bag in a more stable upright position as you waddle your way down the trail. It’s hard to explain and even takes a few minutes to grok in real life, but trust me when I say my mind was blown…in a good way. But that’s just one aspect of Aarn’s entire Flow System, see it explained in its entirety here.
The Not So Good
This bag may outsmart you. The engineering of Aarn packs is so clever that it can be confusing at times. While I was in Nepal I had to google how to convert the balance pockets into a backpack because I couldn’t remember how to do it.
The other drawback, if you’re a style-conscious person, is that you likely won’t be invited to model your bag on the runway. Be prepared to get teased a bit for wearing part of your bag on your front, it does look weird. If your goal is to look fashionable on the trail you’ll want to look elsewhere, but if you want to impress people with a cleverly designed bag then look no further.
Getting the bag on and off is more involved than what I’m used to. On the trail the number of times you need to do this is mitigated by having the easily accessible balance pockets on your front. While travelling though it’s a nuisance. I would generally try to keep the balance pockets empty and inside the main pack while travelling for convenience.
“This bag may outsmart you. The engineering of Aarn packs is so clever that it can be confusing at times.“
I would have liked to have some colour options when choosing the bag but it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker.
Other Bags to Consider
The world of trekking packs is plentiful, but none of them are like Aarn.
Perhaps the best alternative is to buy just the balance bags from Aarn, and attach them to your existing pack.
Other brands sell gear pockets that can also clip to your front, but these don’t stand the weight up from your hips the way Aarn does.
If you are a serious backpacker who plans on doing some lengthy hikes you should definitely consider the Guiding Light or one of Aarn’s other large-load bags. The comfort afforded by better distributing your carry weight is phenomenal. Another reason to check them out is that if you find yourself regularly accessing your backpack on the trail to get items out of your bag, you will find having balance pockets on your front a welcome addition to your backcountry carry setup. There are many different balance pockets to choose from including ones specifically designed for cameras.
“The comfort afforded by better distributing your carry weight is phenomenal.“
Aarn packs are very well engineered and are light. I’d highly recommend checking them out in store if you are lucky enough to be near a retailer; if not then it’s probably worth ordering one for yourself to see what all the fuss is about.
"The climbing community has not yet fully embraced your designs - climbers always comment on my pack and ask me how I find it. I just came off a guide's course and all the other guides were most intrigued, saying I was the first person they had met who used one. There is a misconception that you can't walk on rough ground (the thought being that you can't see your feet) and people don't understand that the front packs are removable, leaving a compressible lightweight pack for steep climbing.
I've found the pack great! I've had trouble with my back for years and the difference in pain and muscle tension on long trips with heavy loads was very noticeable straight away. I walk much more upright under a load and find traditional packs horribly uncomfortable now. I've taken the pack on transalpine crossings, to Antarctica and up plenty of peaks and technical faces (recently up the South Face of Mt Cook). I was also happy to find a kiwi-designed pack that is made of lightweight materials and not canvas. The pack's suffered some wear and tear but that is the trade-off with lightweight fabrics I guess. I also really like the tool quivers - they are very useful for quickly stashing a snow stake. Penny Goddard, Christchurch, NZ (one of NZ's top female climbers)
"Hi, Just wanted to say a HUGE thankyou! I recently bought a Guiding Light with Expedition Balance Pockets and took it on 5 days of tramping in NZ. I can honestly say that it is the most comfortable pack I have ever worn and the weight is truly on the hips as advertised. I walked faster, I was definitely more upright and did not suffer shoulder/ back pain- it was a delight! I am very satisfied customer who is already raving to everyone I meet about Aarn packs!!" Liz Rode-Bramanis, Shell Cove, NSW, Australia
"Carrying the Guiding Light with week’s worth of food and a comprehensive climbing rack (30 kgs) up the Hooker Glacier recently, I was more nimble and better balanced than my climbing companions. While the walk in was hard work, I had no sore shoulders or hips. When the crevasses required us to do two-tool climbs, the Flow Motion system allowed me to swing my tools above my head without restraint. The Balance Pockets were quite manageable in this terrain and I found them comfortable and very convenient. Camera, muesli bars and water bottle were all within easy reach. Once at the climbing base the Balance Pockets were easy to remove for the climb, reducing the carried weight.
I used the slots on the hipbelt to attach Ice Clippers. With the firm location of the clips on the hipbelt, retrieving gear was quick, easy & reliable. On the long sections of glacier travel, the bulk and weight of ice screws and other rock protection was more comfortable on the hips than on my shoulders from a gear sling.
Using the built-in tool quivers on the sides of the pack, I was able to single-handedly stow and retrieve ice tools and snow stakes. This is extremely useful where it is too precarious to take the pack off. I was recently working my way up a mixed rock and ice 55° gully with tools stowed. Whilst bridging the gully with my crampons on rock, I was able to use one hand to maintain balance, and the other to retrieve my snow stake and ice hammer from the pack, install the desired anchor, re-stow ice hammer and continue". Vaughn Snowdon, Christchurch, New Zealand
Great new review on Guiding Light on carryology.com. It includes an excellent video showing how the Flow Systems allow the body to move while the pack remains stable on your back.
Add Balance Pockets, or if using them, put more weight in them and loosen front shoulder strap webs
Too much weight on shoulders
Loosen front shoulder strap webs
Hipbelt has slipped down
Raise hipbelt & retighten &/or shorten
Balance Pockets are pulling down on bottom of shoulder pads
Increase back length: Pull up on navy top back panel web
Bodypack is too hard to put on
Incorrect technique used
1. Loosen hipbelt webs before putting the bodypack on for the first time.
2. Follow this sequence: Place hands underneath Balance Pockets; grab hold of hipbelt center buckles, lift both Pockets & hipbelt up to the right height; clip center buckle together & tighten the tension web loop at top and bottom to get an even pressure at the top and bottom of the hipbelt
3. When taking the pack off, before releasing the hipbelt center buckle, loosen the side buckles. With familiarity, you can release the 2 tensionlock buckles on each side with each hand simultaneously, by pulling the buckle ends up. Now you have set the pack up to be easy and quick to put on next time
I do not have the coordination anymore to master this simple sequence
Substitute Universal Balance Bags for Balance Pockets. These quickly and easily attach after you have put the pack on
My pack leans to one side
Your pack will lean to one side, like any brand of pack, if you have the shoulder straps and/or hipbelt adjusted unequally on both sides, or you have loaded the pack unevenly.
First check that the top stabilizer straps are equal length and the front shoulder strap webs are also equal length. Now check that the hipbelt parts are adjusted to equal length and angle on both sides of the center base plate and the side tension adjustors (cord or web) are of equal length both sides. Now with all these adjustments made, check that the hipbelt ends are sitting at a similar position on each side of your pelvis with the pack on. Finally, check that your U-Flow movement (the movement when you lift one shoulder), is equal on both sides. With everything centered, including the load, there should be no reason for your pack to lean to one side.