The High Sierra Karadon 40 L backpack is a mid sized overnight pack that’s jammed with features, including a full internal suspension, an easily adjustable torso, removable/washable hip and shoulder pads, and an included rain cover. It’s sized to be fast, light and it’s built to be robust and rugged. I’ve put this pack to the test, and this is what I thought.
For a 40 liter pack, the Kardon packs a lot of features into a small package. One of the more unique features of the pack is the fact that the hip pads and shoulder straps are easily removable via simple Velcro straps. This means that they can be washed after long hot backpacking trips. The suspension is a light weight frame that circles the perimeter of the pack and is combined with a tight airy suspending back that allows air to flow through between the pack and the user. The torso is adjustable by pulling the doubled over Velcro shoulder straps out of the core of the pack and is adjusted simply by sliding the straps into slots higher or lower on the pack, no tools required. There is a sleeping bag compartment, trekking pole loops, and even a place to clip a helmet or bike light. The pack weighs 3 lbs 5 oz and retails for $179.99.
What I liked
The Karadon 40 is a surprisingly comfortable backpack overall. Being a light weight, small capacity pack it is designed for lighter loads, and it handles them well. The somewhat thin yet soft foamy padding in the shoulders and back does a good job relieving the pressure from a loaded pack despite it’s thin profile. The padding feels almost like memory foam, just with a bit more resistance to being flattened, and compressed to fit the contours of a shoulder or hip bone without creating pressure points. The back panel is a nice springy suspended mesh that sits above the actual metal/foam frame, which prevents any gear inside the pack from creating bulges which could otherwise push against the spine. This design allows extra air to flow through also.
The frame is a simple aluminum tube that circles the perimeter of the pack and terminates at the hips, yet, it easily handles a pack weight of about 25 pounds. It manages to hold stiff and true to shape during use, without flexing or caving in when heavier, lumpier items are stuffed inside. The frame sits close to the back which improves stability by keeping the center of balance low and close to the spine. This is ideal and makes the Karadon an excellent pack when climbing or rock scrambling. Result is a pack that feels nimble, responsive, and avoids swaying around on the back thanks to the ability to cinch the pack down into a tight, compressed tube of gear that stays where it should.
The torso length is easily adjustable to dial in a custom fit. Simply undo the Velcro strap that sits between the shoulders and move it up or down to expand or contract the torso. This allows the user to customize fit the pack to avoid shoulder strain which can arise from a torso length that comes in too short, essentially dumping the weight of the pack on the shoulders. That’s not a problem here.
Organization on this pack is good, featuring a large primary compartment, two water bottle compartments, a couple of hip pockets and a moderately sized lid that consists of a large and small zippered pocket (below). I was able to square away all of my gear without it getting disorganized or lost. The hip pockets are large enough for snacks or a compass, but not quite large enough for any of my cameras.
The pack is surprisingly well built for the price point. The materials used, mostly high denier nylons, are thick and do an excellent job of resisting scuffs and tears. The frame is light weight by design, yet provides more than enough reinforcement to handle to amount of weight that can be stuffed inside. The zippers are burly too, with rugged metal teeth that resist hanging up on or eating fabric and generously sized pull handles attached to most. All the stitching is reinforced where needed, and I’ve found no evidence of splaying or unraveling anywhere.
40 Liters is a wonderful size for a pack. First, it limits how much gear you can carry while backpacking, which will certainly minimize how much weight can be toted around. This is certainly a plus for myself, as I generally do carry more if I can fit it. Artificially limiting that weight combined with a light pack makes for some easy going miles. On top of that, it’s also small enough to be used as a day hiking pack, with plenty of space for winter layers, jackets and supplies. This makes a 40 liter backpack a bit of a do it all pack. If you want just one pack for hikes and backpacking trips, this will do wonderfully.
Retailing for $179.95, the pack comes in at a great value. Normally, packs in this range are poorly designed, ill fitting, and provide little in the way of durability and proper support. That’s not the case here. It’s fully featured, packing in a legit rain cover, a fully adjustable spine, ample pockets, and a well built aluminum frame that performs very well. It’s a great value.
What I didn’t like
The stash pocket on the back is fairly limited in size. This is generally where I keep rain gear, and having only a small expansion pocket/stash site makes this inconvenient. Given the size, only the lightest, thinnest rain gear will fit. It’s enough for a typical jacket, but trying to stuff in a bulkier Goretex jacket (a must for the local conditions) proves problematic. That leaves the main compartment or the lid of the pack for rain pants, which is inconvenient. It’s possible to strap them on the bottom of the pack, but that could be taken up by other gear and leave the rain gear exposed and at risk of damage. I would like to see this expanded in the future. However, those with light weight 2 layer rain gear shouldn’t have any issues.
The shoulder padding does come in a bit thin for my bony self. I find that my pronounced and slender clavicle (collar bone) can become sore after miles of hiking as I eventually start to feel the pressure of the strap itself sitting against it, through the pad. Thicker padding here would be much appreciated for those with similar issues. This is more of a symbiotic issue between me and the pack than anything, so most users are unlikely to see the issue, unless they have a similar build.
The Karadon 40 falls in a fun place. It’s small and light enough to be used for hiking, but large and rugged enough to be used for light weight backpacking. The pack is quite comfortable, especially along the the hips and spine, and packing such at such light pack eases the load for those fast a light trips. It doesn’t hurt that the pack feels so nimble on the back either, making climbing, jumping and just moving at a brisk pace a real treat. I especially liked the adjustable torso, which normally isn’t an option with suspended back panels. This allows tuning the fit simple and painless. It’s durable, light weight, and has adequate organization for most of my needs. Overlook the small stash pocket and thin shoulders, and the Karadon 40 makes a wonderful option for those looking for a light weight, nimble pack at a great price.
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I wanted to send a special thanks out to High Sierra for their support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.