Revisiting the KS50 Three Years On
With three years and counting and over 1,000 kilometres of use, I want to share why the KS50 backpack has become my current favourite. For those who don’t know, KS Ultralight Gear is run by French expat Laurent Barikosky, who has been producing lightweight and durable backpacks for hiking and climbing from his workshop in Komaki City, Aichi Prefecture since 2009. Interestingly, according to the interview he did with Papersky Japan Stories earlier this year, the majority of Laurent’s packs are shipped off to customers in America. Perhaps a little surprising given that the ultralight backpacking scene in Japan has also taken off in recent years. Check out my initial deep dive into the KS50 in this post.
Revisiting the KS50 backpack three years on.
After prolonged and rigorous use, the KS50 backpack has consistently demonstrated its reliability, especially in terms of carrying comfort. Initially, I had concerns that the external aluminium tube frame set might dig into my back, but thankfully, I haven’t found this to be the case. It has accompanied me on various hikes, ranging from short-day trips to extended 9-day adventures. Last summer, during my full-length traverse of the entire Southern Alps, considered to be Japan’s toughest multi-day hike, it didn’t skip a beat.
The shoulder straps and padded waist belt have maintained their structural integrity, with the foam padding remaining firm and supportive. While it can handle loads up to 15 kg, the frame carries weight best up to around 10 kg. The anatomically padded hip belt, along with side load lifter straps, helps in proper weight distribution, preventing strain on the shoulders. However, it’s worth noting that the hip belt doesn’t transfer the pack weight from the shoulders to the lower part of the body as much as more robust backpacks do.
There are some minor tears on the X-Pac VX front pocket.
Durability and Workmanship
The craftsmanship of the KS50 continues to excel, displaying minimal signs of wear and tear. The Nylon 200D Spectra diamond ripstop looks as good as new, and the stitching has held up well. Expected fraying is noticeable on the 330D Cordura nylon around one of the side pockets where I stow my water bottle, and some wear and discolouration are apparent on the top of the hip belt and around the sternum strap. However, it’s minor and hasn’t compromised the pack’s functionality.
The X-Pac VX07 front pocket has suffered some damage, more due to the fabric’s limitations than a manufacturing flaw. As mentioned in the initial review, the removable internal Polyethylene foam pad tended to push its way through the Velcro, prompting me to trim it by a centimetre or so to remedy the issue. Despite these minor concerns, the pack has proven to be durable over the years, a testament to the quality materials and thoughtful design that Laurent incorporates into his backpacks.
One of the standout features of the KS50 is its cost performance. Over the past three years, the base price has actually decreased by 1,000 yen, making it even more attractive compared to its competitors. The value for money is evident, especially when considering the quality and customisation options. In contrast to a competitor like Yamatomachi, whose flagship ONE backpack has seen a hefty price increase, the KS50 remains a competitive choice without compromising on quality. The shorter lead time for manufacturing is also a significant advantage, ensuring a quicker turnaround for those eager to hit the trails.
3D spacer mesh still looks great.
Areas for Improvement
While the KS50 has proven itself dependable, there are some areas for improvement. The design and integration of the internal pocket could benefit from a revisit, as the mini Velcro strip had insufficient holding power. After raising this concern with Laurent, he mentioned that he would use a larger Velcro tape in the future. Additionally, the fixed internal pocket tends to turn inside out easily, suggesting a need for a more secure design.
The side pockets would also benefit from being slightly taller without requiring the removal of the pack to access your water bottle. On occasion, I’ve picked up the pack only to have my 1-litre Nalgene bottle pop straight out of the side pocket. From an aesthetic standpoint, integrating the removable frameset inside the pack would enhance the overall look. The 20mm strap webbing option should extend to the top nylon handle, improving handling, especially in public transport scenarios.
These are relatively minor issues, and the fact that Laurent is responsive to customer feedback is a commendable aspect of KS Ultralight Gear’s customer service.
20mm strap webbing option should extend to the top nylon handle.
After a battery of hikes, the KS Ultralight Gear KS50 backpack still has plenty of miles left in it. It’s easy to understand why it remains a perennial favourite among ultralight backpackers. Its lightweight design, top-notch workmanship, and comfort make it a versatile choice for a range of hiking situations. The extensive pre-purchase customisation options allow users to fully tailor the pack to their specific needs.
While there are areas for improvement, such as the internal pocket and some other design elements, these can hopefully be attended to in future iterations. Overall, the KS50 remains an excellent choice for backpackers of all levels. My positive experience with it makes me highly likely to consider purchasing from KS Ultralight Gear again in the future, though it will be probably some time off given how well this one is going.
For potential buyers, take the time to measure your back length using the multiple methods outlined by Laurent. Equally important is to carefully consider all the different customisation options; it can be rather overwhelming at first glance. Personally, next time, I would probably opt for an extra 1 centimetre in back length. While the ordering process requires some perseverance, the effort is well worth it for a tailored backpack that will reliably serve you for years to come.