Note: I dislike “unboxing” reviews because I don’t believe that you can judge a piece of gear until you’ve used it. Instead, gear should be extensively tested before commenting. I hiked over 2,000 miles with my KS 4, principally Te Araroa in New Zealand, before writing this article. I paid full price for my KS 4 and was not asked or compensated to write this review. All opinions are my own.
I felt compelled to review my KS 4 pack because there aren’t many reviews in English out there on KS Ultralight. KS Ultralight is a small company run by Laurent Barikosky, a Frenchman living in Japan. As far as I can tell, Laurent has been making a variety of ultralight backpacks since 2010. While his website is difficult to navigate, there are at least 25 different customizations to choose from, making every pack custom. This contrasts larger UL companies like Gossamer Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, and ZPacks, which have had to streamline their designs to meet increasing demand. The flexibility of KS appealed to me.
In September 2016, I ordered a KS 4 (the SUL version of the KS 40). The base version comes with a five loop daisy chain on the shoulder straps, grab handle, shock cord tied through four attachment points along the sides of the packs, and not much else. According to his website, the basic model weighs 235g (8.4oz!).
An embarrassing mirror selfie I took when I first got the pack. If you look closely, you can see the 13mm daisy chain sewn into the shoulder strap and the four side loops used for compression. Both features come standard.
In addition, I requested the following features:
- TX07 XPac for the body instead of 70D Nylon
- No hipbelt
- Dyneema front pocket
- Roll top closure (drybag style)
- Shock cord sternum strap (instead of the standard 13mm sternum strap)
- 1 ice axe loop
- 4 bottom loops
The pack weighs exactly 10.0oz on my scale. Since weighing it, I’ve taken off the cordage I don’t need and cut off the line locs. I also replaced the shock cord sternum strap I asked for with the default 13mm sternum strap; I found that my shoulders just needed more stability than a piece of shock cord could provide. Laurent was awesome and mailed me the 13mm strap ASAP. I think it cost him more to mail it internationally than I paid to have it sent.
After ~2,000 miles of hiking and bushwhacking through some dense New Zealand bush, the pack is like new. The TX07 and Dyneema have held up great and have no holes. I saw other packs that use lycra or mesh for their exterior pockets develop holes (e.g., Osprey Exos, GG Mariposa), but the pockets on my KS 4 are going strong. Using Dyneema for the high use areas coupled with a lighter fabric for the main body strikes a nice balance between durability and weight. There’s the tiniest pulling of thread around the grab handle, but I’m pretty sure that’s my fault from overloading it with 10 days of food. Other than that, the thinner 13mm webbing has proved plenty strong. The stitching on the pack is professional, though the shoulder straps have gradually compressed over time.
There’s not a whole lot to a frameless pack, but the details on my KS 4 make for a comfortable carry. It only weighs 10oz, so with a sub-7lb base weight I feel like I’m not even carrying a pack whenever I have less than 3 days of food. The straps are S-shaped, which I find conforms to my body more naturally than my previous pack’s J-straps. One thing I really like about the design is how the shoulder straps are sewn into a hidden piece of fabric, which is then sewn into the back panel. This creates a smooth back panel so you don’t have anything to poke or irritate your back.
It’s hard to see the stitching against the black Dyneema, but here you can see the hidden triangular shaped panel used to attach the shoulder straps.
Loaded up with WAY too much food before NZ’s Richmond Range. I estimate I had 25-30 lbs of food. You can tell by my forced smile that this was not a fun carry.
Daypack Mode. Using some shock cord, I squeezed down the pack so that it’s probably only ~10-15 liters in volume.
I debated between the MLD Burn and my KS 4, and ultimately ended up choosing the KS 4 because it was slightly larger. I’m glad I did, because the 32L main body is perfect for my needs. As my “do everything” pack, I can fill it up with 10 days of food or compress it down to use as a daypack.
For a frame, I use the Gossamer Gear Nightlight. I find that the middle panel of the Nightlight pairs well with the back panel of the pack, creating a solid structure.
I have to praise Laurent for his front pocket design. It’s easily my favorite part of the pack. I asked for a Dyneema front pocket because I wanted to be able to stuff my shelter outside without the risk of poking holes in it as I walked. With my shelter outside, I could set up my tarp in seconds and not have to expose the main body of the pack to any rain. The great thing about the full Dyneema pocket is that it includes a little mesh at the bottom, so I can throw my wet tent (or any wet gear) in the pocket and water will slowly drain out the bottom.
Small signs of wear and tear after months of use. Around the grab handle, the XPac is starting to peel and some stitching has come undone.
I chose the TX07 for added durability over the default 70D nylon, and I don’t like that the fabric is waterproof. Technically, the pack isn’t waterproof because the seams aren’t taped or sealed, but the TX07 traps in residual moisture just as much as it keeps moisture out. On occasion I’ve noticed some condensation on the inside of the fabric. If I were to do it again, I think I would choose a non-WP fabric.
The pack can fit a BV500 inside, but it’s not comfortable. Instead, I’ve latched my empty bear can to the outside of the pack while hiking. If you want to carry your bear can internally, then this isn’t the pack for you.
Water Bottle Pockets
I debated whether to include this as a negative or not. The pockets are highly durable, gently slope forward for easy access, and have small drainage holes at the bottom. Everything about them is great, I just wish they were a tad taller. They can fit a 1L bottle securely, but not tall/thin bottles like the 1L Smartwater. I’ve never had anything fall out, but I consciously check from time to time. This could be residual trauma from my previous pack which seemed to lose water bottles regularly. A larger pocket where I could stuff more snacks (and thus make less stops) would be an improvement.
My experience with KS Ultralight has been wholly positive. Laurent’s craftsmanship and customer service were top notch. My pack isn’t over engineered or feature-rich, but the little details make it comfortable and the simplicity keeps it light.
If you’re looking for something specific in a pack that you can’t get elsewhere, KS would be a great choice for a custom design. I suggest you email Laurent first. His website was initially confusing but he was super helpful in confirming and making sure the pack met my specifications.
Since writing this review, I have hiked another couple hundred miles with my KS 4. The shoulder straps recently started to develop a fold around the spot where the daisy chain stops, creating a painful pressure point (see left picture below). I emailed Laurent and he offered to replace the shoulder straps free of charge. The new straps (see right picture below) have a full length daisy chain, so this improved design should fare better. I believe this new daisy chain design is now standard for all KS packs.