View Full Version : Gearskin

01-01-2004, 15:13
I have been contemplating getting a Gearskin from Moonbow for quite some time now. But have held off because of money. I don't want to buy one and then find out it was not for me. But I do have some questions about the gearskin pack. I know how they work but here is my list of questions:

1. Has anyone done a thru-hike with the gearskin?
2. What do you use to hold everything in?
3. I don't like what others have said how they wrap everything. They said they fold all there gear into there sleeping bag and then set there sleeping back into there gearskin and close it. I just don't like that idea. Maybe a large silnylon nylon bag to put it all in would work?
4. What do you use?
5. Do you have any suggestions?

Another concern it using a pack that is frameless. I have never gone without and frame. I am currently using and internal frame pack and love it.

01-01-2004, 16:02
2) Go to my picture website @ http://www.geocities.com/gearskinpics/ . This should explain in detail how I physicaly pack my gearskin. I use 2 Exped drybags, which are cheap ($10-$13), and are pretty light (3-4oz). They are very durable, and have never allowed my contents (clothing in blue one, sleeping bag in black one) to get wet. I also use a Hennessy Hammock, and that stays in its own storage skins. I have made silnylon stuff sacks, but for the time being I will stick to my drybags for complete water protection.

3) Again, take a look at the pictures. They should give you a clear understanding of how the gearskin is packed. I also do not like leaving my tent (hammock in this case) or other expensive item exposed. The gearskin gives a certain amount of protection, but those couple of inches of exposure could spell disaster. I prefer to take it safe.

4) My contents include 2 Exped Drybags, a silnylon food bag, my HH in homemade "storage skins", my fly (recently replaced with a homemade silnylon version which fits in one of the hipbelt pockets), a small bag to hold my raincoat (blue), and the spare HH stuffsack to hold things like book, radio, extra items that I do not want exposed to damage in hipbelt pocket or possibly getting wet in the mesh pocket. In the mesh pocket, goes my kitchen (stove in orange gatorade mug, and pot), groundcloth, stakes, extra platypus, extra water bottle, umbrella,extra rope, fuel, and wet clothes. Yes, all that fits in the pocket! With the shock corded top, I can have items hanging out the top and sinch it closed, somewhat securely holding them there.

5) Put all of your stuff in smaller stuffsacks. It is easier to pack with 7 small stuff sacks rather than 3 big ones. Sure, you might spend another couple ounces doing so, but the weight you save with the pack is worth it.
Also, make sure that you have a packcover. I had an old campmor brand one, which was wayyy to small for my old internal frame pack, and it fits my gearskin like a glove.
The bigest piece of advice: Take a daytrip down to GlenCliff and meet John McCue. Hes a friendly guy, and will answer ANY other questions you may have. My biggest fear about ordering a pack online was sizing, so I planned a trip somewhat around going there and being fitted by john himself. It worked like a charm, and my pack is sooo comfortable. Since you are in Maine, email him and plan a time to go see him!

The fact that the gearskin is frameless should not worry you. I,being only 16, have owned 4 packs in my lifetime. I owned 2 tiny external frame packs when i was little, then i bought a HUGE 5500 cu\in Camp Trails internal frame pack from campmor (i live an hour from THE store), which was on clearance(and weighed 5.5lbs:(. Then, looking to go light, I ordered a ULA P-2, but found that I wouldnot get it quick enough for my section hike. I emailed John, he told me to come in, and I did. I only had the pack for 3 days before leaving on a 10 day section hike...and i experimented.

As you can see in the pictures, I use a kneeling pad as a "frame". The only reason I have this is to stopthe pack from arching on the harness side. I have recently taken my 20"x25" Hammock pad and used it very successfully as a "frame". The whole reason the pack WORKS is becuase the compression keeps everything stiff. It works like magic.

I kept my camelbak vertical against my back, and I needed a way to fill it without taking it out of the pack, which would require a complete repacking. So, I used my 2L platy to treat water in, then used the "filter link" to connect it to the drinking end of the camelbak hose. I connected the platy, and forcefilled the camelbak. Worked great, just another little thing that may help you if you get the Gearskin. Oh, and I got mine in the 4oz oxford, with the hipbelt pockets, and it weighs 22oz. THe 2 hipbelt pockets weight 1oz each, for a total of 24oz. The 4oz oxford will definatly last me until my Thru Hike in 2013.

Brian MacMillin
Future Thru Hiker 2013

01-01-2004, 17:20
I was watching a show recently on the discovery channel I think, about firefighters fighting those huge wildfires in the mountains. The whole team was outfitted with Gearskins and they were using a huge stuff sack to put their gear in before securing it in the gearskin. Several of the firefighters were carrying such huge loads that it took 2 people to heft them into the truck they were riding in.They didnt look like they were sufering to much under them Gearskins!! Then again you gots to be a tough customer to do what they do anyway!!!The thing that impresses me about the gearskins is that you can carry huge loads but it also compresses down nicely for smaller loads! Streamweaver

01-01-2004, 17:29
Were they MoonbowGear made?? Or were they imitations?


01-01-2004, 17:42
Were they MoonbowGear made?? Or were they imitations?

Brian I dont know, I couldnt see any tag on em. They looked to be custom made to match their uniforms .They were a brick red and black. If I can get the Discovery channels web site to come up Im gonna see if I can find any info on that show . Streamweaver

01-02-2004, 23:34
I don't know how soon you want to make the decision about the gearskin.

I'm starting a thru-hike March 28 and will keep my brother (tlbj6142, Mr. Yellow Jacket) with information on how all my gear (including the gearskin) is handling the trek and I'm sure he'll post it in appropiate places.

As for now I don't have much to add to my former review of the Gearskin in October.


01-03-2004, 00:19
Well I am in no big hurry. I have been thinking about it for a year now. But after seeing brian's link with a write up and photos I have become pretty impressed.

01-03-2004, 00:50

I really like the page you put together on the gearskin. The only thing I see that I don't like about the packing of it. Is the water bladder being put in the center. When it comes time to refill the bladder you have to open the gearskin. The other thing is that with the gearskin being compressed I would think that would put pressure on the bladder.

01-03-2004, 01:12
Here is my official report of the gearskin...still being caught up in the paperwork phase for BackpackGearTest.....you see it before anyone else. I thought it would be approapriate to have it here for a while, then I will move it to the gear review forum when I have pictures coordinated with the review. Note: For reference, use the pictures @ www.geocities.com/gearskinpics

Moonbow Gearskin
Owner Review by: Brian MacMillin

Name: Brian MacMillin
Age: 16
Gender: Male
Height: 5'7" (1.7 m)
Weight: 150 lbs (68 kg)
Email Address: Save_the_Goats213 at hotmail dot com
City, State: Washingtonville, NY
Date: 11\27\03
Backpacking Bio: I am a Life Scout in Boy Scouts and have been backpacking
since I was 4. I hike a 10-day section hike every year as well as several 2 or 3-day
hikes each year with Scouts and my father. I would consider myself as being a lightweight backpacker, with a base pack weight (not including food or water) of 14.5 lb (6.58 kg). I am a hammocker as well as a gear maker, as I use my own homemade stove, hammock fly, and stuffsacks.

Manufacturer: Moonbow
Year of Manufacture: 2003
Manufacturer Web Site: www.moonbowgear.com
Listed Weight: None, depends on options
Actual Weight: Pack: 24.28oz (680g)
Hip belt Pockets: 1 oz (28 g) each
Total Weight: 26.28 oz. (736 g)

Test Description: I have taken this pack on a 10 day section hike in the Saddleback and Bigelow ranges in Maine as well as several day hikes and overnights. The conditions of the testing included prolonged rains (2 days) as well as river crossings. Temperatures ranged from 20 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.7 to 26.7 degrees Celsius)

The Gearskin made by Moonbow Gear is a radically different approach to a pack. It does not use a bag to hold items, but rather a strip of fabric with compression straps on both sides and top to hold the items. Packing requires more thought than with other packs, because there is not only no frame but no sides as well. This ingenious concept works very well for many different volumes, because the pack can be compressed or decompressed to the current need.

General Pack Details
I ordered my Moonbow Gearskin with 2 front hip belt pockets, as well as a large, heavy duty mesh pocket on the rear. The Hip belt pockets were available in any size I wanted, but I ended up getting them a “small” (5 in Wide x 4 in Long x 1.5 in Deep (12.7cm x 10.2 cm x 3.8 cm)). These pockets can hold a surprising amount of small gear, such as my water treatment (Aqua Mira), my camera (disposable), maps, energy bars, small plastic bottle of bug spray, and more. They attach to the hip belt with a hook and loop attachment (2 in x 4 in (5.1 cm x 10.2 cm)), with the hook on the pocket itself and the loop on the pack. This is nice so that if I am not using the pockets, the loop is not rough like the hook and wont catch on objects. They are moveable, able to slide on the hip belt approx. 6 in (15.2 cm) The zipper traverses the top of the pocket, and is easy to operate, even in cold weather. There are also 2 pieces of elastic band (.5 in (1.3 cm) in width) which help hold the pockets to the pack. The mesh back pocket is an essential part of the pack. It helps me keep my pack cover, wet clothes, umbrella, and stakes together, as well as my small odds and ends, which are located in a small 24 oz (.7 1L) Gatorade mix bottle.

Durability of the pack has so far been extraordinary. I requested my pack be made of the 4 oz (113 g) oxford. I felt each of the different materials myself, and felt that the 1.1 oz (31. g) silnylon and 1.9 oz (54 g) ripstop nylon were too light, and that the 8 oz (227g) packcloth, which was recommended by the machinist, was overkill. All of the fabrics that were available for the packs are waterproof. The 4 oz (113 g) packcloth held up great on my trip, with only 2 slight frays in the material, both located on the bottom. The hip belt pockets have no discernable markings or signs of use, and the mesh pocket is still going strong. I stored my stakes in that pocket, and was scared initially that the stakes would fray the mesh. This hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t think it will happen in the lifetime of this pack. All stitching has held up fine, except for the top “side” buckles, which have a small amount of fraying on them. I put some seam sealer on them to prevent any more fraying, and it has stopped the problem from escalating. I never viewed it as a major problem, but only a minor cosmetic blemish with no structural implications.

In Camp
In camp, I set up my Hennessy Hammock with homemade fly, which is very large, as it supplied vestibule space for 8 people in heavy downpours. I put my 2 ft x 3 ft (.61 m x .91 m) piece of Tyvek down, and laid out my Exped Drybags and 2 other bags. At this point, food was already gathered at a different location, so this wasn’t an issue. I placed my pack INSIDE my pack cover, and cinched it up very tightly, so that there was only a tiny hole in the pack cover. I then placed my pack inside the cover off to the side. It never once got wet or even damp using this setup, and was never in the way while under my hammock. I made sure every time I did this to make sure there was nothing good smelling in the pack or pack cover. The last thing I needed was a rodent going through my pack!

One rather small inconvenience I noticed with my Gearskin was the lack of ergonomics instituted within the buckles. As compared to buckles from other packs I own, these buckles are harsh. They are relatively blocky and square, not rounded like most others are. This resulted in occasional pinched fingers, as well as a general soreness in my fingers, especially in the cold, when I had to put together 12 of them. After 10 days, I was quite relieved that I could finally give my fingers a break from the trauma! Although, I must admit that these buckles could be thrown off of a cliff, and still be usable for any length of trip afterwards. A small step backwards, but never the less one in the right direction.

For my 10 day backpacking trip in the White Mountains in Maine, I carried anywhere from 26-39 lb. (11.8-17.7 kg) in my Gearskin. The weight range varied due to a resupply and a dry section of the route (Sugarloaf Ski Lodge). Throughout my trip, I felt absolutely no discomfort of any kind due to the weights involved.

I have tested the pack with a large amount of weight, 47 lbs (21.3 kg), using my standard pack list as well as a large amount of water. My Gearskin held the weight very well, and did not sag at all using my kneeling pad. I would have no doubts in carrying up to 50 lb. (22.7 kg) in this pack, if necessary.

Out of my 10 days, it rained a solid two, and off and on for another four. This relentless rain caused some discomfort in my group, but not for me. My gear stayed dry in my Drybags, and my Gearskin helped keep those dry too. The waterproof fabric helped keep intermittent showers and moisture off my belongings, and dried quickly when it was soaking wet (twice).

Harness, Hip belt, Sternum Strap
The harness attachment makes for an efficient and cool looking part of the pack. The harness is attached in one place in the top, and kind of twists around (see picture) and then there are the bottom attachment points. These are all VERY well sewn and I have no doubts that they will last the entire life of this pack. The actual harness is 2 in. wide by 3\8 in. thick (5.1 cm x 1cm). The amount of padding was sufficient, and I had no sore spots or pains.

The hip belt is one of the nicest I’ve seen. The inherent lack of padding is not noticeable after hiking for both long and short durations. The size of the hip belt was determined by me the house of the owner of the company, John McCue; they had several paper templates they let me try. At first they recommended a medium, but I soon favored the small template; it rode better on my hips. The buckle for the hip belt is much larger than the “standard” buckles used throughout the main body of the pack.

I very much like the sternum strap include with my Gearskin. The buckle itself is smaller than the rest on the pack, but is of the same style, somewhat lacking ergonomics. The actual clip can travel in either direction, so the clip can be centered on your chest or moved side to side. They can also be adjusted vertically via a piece of .75 in (1.9 cm) webbing with 6 bar tacks, making for a total of 7 different heights available. I chose to move it down the 2nd lowest height, after having it rub annoyingly directly below my neck.

I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the online fitting, as I did not use it. I arranged to arrive at Jon McCue’s house and be fitted by Jon himself! The online system of ordering, which includes sending an outline of your upper body through the mail, seems very effective and complete.

MoonbowGear holds a very high quality standard. While waiting to be fitted (the pack maker was on the phone), I was examining some of the packs that were hanging in the hostel John McCue has adjoining his house. They seemed to be perfect: the stitching was solid and the cuts were neat. When we inquired about them, the sewer said that they were packs she was sent as demos from people who were inquiring about working with her and Jon. And she said that all of those packs were not of high enough quality! At that moment I thought “wow, this is going to be interesting”. The pack may not seem like much from a distance, but up close you start to appreciate the vast amount of work and effort required to build this pack.

This pack is also cheaper than most “lightweight” mainstream packs. Even with the 2 hip belt pockets, the mesh back panel, and a rush manufacturing (3 days) payment, my pack was only $206. The fact that it is custom made to my measurements and not the average American is a real bonus. And since MoonbowGear will make you anything and everything required to attach to attach to it, any amount of customization is possible. And in ordering a pack through a large company, customer service is most often a person sitting behind a computer. For MoonbowGear, customer service is calling\emailing the owner of the company! I’m sure if I ever have any problems with my pack, or new ideas that I want to share with Jon, he will be more than willing to give me feedback or help.

Packing Style
I pack using my proven method of using waterproof sacks, whether that is my trusty Exped Drybags or homemade ripstop nylon bags. I put my sleeping bag, fleece vest, polypro top and bottom, and fleece hat\gloves in my black (850 cu in( 13. 9L)) dry bag, and the rest of my clothing in my blue (550 cu in(9 L)) dry bag. My book, weather radio, headlamp, alcohol stove, and journal go in my green Hennessy Hammock stuff sack. My Hennessy Hammock is rolled up in my homemade snake skins (black with rope around it), and my homemade hexagonal fly gets rolled up in my Tyvek ground cloth. Note that the actual Hennessy Hammock is not in its own stuff sack, but simply rolled up in the snake skins, which is more than sufficient for keeping it dry. My raincoat is placed in a small stuff sack of its own (blue). Finally, my food goes in a ripstop nylon (purple) stuff sack. This method of packing allows me to quickly pack my Gearskin. It also allows me to find items quickly, simply by locating the correct stuff sack.

To begin packing, I spread my Gearskin out with the harness and mesh pocket towards the ground. I then place my kneeling pad down over the side with the harness, putting the end of the pad over the attachment point of the hip belt. The pad was oriented vertically, with the bottom end of the pad situated near the bottom of the harness stitching. I tried many different placements of the pad, and this seemed to give me the most support and weight transfer to my hips. My camp shoes (sandals) are placed parallel to the pad, along the side, one on either side. My 2.11 quart (2 L) Camelbak brand water reservoir is then placed directly over the pad, and the tube is directed out of the pack so it is not packed inside the pack when I compress it. I then placed my food bag (purple) in the exact middle of the pack, oriented horizontally. Depending how full it is, it either busts outs of the sides some, or is completely contained by the fabric on the pack.

Next on the pack are my 2 dry bags (black and blue). These are quite slippery and bulky, and are sometimes hard to keep in place while the pack is not “together”. After those are in place, I fold the pack over, clipping the top buckles loosely to allow movement of the pack fabric. I clip the 4 lower clips (2 left and 2 right) to stop my 3 stuff sacks from sliding out. I loosen those most of the way to still allow movement of the pack fabric. Next, my Hennessy Hammock is placed horizontally above those 3 stuff sacks, followed by my raincoat stuff sack.

If it is raining, I will still have my Hennessy Hammock fly set up, keeping me dry. I untie this, and wrap it in my ground cloth. This is placed on top of the pack, still underneath the clips. Then any loose gear, such as stakes, toiletries in my mug, fuel and extra platypus bladder go into the rear mesh pocket. I clip the rest of the stakes, and finally slip in the Hennessy Hammock stuff sack with its contents somewhere near the top. Then I systematically tighten all of the straps, beginning with the top straps, then working my way down. I finish the first set of side buckles, and then continue down the pack, until they cannot be tightened any more.

This packing method makes for a very tapered pack, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. The bottom, which is very heavy (food), is also very bulky. Then the clothing is on top of that, followed by hammock and raincoat, which are much smaller than the food bag. This makes it a joy to carry. Since most of the weight is already at the bottom of the pack, the hip belt in conjunction with the kneeling pad works very well. Since I also have my water no more than 3 in (76 mm) away from my back, the load is quite stable. I have nothing of real weight above my upper chest.

Another added bonus of packing this way is being able to look behind me. Since the pack only comes up to the tops of my shoulders, I can always see over them. It is nice to investigate a noise or problem quickly, and without making a lot of commotion. More than once I had spotted an animal behind me, but when my group mates decided to turn their entire bodies around, they scared the wildlife away.

In conclusion, my pack is a wonderful system which works with any normal load from 1500 cu in to 5500 cu in. It replaces any compression sacks that might be needed because the pack does that for you. It is a full featured bag starting at $150, along with any options for a reasonable cost. The buckles are a slight trepidation, but this great pack should be considered if you are looking for a new one.

• Very Lightweight at 26.5 oz (751 g)
• Can handle a huge variety of volumes
• Is comfortable at 50 lbs (22.68 kg)
• Nice fitting harness
• Very well made
• Customizable to the end of the earth
• Inexpensive- starts at $150

• Buckles not the most ergonomic

01-03-2004, 10:59
Brian nice write up and pics. I really like the spreadsheet at the end of photos. It looks strangely familar. :banana :clap :bse

I have saved about ~$300 bucks to buy a pack for use when I take my children out on trips. I need to be able carry ~50# (if two children meltdown and I have to carry their gear), and have a variable volume.

The gearskin is the obvious choice. I have packed and looked at my brother's (cburnett). And I have seen a few pics in the Yahoo! Group MakeGear in which someone made their own. He added stay sleeves so he could carry heavy loads, but not take the stays when he has a light load.

So, I have decided to make my own gearskin! I have to go sewing machine shopping today, take a sewing class, or two. But I will build the pack.

01-03-2004, 12:31
tlbj6142: your format is a really nice way of arranging ,y gear!

I think the gearskin would be perfect for what you describe. Good luck! Make sure you choose a fabric on the heavier side if the pack is planned for some abuse;)

Future Thru Hiker 2013