Outdoors

Shoulder strap-free backpack aims to be more than a "me 2" design

Shoulder strap-free backpack a...
The ME-2 backpack pulls weight off the shoulders and redistributes it
The ME-2 backpack pulls weight off the shoulders and redistributes it
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The ME-2 pack is designed as one size fits all
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The ME-2 pack is designed as one size fits all
Both the hip and torso belts secure closed and tighten around your body, providing a snug, personalized fit
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Both the hip and torso belts secure closed and tighten around your body, providing a snug, personalized fit
Without shoulder straps, upper body range of motion improves 
3/5
Without shoulder straps, upper body range of motion improves 
The ME-2 backpack pulls weight off the shoulders and redistributes it
4/5
The ME-2 backpack pulls weight off the shoulders and redistributes it
The support strap holds the pack in place while you secure the belts
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The support strap holds the pack in place while you secure the belts

We've covered backpacks that swing around front, backpacks that keep tabs on your belongings, packs that charge gadgets and ones that transform into other pieces of kit, like jackets and washing machines. Despite all those features and many more, backpacks virtually always have the same basic structure: a storage pouch hanging off a shoulder or two. The ME-2 dares to be different. This all-new backpack doesn't go over your shoulders at all, instead wrapping around your torso and catching a ride.

There are some variations on how backpack shoulder straps are arranged, including these rerouted straps, but the shoulder straps themselves have long been an established component of backpack design. There's nothing in the simple term "backpack" that suggests they're necessary, however. The ME-2 is most definitely a backpack; it just doesn't throw straps over your shoulders.

The ME-2 pack wasn't developed out of novelty, but out of necessity. ME-2 creator Candace Spears, an avid hiker, found herself unable to carry weight on her shoulders after a major rafting injury. Many a hike demands a pack, and Spears wasn't about to give up her active outdoor lifestyle. Instead, she approached the problem with a little ingenuity and hard work and came up with a design that keeps the weight off the shoulders.

The main components of the ME-2 pack design are the custom carbon fiber frame and hip and torso belts. These combine to keep the pack stable while pulling weight and stress off your shoulders, neck and upper back, spreading it down your torso.

The support strap holds the pack in place while you secure the belts
The support strap holds the pack in place while you secure the belts

The ME-2 pack is a little trickier to put on than the average backpack. A support strap lets you sling the pack over your shoulder to keep it in place while you fasten the hip belt. Both the hip and torso belts secure closed and tighten around your body, providing a snug, personalized fit.

Beyond serving as an option for those with medical conditions, the ME-2 is also billed as a way of freeing up upper body movement, making it functional for climbing, hunting and other activities that entail a lot of use of the hands and arms. We'd question how well it stays in place compared to a traditional backpack with shoulder straps, hip belt and chest strap, especially on longer hikes and adventures, but it certainly looks like an interesting alternative.

Without shoulder straps, upper body range of motion improves 
Without shoulder straps, upper body range of motion improves 

Beyond the reconfigured support system, the ME-2 is a fairly standard backpack. It's made from nylon ripstop and has a variety of pockets, including side water bottle pockets. The back is cushioned and includes an air circulation channel. The pack holds 1,514 cu in (25 L) and between 20 and 25 lb (9 and 11.3 kg). It weighs 2.4 lb (1 kg) empty, according to the specs listed by ME-2.

ME-2 is hosting a Kickstarter campaign with the aim of getting its unique take on the backpack off the ground and out hiking. Pledges for a one-size-fits-all backpack start at US$260, an estimated $100 off retail.

Sources: ME-2, Kickstarter

4 comments
Brooke
Hi: For many decades the design of backpacks, like the military ALICE system, http://www.prc68.com/I/ALICE.shtml, use a belt that rides on the hips and supports a rigid pack frame rather than carrying the load weight on the shoulders (and most of the spine).
ljaques
I think I might prefer being able to breathe. That top band would cut off your breath and get really hot really quickly. Then there's the princely price...
Timelord
@ljaques, one doesn't breathe with the rib cage. You use your diaphragm, expanding your abdomen with each inhalation. If you look at the pictures on their Kickstarter page, you'll see the larger panels are only on the sides of the chest strap, with a narrow strap on the front. It looks like those panels are 3D spacer mesh for good breathability.
Bruce Warren
I have the same problem Candace has... pressure on top of my shoulders hurts. External frame packs with a good waist belt can put all the weight around the hips, with none on the shoulders. The shoulder straps can be loose while hiking, just enough to keep the pack from falling backwards or sideways. No downward pressure on the top of the shoulders at all. The military MOLLE frame can do that. And the LuxuryLite Stackpack has used this geometry for 12 years. The top of the shoulder straps can be telescoped up high to put just horizontal pressure on your pecks and back. Change the weight distribution as you hike... all shoulders, all hips, or some on each.