When I first saw the Air Beam Pack Frame on the GG web site, I was intrigued but not enough to order one from the USA. However, backpackinglight.co.uk is stocking an increasing amount of the GG range and has recently received a delivery of Air Beams, so I bought one. It arrived less than 24 hours after ordering 🙂
When I opened the package, I was slightly underwhelmed. While the inflatable frame seemed well made and tolerably robust, the pump and valve seemed a bit “Heath Robinson”. On the underside there is a small rigid tube to which you attach the flexible tube and pump. The frame will not stay inflated without the pump being attached. There is also a deflation valve just above the inflation bulb, which is engaged by depressing a button.
Inflation is very easy and quick. It’s best to inflate the frame after locating it in the mesh pockets of the pack (shown below, sorry about the quality of the picture). It can be pumped up easily or deflated when wearing the pack. It then dawned on me that having the pump permanently attached and easily accessible was a good idea. This means that the correct pressure can easily be achieved by pumping up the frame and releasing some air if necessary. The inflation bulb can be tucked away in the side pocket after use.
So what does it feel like? I loaded some bits and pieces into my Mariposa, so I had about 5kg of weight in the sack. I put on the sack with the Air Beam semi-inflated and then pumped it up.
Compared with the simple SitLight foam pad, that comes with the pack, it is more comfortable as it moulds to the shape of your back. This is particularly noticeable at the base of my spine where the beams are fatter. It also makes the hip belt sit better over my hips.
I experimented a bit with the air pressure. For me a reasonably high pressure seemed best, but I’ll only know out on the trail. I’m guessing that there will be a bit more air circulation as there are quite deep valleys between the beams. The effective thickness of the frame is similar to the foam sit pad, accounting for compression when wearing the pack.
The mesh sleeve still accommodates my 3mm sleeping mat behind the air beam without either straining the mesh of seeming overly thick. Indeed, I wouldn’t go out without having a backup foam back pad. It seems to me that the big drawback is the possibility of a puncture. The pad does come with a puncture repair kit, but finding a leak is no always easy out in the field.
Overall, I rather like the Air Beam. It certainly seems very comfortable, more so than closed cell foam. I’m not sure why they produced it in bright yellow. I think grey or black would have blended better. In terms of weight, it adds around 50g, once you leave out the sit pad (sit pad is approx 50g, Air Beam inc pump approx 100g).