My current workbench. Littered with dozens of stays from multiple packs and manufacturers, including a few of my failed custom bends.

The Art of Tinkering

Lock me in my house long enough, and odds are I’m gonna find some stupid shit to start tinkering with. This year, I did a lot of tinkering, almost always on some piece of backpacking gear. And given enough time to tinker, turns out I can occasionally stumble into some modification that actually makes a piece of gear a little bit better. This here might be one of those moments.

The short of the long is – stock stays in my Hyperlite Mountain Gear (size Large) weigh 4.2 ounces. My custom 7075 aluminum stays weigh 1.4 oz – for a net savings of 2.8 ounces.

Not insignificant on what is only a ~32 ounce pack to begin with.


How I arrived at the final stays is a bit more long-winded – the rest of this post is for true ultralight nerds only.

Stock frame stays for ultralight backpacks are, generally speaking, rather overweight for what they are. This is because they are usually made of ½ inch wide 6061 aluminum bar stock, like what you can find at the local hardware store. This is works well enough, and can easily be formed to fit the contours of your back. Perhaps best of all, it can easily be formed in the field by the backpacker for cases when they need a non-standard shape. The downside, of course, is weight – 6061 bar stock is much heavier than say something like carbon fiber or 7075 aluminum tubing. For obvious reasons, carbon fiber tubing is a bit beyond my pay scale. And I’m not sure the weight savings over the 7075 would be that significant

Thus began an entire months-long saga of me buying all sorts of different tubing trying to figure out how to bend it. And not just bend it, but do it with perfect AND repeatable results. I bought a few variations of pipe benders from the hardware store and that didn’t work. I bought a bicycle wheel from the thrift store and that didn’t work. I tried anything else I could think of. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it would fail. And when this stuff fails, it fails in violent ways, shattering shrapnel that may or may not pierce right through your hand. (Pro-tip, if you try this by hand like my dumbass, wear some denim, some gloves, and safety glasses.)

Nevertheless, I got a few decent bends that worked, and a whole bunch that did not. But the successes were enough to convince me it was possible, if I could just figure out how to keep the tube from kinking or cracking.

After much trial and error, and probing the depths of the YouTube rabbit hole in search of every tube bending video I could find, I finally got a jig built with a couple of dies that could do crack and kink free bends with fairly reliable, fairly repeatable results.

Way too much work just to save 2.8 oz, but dammit I was bored, and somewhat determined.


But just because you can make some bends doesn’t mean you are making the right ones. And it turns out, if you lay dozens of backpack stays on the same table, not a single one of them will be shaped like any other. This is both frustrating, and eye-opening. It means I’m not sure there is a “universal curve.” But it also likely means that there is a certain margin for error on a curve that fits lots of different body types. And when you consider the limitation of the radius you can bend these tubes, the shape will always be different than you can get with 6061. So that margin of error is key.

As best I can tell, the shape works quite well. I personally can tell no difference in comfort between the custom stays and the handful of other stays (even across different manufacturers.) And there is one more benefit – the custom stays are much stiffer. So when you are carrying a truly heavy load, they seem to compress less, and carry even better.

Which begs the final question – what’s the downside? Well, the most obvious is they might not universally fit every body shape. Everyone is different. If you’ve never intentionally bent a stay to fit, these custom stays would probably work well for you. If the first thing you do when you buy a new pack is bend the stays to some irregular shape, it might be more complicated.

The other question is just how strong are they?

The short answer is I am not 100 percent sure. There is no doubt that bending the tubes will weaken them significantly from their unbent state. Is it enough to matter for carrying 40 pound load, distributed across two stays? Absent a truly scientific test, but based on my own experiences, normal backpacking loads are well within range and they seem easily as strong as the stock 6061 bar with one possible asterisk. If you were to say, drop your pack and it landed on a sharp object, it’s possible that impact would shatter the stay. It’s also possible a softer alloy might just bend or deform.

With the asterisk out of the way, I’ve made a few pairs of these for friends already, and they performed flawlessly on some big trips. If they sound like something you’d be interested in trying out, send me a note on instagram and I’ll get you sorted*,

*That is until I run out of these tubes, or decide to buy some more.