February 15, 2024

Written By a Hiker, For Hikers: A Paragon 2.0 Review

Written By a Hiker, For Hikers: A Paragon 2.0 Review

TOM BIHN provided a complimentary Paragon 2.0 to Eric Widuger in exchange for an honest review. While the bag was gifted, the opinions expressed in this review are entirely those of the reviewer, who was not influenced by TOM BIHN in any way and provided their genuine feedback based on their experience with the product.


By Eric Widuger

This backpack was gifted to me by Mike V (a fellow hiker!) for the purpose of a hiking-focused review (if you want to know how it performs in an everyday and/or travel capacity, ask them folks on the forums!).

I like bags that solve problems.

Most frameless, ultralight hiking backpacks are inherently problematic: the minimalist design hopes limiting features will reduce weight, and, in turn, make it a more comfortable carry - which would be like removing the air conditioner from your car with the hope it allows you to go fast enough to cool yourself down. 

So what's wrong with UL packs?

It's hard to find stuff. Roll-top designs are difficult to access during use, and you have to stop hiking, plop the bag on the ground, and sort through it, feeling with your hands for the small item that probably settled down at the bottom of a deep main compartment.

They may look like dry bags, but aren't as waterproof. Items stored in outside pockets remain susceptible to the elements, and if the bag's seams aren't taped or sealed, it requires a secondary "liner" back to keep water out, which also makes things even more difficult to access.

They're hot, lumpy, and tip over. Lack of a frame, or even a simple foam back panel, means the bag doesn't stand up on its own, it doesn't breathe well, and your back will feel everything poking into your back through the thin, all-fabric back panel.

Organization not included. Ultralight frameless backpacks are essentially dry bags with shoulder straps, and the only additional organization is on the outside of the pack, where things can get wet. To separate the contents, you'll have to buy stuff sacks, pods, or packing cubes to help keep like items together. It adds weight and cost, and, in the end, the money and weight savings are undermined by the additional gear you needed to buy in order to stay organized. Otherwise, your small stuff will mix in with your big stuff, and it gets frustrating trying to find anything in a hurry.

The Paragon 2.0 solves quite a few of those problems!

Packed Out Paragon 2.0 in Coyote Ballistic/Zest Halcyon

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty, here's a list of what I packed inside my Paragon 2.0 and carried along on my hikes:

Side Kick: car/house/office keys, wallet, sunglasses, pocketknife, pens, comb, lip balm, bandages, lens wipes, contact lenses, pillbox, camera (inside a soft case), charging cables, power bank, wireless earbuds.

To store extra clothes, I use a Mesh Travel Laundry Stuff Sack (Aeronaut 30) and inside of that goes my rain jacket, rain pants, rain mitts, ankle gaiters, warm hat, warm gloves, microfiber towel, sun hat, and bug head net.

Few things hit the spot more than a hot drink after a cold hike, and the one luxury item I carry with me is my coffee kit, stored inside a Grab Bag (Small). It contains my cookpot, lid, backpacking stove, fuel canister, spoon, instant coffee, lighter, and collapsible silicone mug.

My 3 water bottles were tucked into an unzipped front pocket, I kept snacks and drink mixes in the small interior pocket, and my maps tucked into the laptop sleeve.

Any remaining capacity in the top half of the main compartment is reserved to stashing my puffy coat. I dress in layers on winter hikes and once I get moving, I shed my outermost layer and will continue hiking wearing the fleece hoodie underneath to regulate my body temperature and reduce sweating.

Open, Packed-Out Coyote Ballistic/Zest Halcyon Paragon 2.0

With a full pack, I took the bag out for 15 miles of hiking, and here's what I learned:

You can access your contents without stopping to take the bag off. The panel-loader design is accessed via zippers and includes a new style of high-visibility zipper pull (as well as webbing loops at each end of the zipper path) that makes the zippers easy to find and easy to open - even in cold weather while wearing gloves. Unlike a roll-top bag, you can slip off a strap while wearing it, swing the bag in front of you, and access the compartments without stopping to take the bag off.

Weather-proofing is built into the zippers and fabric. While the bag isn't submersible, it is pretty darn water-resistant, thanks to the typical coated fabric they use, along with the addition of Aquaguard zippers.

It can stand up on its own. The 2.0 adds a foam-padded laptop sleeve against the back wall of the main compartment. Do I take a laptop hiking with me? Nope! But the foam that laptop sleeve is made from helps add rigidity to the bag, makes it more self-supporting, and also creates a nice place to store flat items like maps and guidebooks. Tip: pack your heaviest items flat and into the bottom of the main compartment - when I used the outside front pocket to store my water bottles, it made it front heavy and the bag would tip forward when placed on the ground.

It breathes. The single biggest improvement, and why I wanted to test this pack to begin with? The vented mesh back panel. I took this pack out with me for close to 15 miles of hiking over the course of 2 days. I did manage to work up enough a sweat to make the bottom third, all-fabric seciton damp to the touch, but the top two-thirds does breathe well enough to limit excess perspiration and prevent heat rash (a common problem for anyone who's tried to wear the Daylight Backpack or Luminary 12/15 out on a hot day).

It's easy to stay organized. The design is simple: two good-sized compartments, a small inside pocket, and an open-top padded laptop sleeve. The front outside pocket is big enough to carry 3 water bottles and keep them someplace within quick, easy reach. I kept my snacks and drink mix in the small pocket, maps in the laptop sleeve, and everything else in the main compartment. For a great 2 bag system, use the included Gatekeeper Waist Strap to turn a Side Effect, Side Kick, or Side Hustle into a fanny pack - I did this so I could keep one of my three water bottle and my camera in front of me and easy to reach at all times.

Coyote Ballistic Paragon 2.0 in action

Thick straps weigh more, but allow you to carry the bag further and longer. This backpack uses the best [edgeless] shoulder straps Tom Bihn makes. Be sure to take the time to adjust their length so the bag not only carries weight well, but the straps can flare at an angle corresponding to the width of your shoulders. I had to wear the pack a little lower than I normally wear my hiking backpacks because I have broad shoulders. Once I made this adjustment, the pack wore very comfortably.

Bright colors make things super easy to find. The orange lining makes it very easy to see down into the deepest corners of the bag and I can't say enough how much a difference it makes to use a bag with high-visibility lining. It makes it very easy to see all the contents at a glance. Same goes for the brightly colored zipper pulls. Nary a once did I ever have to fumble around trying to figure out where the zipper pulls were hiding.


Coyote Ballistic Paragon 2.0


What didn't I like? Not much, man. 

The pack really could use a dedicated spot to store a water bottle upright. On my second day hiking with the pack I got caught in light snowfall. I was storing water bottles in the front pocket to keep them accessible, but since they were tall, I had to keep the pocket unzipped. Once it started to snow, I had to move the bottles into the main compartment. Maybe that's solved with a simple outside mesh pocket, like the Addaxes have. Or maybe it's more like the interior divider built into the front pocket of the Paradigm/Paragon.

The new "Pull du Jour" zipper pulls are awesome, but I wish they came in more colors than black and orange. I like these so much I now buy them instead of the older style pulls when upgrading recent bag purchases. But I wish they offered the same amount of color choices as the older style zipper pulls (Black, Coyote, Iberian, Island, Ultraviolet, Wasabi). Maybe in time they will.

Bring back the option to upgrade to a whistle sternum strap. Almost all of my hiking is solo, and as someone who doesn't carry any sort of personal locator beacon, or satellite communicator, the only things I have on me to call for help are either my cell phone or my voice. I'll probably write customer service to see if they've got one left over, and if not, try and source out an aftermarket whistle sternum strap.

This bag is a great example of how this company is not only willing to hear customer feedback, but use it to improve their bags and make better designs, which in turn just make happier customers (myself included!).

I would never have purchased the first version of this bag with the intention of using it for hiking, but the 2.0 version added enough upgrades that it performs just as well as some of my dedicated outdoor gear.

Three views of the Paragon 2.0: Side, Back, and Front

For those interested:


The bag was tested on Blackwell Forest Preserve's McKee Marsh Trail (Warrenville, Illinois), and on the Scuppernong Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (Eagle, Wisconsin).


Thank you again Eric for your review!

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