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Backpack Review: Ten Pack Picks from Hydration to Trekking

Posted by Eli Boschetto at May 24, 2014 12:30 PM |
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From hydration pack to day pack to ultralight and backpacking, WTA's gear team field-tested and rated ten new packs: the Osprey Rev 12, Outdoor Research Levitator 16, Outdoor Products Amphibian 20, Osprey Stratos 34, Gregory Z40, REI Crestrail 48, Gregory J53, GoLite Quest 65, Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 70.

Whether you are looking for a light pack to hold your water during a run, a daypack or a full-on backpacking pack, below are ten field-tested options that WTA has put through the ringer.

Backpack by Karen Wang.jpgPhoto by Karen Wang.


The Osprey Rev series is designed for trail runners, and it certainly hits the mark for that demographic with its light weight, thoughtful pocket system and breathable and stable harness system. The pack hugs the body nicely when moving quickly and never made me feel sweaty even in some serious Arizona heat. While targeted to trail runners, I found it a great general daypack. I managed to squeeze jackets and lunch for three people within its 12-liter storage compartment. My biggest rave is for the 2.5-liter hydration system, which included a detachable hose that made refilling a snap. $110

Bonus Points: The stash pocket up top was deep enough to carry a bottle of sunscreen, sunglasses, a wallet, a bar and keys.

Rating: 4.7/5


DAYPACK: Outdoor Research Levitator 16

Outdoor Research Levitator 16
Outdoor Research Levitator 16

Outdoor Research created the Outdoor Research Levitator 16 for alpine climbing. With 16 liters of space and a widemouth entry, it has enough room for technical hardware, shoes and a helmet—all while being ultra-light and flexible enough for over-stuffing.

But you don’t need to climb to make good use of the Levitator and its features. I used it as a daypack for hiking and urban adventures, filling it to the brim with water bottles, sunscreen and extra clothing.

No matter how much I loaded it down, the pack fit comfortably on my shoulders and waist thanks to well-designed, padded straps. $65

Bonus Points: Its hip-belt pockets are big enough for an iPhone.

Rating: 5/5


DAYPACK: Outdoor Products Amphibian 20

Outdoor Products Amphibian 20
Outdoor Products Amphibian 20

Keep your 10 essentials dry, no matter the forecast, in Outdoor Products Amphibian 20’s roomy, 20-liter waterproof compartment—ideal for Northwest hiking in rain or shine.

The mesh pocket on the outside is handy for things you might need quick access to, while two side pockets hold a phone, GPS unit or other items. Welded seams all around ensure that your gear will stay safe and dry.

The super-wide mouth of the bag makes it easy to cram stuff in, but you might be digging for your sunscreen if it’s slipped to the bottom when the sun finally comes out. $60

Bonus Points: The roll-top closure can be locked down to corresponding buckles, or it can be clicked into itself (like a dry bag) if you’re in a hurry.

Rating: 3.1/5



Osprey Statos 34
Osprey Statos 34

Pack all you need—and more—for a day hike in this roomy pack. Designed as an ultralight weekender, the Osprey Stratos 34 is the pack for the hiker who travels sans stove and sleeps in a hammock.

As a dayhiker who likes to be extra-prepared, there's plenty of room for a few more energy bars, a puffy jacket and even a seating pad for lunchtime.

A handy trekking pole attachment lets you stow your poles when you’re not using them, and generously-sized water bottle pockets keep your Nalgenes within arm’s reach. The pockets on the waistbelt are big enough to hold phones, keys and trail map. $140

Bonus Points: The raincover unfolds quickly from a separate pocket at the base of the pack in case of sudden showers.

Rating: 3.7/5


BACKPACK: Gregory Z40

Gregory Z40
Gregory Z40

When it comes to multipurpose backpacks, Gregory's Z40 admirably meets the needs of a heavy day hiker or weekend overnighter.

The dual access main compartment accommodates food and most necessities, while the smaller pockets hold map, compass, phone, wallet and snacks.

When hiking both flat trails and aggressive climbs the Z40 carries well thanks to the 6-way adjustable straps and waistbelt.

Especially noteworthy are the ventilated straps and arched back panel that allows for superior airflow to prevent overheating. $169

Rating: 4/5


BACKPACK: REI Crestrail 48

REI Cresttrail
REI Crestrail

Although the REI Crestrail 48 won’t win any ultralight awards when it comes to weight (it’s almost four pounds), it offers plenty of bang for your buck and is a good intro pack for those new to backpacking.

Its relatively roomy interior is perfect for weekend wilderness getaways, and lots of exterior pockets mean your snacks are always close by.

This is one pack I certainly didn’t have to tiptoe around; its heavy ripstop fabric gives it a durability that lighter bags usually don’t have.

Other features I loved: generously padded shoulder straps and the largest hip-belt pockets I’ve ever seen—big enough for everything from a GPS to GORP. $170

Point Deduction: The top edge of its pivoting hip-belt can be uncomfortable if not adjusted just right.

Rating: 3.7/5


    BACKPACK: Gregory J53

    Gregory J53
    Gregory J53

    The Gregory J53 is one of the prettiest packs on the market (I love the teal color) but it’s not all beauty and no brawn. The pack boasts a durable frame for heavy loads, a breathable back for sweaty ascents and enough pockets to make MacGyver jealous. I found myself tempted to over-pack simply because there were so many great pockets to choose from.

    The J53 performed well on my steep, spring test hikes; its rain fly came in handy during an afternoon drizzle, and its load always felt steady on my back.

    Had it been just a bit easier to reach the water bottle holsters while wearing, the J53 would have received a perfect 5! $200

    Bonus Points: Its expandable, kangaroo-like outer pocket is perfect for stashing bulky items.

    Rating: 4.7/5


    BACKPACK: GoLite Quest 65

    GoLite Quest 65
    GoLite Quest 65

    The GoLite Quest 65 pack gets high marks for an abundance of features at a great price point, with nice touches like a stretchy outer compartment for easy access to items like hats and jackets, and zippered side compartments for smaller gear like head lamps and gloves. Extra entry points to the main area are a plus.

    Weighing in at less than 3 pounds, it easily handles loads for weekend trips. When filled with 40 pounds of gear, the Quest stacked up tall, didn’t bulge and didn’t feel heavy due to the unique lumbar support framing for solid weight distribution. $135

    Bonus Points: Great features, light weight and a price that can’t be beat!

    Rating: 4.4/5


    BACKPACK: Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 70

    Granite Gear Nimbus Trace Access 70
    Granite Gear Nimbus Nimbus Trace Access 70

    Get at anything you need, any time you need it, with the handy access panel on this heavy-duty trekking pack. The Nimbus boasts lots of pockets for storage, with water bottle pockets that are large enough to easily stash your Nalgenes.

    But the access panel on the Access 70 adds a new dimension of convenience. Several times during my hike, I used the access panel to get at my Ten Essentials bag, the rain gear I’d shoved to the bottom, and to double-check that I had my car keys.

    The internal straps under the panel keep everything from spilling out when you grab what you need, and with 70 liters capacity, it holds everything you could possibly need for several days in the backcountry. $265

    Bonus Points: The detachable lid acts as a fanny pack on steroids; perfect if you want to venture out on dayhikes from base camp.

    Rating: 4.1/5


    Packs are rated based on size to weight ratio, load handling and capacity, comfort, features and durability.