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Ask Me: Which Big Backpack Do You Recommend?

Ask Me: Which Big Backpack Do You Recommend?

Michael,

I purchased a Mountainsmith Apex 80 before I knew anything about buying packs. I love the pack, but I recently ended up carrying 45 lbs. for the first time, and the pack refused to stay on my hips. I took it into my local REI and it turns out the pack is too large for me. My torso is 17 inches and the pack starts at 18 inches. I have read through every backpack review on your site (they were very informative) and have narrowed down my replacements, and would like your advice. The three on my list are: Gregory Baltoro 75, Osprey Aether 70/85 (the Xenith only fits torsos starting at 18), and the Deuter Act 75+10. I need the larger pack as the scout troop my son is with does multi-day trips, and we end up carrying all the stuff the boy’s parents over-packed (plus I’m not experienced enough yet to be able to pack myself perfectly).

The employee at the REI store really pushed the Deuter. He said he has been using one for years and loves it. The torso and the hipbelt fit me (I’m a 32 waist—so I’d need the small pack, but medium hipbelt for the Gregory and Osprey), plus the Deuter is a hundred dollars cheaper. But I’m afraid. Cheaper doesn’t always mean worse; but in packs it can. I want comfort, and will be willing to save a little longer and pay for it. I would rather spend $350 now, rather than spend $220 two or three times because I made a bad choice. I want this to be my last multi-day pack (for the time being it will have to double duty on short trips as well), so your thoughts would be much appreciated.

Thank you.

Graham
Oakville, CT

Hi Graham,

Thanks for following The Big Outside. Good question. I have not used the Mountainsmith Apex 80, though I have used other Mountainsmith packs. (I have an 18-inch torso.) I’ve reviewed at this blog the updated Gregory Baltoro 75 and reviewed previous versions of it and the Osprey Aether series packs for Backpacker magazine (the trekker on the right in lead photo above is carrying an Osprey Aether 60 in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park), and have reviewed a smaller version of the Deuter ACT 75+10 at The Big Outside, the ACT 50+15. I’ve also reviewed the Osprey Xenith 88 (the women’s version is the Xena 85), also an excellent pack for really heavy loads.

You’re choosing among three packs that are all the flagship backpacking packs for those companies, so the distinctions between them are fine, and you’re not likely to be disappointed with any one of them (as long as the pack fits you well). But I’ll tell you what I think differentiates them.

Check out my review of the updated Baltoro 75 and women’s Deva 70 with a suspension that I think makes it the best choice if you’re going to be carrying 50 pounds or more consistently. Being designed for big loads also means it’s more than a pound heavier than the Osprey Aether 70 or the Deuter ACT 75+10, so it feels like a bigger, heavier pack.

 

Jeff Wilhelm backpacking with an Osprey Aether 60 in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Jeff Wilhelm carrying an Osprey Aether 60 in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness.

The Aether 70 and ACT 75+10 are both excellent packs that will carry 40 to 45 pounds comfortably, and the Osprey perhaps a little more weight than that (though that comes down to a person’s strength and other issues more about your body than the pack). I would give the edge to the Aether 70 for comfort with a load that size, because it has a good, supportive, well-padded hipbelt that’s heat-moldable for a customized fit.

But they’re both very good packs if that’s the weight range you intend to load into the pack, and both, to my mind, feel noticeably lighter than the Gregory, if that matters to you. They have nearly identical external features in terms of pockets and straps, including a stretchy, front pocket, whereas the Baltoro 75 has a zippered front pocket that’s more durable and secure. The Gregory and Deuter have removable lid pockets that double as a fanny pack. You’ve probably looked at the features of all of them, but my point is that picking those comes down to personal preference.

Would I go with the less-expensive pack? If money was my biggest concern and I didn’t intend to load more than about 40 to 45 pounds into the pack, I’d go with the Deuter. If you expect to haul heavier loads, I’d go with either the Osprey or the Gregory—especially the Gregory for 50+ pounds.

Lastly, before spending that kind of money, I would definitely load up each pack with your gear in the store and walk around wearing each one. By using each one even for an hour—loading, unloading, and wearing it—you’ll notice little differences that either please or annoy you about each pack and will help you make a decision that you feel good about.

I hope that helps answer your question. Good luck.

See all of my reviews of backpacks and my reviews of backpacking gear that I like, and my stories:

5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack,” which includes instructions on measuring your torso.

The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun

Buying Gear? Read This First

5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear

My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews

Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System

Michael

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Michael,

Thanks so much for your expertise. After trying all three on at the local REI store (I was measured in two separate REI stores, and they came up with different measurements—one was 17 inches and the other was 18, so I was told to go with the shorter of the two) the Aether and the Baltoro felt better with 45 lbs. in them. So I narrowed it down to those two. The medium Baltoro on the lower setting with the medium belt felt very comfortable. The Aether felt really good, too, but the pivoting hip belt on the Baltoro was a difference maker, and I’m leaning towards that one.

I’m still going to try them again before I actually purchase one in the spring, and also try on the small Baltoro with a medium hipbelt (I didn’t have the time when I was there the other day) just to make sure the medium is right for me. Since I don’t plan on doing thru-hikes on the AT, I can deal with the extra weight of the Baltoro—especially if it means comfort for the last few hours of a hike (you know the boys don’t get tired until you’re tired, too). And even if I don’t end up having to carry a monster load, the Baltoro felt like it was floating with only 35 lbs. in it.

Thanks Again for your advice.

Graham

See all of my backpack reviews and all of my backpacking gear reviews at The Big Outside.

 

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Got a question about hiking, backpacking, planning a family adventure, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Email it to me at michael@thebigoutside.com. For $60, I’ll answer your questions via email or in a phone call to help ensure your trip is a success. Write to me and I will tell you whether I can answer your question (I usually can). You may find helpful information in stories on my Ask Me page and All Trips page, and in my skills stories and gear reviews.

—Michael Lanza

 

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Wow! I’m stunned by this casual acceptance that “I need the larger pack as the scout troop my son is with does multi-day trips, and we end up carrying all the stuff the boy’s parents over-packed.”

    One of the wonderful things about backpacking is the realization that you can carry everything you need. This sense of self-sufficiency, inner strength and independence, and the accompanying boost to self-esteem can be profound for youths. When adults carry the kids’ excess (injuries or special circumstances excepted), the kids are denied this valuable inner experience.

    Beyond that, loading the adults to excess could potentially diminish the kids’ experience or safety in other ways: Let’s face it, most of us could not be the same person in camp after a day of carrying a monster load. And we would not be as mentally or physically able if a serious emergency arose.

    I’ve led Girl Scouts on backpacking trips and cannot imagine either letting the kids’ parents pack for them or letting them get on the trail without confirming they’ve packed “to our list” – a list the kids feel ownership of because they created it together.

    I encourage the writer to help the boys start planning well in advance. Let them gather and compare a few gear lists (also discussing what’s not on the lists), and coach them in creating a list appropriate to their trip. Then have them bring packs and gear to a training hike. Weigh the packs and winnow the contents. Tie this to multiple motivators (being smart and savvy, having more fun, having time to fish, whatever you sense they’ll respond to). At the first meeting after the trip, while it’s fresh on their minds, debrief – maybe go around the circle to name something that didn’t get used or wasn’t worth its weight, as well as to name a favorite aspect of the trip.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks for the suggestions, Laura. My only response is that I think we should refrain from making too broad a judgment about someone’s standard practices based on one simple and short statement.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Good write-up.

    I’ve had both the Aether 70 and the Baltoro 75 and my nod would go to the Baltoro. Yeah…it’s a little heavier but that can be compensated for by lightening your load or doing some extra squats in the gym. 🙂

    My Aether, which I loved, developed a mind numbing squeak in the aluminum stays after a few years and because I wasn’t able to repair it, and didn’t like ripping it off my back and yelling at it on the trail, I moved out of it to the Baltoro.

    They’re similar packs in terms of functionality but I think the Baltoro provides a bit more organization and, for me, a more comfortable ride. I do think the Osprey’s stuffit is a better call than the zippered front pocket just because it allows things to be dried and doesn’t cut in to the pack capacity. But the Baltoro’s angled positioning of the side pocket for a water bottle is inspired.

    I rarely carry more than 35 lbs. but when I’ve had to think the Baltoro handles the extra weight better. I really like the pronounced lumbar pad which follows the counter of the small of my back. On long trips with the Aether I found myself needing to move the load from my shoulders to my hips on occasion but with the Baltoro the load feels more a part of my body.

    Won’t go wrong with either of them though. Take care of them and they could last a lifetime.

    (I think my squeaky Aether was an anomaly).

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      Good feedback, hikesocal, thanks

      Reply

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