Gear Review: Arc’teryx Bora AR Backpacks
Arc’teryx Bora AR 50
$499, 50L/3,050 c.i., 4 lbs. 13 oz. (men’s regular)
Sizes: men’s and women’s regular and tall
The 9.6 miles and 3,000 vertical feet from Junction Camp to Park Creek Pass in North Cascades National Park seemed endless and relentlessly steep at times, when a friend and I hiked it on the second morning of a five-day, 80-mile backpacking trip in late September. The thunderous waterfalls, views of glaciers and jagged peaks, and golden fall color in the larch trees validated the harshness of that ascent. But for me, that climb and that trip’s long days were softened mostly by the carrying comfort of the new Bora AR 50 backpack—which, not surprisingly, given the brand, deploys some cutting-edge technologies to justify a stout sticker price.
When carrying a loaded backpack, some of the fatigue and soreness you can get in your back and shoulders comes from the amount of side-to-side rocking the pack does, due to the alternating, up-and-down motion of your hipbones while you walk—which gets exaggerated when going up or downhill. The men’s and women’s Bora packs eliminate that by redesigning how the pack rides on your torso. The generously padded, removable Rotoglide hipbelt rotates side to side and slides up and down, so that it moves with your hips and body, keeping the pack bag from bouncing around. I could actually feel it absorbing the movement of my hips while I walked, keeping the pack largely stationary on my back, while carrying it with a max of nearly 30 pounds inside in the North Cascades, and about 35 pounds of climbing gear, water, food, and clothing on days of hiking and cragging at Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park.
The very light, thermo-molded Tegris framesheet has slight flex to absorb some torso movement, with two aluminum stays to provide support for carrying at least 40 pounds. The shoulder straps are widely adjustable for both shoulder width and torso length using a Gridlock peg and hole system, which I adjusted to fit my 18-inch torso well in about a minute. Dual-density foam in those straps assures more durability than less-expensive foam padding.
A top loader, the Bora has a wide mouth for easy loading and a bright interior for seeing contents, as well as a side zipper to access the main compartment without having to unclip the lid. One downside: The narrow profile doesn’t fit a bear canister horizontally, only vertically, and the pack bag’s dimensions along with the fabric’s stiffness make it difficult to fill in the spaces around a bear canister; so it loads less efficiently when you have to put a canister inside.
Dual side compression straps squish down a partial load and have buckles for easily attaching items like trekking poles and ice tools (the pack has loops for them). The voluminous, zippered, front kangaroo pocket extends nearly the full depth and width of the pack body, big enough for a wet rainfly, with room to spare. The extendable and removable lid has a zippered top pocket that’s roomier than found in many packs of this size—you’ll get sunglasses case, gloves, hat, sunblock, headlamp, and plenty more in there—and another zippered pocket on the bottom. Two side pockets each hold a liter bottle, and the two stretch-mesh hipbelt pockets swallow a few energy bars each.
The Bora packs use a combination of highly durable 420-denier and 630-denier fabrics—no worries about tears or abrasions from any use—and waterproof AC² fabric on the lid, front, and upper side panels, which easily repelled light rain in the North Cascades.
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The Bora comes in men’s 50-liter and 63-liter and women’s 49-liter and 61-liter versions. They’re not the lightest packs in those categories, but they may be the toughest and certainly rank among the most comfortable, weatherproof, innovative, and versatile.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to buy a men’s Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 or AR 50 or women’s Bora AR 61 or AR 49 backpack at moosejaw.com, arcteryx.com, or rei.com.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.