Gear Review: Exped Thunder 50 Backpack

Exped Thunder 50
Exped Thunder 50

Exped Thunder 50
$249, 50L/3,051 c.i., 3 lbs. 4 oz.
One size, adjustable
Men’s torso range 17.5-22.5 ins./ 44.5-57cm
Women’s torso range 16.5-20 ins./ 42-51cm

The idea of downsizing your backpack and other gear is always enticing (and a smart goal; see my tips on that). But unless you have pockets deep enough to finance a quiver of packs, you probably need one that can handle whatever kind of trip you take, and you may be leery of buying one that’s too small or specialized or lacks convenient features. The Thunder 50 struck me at first glance as a pack that may offer exceptional versatility while hewing to a minimalist ethic that keeps weight low, so I took it out on a mostly off-trail backpacking trip with my son in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains to test my theory.

Exped Thunder 50 harness
Exped Thunder 50 harness

In designing the Thunder 50, Exped appears to have set out to take a classic, no-frills, European-style rucksack and give it a few frills to improve comfort and functionality—particularly in its organization and access, the area where the Thunder 50 really distinguishes itself from competitors. With a huge, U-shaped, dual-zipper front panel opening into the main compartment, and six exterior pockets, the top-loading Thunder 50 is all about quick, easy access. The front panel has vertical zippers on each side, so you can enter either side of the pack independently; that panel secures with wide hook-and-loop strips at the top to prevent unwanted opening. The stretch front pocket can hold a wet jacket or rainfly, and the two stretch side pockets are large enough for a liter bottle, plus, the floating lid pocket and a top compression strap allow for some first-day-of-the-trip overstuffing. The two, stretch hipbelt pockets are much roomier than you’ll find on many backpacks.


The 50-liter pack bag, with a wide mouth, swallowed our tent, kitchen, and food; this pack has the capacity for a four- to five-day trip or thru-hiking, if you have lightweight, compact your gear. And rather than plastic clips, the two extendable, side compression straps have simple, metal hooks that attach either to designated loops or anywhere along a pair of long daisy chains on the pack’s front, creating myriad options for attaching gear to the outside.

Exped Thunder 50 front panel
Exped Thunder 50 front panel

I carried 35 pounds inside it, but the Thunder 50’s T-Rex frame is clearly built to haul 40 pounds or more comfortably (depending on the user’s comfort level). The suspension consists of a single, center stay made of 6061-T6 aluminum; a hipbelt made with dual-density foam that delivers a nice balance of cushion and rigidity for support; and no framesheet except for a small, plastic one built into the sliding unit anchoring the shoulder straps. The suspension system can be adjusted using a strap behind the lumbar pad to move the shoulder straps up or down along the exposed center stay. (Exped says the limiting factor on adjustability is head space for shorter torsos; always try on a backpack loaded with gear before buying, and see my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack.”) The lumber pad provides good cushioning without being overbuilt. The curved stay settles much of the pack’s weight on your hips, but also lifts the middle of the pack off your back for air circulation.

Exped Thunder 50 side
Exped Thunder 50 side

The PU-coated, water-resistant, 210-denier Dyneema ripstop nylon fabric is lightweight but withstands a lot of abuse. That durable exterior, along with the options for attaching gear externally, including two ice axe loops, make it a legitimate climbing pack, too.

Although not the lightest model in this category of 50-liter sacks, the Thunder 50 is a lightweight, well-built, smart, all-around pack for backpackers who prioritize low weight and design efficiency, ideal for everyone from serious distance hikers to weekenders and climbers.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to buy an Exped Thunder 50 at

See all of my reviews of backpacks and backpacking gear, including my review of a similar pack that’s nearly a pound lighter, the Osprey Exos 58.

The Big Outside is proud to partner with sponsor Osprey Packs, which supports my mission of inspiring families and others to get outdoors. Please help support my blog by liking and following my sponsors on Facebook and other social media and telling them you appreciate their support for The Big Outside.

See also my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” and my stories “My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews,” “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,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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