Gear Review: REI Traverse 70 Pack

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With no water available anywhere along the route of my family’s late-March, overnight backpacking trip into the canyon of Utah’s Dirty Devil River–except the heavily silted river itself, which would rapidly clog any filter–we had to carry all we’d need for two days.

And that meant our mule–me–lugging much of it: 15 liters. A quick mental calculation clarified the substantial weight of the water loaded into my backpack: just about 32 pounds. With gear, food and my clothes, my pack’s ballast would climb up toward 50 pounds–a load not many packs manage comfortably.

But as we descended a trail of steep scree, sand and slickrock, and then traversed a broad bench of undulating slickrock a few hundred feet above the river, I realized at some point that I wasn’t thinking about the weight of my pack. I was just enjoying the panorama of sandstone domes and cliffs above the meandering Dirty Devil. In other words, my pack was doing exactly what a pack should do: letting me forget I was wearing it.

My return hike uphill was considerably easier. Without most of that water (and food), the pack weighed in under 30 pounds–carrying about what I had inside it on a four-day family ski trip in February to a backcountry yurt in Idaho’s Boise Mountains. But given the Traverse 70’s modest weight empty–under five pounds–and smart compression, with angled side straps pulling smaller loads toward the middle of your spine (where you normally want to position most pack weight), it morphs into a mid-size pack, too.

Designed as a classic backpacker’s pack for large loads, the Traverse 70 sports a harness capable of supporting 40 or more pounds. It also comes with the higher degree of organization and fit that many of us expect in a big pack. For starters, it comes in three sizes with a harness adjustable to a range of three inches (with overlap between sizes), which will cover torsos ranging from 17 to 21 inches–in other words, most men (women may find a better fit with the gender-specific Traverse 65). The aluminum peripheral hoop frame, with one crossing stay, has virtually no flex to it, stabilizing heavier loads: Even with all of that water sloshing around, Traverse 70 hardly shifted.

The thickly padded, contoured hipbelt, with plastic reinforcements inside, did not fold or buckle under the weight I carried; and its perforated mesh (also used in the padded shoulder straps) enhances breathability. The hipbelt also has a small amount of pivot to it (though not as much as other packs I’ve used), which helps minimize a pack’s natural tendency to rock side to side when you’re hiking. The suspended mesh back panel let cool air pass over my back while hiking. REI has made the hipbelt and shoulder straps interchangeable, with size options to customize the fit, a feature offered only by a handful of top pack manufacturers.

The top-loading Traverse 70 gets an A for access and organization, featuring a large mouth on top; a big, two-way, J-shaped front zipper for accessing the main compartment (which I like a lot for quickly grabbing a rain jacket, insulation, first aid, or a tent in the rain); stretchy side pockets big enough for a liter bottle; twin, deep, zippered front pockets where I kept snacks, a water filter, and such; a large, front stuff-it pocket for a wet rainfly or jacket; and two zippered hipbelt pockets designed to hold snacks, a map or a small camera.

The removable lid pocket converts to a small daypack using one strap with two clips that actually secures it to your back–a vast improvement over traditional lids that convert to minimally comfortable fanny packs. The pack comes with a rain cover. Finally, the ripstop nylon fabric seems pretty durable, with the only “soft” spots being the stretch fabric in the side pockets.

For backpackers who typically carry 30 to 45 pounds, the Traverse 70 fills all the right buckets: comfort, stability, organization, etc. The only caveat, mentioned earlier, is that women may prefer the Traverse 65; the Traverse 70 comes only in unisex sizes, which typically fit men better than women.

Shop the REI Traverse 70 pack only at REI.com.

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