Best Expedition Backpacks (70L+) of 2017
In this category, we looked at backpacks with volumes larger than 70 liters. These seven bags represent a diverse range of applications, such as the ultralight backpacking focus of the Gregory Stout 75 or the mountaineering expedition usefulness of the Black Diamond Mission 75.
This category does not include drybags with straps, or any other bag that looks closer to a duffel than a true backpacking pack. This variety of application means that the category is diverse, but they share many common design features and inspirations. The packs were judged on five criteria: comfort/fit, storage, stability, durability, and extras. These seven backpacks were chosen as a representative sample covering a range of diverse use and applications.
One market trend that became apparent in the course of this test was the increasing specialization of backpack makers, into the two main groups of this test set—those backpacks intended for ultralight, long distance backpacking, and those more suited for mountaineering expeditions and the requisite short-distance hauling of heavy loads. The three backpacks that tried to straddle the middle ground between these camps (the Osprey Aether AG 85, The North Face Fovero 85, and the Thule Guidepost 75), all suffered in the final results. The mountaineering expedition end of the spectrum was anchored by the Black Diamond Mission 75 and on the ultralight backpacking side of things, high scores were earned by the Lowe Alpine Manaslu 65:75, the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 70 Outdry, and the Gregory Stout 75.
The Best In Class title goes to the Lowe Alpine Manaslu 65:75, which ended up with a category-topping 91 points. The Manaslu cruised to the top spot largely on its comfort and consistent performance. The limitations are cursory, besides a general desire that it was a few ounces lighter to allow it to break into the ultralight scene.
The bottom spot in this test set went to The North Face Fovero 85, with a final rating of 77. This pack has strengths, not least of which is its large weight carrying capacity, although these pros are outweighed by cons, chief of which is the bag’s heavy weight and narrow body compartment.
Prices in this test set ranged from $200 (Gregory Stout 75) to $350 (Thule Guidepost 75), and averaged at $280. The Best Value title goes to the Gregory, which finished in a tie for third and was the least expensive bag.
Backpacks in this test set ranged from 5 lbs 12 oz (The North Face Fovero 85 and the Thule Guidepost 75) to 3 lbs 2 oz (Gregory Stout 75). These backpacks were tested throughout the winter and spring of 2017, during day hikes and overnight backpacking trips from 1-4 nights, with mileage hovering around a dozen miles a day. Tests were conducted on Maryland’s Western Shore, in the Olympic Range of Washington State, the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest, and in the central Sierra Nevada.
For more reviews beyond this 2017 test, check out our Best Weekend Backpacking Tents of 2017 and Best One Person Backpacking Tents of 2017, along with our sleeping bag tests and stove tests, as well as other related hiking and camping gear tests.