The best packs of the last five years

On several occasions and in several places I’ve written that one only needs three packs: a daypack, a 40ish liter light framed pack (for light backpacking and heavy day things), and a big load hauler.  At no time in the last five years have there been fewer than 10 packs in our household, even if only half are functional at any given time.  But if I had to choose only three from the past half-decade I would pick the following, and wouldn’t even have too many regrets in doing so.

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that none of the three are currently available for sale.

The Osprey Rev 18 is my favorite daypack, ever.  It has all the great things at which Osprey is the best-ever at, and few of the things Osprey often over does.  The pockets are convenient, the harness is body hugging and super comfy for light loads, and the thing doesn’t even weigh that much.  For hiking and especially mountain biking it just cannot be beat, in my experience.


There are a lot of things I didn’t like about the 2011-2013 Gossamer Gear Gorilla.  The fabric was weak (for my uses), and the feature set and bag shape left a lot to be desired for anything other than trail backpacking (which in fairness was the only thing the Gorilla was built for).  The pack was well built, but the construction and detailing came across as simplistic, verging on crude.  But the thing carried brilliantly.  I occasionally loaded it up close to 50 pounds, and it struggled but did fine, while it owned loads between 20 and 30 pounds.  I learned a ton from carrying that pack, mainly about simple solutions going very far indeed when the details are done right.  A bunch of my own pack building and research since has come down to fixing the flaws of the Gorilla without taking away too much of it’s basic brilliance, something I’ve often failed at.


Seek Outside has made a bunch of bags, and I’ve made a lot for their system, since the original Unaweep 3900, which I received in May of 2014.  The Divide side pockets are better, the Revolution is far more versatile, and I can fit much more in the many larger packs I’ve made, but the tall and skinny 3900 remains my favorite.  The 36 inch diameter is just big enough for most of what you’d like to haul, while riding close and tight and maximizing the potential of the compression panel.  In the photo above I’ve got backpacking and packrafting gear for summer, 7 days of food, fishing gear, and a 6 pack of Kokanee on board.  This bag reminds me that for all the preoccupation with features, a big pack just needs to do the basics well, and let the user sort out organization depending on trip and personal preference.  The first generation of Unaweeps also came with my favorite massively overbuilt frame and dual density foam hipbelt.

Good things are worth holding on to.

19 responses to “The best packs of the last five years”

  1. It used to be possible to get the SO packs with the larger diameter stays (but one had to specify that) but I do not see any mention of that option on the website now. Note to self, don’t break the frame. In general, I noticed that SO is changing its line very frequently, and that got me wondering whether it is due to a real selection for better stuff or it is a response to market pressures. I used to have of their early rolltop bags, and while I love it, I found that the logo placement and the a few other things made it leak a lot in the rain (and it was difficult to seal!), while a new bag is simpler and more water resistant. So it might be a real case of evolution, yet I still wonder where SO is heading.

    1. My affection for the original, massive OD tubing frame isn’t really grounded in necessity. The now-standard, skinnier OD (but same thickness) frame is more than adequate.

    2. As a consumer (and one susceptible to consumerism) I find the constant updates and stuff annoying as it makes me want it, even when I know the changes are minimal and unlikely to change my experience significantly.

      I would assume, looking at the way Kifaure and MR change their offerings, it’s part business strategy…if there is no need or want created, well, you don’t keep selling. On the other hand, I do appreciate how SO, Stone Glacier, and Exo seem to focus more on refining the products and not just completely tossing designs.

      1. New stuff seasonally is business for sure, especially for the hunting market which has one peak period a year. Releasing a hunting pack in for example August is about 90% missing the boat.

        Tough balance between serving customers and playing to the market. A false dichotomy to a certain extent; a company with plentiful resources can have the luxury of long development times and bolder experimenting, if they choose to spend that way.

        1. That balance isn’t something I would enjoy being part of…but it make sense…you see the same thing with clothes every year. Whatever they are doing though with marketing, it works. I never get away w/o being excited by the new options.

          As for bolder experimentation…unless it really offers something great in terms of practicality (like say a non DWR based shell), often that stuff just turns me off. Every time I see a Kifaru pack for instance, or even a MR, I just think, what the hell am I supposed to do with that machinery. I just want to put stuff in it…not play with a transformer.

        2. There is a market for simple and functional. But you only sell to those folks once a decade.

  2. I have just ordered a Rev 18 on closeout (mainly for bikepacking/MTBing) – thanks for the heads up, have an original Gorilla, which I use for most of my solo trips, and for family trips with heavier loads I use an Exped Lightning. There is lots wrong with the Gorilla, but it is the most comfortable pack I have ever used and suits my slim build very well. I intend to use it until it is destroyed. The Lightning is also pretty decent and I don’t use it enough to justify the time and expense involved in finding something better. Overall these three packs cover my needs well.

  3. I like the Rev’s too- don’t own the 18, but have the 6 and 12- they carry great, hold more than their stated volume would belie and pockets are laid out nicely- of course they have ditched the entire line :)

  4. I’ve had great luck keeping my fortress 4800 skinny by messing the the tension on the talon just prior to loading it up. I love SO’s packs and wish they got more consideration from the hunting community in lieu of conventional designs.

  5. the new hipbelt with dual buckle is better for load of 65-70lbs?
    what is the advantage?more tension or just subtil adjustement?
    i already have a evolution with older one buckle for packraft trip

    1. Short answer; not necessarily better for all users, but it certainly offers some people some advantages.

      Long answer; SO started with dual density foam belts and 1.5″ webbing in the classic Osprey style redirect. I used two such belts with only subtle differences up until last fall with no complaints. At some point after 2014 they went to single density foam, which was much stiffer and did not wrap as easily or well. I first tried this belt last fall and found it essentially unusable. It is my opinion that this stiffer foam caused a number of issues that a dual buckle belt, with independent top and bottom adjustment, can solve. SO has also recently gone to thinner foam (same density, I believe) to further address these issues. With the dual buckle you get a greater range of adjustment, at the cost of greater complication.

      1. Assuming one had the skill and equipment, would it make sense to get a Stone Glacier belt and retrofit it to the SO frame?

        1. I’m not sure that would work. SG is i think phasing out the 1 piece belt and adapting the lumbar pad to the SO frame would be complex.

  6. Can you elaborate as to why the new foam made the belt “essentially unusable”

    1. I found it so stiff it bruised my hips badly. I’m pretty bony; there are plenty of folks who didn’t have that issue.

    2. I took one for the team and got the new SO belt (and a larger one just in case). Much softer and much improved with the greater range of adjustability. I have not tested it with heavy loads yet but so far so good.

  7. hello, i’m dwi. i want to know your opinion about using daypack from dyneema fabric for daily use. i mean is it normal or not, due to the price and normal usage. and what type of dyneema material that suitable for daypack making ? thanks

    1. Depends on what you want. For me daily use means regular wear with weight not a priority. For that I don’t think anything dyneema makes sense unless cost is truly no object. The membrane isn’t abrasion resistant enough, which means heavy face fabrics, so you might as well go xpac.

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