Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Arc'teryx Altra 65 Backpack Review

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When I was younger, my focus was on going as light and as fast or far as possible.  It still is when I'm by myself or with a buddy, but I tend to go backpacking with my wife a lot these days.  Don't get me wrong, I love going backpacking with my wife.  I enjoy it more than going by myself or with a friend.  But, I tend to not go quite as far or as fast, and definitely not as light.

When I was about to get married, I thought that bigger and heavier loads may be in my near future, so I decided it might be a good idea to get a backpack that could handle bigger and heavier loads in comfort.  After a bit of shopping around, I bought the Arc'teryx Altra 65 pack.  I thought about getting the 75, but after seeing it in person, I just couldn't imagine myself filling it up (or being able to carry it if it was full).

The Facts and Stats

Technical Features
  • Lightweight
  • Twin removable aluminum stays for durable support
  • Pivoting hipbelt with Load Transfer Disc™ provides increased agility and stability
  • Top grab handle
  • Padded bottom
Pack Suspension Configuration
  • Arc'teryx AC² (Advanced Composite Construction) suspension system
  • GridLock™ shoulder strap adjustment system
  • Anatomically shaped shoulder straps
  • Modular sternum strap
  • Breathable shoulder straps and hipbelt
  • Adjustable shoulder straps
  • Thermoformed triple-density hipbelt
Pack Loading & Closure Configuration
  • Top loading
  • Panel loading
  • Extendable collar with drawcord for additional capacity
Pack Lid Configuration
  • Removable/ extendable top lid with two zippered compartments
Pack Compression Strap Configuration
  • Four compression straps - two on each side
  • Padded compression wings allow additional storage configurations

Pack Attachment Configuration
  • Micro daisy chains
Pack Pocket Configuration
  • Map pocket
  • Stretch-mesh stash pockets on hipbelt
  • Kangaroo pocket with top compression strap
  • Two stretch-mesh pockets
Pack Hydration
  • HydroPort™
  • Modular hose clip
  • Internal hydration pocket with zip
Zippers & Fly Configuration
  • Full length U-zipper access
  • Laminated zipper protector, doubles as a compression storage flap
  • Reinforced high wear areas
Integrated Features
  • Key clip

My First Impressions

When I saw this backpack for the first time, I thought, "Wow, this thing is big.  65L? Really?"  I hadn't used a backpack bigger than 50L in years, so this thing seemed huge.  This pack seemed one-and-a-half times bigger than my other 50L packs.

My next impression was that the craftsmanship was beautiful.  This backpack was so clean and seemed so well-made.  The materials that were used seemed top-notch.  The design of the pack offers a lot of versatility and features, but it still seemed sleek and simple.

I then put the pack on my back with some weight in it, and that's what impressed me most.  I often have problems with hipbelts rubbing my hips raw or bruising my hips.  This pack felt more comfortable than all the rest right off the bat.    

Hiking the Routeburn Track, New Zealand.  I am wearing the Arc'teryx Altra 65 

The Features and Pictures

The Arc'teryx Altra 65.  This pack is great for backpackers that want to carry a lot comfortably.  Not ideal for climbers.  The pack is large, compresses well, and carries well.  There is a large zipper panel that allows one to view every content of the main pack bag at the same time.  The zipper is protected all the way around by six straps; two on each side and two on the bottom.

The zipper is protected by the the padded flap along the side.  There are a total of four zipper pulls on the zipper.  The two compression straps along the side tend to compress better and more evenly than pretty much any pack I have ever used.  This is because they pull from the compression flap that runs almost the whole length of the pack.

The Harness.  The hipbelt is a thermoformed and uses three layers of different foam.  All that means is that it is already shaped to fit snug around the hips without any uncomfortable creases or pressure points.  It works.  I do wish that the lumbar section of the hipbelt (that fits in the small of the back) was a little more pronounced.  When I carry heavy loads, the majority of the weight is focused on the iliac crest (top of hip bone).  If the lumbar pad of the hipbelt was more pronounced, more of the weight would be distributed to be supported by one's rear end as well as the iliac crest.

The hip belt is attached to the suspension by this "load transfer disc".  This disc allows the weight to be distributed to the hipbelt and allows the hip belt to pivot and the hips move freely.

The hip belt is pre-curved which allows one to tighten the hipbelt without uncomfortable creases.  There are few backpacks that I have used that haven't hurt my hips or rubbed them raw in places.  That is partially due to clothing I have worn with the backpack, but it is also partially due to the hipbelts used.  This hipbelt hasn't caused those problems. 

The Shoulder Straps are attached by velcro and this "gridlock" system.  

A better look at the Gridlock system.  Because the hipbelt is fixed, the torso adjustment is here at the shoulder straps using this gridlock system.  The shoulder straps can be adjusted shorter or longer by about two inches and laterally by about two inches.

This stretch mesh pocket is on the hipbelt and is big enough for an energy bar or two.

The front kangaroo pocket adds a lot of volume to the pack and allows a place for wet items that are separate from the rest of the pack.

This pocket is big enough for my tent.  You can get an idea on how big that is by the picture above.

Stretch mesh water bottle pocket.  It has a bungee around the top to secure the bottle.

The big zipper panel.  It is protected by six straps so that the pack can be stuffed tight without the zipper failing.

This is what it looks like with the panel open.  Every inch of the main packbag can be reached with the panel open.  You can also see the suspension laminated together.  Two aluminum stays going from the shoulders down to the load transfer disc and a stiff backpanel help support heavy loads.

This internal pocket is for hydration bladders.  It's not very wide and may fit slender 2-liter bladders, but it's not big enough to fit any of my bladders (camelbak and Osprey 3-liter bladders).  Having the weight on the side of the pack is not a wise design, in my opinion.  I like to have my heaviest stuff (water, food, etc) in the center of my body, not on a side panel.  I do like this pocket for storing small stuff.  It allows me organize my gear without using a ton of ditty bags and stuff sacks.  I just throw my hydration bladders at the top of the main packbag so it's easy to get to when I need to refill it.

Hydration hose port on the outside.  It's well protected with hypalon but I still think it's useless.

This top strap over the opening of the packbag is adjustable from both sides and is great for strapping on a rope or other items that won't fit inside.

One zippered map pocket is found under the lid.

Two big pockets on the top lid are protected by waterproof zippers.  This pocket is the smaller pocket.  It is quite large.  This pocket alone is as big as many other packs' whole lid.

The other, larger pocket.  It's big enough to fit a lightly insulated midlayer, rain jacket, food, etc.  The lid is big.

The inside of the pack is made of bright material which makes it easier to see items at the bottom of the bag in lower light.

The Gripes

This pack is not ideal for climbing.  Simple.  It's not a climbing pack.  There are not good ways to attach climbing gear except for a rope.  Also, the hipbelt is so big that it makes a harness unusable.  If you take the hipbelt off for climbing, it's hard to pack because it doesn't fold well.  Finally, you can't look up with a helmet on.  It's simply made for backpacking, not climbing.  

The Verdict

I have used this backpack for a week with trad climbing gear and a rope, tent, food, sleeping bag, stove, etc. all on the inside.  I have used this pack for four days of backpacking in New Zealand where it rained half the time.  My gear stayed dry the whole time.  It fit more than I needed every time and carried it comfortably.  

The problem with the pack, for me, is just what I said earlier.  It's not ideal for climbing.  

I'd give this pack 4.5 out of 5 stars.  I like the size and the comfort of the pack with heavy loads.  It's often too large and I am tempted to pack too much, but for big, gear-intensive trips or for a person backpacking with their family (and carrying a lot of the family's gear), it's a great pack.  I wouldn't want it to be my only pack because I use this pack on about 1 out of 5 trips.  But for gear-intensive backpacking trips, I'm really glad I have it. 


  1. notsohandsomehanselFebruary 5, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Gives me more to consider before I pull the trigger on a backpack. Thorough review, thanks!

  2. Very useful review. I need a pack that comfortably handles the cold weather gear I use for off-season camping in the southeastern mountains. I think this will do it.