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Arc'teryx Altra 65 Review

   
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  • Currently 4.9/5
Overall avg rating 4.9 of 5 based on 6 reviews. Most recent review: July 28, 2015
Street Price:   Varies from $449 - $450 | Compare prices at 6 resellers
Pros:  Super comfortable, awesome suspension, easy to pack.
Cons:  Expensive, doesn't come with ice axe loops.
Best Uses:  Backpacking, mountaineering, extended trips.
User Rating:     
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 (4.8 of 5) based on 5 reviews
Recommendations:  100% of reviewers (5/5) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
Review by: Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ February 7, 2015  
Overview
This is our Editors' Choice backpack because it is supremely comfortable, light, has great organizational ability and it is easy to pack and retrieve deeply buried items. That said, it is by far the most expensive pack we tested and is $100-200 more expensive than other packs in this review. Yes, the Altra 65 is the best, but other packs are great as well. If you want the most bang for your buck, check out our Best Buy winner, the Osprey Aether 60. Or we recommend the Gregory Baltoro 65, which was the second highest scoring backpack, just as comfortable as the Altra, and $100 cheaper. Finally, if you are looking for a lighter pack more suitable for mountaineering and ski mountaineering, we recommend the Gregory Z 65.

Update — February 2015
The 2015 version of the Altra 65 is only available in two colors: Diablo Red and Carbon Copy (see the photos below for examples of each of the 2015 colors). The orange version you see pictured in our reviews is no longer available. The 2015 Altra also boasts the new C˛ Composite Construction suspension system.

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  • Photos
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

New Version of the Altra 65 vs. Older Version


In 2015, Arcteryx did a light update of the Altra 65. The photo below shows the old version on the left, and the new version on the right.
Click to enlargeClick to enlarge 

We haven't done a full review of the new Altra yet, but according to Arcteryx, the significant changes are new colors and the new C˛ Composite Construction suspension system. The weight of the new Altra is the same as the old. Our initial impression is that the new Altra will score at least as well as the older version. Check back for a complete update of our Altra 65 review soon. In the meantime, the new 65 isn't so different from the old 65 it replaces, and so we think our review below will still give you a pretty good feeling for the newer 65 pack.

Likes


All our testers loved the pivoting waist belt that carries heavy loads more efficiently than the competition, especially on uneven or steep terrain. The Altra has the perfect blend of convenience and access without being too heavy. It has two pockets on the top of the lid and one underneath as well as a large kangaroo pocket on the front and two water bottle/snow picket/whatever stretch pockets on the sides. We were pleasantly surprised how durable this pack was despite being made of lightweight material.

This is the most comfortable pack in the review along with the Gregory Baltoro 65 and 75. The Altra just edged out the Osprey Aether 65 and 75 and the Deuter Aircontact. The Altra's pivoting hip seems may seem gimmicky at first, but even our most skeptical testers where impressed by how effectively this feature transmits weight and helped the pack to "flow" with you. We love the foam used in the hip belt that is much denser than that in the shoulder straps. While the Altra had the nicest hip belt, the Gregory Baltoro edged it our for shoulder strap comfort. The foam in the Altra's shoulder straps was a little soft, but not too soft. The Altra also had the second best lumbar support after the Gregory Baltoro. The frame in the Altra isn't heavy but was super effective.

For organization and ease of packing it was a close call between the Baltoro and the Altra. Both models were our top choices in this category but with its sheer volume of pockets the Gregory Baltoro just edged out the Altra. With the Altra one of our favorite features was its dual-top pocketed lid – it was our favorite lid in this review. The twin zipped pockets are great for helping to find easily lost items that you want handy, like sun glasses, sun block, camera etc. Not only were there two pockets to use but because the zipper was on top you could more easily rout through them. We also found ourselves using the back, large zippered Kangaroo pocket all the time. The Altra also had a unique U-shaped zipper that ran down the front of the pack to allow for easy access of deeply buried items. I am not someone who needs water bottle pockets but having at least one is nice and I did find myself using them. The water bottle pocket on the other side was nice, too. We found ourselves using it to help secure tent poles, pickets and other items. While it is small, we liked the piece of plastic that makes space for your head and allows you to look up more comfortably while wearing the pack.

When we first got the Altra we liked how light it was but thought the material wouldn't be that tough. However, after 15 days of guiding and bush-whacking Washington's North Cascades, the pack didn't even look slightly worn. Unbelievable.

Dislikes


There were only a few small things we didn't like about this pack. It doesn't come with ice axe loops or one of Arc'teryx's specialized products like the "Axe keeper with Dongle" (yes that is the product name). Sure, you can buy it separately for $15 but when you are spending $375 on a pack, you would like stuff like that to be included. The pivoting hip belt does come off if the straps aren't tightened all the way when the pack gets knocked over on the ground. Snow makes it slightly more challenging to get the hip belt re-attached but not super difficult.

Best Application


This pack is best for backpacking trips and trekking, it will work great for general mountaineering but is a little wide if you are planning to do a lot of routes where you have to climb technical terrain with it on and fully loaded. It is also a descent option for extended ski touring trips but won't move with you as well as packs the the Gregory Z pack.

Other Versions


Arc'teryx makes the Altra in sizes ranging from 50 to 85 liters. Whatever size that you need or prefer is dependent upon how long your trip is and how light you travel.

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Altra 50
  • Weight - 1.48 kg / 52 oz (25 ounces less than 65)
  • Cost - $289 ($160 less than the 65)
  • Size - 15 liters smaller than 65
  • To lower the weight, does not have the Load Transfer Disc™ that the 62-85 use.

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Arc'teryx Altra 75
  • Weight - 2.4 kg / 85 oz (6 ounces more than the 65)
  • Cost - $479 ($29 more than the 65)
  • Size - 10 liters larger than the 65
  • Suspension and most other features are the same as the 65

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Altra 85
  • Weight - 2.6 kg / 92 oz (11 ounces more than the 65)
  • Cost - $499 ($49 more than the 65)
  • Size - 20 liters larger than the 65
  • Suspension and most other features are the same as the 65

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Arc'teryx Altra 62
  • Women's version of the 65
  • Slightly smaller than the Altra 65 with different color options
  • Uses the same Load Transfer Disc™ as the 65
  • Weight - 2.4 kg / 85 oz (6 ounces more than the 65)
  • Cost - $479 ($29 more than the 65)

Accessories


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The Pack Shelter retails for $45 and is a lightweight pack cover that will shield your pack from the elements. The pack shelter fits packs up to 75 liters.

Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List


The Altra pack is one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out to see other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.

Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: July 28, 2015
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (4.8)

100% of 5 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
6 Total Ratings
5 star: 83%  (5)
4 star: 17%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
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   Apr 24, 2013 - 05:19pm
Rich · Backpacker · Austintown, Ohio
I bought the Altra 75 after some heavy-duty research. I even spoke to reps at Arc'teryx to make sure of the sizing (indeed, I needed the small waist belt as my waist is 30") I got it for $325 at OMCgear and they swapped the waist belt for free.

About the belt slipping: it doesn't. At least for me. They hold fast. Shoulder straps too.

This pack is big. I swear I pack everything into it that I pack into my Kelty Redcloud…110. No lie.

The Kangeroo pocket on the front is huge, I put my tent in it plus knives, tripod, etc.

The bottom of the bag is wide enough for a 5lbs, 0 degree synthetic bag, compressed of course.

The top compartment is also very big, you can get a ton of stuff in there too!

On comfort:

Well, that's the reason I shelled out the extra dough and it didn't disappoint. The swiveling waist belt is awesome although it does feel odd at first. They give you some lubricant in case it squeaks. And it will, haha. But that is so minor compared to the comfort this luxury pack affords. Gone are the Kelty hot spots on my tail bone.

I pack in 50 lbs at least, sometimes more and this pack handles it no problem.

Thanks to Outdoor Gearlab for their review and to Arc'teryx for great customer service.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Sep 2, 2013 - 08:24pm
ilvbp · Backpacker · phx, az
This pack is brilliant, I have the Altra 75. Before the good news first the two flaws: slipping belt buckle and off center internal hydration pouch. Both of these design flaws are easily fixable. Change out the buckle or do what I did and add two belts guides and rethread the belt so it operates as the cross compression system (I.e osprey) verses the straight standard buckle clasp. Regarding the hydration location….it is simply weird to locate it on the side…also the zippered pouch is to small. This pouch is best used as an internal pocket for smaller items…not water. I suspended a very very light weight osprey hydration day pouch in the center that I pulled from by crescent 110 osprey pack. It works great and keeps the weight in the center where it should be. I would love to know why it was designed on the side and designed too small…it would be interesting to hear the contrived logic. :).

Here is the good news…this pack kicks butt. The kangaroo pouch is awesome, the top access pockets are perfect and located straight up so you can have easy access. The pack is designed for multiple day backpacking and it has plenty of capacity to meet the need. The rotating hip belt is simply the best. It really reduces hip fatigue as well as allow for full mobility when scrambling over boulders, etc. In addition, the suspension system makes the weight vanish. My pack weighs 30 to 33 at the trailhead with food and water and my comforts like my butterfly chair, etc. My base weight is 20 to 22 pounds. The weight is so well distributed to the hips that you forget about the pack. It is very comfortable. The side zipper access and the compression straps make this pack very easy to access and pack. The adjustable shoulder straps are also very cool…you can, on the fly, adjust wider or narrower, higher or lower…very easy, very quick. If you are getting a sore spot after many miles…adjust the strap away from the spot and you are good to go..

I have given it 5 stars. Even though the two flaws I mentioned may warrant a star, the fact is the pack is awesome and the flaws minor and fixable…so 5 it is. I have used many packs over the years and my two favorites are the osprey crescent 110, which I recently retired because of weight, and the arcteryx altra 75. Ater many miles, I highly recommend this pack.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jul 28, 2015 - 08:45am
Eric O. · Backpacker · Göteborg, Sweden
I was looking for a pack to replace my Osprey Atmos 65 that I purchased about 7 years ago in a size large based on the bad advice of a sales rep at REI. I'm 6'1", but my torso isn't so tall, so I should have got a smaller size pack. This was the older version with the non-adjustable shoulder straps, so I could never get it to fit me correctly.

I read the reviews on here, and I'll admit that I'm kind of an Arc'teryx fan-boy, but the price of the pack was a deal breaker for me. But then in December I was browsing a website here in Sweden for some other gear, and the Altra 65 (2014 model) was on sale for about $280 USD, so I decided to go for it. Never pay retail! :)

When I got it I adjusted the shoulder belts around a bunch with the pack weighted, but I couldn't get the pack to totally match the contour of my back. Turns out you can take the two aluminum rails out of the pack very easily, and bend them by hand or over your knee to match your back's contour. They are easy enough to take out that I made several small adjustments and test fittings and then the pack was a super perfect custom fit. I really recommend that everybody tries this if the pack doesn't seem like it matches your body!

Just got back from a 7 day backpacking trip in northern Sweden, and I was really happy with the pack. My starting weight was 14.25kg. The kangaroo pocket is great, and it fit my micro spikes, hardshell jacket and pants, and two 0.5L pop bottles for water. With the big zipper on this pocket everything is easy to access without having to dig down with your whole arm.

The pack top is also really great with the two separate pockets. It was really nice to be able to have stuff easily accessible but still divided up there.

I wasn't sure if the pivoting hip belt would be gimmicky or not, but it turned out to be really great. Lots of the hiking was done over steep rocky terrain, and this made making large movements really easy without any fear of tipping over or losing balance. This is definitely one of the highlights of the pack. Rock hopping across streams also felt very confident. I never experienced any slippage of the belt as some other reviews have stated, so I'm not sure if I am lucky or if something was changed for the 2014 model. One day while hiking I remembered that people had complained about the hip belt squeaking, and then I noticed that the hip belt was squeaking, and then that was the last I thought about it on the trip. I guess that will bother some people more than others. I did not bother to use the lube that I had with me for the pivot.

Another feature that I wasn't sure would add value to the pack was the U-zipper on the pack. I have not used a pack with this before, so I didn't really think it would be much use. It ended up being great, as several times on the trip I needed to get something that was in the middle of my pack, and I could just open the zipper halfway down the side and reach in and grab what I needed. The other great part about this was that it made packing the pack in the mornings really easy to organize stuff. I'd pack my food, sleep/shelter stuff, and stove/bowl, zip it up, then finish packing my layers and other stuff from the top. Also, maybe not a benefit to most people, but I found a reindeer antler on the trip and was able to open the whole U-zipper, plop it down on top of my stuff, and zip the bag back up. I would have been really worried about trying to shove an antler down past my lightweight tent, down jacket, etc if I was using a toploader, and probably would have just strapped it to the outside.

I think this pack is absolutely great, but not perfect, which is why I can only give it 4 stars. I think there is some room for improvement. The "wingman" pockets are generously sized when there is nothing in the main pack, but they lose quite a bit of their volume when the bag is packed. If you put stuff in these pockets when the main compartment isn't packed, it will be likely you won't be able to fit everything back in the pocket if you remove stuff from them after the main compartment is packed. I can fit my Canon 7D DSLR with lens into one of these if there is nothing in the main compartment, but no way otherwise. If Arc'teryx shared less of the pocket wall with the main pack, or used a stretchy fabric for part of the pockets this would be much less of an issue. That said, I fit my lunch snacks, a 0.5L pop bottle, some DEET, and an OR sun hat in one side, and some light gloves, a beanie, and a 0.5L Thermos on the other side without too much issue.

Another thing with the pockets is that they are kind of hard to unzip/zip while wearing the pack. I think I'm more flexible than average, but it's not just a quick unzip/zip since you kind of have to strain yourself to reach back far enough (especially to zip the pockets back up). It would be better if the pockets extended forward a little bit more (or at least the top of the pocket where the zipper goes). On the flip-side, the pack is very unobtrusive, and I have complete range of motion for my arms, so the pack never gets in the way. I am guessing this is why the pockets are positioned this way.

The hip-belt pockets in my opinion are pretty much useless, and this is actually something I miss from other packs. I fit a Sea-to-Summit mosquito head-net in one of them, and it was full. This pocket material is a stretchy fine mesh, but it actually feels really strong. I would really like to have one functional hip-belt pocket for things like a small camera or chapstick or other frequently used items.

The load-lifters are not positioned like on other packs, and I actually don't even think I can call them that. I'm not sure why Arc'teryx did this, but the load-lifters are pretty much horizontal when I am wearing the pack. I was worried that I got the wrong pack size, but I'm right in the middle of the adjustment range on the shoulder straps, and the only thing that affects this is the distance between the hip belt and where the load-lifters attach on the pack. You can even check on the product page on Arc'teryx's website, and the model wearing the pack has the same issue. This means that the pack is more sensitive to shoulder strap tension than other packs, because if you tighten the straps too much and then pull on the load lifters you will just be pulling down on your shoulders. Looking at the photos on this review it looks like the older version of this pack (with the head cavity) had the load-lifter attachment point much higher up on the pack. After the first day of hiking my shoulders were really sore. The next day I didn't tighten the shoulder straps as much, and just pulled the load lifters until they became snug, and that was very comfortable for the remainder of the trip. Rookie mistake, my bad.

I didn't find the bladder compartment to be very useful. I tried putting a bladder with 2L of water into my packed bag once. I got it in after a few minutes, but the hassle meant that I didn't use the bladder compartment for the rest of the trip. I think it's really only usable if you put the bladder in before the bag gets packed.

I think my only other complaint is the flap thing on the bottom of the pack (the part that says Altra 65 on it). While hiking I kept a pair of sandals there, but I couldn't just put them in the middle and tighten it down, I had to stagger them so each was poking out to the side and under the actual strap part. When we got back into town I tried to put my boots there, but one ended up falling off, so I had to tie the boot laces together as well. Basically the flap is tight along the outside where the straps are, but really loose in the middle. I really think that having just the two pieces of nylon webbing would have been more versatile and lighter weight than the fabric flap. Maybe someone can tell me what I am missing, but I don't see this part as adding value to the pack. Maybe if a strong stretchy fabric (like the mesh on the hip-belts!) and a different geometry was used here it would be more functional.

There's my long-winded review. It's easy to focus on the shortcomings when reviewing a product, but I really do like this pack, and I definitely recommend it! It's very comfortable, not too heavy, easy to pack, easy to access, and very adjustable. With a few design changes I think it would be perfect!

Click to enlarge
Arc'teryx Altra 65
Credit: Eric O.


Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 6, 2014 - 04:21pm
Ten0fSwords · Hiker · Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
I'd been using a Bergen Scorpion Cyclops II since the late 1980s when I got it while serving on secondment in the UK with the British Army. Great backpack, loved it, and it went round the world with me, but unfortunately it didn't survive the GR11 last year, but even then it only broke on the last day: outstanding pack. Once it broke I tried out three packs over multiday bush hikes: a newer bergen, an aarn, and an osprey. None made the cut.

I had read about the Altra on Outdoorgear.com, but no one really stocks them in Australia and I held off, reluctant to buy a pack that expensive sight unseen. However, September 2014 I was all set to do 230klicks through the Cevennes and I did not have an appropriate pack. I looked at the osprey again but it looked as cheap and nasty as the one i had tried through the Blue Mountains. Thus, when I got to france, I ordered the pack from the UK and I have been very happy and impressed with what I received and how it worked out over my trek.

The quality of materials and build is excellent. The design if full of little extras that show you they put real thought into what they were designing. The waist belt, which I thought might be a week point or at least a gimmick, has proven to be the most comfortable i have ever used. The wet pouch (what non-Australians are calling the kangaroo pouch) was a great addition, as was the big zip: easily the most efficient pack i have used in terms of getting in and out of it. And I could go on about a dozen other features that impressed me. I suspect it will be a year of trekking before I have entirely worked out all the nice added features the pack has and different configurations for different loads.

From my perspective no real drawbacks. The bladder pouch worked fine. The Hipbelt sqeaked a bit the first few days, but once it had done 60+ klicks it settled down no problems and it was certainly uber-comfortable the whole trip. The shoulder straps were more comfortable looser than i would usually have had them, but with the massive support of the hipbelt this worked even better than my old bergen (high praise!).

Overall i could not be happier and am planning to pick up the 85l for long distance treks.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 15, 2013 - 03:03pm
Ike · Backpacker · Vermont
I bought the Arc'teryx Altra 65 not too long ago, and with some help from Outdoor Gear Lab's stellar write-up. I did a lot of reading about other folk's experiences with it before picking it up, and was a bit apprehensive about whether it would live up to the generally huge acclaim that the Altra series has earned. So far, it's been incredible.

Really comfortable, ergonomic, and frankly, a work of art. I've used a few or Arc'teryx's products and have always been impressed, but you can tell that the folks behind the Altra know what is important while on the trail. Durability is top-notch. I like the Osprey and Gregory packs I've owned, but this one feels reinforced beyond the other top brands. All straps and seams are really well done. The pockets are well placed, with two wing pockets, a double pocketed brain, and a really nice kangaroo pocket on the back of the pack that can take anything from a jacket to a reasonably sized tent. Amazing.

I have a review on Backpacker.com that claims my pack's hip belt does not squeak. Well after some more extended use, mine began to. But I used the grease supplied with the pack for the disc connection specifically, and I have not heard a peep since. Some folks claim this small problem is enough for them to want to return it, or to write a thumbs-down review. If you are interested in an Altra, I say do it. Lubing the load transfer disc is a good idea anyway as I suspect it reduces wear/friction, and the trouble is well worth having the swiveling belt.

A really nice pack. Materials will last you many years of use in the backcountry. Also know that the version picture and reviewed on OGL's site (here) is the older version, and the 2013 is a much improved pack that misses NONE of the great features listed in OGL's review.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Click to enlarge
Altra 65 in Diablo Red
Credit: Arc'teryx.com
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