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Hands-on Gear Review
Arc'teryx Altra 65 Review
Cons: Average weight, most expensive pack in our review
The Altra 65 regains its title as our Editors' Choice because it is the best all-around backpacking pack. This contender is supremely comfortable and ultra durable and offers splendid features, like a full length kangaroo pocket, huge "U" shaped access zipper, and the best lid in our review. All that said, it is by far the most expensive pack we tested and is $100-300 more expensive than other packs in this review. If the Altra seems a little out of your price range, the Osprey Atmos AG 65, $260, was a dream to carry and offered awesome features as long as our loads weren't too heavy. For monstrous loads, the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Osprey Xenith 75 (both $120+ less) were only marginally heavier and offered very comparable features.
RELATED: Our complete review of backpacking backpacks
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
Hands on Performance Comparison
This is straight up one of the most comfortable packs in our review along with the Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Atmos AG 65, and Osprey Xenith 75. This model's pivoting hip belt may seem gimmicky at first, but when even our most skeptical testers used the Altra in the field they were impressed by how effectively this feature transfers the weight of the pack to your hips and helped the pack to "flow" with you. All of our testers agreed that this was even more noticeable on scree, talus or just plain rough trails.
We love the foam used in the hip belt; combined with its pivoting feature, it was our favorite waist belt in the review. While this contender had the nicest hip belt, the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Osprey Xenith 75, both Top Pick award winners, edged it out for the best shoulder strap comfort. The foam in the Altra's shoulder straps was good, but for extended trips with weighty loads, it sometimes felt a little on the thin side. Not that it was terrible or uncomfortable, it just didn't quite feature the most comfortable shoulder straps in the review, with the Xenith and Baltoro just barely edging it out in our side-by-side testing. The Altra had the second best lumbar support in our test after the Gregory Baltoro. The frame in the Altra wasn't heavy and was super effective, helping to make it one of the most comfortable packs we tested.
At 4 pounds 15 ounces, this contender is pretty average among all the packs in our review for its weight, but lighter than most packs that offer a similar level of suspension. It's a little lighter than the 5 lb 2 oz Xenith 75 and the 5 lb 3 oz Gregory Baltoro 65; both provided a comparable amount of features, support, and comfort. However, when compared to the Atmos AG 65 (4 lbs 8 oz), the Altra is half a pound heavier. While these two packs are comparable in performance at carrying moderate loads, the Altra excelled during the times that our pack weight exceeded 45 lbs and offers up superior durability.
This pack easily has one of the most robust suspensions in our review, comparable to the burliest packs out there. Tester Ian Nicholson used the very similarly designed, but slightly larger volume Arc'teryx Altra 75 on just over a half dozen Denali climbs (22 days of arctic weather, coupled with HEAVY loads) and loved it. We think this model carries loads up to 50 pounds like a dream (or as dreamy as carrying 50 pounds can be) and does certainly does well for truly monstrous loads of up 60 pounds or more. If you're after a pack that carries 50+ pounds with a little more ease, consider the Gregory Baltoro 65 and the Osprey Xenith 75, that were ever so slightly better. That said, for most trips, the Altra offers a superb suspension that blows most packs out of the water.
Features and Ease of Use
The Altra 65 is packed full of fantastic well-thought-out features that make even the smallest of tasks easier. One of our testing teams favorite features is its' best in review lid that was just plain easier to find lost items in. The lid features two zippered pockets that are accessed on the top of the lid; because the two upper pockets go across the lid, it's as easy as it gets to look for items, without having anything fall out. The pockets are big enough to hold a fair amount of stuff and even after we filled them up, items still weren't very difficult to find.
Like many of the previous packs in Arc'teryx's backpacking line, there is a large near-full-length kangaroo pocket that can be accessed via a long vertical zipper. This is another one of all of our testers favorite features. Everyone who tested this pack in the field utilized and loved this pocket, using it for a wide range of items, at all times. It features a unique u-shaped zipper that runs around the backside of the entire pack; the zipper is equipped with four zippers to allow for easy access of deeply buried items and for you to start and close the opening anywhere on the pack.
The latest version of this model features two zippered pockets on each side of the pack, typically where a water bottle might be stored. These pockets easily fit a 1-liter Nalgene, but can also be used for anything else if a user prefers a hydration system or a soft bottle. We also felt these zippers were easy to open, and kept our water bottle close at hand, allowing it to be retrieved without ever having to take our pack off.
When we first got our hands on this pack, we liked how light it was, but thought the material wouldn't be that tough. However, even using the older, less durable version for over 120+ days of guiding and bushwhacking, the pack hardly looked that worn. Note the newer Altra uses a newer even burlier (and more water-resistant) fabric that appears to be an improvement over the previous version. So while this is one of the most expensive packs in our review, we think it's easily one of the most durable.
Adjustability and Sizing
The Altra 65 offers one of the better adjustment systems currently available on the market. Arc'teryx calls it their Gridlock system, which allows the shoulder straps to be tailor fit vertically or laterally, depending on a user's body type. Our review staff loved this system for how effectively the pack was able to adjust to all of our testers. For total adjustment ability, the Altra offered a comparable amount of vertical adjustment to the Osprey Aether and the Osprey Atmos 65, but more than the Gregory Baltoro. It also features horizontal adjustment (moving the shoulder straps outward or inward depending on comfort, shoulder width, etc) - something that none of the previously mentioned packs were able to do.
This pack is best for any backpacking or trekking trip and is a good volume for most people taking off on hikes that will last for 2-6 days. It performs extraordinary well 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 your pack fully loaded.
Value and the Bottom Line
At $475, this award winner is the most expensive pack in our review by a significant margin. It offers some of the most useful features, is slightly lighter-than-average in weight, and is lighter than most of its closest competition that offers similar performance in comfort and support. It's also $145 more than the $330 Osprey Xenith 75 and $175 more than the $300 Gregory Baltoro 65. $475 is a lot for a pack; but, we do think the Altra has several standout features and is built to last. If you have the coin to throw down on this pack, you'll find it well worth it. If you like the Altra, but just don't want to spend the money on it, the The North Face Banchee 65, Osprey Volt 75 or the Osprey Atmos AG 65 are all sweet packs offering similar features at a significantly lower price.
Arc'teryx makes the Altra in sizes ranging from 65 to 85 liters. Whatever size that you need or prefer is dependent upon how long your trip is and how light you travel.
Arc'teryx Altra 62
Arc'teryx Altra 75
Arc'teryx Altra 85
Arc'teryx 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
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: July 29, 2016
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