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Hands-on Gear Review
Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 Review
Cons: Expensive, average weight, not as many places as other models to lash/strap oddly shaped items on externally
Bottom line: A fantastic all-around pack that's comfortable, and has robust suspension, rad features, and top-notch weather resistance, making it at home on most backcountry adventures.
The Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 is the newest version in Arc'teryx's long line of Bora packs after taking a break from producing it over the last few years. While this newest model shares the name with the older Bora line, it has several significant updates over previous models, with the most notable being lighter weight and more weather resistance - all while continuing to upgrade the Bora's famous comfort. This most recent model specifically replaces the older Altra line of packs, utilizing a similar design and several features, along with a few upgrades.
Compared to older Bora model and the Altra, the newest Bora features a vastly improved suspension that was among the most robust in the review. Improved foam padding in both the shoulder straps and the hip belt that was top-notch. What sets the Bora AR apart from other models that are currently available is its ACē fabric, which made it the most weather resistant in our fleet. The Bora is a great all-around backpacking pack that is packed full of features. It's one of the best overall packs, which is thanks to its high level of comfort and excellent suspension system. Its downsides are that it's of average weight and it has an expensive price tag. At $550, it's $200 more than any other pack we reviewed.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Backpacking Packs of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
If you want a first-class pack that carries like a champion and you're willing to spend more for a number of subtle but friendly features, then the Bora might be the pack for you. The new Bora AR is a top-notch pack with a dreamy suspension, cushy shoulder straps, and a marvelous pack design. Our testers loved the attention to detail from the top lid, which was secure and easy to search through, to the flat bottom, which allowed the pack to stand up on its own when we set it down. The Bora is by far the most weather resistant pack in our review and it features several panels of waterproof fabric that are seam taped in more exposed areas.
The chart below highlights the Bora AR's Overall Performance score, allowing you to compare it alongside the other competitors in our review fleet.
This pack is easily among the most comfortable models on the market and it earns a perfect 10 out of 10 in the comfort metric. The foam used in the shoulder straps feels more like a memory foam mattress than your typical shoulder strap. At first, they even feel quite soft, but after using it in the field extensively, we found that the foam seems to adjust to your body perfectly; in fact, it feels just right. It's supportive, but not too soft, which is something our shoulder appreciated.
Your first concern might be that this "soft" feeling foam is going to pack out or won't be as supportive as your body might require. After several weeks of constant use, we have not noted any change pertaining to the foam packing out. We felt the older Arc'teryx Altra 65 featured similar foam that we used 150+ days with heavier loads before it started to pack out. We like the thickness upgrade with the new Bora over the older Altra.
The shape and general ergonomics of the shoulder straps are top notch and contoured our backs nicely. While our entire testing team thought the foam used on the shoulder straps was fantastic, we did like the slightly stiffer foam found on the Osprey Xenith 75 and Gregory Baltoro 65 for monster loads (50+ pounds) marginally better (we felt no difference with more moderate loads (~40 pounds).
The waist belt features a similar, albeit marginally denser and thicker version of this foam that was dreamy to carry - even after long days. Our testing team all loved the Bora's pivoting waist belt. While this feature may seem gimmicky at first, even our most skeptical testers were impressed when they used the Bora in the field, especially by how effectively this feature transferred the weight to our hips, helping the pack "flow" with us. All of our testers agreed that this was even more noticeable on scree, talus, or rough trails, but made less of a difference on smoother paths.
We also like the newer version of Arc'teryx's RotoGlide pivoting waist belt which is a new feature on this pack (versus the older Altra that the Bora is replacing). The new version is much more secure than the old one. With the Altra, the waist belt never came out while we were wearing it, but it sometimes popped off during breaks while we were sitting on our pack. While this was hardly a big deal, it seemed to always happen at the most inconvenient time and would always take 1-2 minutes to get back in the groove and attach it properly. In the end, our entire testing team found the Bora to be one of the most comfortable packs in our review, along with the Gregory Baltoro 65, Osprey Atmos AG 65, and Osprey Xenith 75.
This pack has an extremely robust suspension system, especially considering its volume. For support, the Bora uses a thermo-molded Tigris frame sheet in addition to aluminum stays. The Tigris frame sheet is visible from the outside and looks like carbon fiber. While the Tigris isn't carbon fiber, it is an incredibly stiff and light material that also protects the wearer's back from any oddly shaped items that might try to poke through the back.
In both our side-by-side tests and during real-world use, the Bora didn't give up anything in the way of suspension. It was as supportive as both the classic load hauling Osprey Xenith 75 and Gregory Baltoro 65, which also scored perfect 10 out of 10s. Following closely behind, the Gregory Paragon 68 and Osprey Aether AG 60 scored near perfect 9 out of 10s, with the Osprey Atmos 65 AG earning an 8 out of 10.
The pivoting waist belt, while it might appear gimmicky, does do a fantastic job of helping transfer the load from the pack to your waist, particularly on uneven or rough terrain.
Features and Ease of Use
This model is packed with a number of small features that make the pack easier to use. The bottom of the pack is flat, not affecting comfort or the pack's ability to carry loads or move with the wearer. Instead, the pack stands up by itself when set down on the ground. What really impressed our review team was how weather resistant this pack is. We used it over a dozen days during the spring in Washington's Olympic rain forest and North Cascades National Park this spring and were certainly impressed with how much more effective it was at keeping the interior contents of our pack dry.
Most models in our review are fine for light showers. However, in extended downpours, where other models would wet out (wet through), the Bora kept going strong. Arc'teryx uses their proprietary weatherproof ACē on much of the pack. We found the ACē fabric to be extremely durable and weather resistant and lucky for us, the fabric covers most of the pack, including the back of the pack and the lid (it's the gray fabric on the pack for this particular color). The Tigris frame sheet and N630p-HT nylon cover the rest (the black fabric).
The waist belt features two stretchy mesh pockets. Unlike all the other models we tested, these pockets aren't zippered, but are tight enough to ensure that we never lost anything (out of them). They are perfect for small snacks or a normal sized point-and-shoot camera. There is a side-access zipper on one side of this pack; while this zippered access point wasn't huge, it was more than appropriate for the volume of this pack, and we rarely wished it was bigger during our field testing.
Our review team loved the kangaroo style pocket, with every tester utilizing this feature each time they put the pack on. This particular pocket sticks out from the pack (like a cargo pocket) so that it's easy to access when full. What really set this feature apart from other models is that it's covered by a waterproof material, features a water tight zipper, and is fully seamed taped, making it waterproof. We loved that we could keep clothing layers close by (in this pocket) without the fear of them getting wet.
The Bora is hydration bladder compatible and features two snug side pockets for water bottles; these pockets function most classically when using one-liter bottles. We appreciated the small zippered pocket with a key holder on the inside of the pack. We found this pocket was not only great for car keys or other items we didn't want to get lost, but also helped us stay a little more organized when we left the primary lid behind.
The lid pocket of the Bora is solidly designed and quite spacious, but we do like the older twin pocketed design of the Altra 62 slightly better. The design of the Bora's lid allows the top pocket to be loaded up fully, but still easily accessible when the pack is stuffed to the brim. All of our testers found that having the zipper in the center of the pocket offered a higher level of accessibility. We were able to search for items far easier than most of the other models in our fleet, including those from Gregory, Osprey, and The North Face. These models featured zippered access on one side of the lid which wasn't nearly as easy to use. We also liked having the secondary smaller zippered pocket underneath the lid as well; this helped with organization, as the lid is easy to remove. The Bora scored a near perfect 9 out of 10 for this metric and was bested by the Osprey Atmos 65 AG, Osprey Xenith 75, The North Face Banchee 65, and the Osprey Aether AG 60, which all scored perfect 10 out of 10s. Models on par with the Bora for this metric include the Gregory Baltoro 65 and Gregory Paragon 68.
A Note on the Bora AR 63's Volume
We found that the Bora's 63-liter volume felt a little smaller than other 60-liter models, like the Osprey Aether 60 or The North Face Banchee 65. The difference was not significant, but was noticeable.
This pack is five pounds even, which is pretty average overall among other models in our review, earning a 5 out of 10. The Bora is marginally on the lighter side when compared to packs that offer a similar level of comfort and suspension and are able to handle heavier loads of 45 pounds or more.
Compared to models in our review, the Bora is a lighter than the Osprey Xenith 75 (5 lbs 2 oz) and the Gregory Baltoro 65 (5 lbs 3 oz); both provided a comparable amount of features, support, and comfort. The Bora is lighter and handles heavier loads better than the feature-rich Osprey Aether AG 60 (5 lbs 2 oz). There are lighter packs that are nearly as comfortable when carrying lighter loads, like the Atmos AG 65 (4 lbs 8 oz), the Gregory Paragon 68 (3 lbs 15 oz), or The North Face Banchee 65 (3 lbs 10 oz). While these two packs are comparable in performance at carrying moderate loads, the Bora 63 excelled during the times that our pack weight exceeded 40-45 lbs and offered up superior durability and far better weather resistance. At 2lbs 8 oz, the Osprey Exos 58 was the lightest contender in our review.
Adjustability and Fit
The Bora features one of the best adjustment systems we've ever tested; it proved to be extremely effective at fine-tuning the fit to each individual user. Arc'teryx calls their adjustment system the gridlock system, which allows the shoulder straps to be tailor fit to the wearer both vertically and 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. The Bora took home a near perfect 9 out of 10 in this category, bested only by the Osprey Volt 60.
For total adjustment range, the Bora offered a comparable amount of vertical adjustment to the Osprey Aether and the Osprey Atmos 65 (3.5-4" of adjustment), but more than the Gregory Baltoro 65 which only features two pivoting shoulder straps points. While the Baltoro offers some automatic lateral adjustment (which could function better), the Bora, unlike any of the Osprey models, also features horizontal adjustment (moving the shoulder straps outward or inward depending on comfort, shoulder width, etc.) - something that few other contenders were are able to do.
The Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 is a rad all-around backpacking pack. Its extremely weather resistant design make it a particularly good option for soggy or extended trips in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, or Alaska, but its comfort, durability, and super-robust suspension means it could be at home anywhere from overnights to extended trips - or as long as you can make its 63-liter volume go for. Its pivoting waist belt is great for backpacking and general mountaineering; for technical climbing, it was just so-so, as the frame was a little stiff and the waist belt a little bulky (but that's what makes it comfortable). Due to this pack's weather-resistance, we do think it's a solid option for extended multi-day ski tours.
At $550, this pack is the most expensive pack we tested. While we hardly consider it a bargain, we do think the Bora AR 63 offers decent value; it brings several unique features to the table, along with top-notch comfort and suspension. That said, its $550 price tag is double most of the other packs in this review. While we the Bora was our favorite model we tested, and subsequently our Editors' Choice winner, we don't think it's twice as good as several of the other models we tested.
This competitor is undeniably an incredible pack. It easily features some of the nicest padding and foam of any pack on the market, coupled with excellent ergonomics in its shoulder straps, and a frame that is near as burly as it gets. Many of its features are top-notch and it's the most weather resistant pack in our review. The pack's primary downside is its cost; at $550, it's double the price of many of the other contenders in our review, and while it's our favorite pack, we don't necessarily think it's twice as good as other models in the review. But if you are willing to spend the $550 to have the best of the best (or find it on sale), the Bora's suspension and comfort are undeniably awesome. The pack's weather resistance, while not typically on as many people's radar for features to look for, will be appreciated by folks who frequent wet climates, while its pivoting RotoGlide waist belt will allow your hips to feel grateful, even if you think it's gimmicky feature before you use it.
— Ian Nicholson
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