REI Co-op Ruckpack 65 Review
Cons: Heavy, difficult to pack in maximum gear, features aren’t ideal for backpacking
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Our Analysis and Test Results
What makes this pack unique is its dedication to being a multipurpose pack. It earned the award for Best Travel and Backpacking Pack because it can switch between both of those purposes better than other packs we've tested. While it might not excel in the backcountry, its performance left us more than satisfied, given its design for travel.
Suspension and Comfort
This pack performed well but did not blow us away in the comfort metric. The suspension is fairly simple and did its job by making sure the weight of the pack was on our hips effectively. Because the pack does not feature an elaborate suspension, the shoulder and waist straps are able to flatten down and stow under the attached zipper flap. One issue that we noticed is that the attachment points of the waist belt are close to the center of the pack, meaning the weight of the pack doesn't feel very laterally stable. We would have appreciated small straps to anchor the belt to the edges of the pack in order to prevent this.
The cushioning on the pack is quite nice, and we feel that this is where the pack shines in this metric. While it was not uncomfortable, we weren't all that impressed with the comfort at lower weights. But when the pack is crammed full with loads over 40 pounds, the well-placed foam prevents a significant decline in comfort. We particularly appreciated this when lugging heavy loads for traveling.
Features and Ease of Use
This was a tricky metric to evaluate for the Ruckpack 65. If we were judging only based off of backpacking or travel, the rating would be far different, as it tends to lean towards a travel pack. Some of the features that are designed for traveling can hinder its usability as a backpacking pack, so there are benefits and drawbacks to consider.
There are many features that make this pack a pleasure to travel with. Namely, the entire back zips opens, allowing access to any part of the pack. Aside from a small zipper on one side, this is the only opening to the main compartment of the pack, but we never had trouble finding the gear we needed, as long as the pack was laying flat on stable ground. The downside of this opening mechanism is that it is harder to fit as much in this pack as a traditional backpacking pack. Since the zipper isn't a fixed opening, you can't stuff quite as much gear as you can when pushing down from the top. This leads to more airspace inside the pack, which hurts its performance as a backpacking pack. Once the back is zipped open, there are also mesh compartments on the back panel that allow for organization of gear.
Two other features that are clearly designed for travel are the ability to convert the pack to a duffel bag and the included 15-liter daypack. The first of these was great for taking this pack on flights. Attached at the bottom of the pack is a zippered flap that when zipped, completely covers the shoulder and waist straps. This, in addition to the three handles (one on each side and one on the top), mean this pack works as a duffel as well. When packed lightly, we were able to fit it as a carry-on, and when stuffed completely full, we checked the bag without worrying about straps and buckles getting broken.
The included daypack is a nice feature for traveling because you can leave the full pack at your hotel or hostel while bringing the smaller pack for a quick trip around town. It's not too impressive for a pack of its size, but it goes great with the purpose of the Ruckpack: one pack that does it all. We did not find the daypack to be useful for backpacking unless you plan on setting up a base camp in the backcountry and doing very short day trips from there.
The Ruckpack does, however, include features that make it an adequate choice for overnight trips. There is a designated pocket for a hydration pouch, which most travel packs do not include, and side pockets on both sides of the pack are big enough for most water bottles. Although these side pockets do seem a little insecure, they can be tightened and are deep enough that we did not have problems losing bottles. The back of the pack includes daisy chains on either side as well as retractable ice axe loops and compression straps that can be used to attach a sleeping pad or other gear. Additionally, there is an included rain cover with a designated pouch at the bottom. All in all, the features on this pack serve both the traveler and backpacker well enough that we enjoyed the pack for both.
Because of its dual purpose design, the Ruckpack 65 suffers in the weight metric. At just under five pounds (not including the daypack), it was the heaviest pack in our budget backpacks review.
While we appreciate all of the features that make this a great pack for travel, they do add extra weight that you won't find in an ordinary backpacking pack. Sewn-on handles, the zippered flap to cover straps, mesh compartments, and a bulky u-shaped zipper running the length of the bag all add up to make this quite a heavy pack. While weight is something to consider, it can be worth it if these extra features fit what you're looking for in a pack.
If it fits your needs, the value of the Ruckpack 65 is unbeatable. At $190, it's below average for a backpacking pack cost, but still not the cheapest. Where its value comes from is that you can use it for just about anything. If you're budget conscious but don't want to buy separate packs to travel and hike, this pack is a steal.
The REI Co-op Ruckpack 65 is a unique pack. Half trail, half travel, this pack lives up to the promise that it can take you anywhere you want to explore. With features like handles on all sides, easy access to gear, and internal mesh compartments, it can work great as a carryon or checked piece of luggage. And with a hydration pocket, ice axe loops, and water bottle pockets, it can serve you as a backpacking pack too. While it is heavy and doesn't excel on the trail, this pack fits a niche between travel and backpacking. If that's what you're looking for, then it's hard to beat this pack.
— Ben Skach