All iterations of the REI Trail 25 have pleased us. The latest version makes minor tweaks but maintains the value, quality, and usability we like. The Trail 25 scores higher than many packs that cost a lot more.
We like the wide-opening, horseshoe shaped lid of the main pocket of the Trail 25. It is easy to get at all you might need on the go.
A daypack's comfort is, primarily, a function of the load. Some carry just a water bottle and windbreaker in their day pack. For that, the most basic construction is appropriate. Others, though, are carrying cold weather clothing, some technical equipment, 12-hours worth of food and water, and associated emergency supplies. That weight adds up to a heavy load that taxes a body.
The biggest change in the newest version of the REI Trail 25 is the back panel. The newest version has these large, mesh-covered pads that allow for some theoretical airflow between back and pack. To be honest, we didn't notice any difference.
Comfort under the heaviest loads requires more support than the Trail 25 provides. The thin waist belt and soft back panel simply won't support beefy loads as well as more sophisticated designs. That said, many on our test team have carried expedition loads in packs that aren't much different, in terms of comfort, than the REI Trail 25. This isn't the most comfortable pack, but it will do the job.
However, for the hip belt on this pack to do any good at hauling a load, it will need to fit you, and the back length on this pack is not adjustable. The soft back panel pads and webbing waist belt design of the REI Trail 25 is similar to many other packs. This configuration does the job. Of course, more rigid, structured, and contoured back panels will be more supportive and vent perspiration better.
In use the REI Trail 25 is comfortable and supportive under your average day hiking loads. More than about 25 pounds would max out the suspension and the volume.
Weight to Volume Ratio
The Trail 25 weighs 31 ounces and can carry up to 26 L, for a weight to volume ratio of 1.2 oz/L. The pack is made of relatively thick fabrics, with more than average zippers and pockets, as well as some heavy metal buckles. Balancing these weightier attributes is the fact that the pack has a simple, low key suspension system and isn't super large. Its compression straps tighten down the load well around the entire pack and make it very stable.
This weight threshold marks a line between packs that have padded waist belts and those that do not. This pack and those lighter have webbing waist belts, while those that are heavier have padded waist belts. There are exceptions, in that there are heavier packs with webbing waist belts. There are no packs lighter than the Trail 25 that have padded waist belts. The Trail 25 strikes a nice middle ground in terms of weight.
The exterior profile of the Trail 25 has just the right sorts of attachments without being too complicated.
Cycling, rock climbing, and commuting/traveling are all best done with packs that are less rigid. With that in mind, we dig the versatility of the Trail 25. Its soft frame moves with the body and stuffs into small spaces like under a bus seat.
For multi-sport and all-around use, we'd put the Trail 25 in the same, upper category with other products that are made with thick fabric, no rigid frame, and relatively simple construction.
The dual side pockets allow you to organize stuff you want handy. The bigger version is plenty large enough for all 1+ liter bottles.
Ease of Use
Nothing about the Trail 25 stands out, in terms of ease of use. It is simple and clean, with zippers and straps that work as intended. It isn't particularly convenient nor is it particularly cumbersome to use. It is just a basic backpack. We liked how easily the zippers operated compared to other panel-loaders. The metal pole holders are somewhat awkward and didn't work on some poles. Given how much weight they add, they seem out of place. We liked the mesh water bottle pockets (2 on one side, 1 on the other) for quickly storing trash we found on the trail (that are accessible without taking the pack off) or a water bottle.
We wouldn't say that this pack is the easiest to use, but it is good enough. No straps cover any important zippers. The top and bottom straps are nice for carrying things like waders for fishing, or a wet layer after a short rainstorm. In short, the Trail 25 is simple and its function only enhances the product.
The selection of pockets on the Best Buy winner is excellent. This inner pocket is oriented just right for access and security when you open the main horseshoe zipper.
The thick ripstop nylon used on the Trail 25 is fairly typical pack cloth. Our experience with this pack, as well as with other packs with fabric like this, suggests that it will last years and years. Depending on your usage patterns, it is possible that the zippers will begin to fail before the fabric does. And this takes thousands of cycles to do. Style, hobbies, and lifestyle moves will come and go well before this pack wears out on you.
The Trail 25 comes with a stand-alone rain cover.
In our rain testing, the Trail 25 let in water about as fast as most other panel-loaders, which is to say it lets in a lot of water, fast. The raincover works well, but if you have anything strapped to the outside that prevents use of the raincover, don't count on your gear staying dry for very long in the rain.
Even with subtle updates to a design, we make sure to put it to the test. We've long liked the REI Trail 25. When it changed for 2019, we took it out snowshoeing (among many other adventures) to see if it still held up. It did.
This is a cheap, durable, and adequately functional pack. It is a tough competitor for our Best Buy award. If you're on a budget, we'd recommend this pack if you think you'll want a daypack for both commuting and hiking. If you're shopping for the best value for mainly outdoor pursuits and travel, but occasional commuting, there are lighter, more purpose-built packs that provide a good value for those purposes.
Widely available at a reasonable price, the Trail 25 is a basic, no-frills day pack for many users. The construction is simple but handy. The soft-backed design is versatile, but not as supportive as a more rigid design would be. If you want a pack for work and play that you can abuse without worry, this is a great pack.
A soft frame and stretchy side pockets made this a versatile pack for both commuting and day hiking.