The REI Co-op Traverse 35 was the pack we reached for most when going out to play in the mountains. With loads ranging from 5 to 45 lbs, it hugged our hips and back and kept things stable without restricting our range of motion. We gave two Editors' Choice awards this year: one for the most versatile small daypack, which went to the Osprey Talon 22, and the other for the best daypack for heavy loads, which the Traverse took handily. While both these packs are exceptional, we see the Traverse 35 as being the ultimate quiver-killer of a backpack. We happily used it for easy day hiking, bushwhacking, scrambling, mountaineering, snowshoeing, and even lightweight backpacking. If you only want a single daypack, look no further.
The Traverse (shown in blue below) competes most directly with other burly, feature-rich packs like the Osprey Stratos 34. It pulls no punches in design to be an easy to use and comfortable pack. However, if you're looking for a lighter, smaller pack for shorter or more dynamic endeavors, like climbing, mountain biking, or trail running, consider the Best Buy REI Co-op Flash 22 or more feature-rich Osprey Talon 22.
The Traverse can hold a variety of gear comfortably, making it a versatile pack for a range of activities
This was the most comfortable and stable pack we tested. The wire mesh frame and contoured hip belt hug the torso, and the shoulder straps are just padded enough — not so thick as to pinch or restrict movement, but just wide enough to distribute load across the upper torso. The Ortlieb Atrack 25 came close to matching the Traverse's comfort, but at a much higher price and with a vastly different design.
While the ventilation isn't as effective as the Osprey Stratos 34, it allows decent airflow and strikes a balance between insulating properties that can be beneficial for winter hikes and allowing evaporation during warm weather pursuits. This also keeps the load closer to your back for more stability than more ventilated models.
The Traverse 35 carries heavy loads comfortably, due to its stiff frame and well-padded suspension.
The Traverse really shines in awkward movements with a moderate to heavy load. We pushed this pack to the limit, from bushwhacking and scrambling in New Zealand to low angle ice in the Washington Cascades. Throughout, its uplift compression straps held the load tightly against the back and minimized sideways or vertical motion, making for a very stable load that moved seamlessly with our body, instead of resisting against it. On day hikes, this stability translated to being able to comfortably run down trails without the load bouncing and throwing off cadence.
Unlike other mesh suspended frame packs, the traverse has a relatively stiff, contoured hip belt that, while it can be warm, hugs the hips well. The Osprey Stratos 34 ventilates considerably more, but has a slightly abrasive mesh, a rounded hip belt, and a less stiff frame that doesn't carry heavy loads as well. Smaller packs like the Flash 22, Flash 18, and Street Creek 24 feature no mesh panel, but in turn achieve a higher weight-to-volume ratio.
One notable drawback to the Traverse's suspension is a lack of adjustability. Unlike the Osprey Stratos 34 or Talon 22, the torso length only comes in two sizes. We tested the large size on a range of torso sizes and found no issues with fit, but considering that a good fit is essential to a comfortable carry, this is something to keep in mind.
The Traverse strikes a good middle ground in terms of weight, with a weight to volume ratio of 1.11 (oz/L). While it's on the heavier side for a daypack, it can hold 48 L of gear spread out across all its various pockets (39 L in just the main compartment). The Traverse uses a recycled 200 denier nylon for most of its body, with a recycled 400 denier nylon Oxford cloth for the bottom. These materials balance durability and lightweight, without getting into the more expensive side of the materials spectrum.
The Traverse creatively eliminates a few zippers common to other packs to save weight. For instance, instead of a dedicated pocket and zipper for the rain cover, the rain cover on the Traverse can be held in a mesh pouch underneath the lid, where it also dries out faster than in a closed pocket. REI also eschewed a few common straps (e.g., bottom compression straps), instead of providing small loops onto which one could sew or girth-hitch straps if needed. This modularity enables the Traverse to come in at a low weight for its volume and allows you to tack on whatever accessory straps you find necessary to carry a typical load.
Compared to the Osprey Stratos 34, the Traverse is just three ounces heavier but can carry 20 L more. It's six times heavier than the nine-ounce REI Co-op Flash 18, but the Traverse serves a very different purpose than such ultralight packs: carrying moderate to heavy loads for long days.
We loaded up the Traverse with overnight gear and rock samples during a geology field expedition in New Zealand. It handled this load like a champ.
We enjoyed loading up the Traverse 35 for scrambling, hiking, snowshoeing, backpacking, short day trips, and even as a carry-on for plane travel (with the hip belt folded and clipped behind the pack). The load-carrying system can handle anything you throw at it. We found that it can easily carry snowshoes either along the sides of the pack (for wider snowshoes), in the outer flap (for thinner snowshoes), or under the top lid. We carried avalanche gear (probe, shovel), snowshoes, a glacier ice axe, microspikes, poles, and even a rock pick with this pack, many of those all at once.
While we would hesitate to climb, bike, or commute with this pack, it is ideal for any endeavor that involves being mainly on two feet most of the day. While it performed well on steep snow and even fourth class scrambling, with plenty of neck mobility and unrestricting shoulder straps, we recommend mountaineering-specific packs for alpine climbing endeavors.
This about sums up our mood whenever we get to use this pack. Even with a light load like this, it compresses well and is super comfortable.
Unlike soft-framed packs like the Osprey Talon 22 and REI Co-op Flash 22, the Traverse doesn't easily allow you to easily bend or arch your back, or twist at the hips. This is the trade off for being able to carry heavy loads comfortably, and makes this pack less-than-ideal for activities like mountain biking or scrambling, where lots of torso motion is necessary.
Ease of Use
This pack is feature-rich but doesn't include the whole kitchen sink, like the Osprey Stratos 34. We like this balance. The loops on the bottom and sides of the pack enable you to add all the straps you desire for carrying bulky objects like packrafts or foam sleeping pads. The side mesh water bottle pockets are cavernous and have a creative button-closure to adjust their size. They work equally well for storing an avalanche probe for a day of backcountry skiing as well as soft or hard-sided water bottles. On the note of hydration, we especially liked the hose routing and small sternum-strap hose clip on this pack. After a day of use, we could retrieve our hose, drink, and the tightly secure it back on the shoulder strap without even looking down.
The features on the Traverse work well together. The outer pocket sits above the super-effective uplift compression straps, allowing you to fill it with light items (like gloves or thin layers) that can be easily accessed while the main compartment is secured. The arrangement of the ice axe loop, top pole/axe attachments, outer stuff pocket, and lid are all such that you can store items on the outside of the pack, then either tuck them under the lid or run them through small loops on the lid buckles to keep them even more secure. We loved this synergy when bushwhacking, as we didn't need to worry about items being pulled off the outside attachments.
Among many other thoughtfully designed features, we liked the small hydration hose clip on this pack. It was intuitive and surprisingly handy.
The included rain cover was the best of all included rain covers, including cords that loop over the hip belt and a midway strap to secure the cover to the bag. This allows for just the top of the rain cover to be removed for access without disturbing its fit across the rest of the bag. This rain cover is least likely to inadvertently come off during a bushwhack, and it performed well in our rain testing. The only pack we found to be more water resistant (factoring in included rain covers) was the completely waterproof Ortlieb Atrack 25.
The attachment points and lid work well for carrying all our winter snowshoe gear.
While the ice axe loop is annoyingly high, it also works well for storing poles. It's easy to tie on a loop of webbing on one of the bottom loops of the pack for a lower ice axe carry, if you prefer. We thought the uplift straps would get in the way for storing things like snowshoes or poles, but found instead that they function just as well as similar bottom compression straps on other packs, and the outside attachment points are well-positioned for holding a variety of gear.
As a top-loader with no side or bottom access to the main compartment, you need to load this pack carefully. If top-loaders are not your thing, check out our Top Pick panel-loader, the Osprey Stratos 34. We liked the spacious top lid and outer zippered compartment on this pack, which we could fill up even with the main compartment stuffed full.
We have years of experience with packs made from very similar materials to the Traverse 35 that hold up to abuse very well. The lack of zippers and overall design simplicity make this pack easy to repair and unlikely to fail. On top of that durability, the Traverse is made of bluesign® approved recycled nylon. We all need to do our part to reduce plastic waste, and it's an excellent sign that major gear manufacturers are trying to be a little more sustainable.
The mesh back panel does tend to take in a lot of pine needles and other brush when bushwhacking, and is a point of concern for potential failure. However, we feel this is worth it considering the ventilation a mesh panel provides.
This innovative raincover hugs the hip belt and main body of the pack, making it easy to access the main compartment without the rain cover slipping off.
On top of using this pack in snow and rain, we also sprayed it down with a hose (much more intense than a typical rainstorm) to see how it resisted water. The rain cover performs well, even when the pack is full. The top-loader design means that even without the rain cover (for example, if you are carrying snowshoes), the main compartment will stay dry longer than most panel-loading packs, which don't have as much fabric covering up the main compartment. Compared to this pack, panel-loaders like the Osprey Talon 22 wetted out much faster by letting water in through their zippers.
This pack is ideal for day hikers, snowshoers, and anyone who needs to carry a wide range of loads on day trips. Load it up with as much or as little gear as you want, and it will carry and perform exceptionally. Because of its high volume, it even works well as a small backpacking pack for 1-3 day trips if you have a light kit. The Traverse is a comfortable, well thought out pack that truly is a quiver-killer of a daypack.
Side water bottle pockets, especially ones that were oriented to alow access while the pack was on, proved very handy for steep terrain like this.
REI consistently offers decent gear for reasonable prices, and the Traverse ups this trend by being an exceptional piece of gear for a very reasonable price. Given the years of design-experience that must have gone into this pack, it's surprising that it doesn't cost more.
The Traverse 35 handily took Editors' Choice in this round of reviews. It can capably handle any sort of load, it's adaptable to many sports, and can carry day trip gear in any season. If you need a large daypack for your typical outdoor pursuits, you likely can't go wrong with this pack. However, if you prefer a smaller pack, check out our other Editors' Choice daypack: the Osprey Talon 22.