Reviews You Can Rely On

Outdoor Research Payload 18 Review

This pack is moderately durable, but not the most comfortable pack we tested
outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review
Credit: Outdoor Research
Price:  $75 List
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Ian McEleney ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 15, 2019
  • Comfort - 25% 4.0
  • Climbing Utility - 25% 5.0
  • Durability - 20% 6.0
  • Versatility - 20% 7.0
  • Weight - 10% 8.0

Our Verdict

The Outdoor Research Payload 18 has some great characteristics and features. The fabric is durable without being heavy. The external attachment options allow you to carry additional gear without it flopping all over. However, the hydration features are poorly executed or missing. There is no key clip, emergency whistle built into the sternum buckle, or hip belt. However, this pack is very compact and light, which makes it great for cramming into a bigger pack. For climbers who don't need the above features and want something for a route with a long approach, this bag could be just right.
Good fabric
Good external lash options
Poor hydration compatability
Poor padding
No key clip

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Outdoor Research Payload 18 is a small climbing pack with some great qualities and some foibles. How you feel about it depends a lot on your climbing. If you don't use a hydration bladder and don't like a climbing pack with a hip belt (and are willing to overlook a few other things), it could be right for you.

Performance Comparison

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - louie casts off on a fun pitch with the payload 18.
Louie casts off on a fun pitch with the Payload 18.
Credit: Ian McEleney


We did not feel restricted when climbing with the Payload, even when the climbing got steep or technical. This pack sports a shorter back length than other models. Many of our average-to-taller testers missed the hip belt for stabilizing the load. If you are a smaller climber this pack could be the right size for you.

The pack is essentially a rectangle. While it's not as shapely as we prefer, the short back length means that equipment on the rear harness gear loops is still fairly accessible. A really wimpy piece of foam comes with the pack but does nothing to protect your back from pokey contents. Pack well or pay the price!

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - the boxy shape of this pack accepts a helmet nicely.
The boxy shape of this pack accepts a helmet nicely.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Climbing Utility

The Payload 18 is hit-or-miss when it comes to climbing utility. The zippered lid pocket lacks a key clip, a feature found on most every other pack in our review. The hydration system features are also only half done. The pack has an open-top interior mesh pocket for a bladder but lacks anything to hang it from. The hose pass-through is offset in the wrong direction, which forces the hose away from the climber (see the photo below). There is also no keeper clip or tab on the shoulder strap for the hose.

The top strap worked surprisingly well for holding a helmet in several configurations. It is also useful for attaching the rope. Our testers had great results augmenting the strap with a quickdraw or sling on the daisy chains and side attachment points. This helped the rope stay in place and not flop around.

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - the hose pass-through sends the hose away from the wearer. with...
The hose pass-through sends the hose away from the wearer. With nothing to hold the hose on the shoulder strap, we added a loop of shock-cord.
Credit: Ian McEleney

The lid pocket is well executed and holds more than we expected. There is room for a few bars, a phone, and a headlamp in there. There's a small "topo pocket" on the front of the pack that's big enough for a few pieces of paper when the bag is full. The daisy chains on the pack exterior are fairly low profile, so the pack is pretty streamlined.

There are no hauling-specific features on this pack. Climbers who think they'll be getting into some difficult hauling are advised to back up the pack's grab loop. The impressively flimsy piece of foam that lives in the hydration bladder pocket doesn't lend much shape or form to the pack, making it harder for those who aren't good at packing to be efficient with space.

Not all of our testers use or like a hip hip belt on their small climbing pack, but for those that did the lack of one on the Payload was a deal-breaker. The sternum strap buckle is not an emergency whistle.


The Payload is a moderately durable pack. Its main longevity attribute is the 420 denier fabric the pack is built with. While the breathable foam and mesh combination on the upper part of the shoulder strap is nice on hot and humid east coast summer days, we don't think it can stand up to the abuse of hauling.

The zipper that closes the main compartment is exposed to abrasion and is not a particularly beefy size; at least it's reversed, with the coils on the inside. In terms of the design, zipper failure on a top-loading pack like this one is less catastrophic than on a panel-loader.

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - the top strap can secure a helmet with minimal flapping.
The top strap can secure a helmet with minimal flapping.
Credit: Ian McEleney


The simple design of the Payload make it easy to use it at school (provided your laptop is on the smaller side) or around town. Its exterior features are subtle enough that nobody will mistake you for a climber or some other kind of deviant.

Because it's so simple and light it's easy to cram this pack into a larger one for overnights or really long approaches. The external daisy chains make it possible to attach an ice axe to the pack.

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - the top strap of the payload keeps the rope on the pack - you can...
The top strap of the Payload keeps the rope on the pack - you can use the daisy chains and a sling or quickdraw for a more secure attachment on long approaches.
Credit: Ian McEleney


The Payload weighs in at 0.83 lbs (376 grams). This is lighter than average for our review, and impressively light for a pack with 420 denier fabric.

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - the weigh-in.
The weigh-in.
Credit: Ian McEleney


We think this pack is a so-so value. If you know you don't care about this pack's shortcomings then it could be a good choice. Look for it on sale.


While the OR Payload 18 has some strong points, we think it's lukewarm overall. The fabric and overall design strike a nice balance between weight and durability. The daisy chains and external lash points add versatility. The top strap is effective with a rope or helmet (or both at the same time). However, the pack isn't particularly comfortable unless it fits your shape just right. The hydration system compatibility is only half good, and there's no key clip or emergency whistle.

outdoor research payload 18 climbing backpack review - if you don't mind it's shortcomings the payload is a good pack.
If you don't mind it's shortcomings the Payload is a good pack.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Ian McEleney
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