REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 Review
Cons: Does not sit upright, brain hits your head, laptop sleeve unpadded
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The comfortable Ruckpack 40 will get you from the airport to the crag without having to unpack your bag. With its thick foam back panel, hip belt, and slightly curved shoulder straps, you'll find that you can carry quite the hefty load without feeling weighed down. It's backpacking pack shape and front-loading option allows for maximum gear carry potential while it's organizational features offer just enough places to put your snacks and electronics for a flight or a road trip. The harness system tucks neatly into a zippered flap, which we appreciate as it pushes the limits of carry-on size.
When we first mounted the Ruckpack on our shoulders, we felt as though the hip belt sat a little high, and the rigid padding on our lower backs was too hard. This left us feeling a little tender after hauling heavy gear around for extended periods of time. It wasn't long until we realized that this pack is like a nice pair of boots; it just requires a little time to break-in. Within one week and a few long hikes, it fit like a glove! Similar to memory foam, it form-fit to our bodies, and we didn't want to take it off. The harness system, after a little adjusting, fit great too.
The padded shoulder straps have a slight s-curve, which redirects them closer to your neck rather than far out on your shoulders. This ensures that there is no unnecessary choking of the armpits or forcing of the shoulders back. The chest clip helps redistribute some of the weight to your chest rather than letting your shoulders take the brunt of the load, and the generous hip belt is firm yet flexible. Once you get used to the placement, it is quite comfortable, but if you can't stand high waist belts or you have a particularly long torso, then this pack may not be right for you. The load lifters are also adjustable, which we appreciate because the brain of the pack has a tendency to bump the back of the head, especially if you have long hair in a low pony.
The back panel is plentifully padded and quite breathable. The mesh portion on the top two-thirds consists of four ridged foam sections, covered by mesh squares to allow for optimal airflow. The bottom third, which sits on the lower back, is made up of two hard foam squares. These are a little less breathable, but after spending some time with them, we realized their function is to offer ample support to your lower back from heavy items you may have sitting in the bottom portion of the pack. After a few hikes with heavy climbing gear in the base, we found ourselves very grateful for these little sections of harder foam. The Ruckpack comes equipped with a removable plastic frame placed inside a zipper compartment in the back panel near the pocket, which doubles as a laptop sleeve and a space for a water bladder. This plastic frame offers a little more structure to the pack and keeps items from poking you in the back.
REI made this pack gender-specific. While we only had hands-on testing experience with the women's version, they do have a men's version as well, which we did a bit of research on. The men and women's versions really only differ in the way they fit larger and smaller frames. If you are a larger framed human, you may consider the men's version, and if you are more on the petite side of the spectrum, go for the women's. We had humans of all genders and sizes try the women's pack, and as long as you are okay with the hip belt sitting a little high, most of our testers found it very comfortable.
The Ruckpack is tapered in shape, which allows for heavy items to fall to the base and stay there. We took this travel backpack out climbing and camping with us and just loved how everything heavy stayed close to our body at the base of the pack. Not only is this the most comfortable and efficient way of carrying hefty gear, but it helps to keep lighter, more fragile goods like snacks and electronics happily floating out of harm's way at the top of the pack.
REI kept it fairly simple and minimalistic as far as features go, but they did a great job of supplying the Ruckpack with all the necessities. From brain pockets to mesh zippers and a full side of mini organizational pockets for smaller travel trinkets like pens, phones, and earbuds, this pack has just the right number of nooks and crannies. One feature a lot of travel-to-outdoor-adventure packs lack is a secure, easy-access pocket for valuable on the go items like passports or wallets, but the Ruckpack snuck one in. We could have used a more padded laptop sleeve, but you can't have everything, right?
This bag is packed with well-placed pockets! One of the side panels opens up to a wall of smaller, more specific sleeves. Within the side panel, there is also a hidden zipper for your valuable on the go items like cash or your passport. The fact that it is a pocket within a pocket offers additional security. The water bottle pockets, while they could be a smidge deeper, hold a majority of bottles. If you carry a particularly tall one, the compression straps around the outside work great as a seatbelt for them! The brain pocket is a great place for snacks on the road or on a hike. There is a smaller, more secure mesh pocket on the underside of the brain, which can only be accessed from the main compartment. We liked to keep our keys in there as there is a small plastic key loop. The main compartment also has a laptop/water bladder sleeve. If you choose to put your laptop in here, we recommend that you place it in a separate padded sleeve first as the one built into the bag is quite loose and lacks cushioning. The main compartment is one big bucket-style space, which we love for gear travel. There is also one more large mesh zippered pocket which spans the entire opening flap of the main compartment. This is a great spot for dirty clothes, undergarments, and swimwear or, if you pack is packed to the gills with gear, you can stuff all your clothing in there to keep it separate.
The Ruckpack has a few other notable features like its lockable zippers, daisy chain, and hidden rainfly. The daisy chain is a great place to clip your stinky climbing shoes or muddy hiking boots while out camping. The built-in elastic lash straps are very useful for strapping wet rain jackets or swimsuits to the outside of the bag. We were even able to strap our snowshoes to the pack, so they are pretty sturdy. The rainfly is hidden in a velcro pocket on the underside of the pack. The velcro is a bit hard to open, but once out of the pocket, the rainfly fits over the pack with ease.
Packing & Accessibility
This pack is the perfect balance of easy access and security. It is definitely geared toward the outdoor enthusiast, so if you are looking for a solid business travel backpack, then you might want to take a look at some of the other options we reviewed. The plethora of intuitively placed compartments are easily accessible, and the option to top or front load proved useful time and time again. The tapered shape allows for full visibility into the pack when top loading and who doesn't love a hidden wallet pocket?
Front-loading just makes sense for travel bags, but sometimes top loading is better when you're hauling gear. The Ruckpack does a great job of offering you both. The zipper on the front of the pack zips all the way down to the base from the top, which is where the front-loading option comes from. This option is great for packing or searching for something you haphazardly threw in the main compartment. The option to top load the pack comes with the compression straps on the sides. Both sides, right above the water bottle pockets, have compression straps that cross over the main compartment zipper. During our research, we came across mixed reviews regarding these straps. Some people feel that they are in the way and create more work to get into the pack. We, on the other hand, love the placement of these straps because they allowed us to only half-open the front-loading main compartment when wanted to top load. Happy accident or intentional design?
The tapered shape of the Ruckpack allows for heavy gear to gather in the base organically. This is generally the part of the pack closest to your body and allows for lighter stuff to sit on the top. This shape, paired with the easy access brain pocket and the front or top loading option, are our three main reasons for naming this pack Best for Traveling with Gear.
The soft sac-like body of the Ruckpack allows for the user to really stuff it to the gills, and small organizational pockets surround the main compartment making them very easy to access. It is very important to ensure that your valuables are safe, but sometimes you need them to be accessible when traveling by air. We love the sneaky yet easy access zipper pocket in the side panel for our passport, cash, and cellphone.
While the 210-denier nylon ripstop may not be as durable as some of the other fabric in our test suite, it definitely gets the job done and good on REI for using the trusty YKK zippers, which prove durable time and time again.
From our experience, this pack did great. The only reason it receives a slightly lower score in comparison to the higher-rated packs in our lineup is because of fabric choices. If you are looking for a pack that is going to last you a lifetime, this may not be the right one, but pending how you treat it, this pack could keep you company on many adventures to come.
Volume to Weight Ratio
This 40-liter pack weighs in at 4.32 pounds. Unfortunately, this weight to volume ratio isn't anything to write home about. That being said, a few pounds of weight can easily feel lighter with proper distribution.
When the hip belt, shoulder, chest straps, and — most importantly — the load lifters are properly adjusted, the Ruckpack feels light as a feather, and we barely noticed the extra pound or two.
This versatile and thoughtfully constructed travel backpack is a great deal. We couldn't have been much happier flying to various destinations with the intention of venturing into the great outdoors, particularly for climbing, with it on our backs! Our gear sat nicely in the base of the pack, while our valuables stayed tucked away in their designated compartments. For those looking to go the distance via plane, car, or bus, and then get a little further off the radar by foot, this pack is a great option that won't break the bank.
The overall design of the REI Ruckpack 40 makes it a more than viable option for those who travel in search of outdoor adventures. The front and top-loading options work flawlessly for packing and carrying outdoor gear, and all the nifty pockets make finding your belongings a breeze. Our reasons for naming it Best for Traveling with Gear are endless, but the ones that stand out the most are the top/front loading options, tapered shape, and organizational features. This pack teeters on the line of acceptable carry-on size, but you can check it worry-free, as the harness system will be safely tucked away behind its designated zipper flap. This pack is a great option for those seeking outdoor adventure on a budget.
— Hayley Thomas