I have been disappointed in the performance of my main pack for awhile for a variety of reasons that can be boiled down to weight, in ability to compress the way I prefer when empty, poor compression of a load, and lack of external pockets including wand pockets. The XT85 from REI popped up on my radar awhile back during one of my infrequent visits to the pack section of REI just to see what was out there. I have always eyed it during visits after that due to the design and color. We frequently get asked for pack recommendations and frankly there was nothing on the market that I could really recommend based on personal experience with 100% satisfaction. I found myself starting to suggest people look at the XT85. After a conversation with a friend about a pack for his son I decided to put my money where my mouth was and try out the XT85 as our packs are a ways out. I got an XT85 Large (about 5k cubes and 5lbs) at the beginning of the summer and since that time have logged an average of 2-3 training hikes a week and one three day trip with the pack. For all of my training hikes it has carried a full load plus a bit extra.
The first positive thing that I can say about the pack is it comes in a great neutral color that blends in well in a lot of places. The second thing I liked about the pack was the pocket layout. I don’t tend to overload exterior pockets, but find they are very handy for having some things readily available while on that move that I don’t need on me. The pockets on the pack include two wand pockets with a top drawstring, two large rear pockets, a single large compression pocket for lack of a better term and a top pocket. The top pocket is worth noting in that it has a main large compartment that can be accessed from both the bottom and rear top and smaller an interior pocket that is perfect for keys and my wallet when away from the truck. It is also designed so that the entire thing adjusts independently and compacts the entire pack load down. The large compression pocket is locate behind the two large pockets and occupies the entire area. It is perfect for my sit pad and ground cloth and anything else of that nature. There is also a single strap that runs from the top of the front two pockets to the front of the main bag and then from the front of the main bag to the frame which allows two points of further compression. The wand pockets primarily get used for carrying extra water and the drawstring is nice in that you can adjust tension so that they won’t come out with some help. There is not a whole lot to say about the interior of the bag except there is a sleeping bag divider and a bladder pocket available for use if you want them. The frame consists of a perimeter metal U that turn into two stays and two more stays in an X. Both where contoured way to shallow for my back. After having them bent to fit, which at first can seem a bit uncomfortable they have worked like a charm, and have been holding solid since I got the pack, which is a concern as they are slimmer then I am used to.
What I didn’t like about the pack was the belt. At this point the best belt on the market is the Kifaru duplex. There are a few things I don’t like about it, but the way it carries is not really one of them. I think that a better belt can be designed, but at this point all of my packs wear a Kifaru duplex belt. I will point out that I never actually tried the large waist belt that it came with as their idea of large is size 40 and I am bigger than that. The Kifaru belt slides right on with no issues. Two of the stays slide right into the stay pockets on the rear of the belt and the other two fit into the corners of the frame pocket on the front of the belt. Evan and I weren’t sure if the stays would eventually rub a whole in the corners as they aren’t captures, but just a press fit. As a precaution, Evan doubled over a couple of pieces of 1”webbing and sewed them to make end covers. Electricians tap would probably work just as well. Everything else buckle wise matches up nicely especially since my belt is modified to have removable shoulder strap pieces for fitting on Kifaru packs. The other thing I don’t like is the lack of delta straps. I like them on a pack and while I don’t have any complaints about the way the pack has carried, I think they would help the pack to carry even better.
I have really only found one other complaint with the pack and that is relatively minor. The straps that come on with the pack for holding an ice ax or other axe on the rear of the pack, while neat, are only really good for something with a thick handle. They won’t adjust tight enough for tracking poles for instance. This is easily remedied with a bit of bungee and cord locks. I also added bungee and cord locks to the supplied loops on top which allows me to just stuff a coat or stuff sack on there. Pictures of the pack in action can be seen on our facebook page under the Eagle Caps post.
I have had the pack up to 70 lbs with no real complaints using my regular load out and metal plates added for extra weight.
Based on the reviews on REI some folks have had some seam issues after a lot of miles. Other than that most seem to be happy.
At this point the pack that I recommend is the XT85 in whichever size that fits your needs. I am not 100% satisfied, but it is the closest thing available on the market at this point, and the price won’t break the bank like some packs. I think whoever designed this pack for REI hit a homerun.