Meet my new favorite backpack. At 48 liters, the REI Traverse is just the right size for shorter trips, secures its load so tight that it’s silent, makes room for oddly-shaped equipment and provides ample airflow across your back. All that for just $169.
The Traverse is a new pack made and sold by REI and sized perfectly for two to three-day trips. It’s small enough to fit in the overhead bin on an airplane, as carry-on luggage, but big enough to hold your big three — tent, sleeping bag, pad — ample clothing, food and assorted odds and ends, as well as a three-liter hydration reservoir.
It mimic’s Osprey’s suspended mesh back panel, which holds the body of the pack half an inch or so off your back, providing both excellent air flow and comfort, but adds an “Uplift” compression system that pulls the entire pack’s contents upwards and towards the center, securing them tightly for both ideal weight distribution and hugely secure carry.
The main body of the pack zips all the way from top, around one side, across the bottom and up the other side to open totally for easy packing and there’s a large, open-topped “bin” complete with a drain hole that’s perfect for securing bulky, oddly-shaped, smelly or wet stuff separate from your other gear.
At 3lbs 11oz, it’s by no means the lightest pack on the market, but it is a comfortable, durable, versatile and, at $169, affordable. Thats for the men’s 48-liter Traverse you see here. It’s a size medium, there’s also a 50L size large for bigger guys and 46 and 48L versions designed for women. There’s also a $119, 28L daypack fitted with most of the same features.
This is a medium-capacity backpack for shorter, lighter trips. It maximizes comfort and the ability to move with it on while still enabling you to carry just enough equipment for a couple nights outdoors.
It’s going to be heavier than ultralight geeks will be happy with, but is light enough to work for pretty much everyone else.
People who need a pack to carry with them on active adventures — climbing, hunting, paddling, tackling difficult terrain — will be particularly well served by the Traverse’s comfort, security and ability to become totally silent while on the move.
It’s a basic internal frame, ripstop nylon pack that combines a few clever features into something that just works: the mesh back with lumbar roll, unique load compression system and easily-accessible storage.
That protruding bump at the base of the pack? That fits perfectly into the small of your pack; cinch the waist belt tight and the pack and the weight just disappears into your hips. Pull the load adjustment straps on the top to bring the top of the pack flush with your back and adjust the shoulder straps and the result is the most secure backpack I’ve worn. One that does without any pressure points and which keeps your back sweat-free.
The base of the pack is made from a heavier Cordura that will be perpendicular to the ground if you’re carrying a big load, but which can be pulled up and over the rear of the pack using the compression straps if you’re not. Get these tight and the load’s center of gravity is pulled up and towards you, maximizing both comfort and the ability to move freely while wearing it. Combined with the rubber-coated zipper pulls, the ability to get the load so tight also means this pack eliminates any potential for noise. I bet you don’t think about how noisy your current pack is, but pay attention to all the squeaks and jingling next time you’re on the trail; the Traverse has none of that.
The ability to zip the pack’s body all the way open makes getting to whatever you need to find inside very easy, even if that something is on the bottom. The capacious external dump bin also makes the Traverse versatile, giving you the ability to throw wet shoes or climbing equipment or gear for any other sport in there, then secure it very tightly, even it it pokes out the top. That bin isn’t quite large enough to take a standard bear canister, but it will hold an Ursack complete with its metal sleeve.
There’s also organization pockets on the back and top of the pack and one inside the top lid. There’ also two small zip pockets on the waist belt for chapstick or sunscreen or whatever and two water bottle sleeves on the pack’s sides.
I wore the pack on that bear hunting trip and was able to both stalk silently through the woods while wearing it and shoot my bow unencumbered. Combined with total comfort both in terms of carrying weight and allowing my back to breath, that just makes this thing a total winner in my book.
It’s just the right size to hold just enough gear for a light trip and gets out of your way while you’re wearing it. This is my preferred size of pack, carrying anything more is occasionally necessary to pursue certain activities — luxury beach camping for instance — but 48-50 liters is all you should need for any backpacking-centric adventure. You retain the ability to move with freedom and without exhaustion for many miles.
Flying to Washington for the hunt, I had to check my bow case and a Yeti soft cooler full of knives and other things you’re not supposed to carry on. That meant all my camping equipment and clothing needed to come with me into the cabin. The Traverse is just the right size to move through a crowded airport and fit in an overhead while still making room for everything you need.
The $169 price puts it in on the affordable end of mid-tier packs, competing with brands like Osprey, Boreas and Kelty. The Traverse never feels cheap, the materials and components used all feel durable and capable of standing up to real abuse for a long time.
Ventilation for your back and shoulders is as good as it gets.
Lumbar bump makes for extra-secure carry.
Hydration sleeve includes a hook at the top to carry the weight of the bladder and a central tube port that makes running the tube to either shoulder easy, while keeping it out of the way.
Quality adjusters stay put, keeping the pack where you set it.
Load cinching is top notch thanks to the UpLift compression straps.
Large external “bin” adds much versatility.
All-around zipper for main compartment makes it easy to get inside the pack.
Rugged materials and components.
Never been a fan of rain covers. I pulled the Traverse’s out and immediately lost it. Rainy trips will be better accommodated through waterproof stuff sacks or a trash bag liner.
No other colors available.
Are you a dedicated ultralight type who sleeps in a $500 cuben fiber tarp? Do you need to carry 70 or 100 liters of mountaineering equipment? If not, then this pack is for you. It’s more comfortable than anything else I’ve worn, facilitating movement through both its ability to totally secure a load and cling to your back tightly. That it can do that silently, with excellent ventilation and affordably makes this pack as good as it gets.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.