If you’re ready to spend a week hauling gear through the toughest terrain, or just tired of fishing in the bottom of your pack for your camp sandals, you’ll appreciate the Arc’teryx Altra 65. This pack has some really superb features that make carrying it a dream. I don’t normally pack this heavy of a load, but I wanted to test the claims made by some of the advertisers about the Arc’teryx Altra. I am happy to say that the pack performed well in excess of my expectations. I like to think it was designed by someone who went on a long trek with a heavy backpack, and took notes on everything they found annoying or bothersome. Then the designer went home a created a pack that solves pretty much every problem you could encounter on the trail. At least, every problem related to your backpack.
Let’s start with the basics. Arc’teryx is really a top-of-the-line brand, and they don’t make cheap gear. The company focuses on creating the finest products possible, out of the most advanced materials available. This is one of the best packs on the market, but be prepared to shell out $350 to $400 for it. The pack has a 65L capacity, and weighs 5 lbs. The Altra is an internal frame pack with removable aluminum stays. It has the standard compression straps and removable top, and plenty of mesh pockets and daisy chains on the outside. It loads like a standard pack from the top, but also features a u-shaped zipper that runs down and back up the entire front. Backpacker Magazine compares it to opening a suitcase. If you’re sick of digging around in the bottom of your pack for your rain gear, the Arc’teryx Altra is a dream come true.
Another special feature that Arc’teryx included is the adjustable shoulder strap system. The company calls it GridLock, and it allows you to pull the shoulder straps off and adjust them up, down, and sideways. Want them close together? As far apart as comfortable? Picked up something heavy and need to adjust the load? The Arc’teryx Altra has you covered. This system was especially useful on the third night of our trip, when I got bit on the back of my left shoulder by something nasty. I was able to adjust the straps away from the bite to keep pressure off of it. Combined with the breathable material on the straps, I was able to heal up nicely and stay on the trail instead of ending the trip early.
One complaint I had about the Arc’teryx Altra was the rotating hip belt. While it does sort of help the balance the load nicely, it pressed into my back pretty bad unless I made sure to pad the load carefully. This wasn’t really an issue until I had the pack fully loaded, and I was able to fix it largely by reorganizing the load. The rotating belt helped keep everything stable, but I think the pack would start swinging too much if it was too light. The belt also makes my lower back muscles work a little harder, which might be a problem for someone who already had back issues.
Overall, I would rate this pack with a 5. The design is well thought out and well implemented. There are so many little things I discovered while using it, like the space above the shoulder harness that allowed me to look straight up without bonking the back of my head into the pack. It allowed me to carry more weigh than normal, without really noticing.