Gregory’s flagship men’s Baltoro and women’s Deva packs are long-time favorites for those carrying serious weight. Updated for 2018, these deluxe haulers have been modernized with better ventilation, new pocket layouts, and slightly lighter designs. We took the Baltoro 75 on the demanding Huemul Circuit in Patagonia and were pleased with its stable feel and premium construction. At nearly 5 pounds, it’s overbuilt for those who want to travel fast and light, but if you value the extra cushioning and support, it’s one of the best packs on the market. Below we break down the Baltoro’s carrying comfort, weight, organization, durability, fit, and more. To see how the Baltoro 75 stacks up, see our article on the best backpacking packs.
Heavy hauling comfort has always been a defining characteristic of the Gregory Baltoro, and the updated model continues the tradition. With my 75-liter pack loaded down with all of my normal backpacking gear plus extras like a harness, carabiners, and plenty of layers for the fickle Patagonian “summer,” I immediately was impressed with how well the pack supported and distributed the load. The full-length metal frame and compression straps provide a sturdy structure, and the padding along the hipbelt and shoulder harness is noticeably high quality, balancing softness with enough support for long days on the trail. Further, the sculpted back panel includes a removable lumbar pad for added customization (I left it in and appreciated the snug fit it provided).
In addition to the premium cushioning and strong build, the Baltoro’s innovative pivoting shoulder straps and hipbelt play an important role in carrying comfort. Each piece shifts independently, so the pack remains level and close against your body while the shoulder straps and hipbelt move up and down. This feature is especially noticeable on extended climbs, where I could feel one side drop while the other raised up as I took a step. Gregory isn’t the only manufacturer with this type of design—and it’s not as radical as Arc’teryx’s Bora AR, which allows the hipbelt to move up and down on a track—but I’m sold on the benefits of the pack’s freedom of movement while moving quickly over technical terrain.
Gregory has made incremental progress with the weight of the last couple Baltoro designs, but it remains a fairly heavy pack. My medium size 75-liter model tips the scales at 4 pounds 15.4 ounces, which is just over 3 ounces lighter than the previous model. Stacked up to its direct competitors, this is about average: REI Co-op’s new Traverse 70 weighs 4 pounds 14 ounces, the Osprey Aether AG 70 is 5 pounds 3.4 ounces, and the Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 is 5 pounds 0.1 ounce. Depending on your needs on a specific trip, you can save some weight by leaving a few of the Baltoro’s features at home: removing the Sidekick hydration sleeve/daypack, lower compression straps, interior sleeping bag divider, and rain cover saved me 9.2 ounces. It’s still a long way from a lightweight design, but the adaptability is a nice option to keep empty weight in check.
One of the benefits of a feature-rich and heavy pack is excellent organization, and the Baltoro does not disappoint in this regard. You get a total of 10 well-sized exterior pockets: 3 zippered pockets in the top lid for small items, 2 tall zippered pockets and a large mesh shove-it pocket along the front, 2 mesh water bottle holders, and 2 enclosed hipbelt pockets. The zippered space on the underside of the lid houses the rain cover, but also includes a key clip and enough space for a few bars. I also found that the water bottle holster on the right side was perfectly angled for quick and easy access to my Nalgene while wearing the pack. The only disappointment is that the water-resistant hipbelt pocket is too small to fit a larger smartphone (we could fit our smaller iPhone SE into the pocket, but were unable to get a larger iPhone X with a low-profile case inside, which also rules out the Plus versions).
U-Shaped Main Compartment Access
Perhaps my favorite organizational feature of the Baltoro is the U-shaped zipper along the front that gives you complete access to the main compartment. Unzipping and opening the large flap makes it incredibly easy to find and grab just about anything inside the pack (there’s also a separate zippered access for the sleeping bag compartment at the bottom). For a trip like the Huemul Circuit where I needed to put on and take off jackets and grab gear like a harness and carabiners for a Tyrolean traverse, the quick access saved a lot of time rummaging around or unloading the pack (something one of my hiking partners had to do multiple times a day with her top-loading Granite Gear Crown2 60).
As with the previous Baltoro and lightweight Paragon, Gregory includes an ultralight daypack on the inside of the main compartment. Called the Sidekick, the point of this pack is twofold: it functions as a hydration sleeve, storing up to a 3-liter reservoir inside the main pack, and it can be removed when you arrive at camp for day hikes. As a standalone daypack, the Sidekick isn’t very impressive: the narrow shape and modest 12-liter capacity is both smaller and less comfortable to carry than a bag like the REI Co-op Flash 18. That being said, the light padding on the shoulder straps and optional hipbelt straps (the lower compression straps on the main bag convert into the Sidekick’s hipbelt) make it completely functional for carrying a few hours’ worth of water, food, and an extra layer or two. Finally, if you don’t want to use the Sidekick, leaving it behind saves you 4.2 ounces.
Back and hip ventilation was one area where we felt the old Baltoro fell noticeably short. The padding was covered in fabric that soaked up sweat but didn’t dry quickly, and the small mesh cutout in the center of the back panel did very little to encourage airflow. Gregory has addressed this issue pretty well with their 2018 update: the sculpted back panel is now mostly mesh and includes plenty of openings in the foam. Even though our backpacking trip technically was in the middle of the Austral Summer, it wasn’t warm for extended stretches, but I am confident in saying that Gregory has made strides with the new design. Truthfully, very few internal frame packs excel at ventilation—Osprey’s Atmos AG is one notable exception—but the redone back panel and more breathable fabric along the hipbelt and shoulder straps bring the Baltoro in-line with many of its competitors.
A squall that moved in midway through the third day of our trek gave me an opportunity to test the Baltoro’s weather protection. As mentioned above, the pack comes with a rain cover that stores on the underside of the top lid. I was able to quickly deploy the cover and use the attached clip to secure it across the back panel, which kept the entire pack body dry until the storm passed. One of the hipbelt pockets also is water resistant, and I left my phone in it for about 10 minutes in sideways rain until I got too nervous and took it out. When I opened the “Weather Shield” coated pocket, the phone was completely dry, so I have a good amount of confidence in the design (it’s still a good idea to store it under the fully waterproof rain cover in a downpour).
The Huemul Circuit was very demanding on gear: my Baltoro was strapped to and carried across two Tyrolean traverses, laid down on rough trails and rock-covered glaciers, and squeezed between (and sometimes pulled through) dense brush and trees. Through it all, the bag came out in nearly perfect condition. The pack body balances weight and durability with high-quality zippers and a mix of light 210-denier (D) honeycomb nylon and tough 420D high-density nylon. Moreover, the reinforced base still looks new (after a little scrubbing with soap and water) thanks to thick 630D nylon and a layer of foam cushioning. Even the mesh pockets feel substantial—a notable upgrade from the thin and open mesh on Gregory’s lighter Paragon—and haven’t picked up any snags or tears. All told, durability is one of the big selling points of this pack, especially for those that get out a lot and aren’t easy on their gear.
With my 18-inch torso and 31-inch waist, I opted for a medium size in the Baltoro 75 and had no issues in getting an excellent fit. The pivoting shoulder strap design does mean that there are only two pre-determined heights to adjust for your torso length, but this didn’t have a negative impact for me. And for those that need to mix and match torso and waist sizes to get an ideal fit, Gregory sells hipbelts and shoulder straps separately (the current pack’s replacement parts are called the “A3 Air”).
What We Like
- The 2018 Baltoro is as comfortable as ever. The strong suspension and pivoting shoulder straps and hipbelt carry heavy loads extremely well.
- Fantastic organization: the pack has tons of exterior pockets to distribute gear and the U-shaped access to the main compartment makes grabbing items that are stuffed away very easy.
- Despite dropping a few ounces in weight from the previous model, the new Baltoro still is plenty tough and hasn’t shown any signs of wear.
What We Don’t
- Heavy at nearly 5 pounds and overkill if you pack light or only head out on short summer trips.
- The dual-use Sidekick daypack/hydration sleeve isn’t very comfortable (but you can leave it at home).
- The water-resistant hipbelt pocket doesn’t fit larger smartphones.
|Gregory Baltoro 75||$330||4 lb. 15.4 oz.||Nylon (210D)||65, 75, 85L||Top, front||10 exterior|
|REI Co-op Traverse 70||$249||4 lb. 14 oz.||Nylon (200D & 420D)||35, 70L||Top, front||11 exterior|
|Osprey Aether AG 70||$310||5 lb. 3.4 oz.||Nylon (210D & 500D)||60, 70, 85L||Top, front||7 exterior|
|Arc'teryx Bora AR 63||$549||5 lb. 0 oz.||Nylon (420D)||50, 63L||Top, side||6 exterior|
|Gregory Paragon 58||$230||3 lb. 9 oz.||Nylon (210D x 100D)||48, 58, 68L||Top||6 exterior|
Even with the push for lighter gear, there’s a strong market for heavy hauling, mega-comfortable backpacking packs, and the Baltoro remains one of the best. As mentioned above, REI Co-op has updated their Traverse 70 for 2018, and we took it along on our trek in Patagonia. Comparing the two packs, both feature strong suspensions that can carry a 45+ pound load very well, and both come with all the bells and whistles like a main compartment zippered access, generous array of pockets, and an included rain cover. Where the Traverse has the edge is value, and we found it hard to justify the extra $81 for the Baltoro 75 (the 65-liter Baltoro is $51 more), which is why the Traverse outranks it on our backpacking pack roundup.
One of the Baltoro’s long-time rivals is Osprey’s Aether AG 70. We put the updated AG model to the test last year, and were impressed with the build quality and creative top lid that converts into a truly functional daypack (unlike the Baltoro’s more limited Sidekick). The Osprey also is the superior ventilator with a generous amount of raised mesh along the back panel, while still providing solid comfort and support. Where the Baltoro gets the edge is weight (the Aether is 4 ounces heavier but can carry 5 liters less), and we also prefer its freer-moving hipbelt. Both are top-notch packs, and a final decision should come down to which one fits best.
A final pack to consider in the deluxe hauler category is the Arc’teryx Bora AR. What makes this very expensive bag ($549 for the 63-liter model) so impressive is the super tough water-resistant exterior fabric and its pivoting hipbelt. The belt takes some time to adjust to—it rotates freely side to side and up and down, so it can feel imbalanced at first—but it does a great job distributing weight and makes your pack feel lighter as a result. For alpine use or rough off-trail adventures, the Bora may be worth the investment. But for most backpackers, the Baltoro delivers nearly the same level of comfort and durability at a significantly lower price.
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