REI Co-op continues to improve its in-house line, and the versatile Traverse is the company’s leading backpacking pack. Updated for 2018, it retains the characteristics that have made the pack a success, including high levels of comfort, thoughtful organization, and a quality build that can compete with any brand on the market. The tweaks to the new pack were small but meaningful: REI redesigned the lid system that doubles as a removable daypack and fine-tuned the lumbar padding, among other things. We tested the Traverse on multiple backpacking trips including the challenging Huemul Circuit in Patagonia, and below we break down its carrying comfort, weight, organization, ventilation, durability, and more. To see how the Traverse stacks up, see our article on the best backpacking packs.
With ample cushioning and a well-thought-out design, the REI Traverse 70 is an extremely comfortable pack, even while hauling big loads over tough terrain. The suspended mesh back panel is both supportive and facilitates plenty of airflow—it’s reminiscent of Osprey’s mesh “AG” (anti-gravity) system, and that’s a pretty big compliment. Compared to a traditional back panel that consists mostly of foam padding, this modern design hits the mark in combining carrying comfort and breathability. In addition, the shoulder straps and hipbelt are plush in terms of padding and have a premium feel.
A signature feature on REI’s Traverse and Flash lines of backpacking packs are the strap systems on the bottom of each side called UpLift. This system tightens your load much like a compression sack does with a sleeping bag, resulting in a more compact and evenly balanced pack. To use UpLift, you fill the Traverse without the straps tightened, then pull them snug to bring the load against your lower back. The end result can make the bag look a bit like the hump of a camel, but with serious benefits in terms of reducing strain on your back and hips. We carried a heavy load on the Huemul Circuit in Patagonia and were surprised at how few adjustments we had to make. Put simply, UpLift works.
Another change with the new Traverse is a redesign to the lumbar support. When testing the old pack, we immediately noticed that the lumbar protruded into the lower back more than usual, but it wasn’t a deal breaker (it wasn’t perfect, but we appreciated the firmness). On the 2018 Traverse, however, REI kept the lumbar pad firm and comfortable while minimizing the profile. This means less protrusion and more comfort without altering the overall design of the pack in a negative way.
The 2018 version of the REI Traverse 70 comes in at 4 pounds 14 ounces in the medium size, which puts it squarely in the heavy hauler category. For comparison, the 2018 Gregory Baltoro 75 weighs slightly more at 4 pounds 15.4 ounces with 5 additional liters of capacity, while the Osprey Atmos AG 65 is 4 pounds 9 ounces and a little smaller than the Traverse. All three packs are meant for those who prioritize carrying comfort, features, and durability over weight.
For those who want to move faster and lighter, there are plenty of other backpacking packs to choose from. REI Co-op’s own Flash 65 is more than a pound lighter at 3 pounds 10 ounces, and we really like the simplicity and functionally of a pack like the Granite Gear Crown2 60 at just 2 pounds 6 ounces (for more information, see our in-depth Crown2 60 review). Further, there are industry-leading ultralight options like the Osprey Exos, Gossamer Gear Mariposa, and Zpacks Arc Blast. But despite the attraction, keep in mind that these packs are made to carry light loads (usually around 30 pounds or less) and use lower denier fabrics that are considerably less durable. The Traverse is a heavy pack, but you do get a lot in return in terms of comfort and toughness.
Access and pockets on the older Traverse were good, but they are even better on the updated 2018 version. Most importantly, the main compartment has a large, J-shaped zipper, which we far prefer over top-loading only packs. On the exterior, REI greatly improved the organization by expanding the size of the two cylindrical-shaped pockets and shove-it space (you can easily stuff a jacket or shell behind the pockets for access on the go). In addition, the top lid is substantial and offers ample storage (it also houses the included rain cover), and the same goes for the dual hipbelt pockets. Similar to the new Gregory Baltoro, which we also brought on the Huemul Circuit, the left hipbelt pocket is made with thin mesh while the right is a thicker and more weather resistant nylon. We stored our iPhone X in the right hipbelt pocket for multiple days including rain without issue, although the pocket certainly should be considered water resistant and not waterproof.
Another notable upgrade on the new Traverse is the removable lid system that doubles down as a small daypack with straps. The old system was both difficult to figure out and uncomfortable: the detachable pack wore more like a sash than a daypack. The new REI system, however, is a much more functional summit pack with shoulder straps that has real value for short hikes and scrambles from camp.
As mentioned above, the Traverse 70 has a suspended mesh back panel that does a really nice job with ventilation. With a healthy amount of space between your back and the shell of the pack—we measured up to 1.5 inches of clearance in the mid-back area—airflow is encouraged and we had no issues with overheating. It’s worth noting that the conditions weren’t hot during our trips, but they were when testing the similarly-designed back panel on the previous Traverse, and that pack performed admirably in this regard. If you plan on hiking in warm weather, the Traverse should be a standout.
Almost all lightweight packs compromise in durability, but this is where the Traverse excels. The body fabric is a tough 200-denier nylon along a super burly 420-denier bottom. In terms of specs, this makes the Traverse one of toughest packs on the market. You can go a little thicker with a design like the Osprey Aether AG 70 at 210D and 500D on the bottom, and the Arc’teryx Bora AR has a mix of substantial 420D and 630D nylon. But the 200D body fabric is one of the selling points of the Traverse and should help make your investment last for years to come.
It’s worth noting that we experienced some minor fraying in two small spots at the top of the pack near the arch of the metal frame. We subjected the Traverse to a lot of rough use, taking it on multiple backpacking trips, bringing it all the way down from Seattle to Patagonia, and not thinking much about pack care in the process. Having said all that, the nylon shell fabric is fraying on the same small place on both sides. It’s unlikely that it’s from bushwhacking but possible that it’s from throwing the pack around. After some research, we haven’t found other user complaints about similar fraying, but will keep an eye out and update this review if the issue turns out to be widespread.
The men’s REI Traverse is offered in three capacities: 35 liter, 70 liter, and 85 liter. The 70-liter version we tested is the standard for most multi-day backpacking trips. Packs in the 85 liter range are the ultimate heavy haulers for lengthy trips when you are carrying a significant amount of bulky food and supplies. On the other side of the spectrum, the 35-liter Traverse functions as a large daypack or a possible minimalist option for an overnight trip. For that purpose, we prefer a lighter pack like the Granite Gear Crown2 38, which comes in at 2 pounds 4 ounces, but the Traverse is more supportive and will breathe better in most conditions.
Fit and Sizing
The Traverse comes in three sizes and fits true. We tested our normal men’s size medium and the fit was excellent. In terms of adjustability, the shoulder straps can be moved up and down via Velcro that connects to the main portion of the pack. Further, the shoulder straps and hipbelt on the Traverse are interchangeable, which is a great feature. This allows you to buy one in a different size than the pack (REI sells men’s and women’s Traverse shoulder straps and hipbelts separately for $30 each). For reference, the Osprey Atmos AG does not have interchangeable hipbelts or shoulder straps while the Gregory Baltoro does.
We tested the men’s version of this pack, but the REI Traverse also is available in women’s 65-liter (4 pounds 11 ounces for a small, which is the middle size) and 35-liter versions with the same build and features. The women’s Traverse currently isn’t offered in a long-distance equivalent of the men’s 85-liter pack, although we will keep our eyes out for any new additions to the lineup. For a high capacity option, the Xena 85 is the largest of Osprey’s women’s-specific offerings.
What We Like
- A super comfortable pack, even when hauling heavy loads.
- Impressive support, ventilation, and build quality.
- A good value at $249.
- We like the small tweaks from the previous version, including improved organization and less obtrusive lumbar padding.
What We Don’t
- Heavy at nearly 5 pounds. This is a pack for those who value comfort and features over moving fast and light.
- Slight fraying after heavy use. We’re unsure as to the cause, but did notice wear and tear on two identical points near the arch of the frame.
|REI Co-op Traverse 70||$249||4 lb. 14 oz.||Nylon (200D & 420D)||35, 70L||Top, front||11 exterior|
|Gregory Baltoro 75||$330||4 lb. 15.4 oz.||Nylon (210D)||65, 75, 85L||Top, front||10 exterior|
|Osprey Aether AG 70||$310||5 lb. 3.4 oz.||Nylon (210D & 500D)||60, 70, 85L||Top, front||7 exterior|
|Osprey Atmos AG 65||$270||4 lb. 9 oz.||Nylon (100D & 630D)||50, 65L||Top||8 exterior|
|REI Co-op Flash 65||$199||3 lb. 10 oz.||Nylon (100D & 420D)||45, 65L||Top||6 exterior|
The REI Traverse falls into our heavy hauler category, meaning that it’s designed for larger and heavier loads than lighter and smaller packs. This puts it head-to-head with legendary models like the Gregory Baltoro and Osprey Aether AG. All three packs have strong frames, supportive and high quality padding, and durable fabrics. They also trade weight savings for features, with ample exterior pockets, zippered access to the main compartment, and removable daypacks. Comfort is another shared strength, but if you are hauling a lot of extras (think 50 pounds or more) or doing light mountaineering, the Baltoro and Aether get the slight edge in carrying comfort (for more on these packs, see our in-depth Baltoro 75 and Aether 70 reviews). For typical backpacking trips, however, the Traverse is the better value at $81 to $61 less than those packs, respectively.
Stepping down a bit in carrying abilities, Osprey’s popular Atmos AG 65 is another strong competitor to the Traverse. We like the 5-ounce weight savings you get with the Atmos (for 5 liters less of storage), and the mesh back panel and hipbelt on Osprey’s AG suspension is a class leader for ventilation and has an even closer feel than the padding on the Traverse. In terms of organization, the Traverse’s J-shaped zipper access to the main compartment is a feature we really miss on the Osprey. Those with lightweight and compact gear likely will prefer the Atmos—and may even want to opt for the 50-liter model—but the Traverse has a slightly superior feature set, can carry a heavy load better, and is $21 cheaper.
Finally, REI’s own Flash 65 is an interesting alternative to the Traverse. To start, the Flash is significantly lighter at 3 pounds 10 ounces, and its 65-liter capacity is better for overnight, weekend, and lightweight backpackers. The Flash also has the same UpLift compression strap system, which impressed us with its ability to reduce strain on our back and hips. But the lighter Flash falls well short of the Traverse in terms of comfort and durability—the padding isn’t as supportive and the 100-denier nylon body is more prone to tears. We think the Flash is a fine option for those looking to cut weight or on a budget (the 65-liter Flash is $199), but the Traverse is the better overall
Editor’s note: We usually provide a live price comparison table below our outdoor gear reviews, but the Traverse 70 is sold exclusively by REI. You can see the Traverse 70 page here and support us in the process. Thanks!