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Exped Lightning 60 Backpack Review

manufactured by:
Exped
Version:
1
Price:
258.00

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On April 13, 2015
Last modified:September 27, 2016

Summary:

The Exped Lightning 60 Backpack is a four season multi-sport backpack that's equally at home on the long trail, hauling climbing gear to the local crag, or pulling a pulk in the backcountry. Featuring an adjustable torso, full body compression, and numerous external attachment points, the 41 ounce ( 2 lbs 9 ounce) Lightning 60 is a lightweight backpack capable of hauling a ton of gear without compromising on comfort or durability.

The Exped Lightning 60 is a very versatile external frame pack with a unique suspension system that's capable of hauling a lot of gear.
The Exped Lightning 60 is a very versatile external frame pack with a unique suspension system that’s capable of hauling a lot of gear.

The Exped Lightning 60 Backpack is a four season multi-sport backpack that’s equally at home on the long trail, hauling climbing gear to the local crag, or pulling a pulk in the backcountry. Featuring an adjustable torso, full body compression, and numerous external attachment points, the 41 ounce ( 2 lbs 9 ounce) Lightning 60 is a lightweight backpack capable of hauling a ton of gear without compromising on comfort or durability.

The roll top closure makes it easy to find gear deep in the pack.
The roll top closure makes it easy to find gear deep in the pack.

Internal Storage and Organization

With 60 liters of capacity, the Exped Lightning is capable of hauling a serious amount of gear and supplies. Accessed via a roll top closure, which make it easy to see what’s inside the pack, this top loader has one large compartment that you can fill as you like.

The roll top closes in two different ways, with the ends clipping together on top of the pack bag, or to straps terminating from the side water bottle pockets. I prefer the latter because they’re less chance of the pack getting caught in overhead brush, but it’s great that both methods are supported because many packs with roll top closures don’t give you a choice.

If you can’t fill the entire pack bag, the Lightning 60 has a pretty incredible compression system (which we’ll get to in a moment) to collapse any unused capacity, giving the pack a great range from small and medium-sized loads too much larger ones.

Interior pocket with waterproof zipper
The roll top closure can be clipped together over the pack bag (as shown) or down along its sides, using webbing straps that terminate in the side water bottle pockets.

Inner Map Pocket

There is an envelope-shaped inner pocket for storing maps or valuables on the inside of the Lightning’s main compartment, located right behind the aluminum stay in the back of the pack. It’s accessed via an outside waterproof zipper (photo above). The outside of the pocket (this is inside the pack bag, mind you) has mesh netting and dowels for hanging an internal hydration reservoir, along with a single hydration port on the right side of the pack.

When the packbag is not full, water pools on top of this zipper in the rain. While having a zippered pocket here is a clever way to avoid adding a top pocket to the pack, it does introduce a potential point of failure if the zipper jams or breaks. Again, this is only an issue when the pack bag is not full: when full, water drains down the face of the zipper behind the wearer’s back without pooling.

Compression webbing runs through the pockets not over them enabling compression. even when carrying water bottles.
Compression webbing runs through the pockets not over them enabling compression. even when carrying water bottles.

Side Bottle Pockets

The lightning has two side bottle pockets made of stretch mesh that provide ample space for storing external water or fuel bottles. Worth noting, the side compression straps run through the pocket instead of over it making it possible to use the compression even when pocket contain bottles or other content. The durability of the pockets if a concern however, because the base of the pocket where it touches the ground is not covered with reinforcing fabric and since side mesh pockets tear so easily on overhanging vegetation.

External Attachment Points and Compression System

The compression system on the Exped Lightning 60 is simply fantastic, especially if you need to attach bulky gear to the outside of the backpack because you’ve run out of space on the inside or because it is oddly shaped and won’t fit. Ice axes, bulky foam sleeping pads, snowshoes, wet microspikes, tent poles, avalanche probes, snow anchors, climbing rope, skis, trekking poles, an avalanche shovel, etc. – all can be lashed to the outside of your pack with a little ingenuity. (see also External Attachment Guide)

While the Lightning comes with lots of external webbing for attaching gear, the webbing is removable with plenty of attachment points, allowing you to rig up your own attachment geometry with webbing or cord and a few cord-locks.
While the Lightning comes with lots of external webbing for attaching gear, the webbing is removable with plenty of attachment points, allowing you to rig up your own attachment geometry with webbing or cord and a few cord-locks. The foam pad here is threaded through the two ice axe loops at the base of the pack.

If you don’t like the webbing configuration that the pack comes with, you can easily remove it (without cutting the webbing connectors off) and reroute it any way you please, or simply replace it with some cordage and a few line-locs using the gear loops distributed around the periphery of the pack.

If you don't like the compression and external attachment webbing configuration on the outside of the Lightning 60, you can remove it.
If you don’t like the compression and external attachment webbing configuration on the outside of the Lightning 60, you can remove it.

This is easy to do because Exped has placed a fixed center strap down the middle of the pack’s back that has two plastic “junction” loops, that make it much more secure to lash gear to the back of the pack or create asymmetric webbing systems that lash different shaped gear to the two sides of the centerline. If you’re a winter backpacker, climber, or ski mountaineer, the possibilities are dazzling!

Compression strap junction and ice axe shaft holder
Compression strap junction and ice axe shaft holder

While the external attachment capabilities on the Lightning 60 are impressive, so is the compression system, with:

  • Top compression provided by the roll top closure and top webbing gear strap
  • The equivalent of three tiers of compression, depending on how you route the compression straps, including compression around the back of the pack and not just the sides.

If you’re trying to decide between the smaller Lightning 45  and Lightning 60 because you have loads that might sometimes exceed 45L, I’d recommend you get the Lightning 60, because you can shrink its capacity so easily using the compression system.

The roll top lid provides top down compression
The roll top lid provides top down compression

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The Lightning 60 backpack has a T-Rex frame consists of a removable aluminum stay (convenient when packing for air travel) and a stiff cross-piece sewn into the pack bag across the top of the pack (forming a T). The aluminum stay slides into two reinforced slots on the top cross-piece and in the hip belt, locking it in place, while providing excellent momentum control, ensuring that the top of the pack follows the movement of your hips. This spartan, partially external frame is astonishingly stiff, agile, and very lightweight.

There’s a lumbar pad at the base of the central stay, but it’s flush with the hip belt padding, so barely noticeable when the pack is worn. It flips down allowing you to remove the hip belt, although multiple hip belt sizes are not available for the pack (although a women’s backpack model is also offered).

The Exped Lightning 60 Backpack has an adjustable frame for dialing in the perfect torso length
The Exped Lightning 60 Backpack has an adjustable frame for dialing in the perfect torso length

The hip belt has ample padding and two very large zippered pockets, well sized for carrying maps, a camera, or GPS. The hip belt closes with a single front buckle and includes a front-pull scherer cinch providing a mechanical advantage for getting a tighter fit. Hip stabilizer straps run from the rear of the hip belt to the base of the pack are provided to help bring the pack closer to the hips for better control.

The shoulder straps are lightly padded with plastic loops sewn into the webbing to hang gear. Thicker padding is not required for this pack, since load transfer to the hips is so good and most of the load will ride on your hips if you adjust the torso length properly.

Adjustable Torso Length

The Exped Lightning 60 is an adjustable frame backpack, meaning that you can dial in the torso length to fit your expect dimensions and get a custom fit. I can’t over-emphasize the value of this feature, especially on a 60 liter backpack, capable of hauling 40-50 pounds of gear, where getting excellent transfer to the hips is so crucial.

To adjust the torso length, you simply pull up or release the webbing strap which controls the height of the shoulder pads. The pack can be adjusted for torso lengths ranging from 17″-22.5″. It couldn’t be simpler.

Adjustible load lifter straps make it possible to ensure a 45 degree angle even when the torso length is adjusted
Adjustable load lifter straps make it possible to ensure a 45 degree angle even when the torso length is adjusted

When you adjusting the length of the torso, it’s important to also adjust the angle in which the load lifters connect from the top of the frame to the tops of the shoulder pads so that they’re at a 45 degree angle. The Lightning 60 gives you the ability to do this by moving the buckle connecting the load lifter to the shoulder strap up or down until you obtain the right angle. This feature is often overlooked in lightweight and non-expedition backpacks, but again it is crucial for a pack capable carrying heavier loads so that you can bring the load into better alignment with your hips.

Likes

  • Extensive, yet easy to customize external attachment and compression webbing system.
  • Front anchor of the load lifter straps is adjustable, ensuring ability to keep load lifters at a 30-45 degree angle when the torso length of the pack is adjusted. This is a high-end feature, normally only found on expedition class backpacks.
  • Hip control straps helps ensure a very stable carry, despite that fact that the pack only has a single central frame stay.
  • Bottom compression straps can be threaded to run through inside of the side mesh pockets or outside, enabling compression when carrying water bottles, or external gear attachment (such as snowshoes).
  • Torso length indicators are marked on torso adjustment webbing strap.
  • While not waterproof (no backpack is), the external PU coating on the pack’s fabric repels is very effective.
  • Made with 210 Dyneema Grid, providing excellent durability
  • Center aluminum stay is removable for airplane travel

Dislikes

  • Hip belt pockets are set a bit too far back for a size 38″ waist. It’d be great if multiple hip belt sizes were available or if pocket placement along the hip belt was adjustable.
  • No bottom reinforcement on side stretch mesh pockets making them more prone to tearing on vegetation.
There are many ways you can attach snowshoes to the Exped Lightning 60 pack - here is just one.
There are many ways you can attach snowshoes to the Exped Lightning 60 pack – here is just one.

Recommendation

The Exped Lightning 60 is a great high-capacity, lightweight four-season backpack, suitable for a wide range of adventures. Weighing just 41 ounces (2 pounds 9 ounces) and sporting an adjustable frame, this minimalist backpack is capable of hauling 40+ pound loads while providing excellent load transfer to the hips. While it does not have the rear mesh pocket offered with many other lightweight or ultralight style packs, the external attachments points and compression system provided with the Lightning 60 make it far more adept for technical adventures that require hauling extra gear, without compromising on comfort or control. If you are looking for a high-capacity backpack for packrafting, winter backpacking, climbing, or mountaineering that can serve double duty for three season backpacking, I’d give the Exped Lightning 60 a serious look. It’s hard to find a lightweight backpack that can span four season use and haul heavy loads while providing the adjustability of a near-custom fit.

Disclosure: Exped provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with an Exped Lightning 60 backpack for this review. This post contains affiliate links

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11 comments

  1. I have limited experience with this pack. Saw it at REI on sale a while back. I had heard wonderful things about it and had it in my radar to buy it. I agree with everything you have said… Great craftsmanship, beefy comfortable hip belt, efficient load transfer to the hips, etc. That lumbar pad didn’t convince me before I actually tried it on, but for the 45 min or so I walked around the store, it didn’t seem like an issue, and I was impressed how well it hit all the aforementioned points.

    I didn’t buy it because I found myself hitting the aluminium frame any time I looked up. Even naturally raising my head a little was an issue. Extremely annoying. I wonder if it was a result of me being on the lower range of the adjustable suspension (18” torso), but I considered that a deal breaker for me. I seem to remember reading a review somewhere where the advice was to cut the aluminium stay, but I didn’t feel comfortable tinkering with the pack…

    • Hmmm. I would have thought that bending the stay would do the trick. Its always best to call the mfg if you have a fit issue since REI obviously couldn’t help you. I fall into the medium torso range with this pack.

      • I have read of people successfully bending and shortening the stay, but I have also heard of people breaking it by overdoing it and or an accidental mishap.

        It is made of a tempered, treated, brittle aluminum and so can snap if bent too far or too sharply.

        Exped have been very quick in sending a replacement for the people who have broken theirs

  2. I have the Lightning 45 and have been very happy with it. I don’t do mid-winter ice/snow hiking, so didn’t need the space, but I do hike in the desert where you might carry 25+ lbs of water.

    I am an ultralight backpacker and I carry mostly dehydrated(not freeze dried) food. So the size of my load can be heavy, but it is never bulky.

    I have never reached the capacity and instead usually have room to spare in the “45” and if for some reason I should need it, I can always attach gear to the outside.

    I never have needed to except to attach a wet gear to dry.

    So I feel the “45” is the best choice for people who have to carry heavy but dense loads.

    As you mentioned the “60” would be best for people who need the flexibility to do winter trips and/or have to pack for two people.

    I also want to mention that most pack manufacturers rate the pack volume including all the external compartment. This means that if you need to reach their volume ratings, you have to fill all the outside pockets.

    The lightning seems to rate it’s capacity based only on the main compartment. The hip belt pocks are a good size, but they don’t seem they included them in the volume rating. I may be wrong on this.

    I can fill up the main compartment on my other similar volume rated packs and when I move everything to the Lightning 45, I only use 2/3 of the capacity.

    Of course, I don’t have a big external mesh pocked, but the straps can potentially carry just as much gear if I needed to.

    So I feel the Lightning series volume rating to be underrated compared to other packs.

    • I bought the Lightning 45 after looking and reading about many UL packs and couldn’t be happier with my purchase.
      I have gone the whole circle of different packs starting with military surplus, external frames and my pervious purchase was an Arc’Teryx Bora 80 with an empty weight of over 7 lbs!
      I have winnowed down the items that I need for a trip and have never been caught needing something I didn’t bring, (except maybe beer ).

      Thanks for the great review as it helped me make the right decision for my needs!

  3. This pack seems very similar in design and fit to the SMD Fusion, specifically the adjustable yoke and the what appears to be a considerable distance of the load lifters from the top of the shoulder to the pack. How would you say they compare?

  4. I have the 2014 model, where the compression straps run over the mesh side pockets. I also have a soldering iron. That was an easy modification.

    I have used my pack only a couple of times, but so far I am happy. Everything works and the pack itself is reasonably light. All straps are rather light and narrow for one used to the Nordic gear, which is fine (I don’t know why the straps on most backpacks are rated for a metric ton of force). I think that the inside/outside pocket has not really been thought out. It is like some kind on manufacturing decision like “we can make two pockets out of one and use it for hydration, too”, but the result is a hydration pocket that opens up leaky access to inside the pack and a very deep inside pocket that for me is too deep to be useful.

    • You mean 2013? I own updated version (’14) and there’s an option to fold pocket to half and fix it that way. I also keep it atop of my gear, that is horizontal, not vertical against backpanel. So It’s easier to access from outside and not too deep. I believe hyrdation port was another detail that was updated along side pocket strap routings, and – most important for me – hip belt design and length saw some update, my waist is 82cm / 32″, fit and load transfer really works for me, previous model would have been too loose.

  5. Hi!
    I recently bought the 2015 model and I am very suprised about this bag. A truly great backpack, confortable, light and durable, but with one exception. The Spandex stretch fabric pockets on the hipbelt have a sewing in the middle of the pocket (it is sewed additionally to the hip belt), this sewing is very weak, after 3 hikes it already came off, i had to sew it back miself…this was the only weak part I could spot…
    Cheers
    Victor

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