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Exped Lightning 60 Backpack Review

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.

Exped Lightning 60 Backpack



The Lightning 60 is an exceptionally versatile pack that's particularly good for multi-day backpacking trips in alpine terrain. The adjustable frame provides a near custom fit without compromising on load carrying ability or comfort.

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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, which 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.


  • 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


  • 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.


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. 

Written 2015. Updated 2018.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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  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

    • I’m 5’0″ and have hit the frame on every pack I’ve tried in the past decade – and that’s by looking forward, not even up. Exped has a youtube video on how to bend the T-Rex frame, which is what I did. I absolutely love this pack. I bought the woman’s version.

  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…

  6. I bought the Exped Lightning 60 originally for a Sept 2014 John Muir Trail hike and have used it many times since. My 4 day JMT pack wt w/2L water was ~27 lbs. 10 day load (Muir Trail Ranch to Whitney) was ~36 lbs. From Aug-Sept-Oct of 2014 the Exped spent ~ 50 days in the field (Yosemite, JMT, Whitney & Nevada desert). The pack was very comfortable, cool on the back & snug/secure while scrambling… best features #1 Hip Belt.. it’s monster sized & well padded for such a light wt pack, #2 compression strap system…. really worked well at cinching everything tight. Cons; spandex outer pockets, would have much preferred larger & stronger design, also hip belt pockets would have been more usable if larger. The shoulder straps are somewhat minimalist but…. the beefy hip belt does such a good job transferring load that nothing more is necessary. I’m 5’10” @ 165lbs… once in a while the back of my head would touch the top of the T-Rex stay….but it was never a problem for me like others have reported. In the Sierras I carried a 750 cu in Bearikade carbon fiber bear can. Stuffing a 9″ x 12″ “trashcan” into the Exped quickly gobbles up a lot of space!.. The Exped carried it just fine but had it not been for minimal gear that might have been a problem. Also used the pack on a 4 day winter hike in North Georgia.. temps above 2500 ft were single digits and windy, so lots more gear. I carried a small 4 season tent (4.2 lbs) and 40 yr old 3.8 lb Sierra Designs (large& heavy by today’s standards), 0 deg bag. Max pack wt was 39 lbs. But with more & bulkier gear (esp that bag!) the Exped’s volume was maxed out. It carried the wt fine but volume would have benefited with addition of a large single mesh pocket like many other UL packs use. I’ve used the pack on other short 3-5 day trips…wet, cold no problems. I have not purposely abused it but haven’t been kind to it either, (dragging across rocks & brush etc.) the fabric has proven to be quite durable barely showing any wear. I’m not a big fan of “top-loaders” but understand it’s a compromise for lighter weight… that said, I’d gladly carry another 2-4 oz for the convenience of adding a lid compartment and possibly a large outside mesh pocket.
    I own several packs but the Exped is now my go-to-pack primarily because of weight and comfort.

    Hope this helps!

  7. I’ve been eying the Lightning series for a new lightweight pack. I’ve been looking for something that is both light (for recreation) as well as capable of hauling moderate weight (for work). A couple folks have mentioned the lack of an external pocket. Evidently they make the Flashpack, a mesh front pouch that attaches with, I think, G-hooks. Anyways, thanks for the great site!

  8. How do you compare the comfort of this pack and Lutsen 55?
    I want to change my Exped Lightning 45, since its doesn’t fit me well, especially the bumpy lumbar pad and narrow shoulder straps.
    I am eyeballing Lutsen, but I have seen in your review that there is a problem with a lumbar pad as well in Lutsen.
    Unfortunately it’s hard to get UL packs in Germany, so the choise is limited

    Thank you in advance

  9. All those who miss a big mesh back pocket on this pack, there is an add on pocket you can get.
    Provides an ideal stash for wet gear.

  10. In what way do you see it convenient to remove the center stay for air travel?

  11. I have always used more traditional non cottage brand packs such as Gregory, Osprey, REI brand packs and been happy with them. I am trying to cut weight a little bit more though. For someone like myself who does three season backpacking and likes higher volume and capacity packs in the 60-70 liter range ( I carry extra gear for my daughter and want to start treading ever so gently into shoulder season trips) what pack would you recommend to try: ULA Catalyst, Gregory’s new Paragon 68, or this pack the Expedition 60?

    • I happen to like the ULA Circuit (68L) better than the Catalyst.
      The Lightning 60 is more of an alpine pack optimized for winter use, although it does have an adjustable length torso if you need it.
      The biggest issue is going to be how much weight you want to carry.

      • I’ve gotten my weight for three season weekend trips in the Whites down to 19 lbs minus my Food and water. That weight includes my Gregory Baltoro 65 which I like but it does weigh 5 lbs. When I go with my daughter or go on a bit longer trip I reckon my weight will be a bit higher but I’m still looking to switch some gear out and drop 3-5 lbs off my base weight. I liked the Paragon review you did and thought that might be a happy medium as far staying with a fully featured pack but dropping weight but everyone raves about ULA.

  12. I’m really considering this pack for my JMT thru hike later this year. I currently have the osprey Atmos 65, while it’s a great pack, I am considering something a little more minimalist in practical use. I don’t really care for all the bells and whistles for in the osprey. Would this be a great choice for such a hike? Also worth noting I’ll be attempting Alpine Climbing for the first time later this year.

  13. This pack is a great choice for a female fit for under 3lbs, particularly when measured on the unisex scale. The length of the straps on my women’s’ 60l Lightening are perfect, no big tabs hanging down that need to be trimmed. The adjustment on the torso length is a great feature for dialing in different loads, more on the hips or more on the shoulders. I like the option of forming the stay in the back for increased ventilation or warmth. The load lifters are another great component The pack is compact when needed. The mesh pockets may not have long term durability but I prefer a streamlined style backpack over a wraparound pack or bulging pockets. I’m impressed with the pack’s ability to carry weight. For suitability of this pack in winter conditions check out Tania Noakes’ 82 day, 2,533km journey across Norway in January…PHENOMENAL!!

  14. Hi, thanks for your review on this pack it was very helpful. In regards to the PU coating, would you think that it would still be a requirement to carry a separate rain cover as well or would that be excessive?

  15. Amazing pack if only it didn’t look so much like a tea towel… Other than that it’s fantastic.

  16. I’ve had this pack for a few years now due to Philip’s original review. I am very happy with it although my only other big pack experience is with a 7 pound Deuter(the Mercedes S- class of packs i only use now for very short distance heavy hauling). This pack is super comfortable with all the weight on my hips and the pack body away from my torso for ventilation. I added the flash pocket this year which was nice during a wet summer hike for my fly and rain jacket. Highly recommend.

  17. Thanks, great review. Loving my 45. Easily the most comfortable I’ve owned. I find accessing the map pocket hard with the pressure of a full load in the sack keeping it closed.
    Similarly the capacity of the waist pockets is poor compared to say the omm 32 classic.
    That said harness adjustment on the move is good, no friction
    Burns anywhere and a great balance between weight and strength.

  18. Hi Philip,
    Thanks for this site. So much great info. I’ve been backpacking for most of my life but have not found a pack that meets all of my needs. I carried a Kelty Tioga when I was a kid, Jan Sports in Europe and Peru, an old Lowe Expedition on Everest, Vapor Trail on my first JMT trip and then moved into a larger ULA Catalyst. Most of those packs made my shoulders ache because I had too much weight in them.
    Currently I am 68, but still going. Climbed Whitney last September and planning multiple 5 day trips this year and hoping to re-do sections of JMT and a PCT through hike this fall or and next year. Over the years, I have upgraded my gear to ultra light / ultra efficient quality. My base 3 season base weight is around 15 without a 2 lb bear can, 2 pound SLR camera and 10 oz of fishing gear. (On longer trips I ditch the camera). My ULA Catalyst manages to fit all my gear with little room to spare. It is fairly comfortable with 25 to 30 pounds in it. My pack weight hovers around 24-35 pounds with food and water depending on trip length. Even though I organize my gear in separate silnylon bags, I make numerous stops and have to dig in my pack for most anything I need many times a day. Such a PITA and waste of time!

    I would like to have a lighter and more comfortable pack with more convenient organization and accessibility. After reading your reviews, I have narrowed my choices to Southwest 3400, GG Mariposa 60 and Exped Lightening 60. Do you think I should consider anything else? I am really hoping to find a vastly superior solution for the remainder of my backpacking experiences.

    Thanks again for your time and expertise.

    • The southwest and lightning don’t really have any organization. They’re just tubes with roll tops. You just need to carry fewer silnylon sacks, less gear, and carry what you need in an outside pocket.

    • What about exped thunder, it can be completely opened from the front and has a mesh pocket in the front. It’s a bit heavier, but it sounds like you need more pockets and access points

  19. Thanks. Southwest looked pretty sweet. Does it handle 30+ better than Mariposa? I’ll try the Mariposa for sure. Am I missing any other prospects?

    Thanks again!

  20. Thanks. Southwest looked pretty sweet. Does it handle 30+ better than Mariposa? I’ll try the Mariposa for sure. Should I look at anything else?

    Thanks again!

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