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.

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 ounces) Lightning 60 is a lightweight backpack capable of hauling a ton of gear without compromising on comfort or durability.

Exped Lightning 60 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Excellent

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 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 makes 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 the pocket contains 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 ax 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 exact 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 an 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 of 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.
  • The front anchor of the load lifter straps is adjustable, ensuring the 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 help ensure a very stable carry, despite the 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 the 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. 
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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9 comments

  1. 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.

      • Thanks. It sounded like the Southwest had lots of pockets, buty Mariposa has the most. Hoping Mariposa will handle the starting weight of around 30 or so in the first days of a trip comfortably.

      • It can do that.

      • Jonathan Groims

        Hi Phil, how does this compare to the Sierra Designs flex capacitor in your opinion?

      • What dimensions are you interested in? That’s kind of an open-ended question…

    • 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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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