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Mountainsmith Scream 55 Backpack Review

Mountainsmith Scream 55 Backpack Review

Mountainsmith Scream 55 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Dual Purpose Backpack/Travel Pack

The Scream 55 is a roll top backpack suitable for travel or backpacking. A U-shaped front zipper provides fast panel access to gear buried deep in the pack, while two large closed pockets provide secure storage for clothing and other smaller items.

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The Mountainsmith Scream 55 Backpack is a multi-day backpack that’s well-featured, quite durably built, and relatively inexpensive. It’s undergone some design changes this year, including a sturdier frame and a new U-shaped front panel opening that will appeal to overnight and weekend backpackers, as well as travelers. It’s also over a half pound heavier than the previous model, weighing just a hair under 3 pounds, with a max recommended load of 35-40 lbs. While these new features will increase the audience for the pack, they move away from its original minimalist premise, when it was simpler and lighter weight.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight:  2 lbs 13 oz (2 lbs 15.6 oz, actual tested) (previous model weighed 2 lbs 4 oz)
  • Volume: 55L
  • Type: Internal frame (1 center frame stay)
  • Materials: 210d Robic High Tenacity Nylon with (Aramid) R/S, 210d Nylon Embossed Liner
  • Gender: Male (a female version is available called the Scream 50 WSD)
  • Waistbelt: 28″ – 48″
  • Torso fit range: 17″ – 21″
  • Bear Canister compatibility: Vertical
  • Max Recommended Load: 35-40 pounds (the mfg puts it at 45 lbs, but I think that’s high)

Backpack Organization and Storage

The Mountainsmith Scream 55 has a huge main compartment, two “double barrel” pockets on the front of the pack, and large side water bottle pockets.  There are no interior pockets except a hydration reservoir sleeve and central hang loop.

A U-style zipper provides panel access to gear from the front. This is useful if you have a lot of gear or when traveling
A U-style zipper provides panel access to gear from the front. This is useful if you have a lot of gear or when traveling.

The main compartment is accessed from the top of the pack, which has a roll top closure, making it and easy and fast to pack and unpack. The advantage of a roll top pack over one with a top lid is that it’s easy to roll up the unused capacity and compress your load from the top. Once rolled up, the top webbing connects to buckles just above the side pockets, so they don’t interfere with pulling out or replacing water bottles them (a nice detail). You can also clip the two ends of the roll top together on top, but this leaves two dangling straps and buckles.

A U-style zipper has been added to provide panel style access to the main compartment so you don’t have empty the pack to find gear buried deeply inside. It’s redundant with the roll top, so you have to wonder why Mountainsmith didn’t just drop the roll top, and make a pure panel loader instead to save weight and reduce the pack’s complexity.

The Scream 55 has two external double barrel pockets that can be used to store gear or clothing you want easy access to during the day.
The Scream 55 has two external double barrel pockets that can be used to store gear or clothing you want easy access to during the day.

Moving to the front of the pack, the Scream 55 has two long cylindrical pockets that close with side zippers, which Mountainsmith calls “double barrel” pockets.   They’re perfectly sized to store a cook pot, fuel bottles, a tarp, or layers that you want easy access to during the day without having to open up the main pack. Both pockets close with side zippers, but you need to be careful not to catch them on the fabric of delicate wind shirts or rain jackets if you stuff them here. The pockets don’t have drain holes though, so I wouldn’t recommend putting very wet gear into them. If you use a water filter, you’re going to have to figure out where to put that wet dripping thing, so it doesn’t soak your pants.

For those of you gear history buffs out there, this double barrel pocket design was first used in the Jensen Backpack, which is still available from vintage pack maker Rivendell Mountain Works (note: glacially slow website.) Mountainsmith used the same design in the now retired Haze 50 Backpack.

The pack also sports two long side mesh water bottle pockets capable of securely holding 32 ounce water bottles. The bottom of the mesh pockets is covered with solid fabric for better durability since mesh pockets frequently get ripped here when they come in contract with the ground or vegetation along the side of the trail. However, the mesh pockets are quite tall and it’s very difficult to reach back and pull out or replace a water bottle stored there. The bottom tier of side compression straps can be run over the side mesh pockets or through them, if desired, so you can carry a bottle in them and use the compression strap at the same time.

External Attachment Points and Compression System

The Scream 55 has two tiers of side compression straps that can be used to reduce the volume of the pack and stabilize your load. If needed, you can also run webbing or cordage through the rear attachment points of the compression straps (which are open) to attach gear to the back of the pack using cord locks and accessory cord. While it’d be a little awkward to attach gear over the rear cylindrical pockets, it is doable.

In addition, there are four gear attachment loops on the seams along the front and back of the pack, and another four at the bottom of the pack,  making 12 total. You’d need extra webbing or elastic cord, but you can attach all kinds of gear to the outside of the pack this way from tent bodies and sleeping pads to skis and snowshoes. In fact, the Scream 55 could make a good winter ski pack with its closed double barrel pockets and some webbing to lash gear to the outside of the pack.

There’s also a single daisy chain running between the two rear pockets with an ice axe loop at the bottom and an elastic shaft holder at the top that could also be used to carry trekking poles. Kudos for including a shaft holder. A lot of backpack manufacturers leave it off.

The shoulder pads, hip belt, and back panel are covered with air mesh to help vent perspiration
The shoulder pads, hip belt, and back panel are covered with air mesh to help vent perspiration

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The original version of the Mountainsmith Scream 55 had a thin foam pad for a frame, but has been augmented with a center aluminum stay to increase the maximum weight that the pack can carry. The pad and the stay are both stored in compartment located behind the hydration reservoir pocket. While you can open this compartment and pull out the stay rather easily to bend it and personalize the fit, the foam pad is very difficult to remove because it’s packed away so tightly. If you do manage to get it out, you’ll never get it back in again. Since it holds the stay in position, you should just leave it alone.

If the lumbar pad is uncomfortable, you can bend the aluminum frame stay to provide more space between your back and the pack.
If the lumbar pad is uncomfortable, you can bend the aluminum frame stay to provide more space between your back and the pack.

One of my favorite parts of the Scream 55 is the hip belt. Mountainsmith’s pack hip belts are always very well-engineered and the Scream’s hip belt is pretty exceptional. While padded, the hip belt does not have too much padding, ensuring a good wrap around your hip bones. The rear of the hip belt has a mesh-covered lumbar pad for extra grip, but it’s rather assertive out of the box. You can relieve that pressure by removing the aluminum stay and bending it over your knee if your back needs more space. (See how to bend frame stays)

Wide, pre-curved hip belts wings are sewn to the back of the pack for added stability and have oversized hip belt pockets made so you can conveniently carry a lot of gear close at hand. Rear hip belt stabilizers behind the hip belt pockets let you pull the base of the pack closer to your hips, improving load transfer and weight control, while a pull-forward cinch makes it easy to adjust hip belt tightness.

The Scream has two large hip belt pockets, one solid faced and with a mesh front
The Scream has two large hip belt pockets, one solid faced and one with a mesh front

The shoulder pads have the same breathable mesh as the hip belt, hydration hose keeper loops and an adjustable sternum strap. The Scream comes with load lifters, but they’re attached the pack bag and not the framesheet, so less effective than a pack with a perimeter wire frame.

The addition of a single aluminum stay has increased the load carrying capacity of the Scream 55 and I’d rate it max comfortable weight capacity at 35-40 pounds based on my experience hiking and backpacking with it.

Assessment

The Mountainsmith Scream 55 is multi-day backpack that provides the carrying capacity and creature comforts of heavier packs in a lighter weight but durable form factor. Weighing just 2 pounds 15.6 ounces (actual), the Scream has features including large external pockets, a high-end hip belt, and an internal aluminum stay, that make it good choice for hikers who want to transition to a lighter backpack without giving up the functionality of their older packs or breaking the bank. While the Scream 55 lacks the front mesh stuff pocket popular on most of today’s popular backpacks, the double barrel pockets will appeal to hikers who still prefer closed pockets for the organizational and weather protection benefits they provide.

If you’re shopping for a Mountainsmith Scream 55, many online retailers currently carry the old, lighter weight version of the pack in addition to the new, heavier weight version reviewed here (but don’t differentiate between the two or identify them as such). The old pack is a solid dark grey with blue highlights, while the new pack is a grey grid with the lime highlights, shown above.

Comparable Backpacks

If you prefer a backpack with closed storage and like the durability of the Scream 55, I’d recommend taking a look at the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor, which has a unique top lid that simplifies gear access. It’s also durable, lightweight, and quite affordable. Check out my review. I also think the Flex Capacitor is one of the 10 best multi-day backpacks available today.

Disclosure: The author purchased this backpack.

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7 comments

  1. What happened to your review of the prior version of the Scream 55? It is no longer on your website.

    The new version looks ill-designed to me. They added a stay to increase the weight carrying ability, but then they added a U zipper with no compression straps to protect the zipper from failure.

    This pack in new for 2018 and it is already heavily discounted at all online retailers. Any idea why?

    • It’s very confusing for people to have two identically named reviews on the website, so I redirected the old one to the new version.
      Mountainsmith packs are always fairly inexpensive. Plus it’s memorial day sale time. Biggest discounts of the year.

    • Langleybackcountry

      I had the same question about the zipper and compression straps. Here is what they said:

      “That side compression strap is actually anchored behind the pack into the fabric of the pack. It’s a little difficult to tell in the photo, but you can see that black nylon portion is where the compression strap is run almost under the zipper track and then bound to the robic face fabric so the only tension put on the zipper would be distributed over the body of the pack as well. Of course all materials and stitches can be broken with enough stress, but I’ve taken 3 iterations of the Scream 55, including the current production model on all kinds of overnighters, multidays, and climbing trips and haven’t noticed any particular place showing any signs of over stress. If you do need any peace of mind though, our warranty program is stellar, and also headed up by myself. Unless I can pretty blatantly tell the damage is user error (backing over it with your car, critter holes because food was left in it, etc), we’ll get you fixed up or replaced.”

      Here is the picture referenced: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwYaoxFcz831cFVyMVQ1c3RYZ3ZGOE05YTYzbTBVUkpKQVNR/view?usp=sharing

      Not sure I agree, but there you are.

  2. Is the robic fabric waterproof?
    I thought the previous version was, but can’t seem to find that information about this new version.

    Thanks

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