The Mountainsmith Scream 55 (liters) is a roll top backpack made with durable fabrics and loaded with features that will appeal to overnight and multi-day backpackers. Weighing just 2 pounds and 4 ounces, it is lightweight, comfortable, well featured, durably built, and relatively inexpensive at $149, something that can’t be said for many other lightweight backpacks in its class. Best used for loads under 30 pounds, the Mountainsmith Scream 55 is a good multi-purpose backpack suitable for lightweight backpacking and more technical day hikes.
Organization and Storage
The Mountainsmith Scream 55 has a huge main compartment, two long closed pockets on the rear of the pack, and large side water bottle pockets. There are no interior pockets except a hydration reservoir sleeve and hang hook, consistent with the minimalist philosophy of lighter weight packs.
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).
While the Scream has an extension collar – the extra volume in the main compartment between the top of the frame and the blue webbing strip, the roll top requires that you fold it over 3-4 times before you can lash it down using the side buckles. This seems like a waste of interior space, not to mention fabric weight. Most roll tops seal with a velcro strip at the top and only require one fold to close so you can utilize more extension collar volume.
Moving to the rear of the pack, the Scream 55 has two long cylindrical pockets that close with side zippers. They’re perfectly sized to store a Jetboil, fuel bottles, cook pots, 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.
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.
The bottom tier of side compression straps can be runs 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. Nice.
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 front and back seams, at the bottom of the pack, that you could use to lash a sleeping pad or tent to the bottom of the pack. This is a nice option missing on many lightweight backpacks.
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.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
When Mountainsmith designed the Scream 55, they decided to make it a frameless backpack without any frames stays or a thicker frame sheet to provide additional rigidity. Their goal was to keep the weight of the pack as close to 2 pounds as possible by trading off the heavier gear hauling capabilities provided by a stiffer frame for a more comfortable and functional hip belt, external pack pockets, and heavier duty fabrics on high abrasion parts of the pack. It makes sense, especially for backpackers who want to chop 3 pounds off their gear weight without giving up the cushy hip belts, external pack pockets, and durability they’re used to on a 5, 6, or 7 pound backpack. But if you want to transition to a lighter backpack, you will have to bite the bullet and reduce your gear weight.
While the Scream comes with a soft foam pad in the back panels, its main purpose is to provide your back with some protection from sharp objects. If you like a stiffer backpanel, I recommend inserting a rolled up Ridgerest sleeping pad inside the pack and packing your gear in the middle, an old school trick to add more structure to a frameless 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 soft and relatively thin, maintaining excellent comfort.
Wide, pre-curved hip belts wings are sewn to the back of the pack for added stability and have oversized hip belt pockets made with solid fabric 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 Scherer cinch makes it easy to adjust hip belt tightness.
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 wire frame.
Frameless packs, by their nature have a lower weight capacity than packs with rigid frames that are designed to transfer more of the load from your shoulders to your hips. I rate the Scream’s max comfortable weight capacity at 25-30 pounds based on my experience hiking with it. The 45 pound rating listed on the Mountainsmith website is incorrect. I checked with the pack designer and he rates the pack at 35 pounds, which is closer to my estimate.
The Mountainsmith Scream 55 is a roll-top style, multi-day backpack that provides the and creature comforts of heavier packs in a lighter weight but durable form factor. Weighing just 2 pounds 4 ounces, the Scream has features including large external pockets and high-end hip belt that you don’t normally find on lightweight or ultralight minimalist backpacks, making 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.
- Large hip belt pockets
- Can easily reach water bottles while wearing the pack
- Comfortable cushioned hip belt and shoulder straps
- Reinforced side mesh pockets
- Compression straps pass through side pockets or over them
- Extra attachment points at base of pack
- Roll top closure design limits space utilization in extension collar
- No zipper guards in cylindrical pockets
- 100d Nylon RipStop Robic
- 610d Cordura on pack base
- 210d Nylon Embossed Liner
- 24.25″ x 10.75″ x 8″ / 61.5 x 27.3 x 20.3 cm (H x W x D)
- Waistbelt Width: 1.5″
- Torso Length (Fixed): 17″-21″
- Waistbelt Circumference: 28″ – 48″
- 3350 cubic inches / 55L
Disclosure: Mountainsmith provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample backpack for this review.
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