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Mountainsmith Scream 55 Backpack Review

With 55 liters of capacity the Mountainsmith Screamer can swallow a ton of gear
With 55 liters of capacity the Mountainsmith Scream can swallow a ton of gear

Mountainsmith Scream 55 Backpack


Very Good

The Scream 55 is a lightweight roll-top backpack good for multi-day backpacking trips. A plethora of pockets makes it easy to pack and stay organized.

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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.

Large extension collar provides extra capacity
The main compartment swallows a ton of gear. A large extension collar provides extra capacity

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).

The roll top closure must be folded over to the blue fabric strip, eating up a lot of extra storage space in the extension collar
The roll top closure must be folded over to the blue fabric strip, eating up a lot of extra storage space in the extension collar

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.

The Scream 55 has two cylindrical rear pockets perfectly sized for a Jetboil or layers you want easy access to during the day
The Scream 55 has two cylindrical rear pockets perfectly sized for a Jetboil or layers you want easy access to during the day.

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.

Side pocket compression strap can be routed over or through the pocket
Side pocket compression strap can only be routed over the pocket, not through it.

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.

The shoulder pads, hipbelt, 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

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.

The Mountainsmith Scream 55 has a great hip belt full extra large pockets and hip stabilizer straps to pull the load closer to your hips
The Mountainsmith Scream 55 has a great hip belt with extra-large pockets and hip stabilizer straps to pull the load closer to your hips

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


  • Materials:
    • 100d Nylon RipStop Robic
    • 610d Cordura on pack base
    • 210d Nylon Embossed Liner
  • Dimensions:
    • 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″
  • Volume:
    • 3350 cubic inches / 55L

Disclosure: Mountainsmith provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample backpack for this review.

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Last updated: 2018-04-25 15:30:16

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  1. This looks very similar to the Granite Gear Crown VC 60, which I’ve been using for several years. I think I would prefer the outside pockets of the Mountainsmith, however. The VC has one very large mesh pocket, and I’m never comfortable storing essential gear there because it could fall out (in theory) and it’s a pain to dig to the bottom of the pocket to retrieve items. And my water bottles pop out much too easily from the side mesh pockets on the VC, even with the lineloc secured.

    Both packs use rolltops but Mountainsmith uses an unusual design, as Philip notes. The Crown VC allows you to roll the top just once, or twice, if you want (velcro not necessary).

    I like that the Mountainsmith has built in pockets. I added a pocket from Mountain Laurel Designs, but I have a hard time securing it tightly.

    I tend to carry 40 pounds on multi-day trips with a tripod. I wonder how the Mountainsmith would handle extra weight? For the record, the Crown VC carries 40+ pounds very well, in my experience.

    Both are the same low weight, and the price is right on the Mountainsmith. I might have to get a new pack! Thanks, Philip.

    • The hip belt is a lot better on the Scream. But neither of those packs are 40 pound packs. I’d get one with a metal frame if I were you. You’ll need the stiffness with that much weight.

  2. Could be a good alternative to my Kelty Redwing 50… I’m surprised to hear Mountainsmith is still even in the outdoors gear market…

  3. Are frameless backpacks long lasting? I’m wondering if the lack of a frame would cause the pack to lose it’s shape after a few years?

    • Depends on the pack, but the fabric they’re made with determines how long they’ll last, not a frame. Abrasion is your biggest concern, but that’s true of any backpack. Frameless packs don’t loose their shape unless you rip out the seams.

      • Just got mine in the mail! You didn’t mention it came with a emergency whistle! I have not tried it yet but it looks pretty nice. I just dropped 4 pounds off my back! I was using an old hundred liters terreplein

  4. My comment is gone? This is on Massdrop for as low as $99.99 with 8 ordered. I’m seriously considering the backpack after your review.

    • I just saw that, too. Pretty decent deal if enough people join the drop to get the $99.99 price. I’m trying to decide if I should get one for my wife, since her pack alone weighs 5+ pounds, but last time we went backpacking her total weight was something like 32 pounds. With the same load and this pack, she’d instantly be at 29 lbs. Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions…

  5. From photos on the Mountainsmith website showing it and your own photos in this review, it looks like the side compression straps are designed to convert between going over/under the mesh pocket, no? I have the predecessor to this pack (Haze 50), and I had to cut holes in the mesh on that pack to allow this function

  6. These are currently being offered on Massdrop for $99.00

  7. I do a lot of cross country packing and need load stability. When fully loaded, does this pack lie flat across your back or is it just a barrel with straps? The last photo kind of shows it just sitting on your spine. I can’t have it flopping from side to side. Very thorough review, thanks.

  8. I have an old Mountainsmith Circuit 3.0 (2008) that weighs 5 lb. I think it is a 94 liter bag. I saw the Mountainsmith scream 55 and it looks just right. I section hike the AT but I want to hike it much longer. My current pack weight is for a 5 lb tent, 3 lb S bag, 2 lb pad and cover plus stove fuel clothes, filter and platypus water bags. My bag fits perfect and carries the weight excellent, just too heavy. I need a pack less than 3 lb, and a tent the same weight.

    I calculated the Mountainsmith manufactures bag size at 24.25 by 10.75 by 8 is 2085 cu inch. Does the mountain smith use these bag dimensions or are they saying it could hold 55 liters. My math could be wrong but I only measure 2085 with their size.

    I am making a new kind of backpack much different than the ones on the market today because I cannot find a pack that is just right for me. My pack design is triangle shaped viewed from the sky with dry bags attached to it on its side. My size goal is 3000 cu. My bag will be about 20 x 15 x 8-10 triangle, more dry sacks can increase the pack size or a half pleat will allow it to expand. I designed a counter balance frame support /belt attachment.

    The Scream makes it tempting to buy. I am learning how to sew now but I may use adhesive instead. My project wont be ready until next year. Sooner if I can find a good sewing manufacture.

  9. I’ve seen the scream 55 for sale very reasonably lately. In fact, there’s one for sale right now on eBay.
    Might be worth it if you could pick up one for cheap.
    Maybe you could modify it to suit your needs.

    Good luck

  10. Can you comment as to the naming convention when referring to the back or the front of a backpack? I see in your review that you refer to the rear of the pack that contains the two cylindrical pockets. I’ve read other reviews and I’ve seen videos where people refer to this position as the front of the back. Is there any accepted naming convention?

  11. Looks like the 2018 version has gained a few ounces (still under 3 lbs) and has an aluminum stay in it. Also a J zipper access. However, the compression straps don’t go over the zipper and are anchored right next to it. That looks like asking for a zipper blowout.

    How would you compare this to the Crown2 60? I tried one on and was pretty impressed. Back and forth with that and the Gregory Paragon 58. Seems like this is designed to compete with those.

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