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REI Traverse 70 Backpack Review

REI Traverse 70 Backpack Review

REI Traverse 70 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Well Fitting Load Hauler

Built for comfort and stability on long hauls with large loads, the REI Traverse 70 lets you customize the fit for ideal support and load balance, while the ventilated mesh back panel keeps you cool.

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The REI Traverse 70 Backpack is a multi-day ventilated backpack with an adjustable-length frame, swappable shoulder straps, and interchangeable hip-belts, so you can get a custom fitting pack that matches your unique size and shape for optimal comfort. Weighing 4 lbs 14 oz, the Traverse 70 is definitely not an ultralight backpack, but it is still surprisingly nimble for a pack that can comfortably carry 50 pound loads. Loaded with pockets and features, it also compares quite favorably to the Gregory Baltoro 75 and the Osprey Aether AG 70 in terms of features, pack weight, and price.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 4 lbs 14 oz (actual, size medium tested)
    • Rain cover: 4.8 oz
  • Volume: 70L (also available in 65L and 85L sizes)
  • Gender: Men’s (the Women’s equivalent is the REI Traverse 65)
  • Frame: Aluminum hoop terminating under lumbar pad
  • Fit options: Adjustable-length torso; interchangeable hip belt sizes
  • Bear canister compatibility: Yes. Vertical in the main compartment and horizontal under top floating lid pocket.
  • Max Recommended Load: 50 lbs.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

While the Traverse 70 is loaded with organizational features, the pack’s frame is where the rubber really hits the road. The frame is an aluminum wire hoop that terminates below the lumbar pad. A mesh ventilated panel is suspended across the wire hoop and provides sufficient ventilation to help dry sweat that builds up on your back and shirt when you hike. The cavity formed by the mesh is not deep and does not intrude on the shape of the main compartment, so it doesn’t affect packing, unlike some packs (most notably Osprey) where the interior curvature is often so great that it makes it hard to access items stored inside. The Traverse 70 also does NOT pull you backwards and off-balance like many other ventilated backpacks, something that impressed me.

The Traverse 70 is a ventilated backpack wit a suspended mesh backpanel.
The Traverse 70 is a ventilated backpack with a suspended mesh back panel.

The torso length on the Traverse 70 can be adjusted by lifting or lowering the shoulder yoke which is attached to the back of the pack by velcro. When you buy a pack designed to carry heavier loads, this really is a must-have. Adjusting the torso length on the Traverse 70 is a little awkward because the cavity space isn’t very large for your hands to maneuver in. Still this isn’t something you have to do very often and it’s not a major concern.

The Traverse’s hip belts are quite wide, pre-curved, and well padded. They are also removable and replaceable if you need to go a size larger or smaller. They’re locked into place with velcro and won’t slip when you load up the pack.  The hip belt also has a fairly chunky lumbar pad that’s designed to prevent the hip belt from slipping down your waist. When I first tried the Traverse 70, the lumbar pad was quite noticeable. But it’s covered with soft foam and I quickly got used to it, to the point where it’s faded into the background.

Once you’ve dialed in the fit, the Traverse 70 carries heavy and bulky loads with ease. The pack doesn’t lean forward and smother you, nor does it pull backwards when heavily loaded. It sits up straight on your hip bones, while maintaining excellent control, with a slight air gap behind your back. You can of course tighten the shoulder straps and pull down on the load lifters if you prefer a tighter fit, but I prefer the airflow.

One feature that REI touts on the Traverse 70 is their ActivMotion technology, which is supposed to pivot with the natural motion of your hips. While the hip belt does have some movement, I really couldn’t detect an obvious pivoting action. While I found the hip belt to be comfortable when scrambling or hiking on uneven ground, I couldn’t tell if the pivoting hip belt contributed to this or not.

The top lid floats so you can wedge a bear canister underneath it
The top lid floats so you can wedge a bear canister underneath it

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Traverse 70 is a top loading backpack with a floating lid pocket that can be raised or lowered to hold gear, including a bear canister, on top of the main compartment. The top lid has two zippered compartments (one stores the rain cover) and comes with integrated shoulder straps, so you can use it like a small backpack.

The cavernous main compartment has an oversized hydration sleeve that’s large enough to hold a 4L MSR Dromedary Reservoir, which is useful if you need to carry extra water. However the interior volume is completely unstructured, without even a sleeping bag divider inside. There is a front J-zipper however, that provides panel style access to the main compartment so you can get gear buried deeply in the pack out without having to completely unpack it. I’m not sure why REI did not include a longer U-shaped zipper for panel access, because that would have made it easier to fully open the front panel, even when the pockets on its exterior are full.

A J-Zip provides front panel access to gear buried deep in your backpack
A J-Zip provides front panel access to gear buried deep in your backpack.

The Traverse has large stash pocket located in front of the main compartment, good for storing wet gear or camp shoes, with mesh side panels and drain holes. In addition, the front of that pocket has two closed torpedo pockets for storing more gear that you might want frequent access too. These torpedo pockets are quite long and provide a lot of add-on storage. It’s best to put lighter weight items into them rather than heavy ones though, so the pack doesn’t pull you backwards and off-balance.

REI’s latest generation of Flash and Traverse packs have unusual side pockets that are designed to hold water bottles where you can reach them easily (what a concept!) Unlike other backpacks, they’re not on the sides of the main compartment, but closer forward, over the wings of the hip belt where they wrap around your hips.  This makes it easier to pull them out and replace if you have limited shoulder mobility or shorter arms. It also places your water squarely on your hips for optimal carrying efficiency. The bottle pockets work well with tall 1 liter plastic bottles and Nalgenes, but are harder to use with soft bottles that doesn’t have a rigid or round shape like the a 1 liter Platypus SoftBottle. An additional snap is provided to help hold bottles in place and is easy to re-snap while wearing the backpack. Great idea!

The side watter bottle pockets are located closer to the hip belt making them easy to reach
The side water bottle pockets are located closer to the hip belt making them easy to reach

Despite their convenience, these dedicated side bottle pockets can’t be used to hold cylindrical objects, like tent poles or glacier wants that are lashed to the side of the pack. So the Traverse has another set of side pockets located behind its water bottle pockets for this purpose. These pockets are best used for storing objects that are long enough that they can be secured by the top compression strap and the Uplift strap, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

Finally, the Traverse 70 has a pair of cavernous hip belt pockets, one solid faced and one mesh. They easily fit a Garmin InReach, a cell phone, a turkey sandwich, or even a fairly chunky camera, with ease.

Long thin objects like fishing rods fit into small pockets behind the water bottle pockets
Long thin objects like fishing rods fit into small pockets behind the water bottle pockets

External Attachment and Compression System

The REI Traverse 70 has two tiers of compression, both diagonal to help pull the load closer to your center of gravity. The bottom tier has an extra pulley-like strap system which  helps prevent heavy loads from pulling you backwards. Combined with the pack’s load lifter straps, it helps align the pack angle closer to your natural, slightly forward-leaning stance. Called the “Uplift”system it helps prevent the heaviest items in your pack from drooping behind your butt and below your waist where they can throw you off-balance. It’s also quite simple and lightweight.

Uplift straps are attached to the front base of the pack and pull loads up and closer to your core.
Uplift straps are attached to the front base of the pack and pull loads up and closer to your core muscles.

If have a tent body or sleeping pad that is too large to fit inside your pack, the Traverse 70 has a pair of permanently attached sleeping pad straps that you can strap it to the bottom of the pack with. I’d encourage you to avoid that if possible, because weight there can pull you off-balance and hit the back of your legs when you walk. A better alternative is to rig up an attachment point above your hips, using some of the extra gear loops arranged around the pack and elastic cord. The Traverse 70 has 4 gear loops located around the sides of the stash pocket as well as 2 gear loops on the top of the floating lid for this purpose.

If you carry trekking poles or ice axes that are dual shaft holders tucked away into the top of the stash pocket and dual ice axe loops below them, together with a trekking pole tip holder. Many pack manufacturers don’t include shaft holders, but they’re a must-have in my book.

Comparison Table

Make and ModelPriceWeightVolumeAccessPockets
REI Traverse 702494 lb. 14 oz.35, 70L, 85LTop, front11 exterior
Gregory Baltoro 753304 lb. 15.4 oz.65, 75, 85LTop, front10 exterior
Osprey Aether AG 703105 lb. 3.4 oz.60, 70, 85LTop, front7 exterior
Deuter Futura Vario 50+102304 lb. 9oz.60LTop, front11 exterior
Osprey Atmos AG 652704 lb. 9 oz.50, 65LTop8 exterior
REI Flash 65 Backpack1993 lb. 10 oz.45, 65LTop6 exterior

Recommendation

The REI Traverse 70 is a real workhorse of a backpack that’s meant for carrying larger and heavier loads than lighter weight and simpler backpacks. Ideal for weeklong backpacking trips off the grid or family base camping, the Traverse trades off weigh savings for adjustability, features, and durability. While the Traverse is loaded with great features and an impressive variety of organizational options, the thing that sets it apart from other packs is the fact that its shoulder straps and hip belt are available in multiple sizes on both the men’s and women’s Traverse 65 models. That coupled with an adjustable torso length and back ventilation makes the Traverse 70 a very competitive alternative to comparable but more expensive packs like the Gregory Baltoro 75 or the Osprey Aether AG 70, which headline this style and backpack category.

REI provided the author with this backpack for review.

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6 comments

  1. Nice review! I own this pack and really like the comfort it provides when I need to carry a heavy load. I tried using UL cottage packs but the totally fail for 40 pound loads or higher.
    You’re correct about the lumbar pad. You quickly get used to it although it feels big when you first try on the pack. Love your gear reviews. You’re only honest reviewer on the web.

  2. Zachary G Robbins

    I’m curious, on some of your reviews for shelters and backpacks you have a star rating system. On others you don’t like this post. I think your ratings were well-done, why isn’t it on all the posts concerning these large items?

  3. Just picked up my T70 from REI. Actually rides great running a little looser. I can already tell we’re going to have a great relationship.

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