Altra 65 Review
When I was in the market for a new pack, I tried on many different brands and styles. Bottom line was, the Altra 65 was the most comfortable pack I tried on. Granted, trying packs on empty is different than loaded, but this pack simply stood out in comfort. There were a few things I was unsure about (e.g. side water bladder), but I went ahead with my purchase anyway.
I recently finished my third trip with this pack on a multi-day hike in the Eastern Sierras. I can now say I'm completely use to the pack, and despite a few downfalls I am extremely happy. Then again, nothing can be perfect for everyone.
A few major things I like:
I have a tall frame, 6' 5", which can be hard to fit for any type of clothing and equipment. The adjustability of this pack is fantastic, and extremely simple. After it was loaded, it took me a few trail stops to try some configurations, and now it fits perfect. It literally takes about 30 seconds to remove the pack and make a major adjustment. Great design.
The 'suitcase' open style was a little strange at first, but I definitely like it. It allows me to balance the weight in my pack easily. For me, it just makes more sense than my old top load North Face pack (which is a great pack too).
Swivel waist belt is great. Some people might not like the bulk, but I am very happy with its comfort on the trail. That being said, its not perfect. There are a few issues I have as described below.
Since the waist belt is so big and bulky, you really have to snap it off when you're laying the pack down flat to unzip it like a suitcase. When on the trail, I try to keep anything I might need toward the top entry so I don't have to mess with the belt. However, when you're setting up camp or filling the water bladder, you have to lay it down. The angle the belt creates on the pack makes it slightly difficult to work with. I've put the bag on a rock, log. etc, but the best way is to take the belt off. On my last trip, I made the mistake of taking the belt off and laying the pack down in the dirt. A bunch of fine sand got into the pack swivel mechanism (which is greased to prevent squeaking while hiking) and I had to pick it out. Bottom line is, I ended up losing most of the grease and had to hear my pack squeak slightly for my last day on the trail. Not to mention many curse words while trying to clean the dirt packed grease out of the swivel mechanism. Arc'teryx should offer a lightweight blank cover to snap on the pack so you can lay the swivel mechanism in the dirt, unpack/refill, and not worry about the issue described above.
Water bladder...It's been a tough adjustment, but I like it now that I'm use to it. I like the fact its away from the center of my back, and the water doesn't get warm like my old North Face and day packs. However, it is somewhat of a pain. The ONLY bladder that I can find that will work is the Platypus 2L (non zip version). It barely fits when filled. I was worried no loop at the top of the pack's water pouch would lead to water flow problems as the level went down. No such issues materialized, and you can take all 2 liters out of the bladder with no problems. Still, it can be a minor pain to deal with refilling when you have a full pack (especially in cold, windy Eastern Sierra weather). I had to put a locking valve on the Platypus and snip a little bit wider opening in the pack to fit the valve through. The first time I tried it with the stock Platypus 2L non-valve bite piece, I got water everywhere.
It's not the greatest pack for attaching things to the outside. No loops our extra clasps like other packs out there. Could be a deterrent for some.
I would say overall, if you got the money to spend go for this pack. I know this pack is expensive, and you don't have to spend this much to get a good pack. It just worked for me and my tall frame. Quality of the material, zippers, stitching, is top notch. Its a clean design too, especially when packed.