Arc’teryx Aerios 30
$190, 30L/1,831 c.i., 2 lbs. (men’s regular)
Sizes: men’s and women’s regular and tall
Even in the context of how much continued, impressive innovation has occurred in the category of hiking daypacks in recent years, the Arc’teryx Aerios 30 raises the bar for versatility and sheer ingenuity. Marrying the best elements of traditional daypacks and running vests, this comfortable sack combines a reasonable weight with bountiful capacity, a smart feature set, and top-shelf durability. It also has one flaw, though not one that constitutes a dealbreaker.
I loaded the Aerios 30 with 15 to 17 pounds of water, food, layers, and a camera for dayhikes of up to 11 miles with 5,000 cumulative vertical feet of up and down in my local foothills and found it carried very comfortably. Credit the light but impressively supportive framesheet, which resists barreling and maintains its shape with loads that would bend some lightweight daypacks, plus the fixed (non-adjustable), wide, padded shoulder straps and hipbelt. The curved hipbelt wraps around the hips more like a larger and heavier backpack—but without the bulky feeling of a large pack.
Like a running vest, the Aerios’s shoulder straps sport two stretchy sternum cords (rather than one non-dynamic sternum strap) that can be repositioned through any of five small loops. Each sternum cord hooks into one of five loops on the opposite strap. The design improves the pack’s stability, especially when moving quickly or in rugged terrain.
One major shortcoming: Both sternum straps easily slip and loosen on their own. It appears the camming mechanism inside each is so tiny that it seems to not create much friction, a problem probably compounded by the bungee-like stretch in the sternum straps and the natural bouncing that occurs when hiking. Tightening the cord reduces slipping but doesn’t eliminate it; plus, overtightening those straps isn’t desirable and once they start slipping, it’s unstoppable. In terms of functionality and carrying comfort, I never really noticed any negative impacts of this flaw; in fact, it was only when looking down and seeing the loose sternum straps that I realized they kept loosening. You can knot the cord beyond the camming mechanism to prevent slipping, but the problem is annoying and warrants correcting.
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I like how the load lifters—traditionally positioned over the shoulder, where you have to grope around to find them—run through a protective nylon sleeve on each shoulder strap to a cordlock positioned lower on the shoulder strap, where you can see it to easily adjust the fit. And rather than the usual single strap, the Aerios load lifters consist of a thin cord run through an inch-long sleeve above the shoulders, effectively connecting each shoulder strap to the pack body at two points and distributing that weight more evenly over your upper back. The Aerios 30 can carry 20 pounds or more well (depending on the user).
The highly breathable, mesh-covered Aeroform back panel, with a slightly concave shape, allows good air flow to prevent a sweaty back and moves moisture off your back when it does build up—without pushing the pack’s weight so far off your spine that it feels like it hangs off your shoulders. The suspension and frame shift weight largely onto the hips, as it should.
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A deep clamshell zipper provides easy and convenient access to the voluminous main compartment, which has abundant space for all the water, food, clothing, and gear you could need on long days in the backcountry in any weather—or even extremely ultralight overnight trips; and yet, with its streamlined design and weighing just two pounds, it isn’t too heavy or bulky for shorter, lighter dayhikes.
The pack’s design also raises the bar for organization. Modeled on running vests, zippered pockets on each shoulder strap fit a smartphone with room to spare or a soft water flask stuffed in the top with gels in the zippered pocket (although the volume does not permit both a phone and a flask). Deep, adjustable side pockets each hold a liter bottle and then some; I tucked two folding trekking poles into one and they stayed put. The two stretch-mesh hipbelt pockets have good space for snacks and a phone; one is zippered and the other open on the top for small snacks, although when I bent over once a bar fell out of that pocket. There’s also a small, zippered valuables/key pocket inside the main compartment.
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The front bungee cord is adjusted from inside the large, zippered front pocket, and when tightened, it compresses the pack body significantly, reducing volume to keep it from shifting when underfilled. The bungee and two ice-axe loops facilitate attaching gear to the outside.
While many daypacks sport materials vulnerable to tearing, like stretch-mesh pockets, the Aerios’s exterior consists entirely of very durable, 210-denier and 100-denier, high-tenacity fabric with a liquid crystal polymer ripstop grid that appears impervious to the hardest abuse.
If you have no need for 30 liters of capacity, the significantly lighter Arc’teryx Aerios 15 ($130, 1 lb. 4 oz.), comes in one size and has a webbing belt rather than the padded hipbelt of the Aerios 30.
Despite one flaw, the voluminous capacity, modest weight, and inspired design make the Arc’teryx Aerios 30 one of today’s most versatile daypacks.
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See my picks for “The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks” and my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” (which includes daypacks) and all of my reviews of hiking gear.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.