I genuinely enjoy testing gear. I get to really see how it works in a range of different places.

I’ve had the chance to test the Vertepac for the last several months, ranging from the vertical ice of the Adirondack Mountains, to the oceans and mangrove swamps of Panama, the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, and the desert canyons of Arizona.

And I can definitely say this: overall it’s probably the most comfortable pack I’ve ever worn. That feels like a bold statement even to type, but it comes after several months of hammering on the XTR-35+, the model that the guys over at Vertepac sent me to test.

I’m not going to spend time going in depth on the actual engineering specs of the pack, you can find all that on Vertepac’s website here: vertepac.com

Here is the quick rundown of the basic specs for you skimmers that don’t want to read into the why’s of my final opinion on the product:

Vertepac XTR-35+ Specs:

Vertepac XTR-35 in action ice climbing

Model Name: Vertepac XTR-35+
Weight: 4.63lbs
Dimensions: 24.4x12x8.3in
Capacity: 35L
Color: Ash Black
Price $349USD
Warranty: Lifetime Warranty on All Production Faults
Buy or Pass: Buy
Ideal Users: Hikers, Glacial Mountaineers, Snowboarders and Skiers

Vertepac XTR-35+ Basics

What I’m going to focus on in this review is the product’s actual performance in a variety of outdoor settings, what I like about it and why, where I think it best suits at its current phase, and of course, what I think can or should be improved in the next model.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is the Vertepac XTR-35+ Backpack?

The XTR-35+ is the 35L model currently offered by Vertepac, and the one I’ve gotten to test extensively the past several months. The pack itself is fairly standard amongst packs as far as design: attached top pouch, side mesh pockets, adjustable rear pocket, some basic tool loops to accommodate an ice axe or trekking poles, and a range of d-rings and straps to fasten gear or compress the pack.

Where the pack is truly unique is the frame and carrying system. The Vertepac is the first pack designed with its own exo-spine system, meaning that it has a spine that is set to the personal measurement of your back. This allows the pack and shoulder straps to move independently of the load center on your hips. The carrying system, which consists of the straps, frame, and extendable spine/hip belt, is separate from the actual bag, allowing for different Vertepac bags to attach interchangeably to your personal frame without ever having to adjust the settings. The hip-belt offers two fastening options: a velcro strap, which adds extra comfort yet is more suited for loads on the lighter end, and a more traditional buckle and cinch system to address loads on the heavier side.

It is fairly heavy compared to any ultralight bags, coming in at 4.63lbs, but Vertepac claims 90% less weight and 85% less pressure based on the load support and mobility that the unique exo-spine offers.

The Vertepac XTR-35+ In Action

As far as that math goes, I can’t verify it precisely to the decimal. What I can verify is that alongside some preliminary testing in a gym, I’ve used it now in jungle, desert, coastal, mangrove swamp, alpine, and vertical ice settings. And I’ve hammered on it, at time packing it with 40+lbs of weight before hoisting another 35-40lbs of rigging gear up onto the pack lid and my shoulders while approaching a site.

It works.

Vertepac XTR-35 river hiking Joshua Valentine with the Vertepac backpack

What do I like about the Vertepac?

Exo-spine, Hipbelt Comfort and Distribution Under Weight

Where does the extra weight balance out? The ergonomics are super effective, and with that comes the comfort. The added mobility and flexibility go a long way in cancelling this out. At the end of a long hike, the overall weight feels less than it does in a lighter pack with less support.

Resulting Mobility

Here is where the Vertepac truly makes good on its claims: The carrying system allows for mobility that, quite honestly, no other pack I’ve worn has replicated. The hip belt remains firmly in place, regardless of how the torso twists and moves. The shoulder straps, once dialed, remain snug, and don’t pull back and downward causing added pressure on the shoulders. The spine can extend forward if needed, but always centers the load back where it needs. This allows the distance between your shoulders and hips to vary and extend in accordance with your movements independently, and without pulling the hip belt out of place.

Extreme Customization

Getting the pack dialed in does take some fiddling, particularly to get the spine length dialed in so that the weight sits perfectly centered on the hipbelt. Too high and the pack pulls backwards. Once it’s dialed, however, the fit is so snug that it almost feels as though something is off at first. Once you start moving, however, you grow very quickly used to the unique abilities this pack has.

Versatility of Design

I’m a climber, kayaker, hunter, survivalist, camera operator, rigger. . . the list goes on and on. I use a wide range of equipment, so the interchangeability of the Vertepac is one of my favorite features. Simply latching the pack for the job to the already customized frame is a very welcome feature.

Retracting Spine During Vertical Climb for Harness Accessibility

In describing doing this particular experience while on a call with Stanely, one of the Vertepac’s creators, he made the point that by retracting the spine, it was no longer supporting the weight and granting the mobility it is designed to grant with the spine extended. So I suppose it’s only fair to add an asterisk here, as this isn’t necessarily an intended perk. All the same, I found it surprisingly useful when climbing vertical ice, as it kept the hip belt from interfering with my harness, most notably my ice clips.

Double Lining

The double lining of the Vertepac goes an impressively long way in keeping water out. It’s not quite fully water proof, but I can say from experience it gets as close as one could ask for a non-drybag unit. I can speak from firsthand experience swimming across mangrove swamps at high tide (hoping deeply that we’d scared the crocs away while doing so), and rappelling into the Pacific. The pack had very little water in it despite being used as a flotation device and being fully submerged at points.

Sleek Look

Honestly. . . it just looks cool. Who can complain about that?

Vertepac XTR-35 close-up in action Vertepac XTR-35 with helmet

What would I like to see Improved?


Before I get into this section, I feel it’s only fair to note that my suggestions for improvement are based on the finer design points of the pack itself. As far as they carrying system and the exo-spine technology, I can only speak highly of it. Here’s what I’d change, personally:

Buckle Size and Workability

While I do very much like the adjustable lock off feature of the rear buckles, I did find that they were a bit small, and particularly difficult to operate with gloved hands in a snowy mountain environment. A bit larger would go a long way, and given the Vertepac’s carrying style, shouldn’t really cause an issue in the department of added weight.

Pull Strap Size, Workability, and Profile

Same gripe, different feature. The buckle was tiny here, and difficult to grip and close, especially if fairly tightened. The straps were thin, which wasn’t too bad, though I found the cinch loops hung loose, which created a higher profile. Particularly in dense jungle and alpine scrub, they caught often.

Larger and more generous mesh side pockets would be a big improvement. With the pack fully loaded, the tight mesh sides kept squeezing my Hydroflask out. I liked the rear pocket/flap, but I would have loved it to be a bit larger or more versatile.

Bottom or Side Access

As one who is usually wearing a few different hats in the backcountry, not to mention is generally anal about pack-system organization, I would have found great use in the ability to access the main pack chamber from the bottom or side. This would allow access to everything without having to unpack the whole thing to reach the bottom.

As a Climber

In truth, I think that the hiker/glacier mountaineer/snowboarder is the athlete that will get the most out of this pack, but there is undeniable potential for the vertical climber. These notes are just a few on how I think the pack could be more versatile for the glacier group and beyond.

Tool Loops

Ideally some sort of buckle and loop system to accommodate a wider range of ice axes and tools.

Rope Stow System

An added clip or strap system across the top to further secure a climbing rope in place.

Crampon Friendly

The current rear pocket does work ok with crampons, but something reinforced and designed with the pointy beasts in mind would certainly add to the Vertepac’s climbing value.


The hip belt, like all packs, does overlap when wearing a climbing harness. I found that the velcro strap goes a long way in negating this as far as comfort is concerned, but it does interfere with accessibility to gear, which brings me to my last point:

Hip Belt Loops

No climber ever complained about a couple of gear loops on their hipbelt. Well, let’s be fair, I’m sure there are a few out there that have. But I’m not one of them, so this makes the list.

Vertepac xtr-35 review by Joshua Valentine

Who is the Vet For?

Hiking/Rucking/Cross Country

This is the number one demographic the Vertepac is destined to impress. Anyone looking to haul loads over distance, whether it’s a crag approach or an AT Thru-Hike will fall very quickly for the Vertepac’s technology.


Nearly a tie for second, as the freedom and mobility the carrying system allows seems perfectly suited for the downhill world. I have not tried riding with it yet personally, but it is no stretch for me to imagine this being a good fit.

Mountaineering, Glacier Climbing

A very close second to the hiking world, especially for climbs like Mt. Rainier and the other beasts out in the Pacific Northwest. A true difference maker for the long, slow trudge up hill, and able I think, to still accommodate the fast and light ethos of this particular realm of alpinism thanks to its unique design.
Buy or Fly?


Vertepac offers a lifetime warranty on production faults.

If any of those are your sports above, it’s a definite buy.


Where do the competitors land? Well, with most of them, you are getting a considerably larger pack at around the same price point, which at $349USD for the XTR-35+ (Pack and Frame) may be a bit high for some buyers. It begs to be considered, however, that as Vertepac develops new models, a larger pack can be fit directly to the same Vertepac frame, which would balance out cost when one considers buying a different pack altogether each time one is needed to suit a different purpose. And you can always count on the fact that the pack already fits.

Some Competitors:

85L Gregory Baltoro: $349, Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack $345, Osprey Aether AG 85L, $330


The one backpack that fits every single occasion is, in my opinion, still a bit of a myth in the adventure world. But I can say this, after working with Vertepac, they are certainly a company that has made solid strides in putting a product together that has a pretty high ceiling in terms of being able to evolve to suit a variety of needs.

I think the two big points for consumers will be the weight (namely the ultra-lighters and climbers), and the price point. I’ve heard the argument that for every added pound one carries they go a mile less each day, and while I find this to be a good guideline to operate from, I imagine it’s quite varied from situation to situation, and could be debated for the remainder of eternity, which we aren’t here to do. Vertepac isn’t claiming to sell the lightest pack on the market, they’re claiming to sell the most comfortable and ergonomic load carrier that you can get your hands on. And in that realm, they come through.

Ultimately, I leave the call to you. But I hope that this review has helped. Use JVX7A for a 10% discount, which should help a bit as well. Stay wild.