I nominated the Ortlieb Altrack ST 34 as the best pack on test for keeping gear dry, which it does superbly. It is reasonably comfortable too, once broken in, and boasts some excellent and innovative features.
PVC-free and sustainably-made
Hermetic seal at the drinking tube exit
Lots of straps
Shoulder and back panel fabric was rough on bare skin
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Made for active travel, the Ortlieb Altrack ST 34 backpack is more technical than your standard daypack or carry-on. It is a backpack, but it is also a dry bag, with a fully waterproof zipper that opens the bag from tip to tail like a duffel. This zipper is located between pads on the back of the pack, instead of the standard zipper position facing out, which makes the pack much more secure when you’re using it urban spaces where thieves can be active.
The Altrack’s women-specific shoulder straps are attached to the pack’s harness, which adjusts from XS to XL with sliding buckles. The adjustable, women-specific waistbelt has a broad, supportive waistbelt, separated into two wings, each with a stretchy mesh pocket big enough for snacks, a face covering, or sunscreen.
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Harness and hipbelt are mounted to a minimalist plastic and metal frame that stabilizes the load even when the bag is stuffed to capacity. Dual mesh water bottle pockets on the sides and front lash points for extra gear aid organization. When the pack isn’t at max capacity, horizontal and vertical compression straps cinched down the load.
The PVC-free and sustainably-made Ortlieb Altrack ST 34 is also available in a 25L version.
• RRP: $265 (US) / £175 (UK)
• Weight: 51.1 oz /1450g
• Volume: 34L / 2075 cu in (also available in 25L / 1526 cu in
• Sizes: Adjustable harness
• Colours: Black / Pistacchio
On the trail
I was impressed with the features on the Ortlieb Altrack ST 34 pack. Inside the spacious main compartment there are two sets of hanging pockets that laid flat when I chose not to use them. A clip held keys or jewelry, and an internal load strap let me compress everything that I jammed into the main compartment, so that I could easily zip the bag closed. Once my gear was sealed inside, external compression straps drew in the top and bottom of the bag like a burrito and compressed the sides to keep the load close to my back for comfortable carrying.
I wondered if the back zipper would press against my back when I was hiking, but it didn’t. The back panel was comfortable for trekking to a guest house, loading into a longboat, or day hiking down a river, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for a multi-day backpacking trip. The back panel and shoulder fabric were well-vented but rough on the skin until they broke in.
Vermont-based writer, photographer and adventurer, Berne reports on hiking, biking, skiing, overlanding, travel, climbing and kayaking for category-leading publications in the U.S., Europe and beyond. In the field, she’s been asked to deliver a herd of llamas to a Bolivian mountaintop corral, had first fat-biking descents in Alaska, helped establish East Greenland’s first sport climbing and biked the length of Jordan. She’s worked to help brands clean up their materials and manufacturing, and has had guns pulled on her in at least three continents.