Gear Review: EXoTI 50L External Frame Pack

The Vargo EXoTI is an ultralight, titanium alloy, external frame, cinch top backpack that can carry a 30 pound load like no other UL pack can. Crafted for more than a vintage look, the pack’s frame works together with a lumbar plate and a load-lifting system to transfer weight to hips so effectively … Osprey should be sweatin’.

Plus, ample belt padding, dual water bottle sleeves, zippered hip pockets, hydration bladder compatibility, and a removable floating lid make this pack shockingly feature rich for its weight class. It doesn’t matter if you are truly ultralight, almost-but-not-quite, or simply seasoned enough to be spine-health conscious … If you’ve been looking for a unicorn pack that is UL but still carries like a dream, take a closer look at this one.

Specs

  • Weight: 2 lbs. 11 oz (1.21kg)
  • Price: $299.95
  • Ultralight titanium alloy external frame
  • Full size 50 liter cinch top bag
  • Removable floating lid
  • Ventilated adjustable shoulder harness
  • Ergonomic lumbar support plate
  • Load lifting compression strap system
  • Two zippered hip belt pockets
  • Dual water bottle pockets
  • Hydration bladder compatible

Things I Like About the EXoTI 50L Pack

Unmatched weight distribution with a balanced carry

It bears repeating that the suspension system in the EXoTI is what really makes it stand out. The load lifting and compression straps work with a full size 50L cinch bag, which is centered on the external frame. The result is a main compartment that can hold your gear, and then compress together cohesively as one. Drawn in tight, the weight shifts down the frame into the ergonomic lumbar support plate. The lumbar plate then disperses weight to the hip belt in a way that makes heavy loads feel lighter. When this pack is well-balanced and dialed into your specific torso height, 25 pounds will carry like 15.

Adjustability

The fit is adjustable in all directions. The torso height is adjustable from 16-22 inches, and the hipbelt from 24-60 inches. The load lifter adjusters assist in getting the perfect shoulder strap curl height. The chest strap level has over 5 inches of give. Even the placement of the floating lid can be dialed in, to either shade the neck or sit back far enough for a favorite wide brim hat. Attaining the perfect fit is not difficult, but it is critical to truly benefit from the pack’s load bearing design.

Comfort

When adjusted correctly and well-balanced, there honestly isn’t a more comfortable backpack on the market.

Removable Floating Lid

Well-sized and ample enough to house snacks, delicate electronics and other frequently needed items, the lid expands the bag’s capacity enough to almost make up for the lack of an external stash pocket. It can be completely removed to make room for a bear can. Or it can be left mostly empty and used to secure the bear can to the top of the pack frame.

Color Coding

All parts of this pack that clip together / apart are color coded to indicate their other half. Orange straps buckle to orange straps, as the black straps buckle to black. Even the pocket zipper pulls are highlighted in orange for high visibility. And, to open the cinch top, you pull on both orange loops; to close it, pull the black. It may not sound like much of a selling point, but after significant use, I found this feature greatly appreciated. Especially when waiting too long to dig out a headlamp or sleepily packing up camp pre-dawn.

Side Pocket Capacity

Minimalist hikers and overnighters will appreciate how easily the side pockets accept a cook pot or Talenti cold soak container. However, those planning to max out the main compartment’s capacity, won’t find the side pockets as receptive. Their flexibility depends greatly on the volume of stuff crammed into the main bag.

No Squeak

This being my first external frame pack, I was expecting ever-present squeaking. Thankfully, it does not squeak, even a little.

Things to Note

Hip Pockets

While there are two zippered mesh hip belt pockets, don’t expect them to hold very much. I eat constantly while I hike, and hip pockets are usually my snack holders, but these ones are more suited for small items like chapstick, sunscreen, and device cables. They leave a bit to be desired.

Buckles

The buckles are slimed way down to save weight and it makes them difficult to center when closing. It is very difficult to close them one handed. Trekking pole users might find it frustrating.

Rain Cover

There is a rain cover included with purchase, but it struggles to fit well around the external frame. Additionally, if you have a folding foam mat or anything else attached to the outside of the pack, the rain cover won’t provide coverage. An oversized aftermarket cover or a pack liner will be needed.

High Profile

There is a learning curve ducking under tree limbs because it’s an external frame pack. It also wouldn’t be great in heavy bushwhacking.

Pack Material Easily Saturates

The pack itself provides no water resistance. Setting it down in snow will wet out the bottom in seconds.

No External Mesh Stash Pocket

Even though one is easy to mod and attach, the lack of a catch-all, wet-stuff stash spot is limiting. Yes, rain jackets and wet tents can attach to the pack via the external criss-crossing orange straps, but it messes with the tension and load stabilization when they’re unclasped. An outer mesh pocket would be worth the negligible weight addition. There is plenty of room for one.

The Bottom Line

The Vargo EXoTI 50L does have a few areas for improvement, but nothing so serious or unfixable that I would ever sacrifice the comfort it provides. With a perfected fit, not even 5-pound luxury packs with airy suspension systems can compare to the way this pack distributes the weight of a full kit.

The flexibility and adaptability of the EXoTI make it perfect for hikers working toward UL — who want a pack that can carry 30 pounds without the pack itself weighing 4 pounds. It is also perfect for hikers of all stripes who prioritize their backs, especially since it can carry a bear can, snow safety gear and/ or lots of water with ease.

For this particular UL wannabe, who enjoys pillows and hot coffee, and who carries extra gear for a 4-legged sidekick, it is perfect; smack dab in between too UL to actually carry my kit and the overkill of a heavy big brand pack loaded down by features. The EXoTI is a terrific combo of both worlds and bound to be my pack of choice for many trips to come.

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