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Reviews > Packs > Frameless Backpacks and Day Packs > REI Venturi > Test Report by Ernie Elkins

REI Venturi 40 Pack, Test Series by Ernie Elkins

INITIAL REPORT: June 27, 2008
FIELD REPORT: September 2, 2008
LONG-TERM REPORT: October 28, 2008

About the Tester
Name: Ernie Elkins
Age: 35
Gender: Male
Height: 5'9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 130 lb (59 kg)
E-Mail Address: ernie.elkins@yahoo.com
Location: Denver, North Carolina, USA
I've been an avid hiker and backpacker since the late 80s. In a typical month, I spend two to three days in the field, and I usually travel 10-20 miles (16-32 km) per day. I prefer to travel light: my base pack weight (excluding consumables) averages about 8 lb (3.6 kg) in summer and 12 lb (5.4 kg) in winter.

Product Shot

Initial Report
June 27, 2008


Product Specifications

Manufacturer: REI
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.rei.com
MSRP: $129 US
Color: Redstone/Granite
Size Tested: Medium
Fits Torso: 17 - 19 in (43.2 - 48.3 cm)
Volume: 2,441 cu in (40 l)
Listed Weight: 2 lbs 12 oz (1.25 kg)
Actual Weight: 2 lbs 11.6 oz (1.24 kg)
Product Photo (Right) Courtesy of rei.com
Product Description

REIís Venturi 40 is a full-featured, lightweight pack that emphasizes breathability, organization, and an active fit. At its core is a flexible, tubular aluminum frame thatís Ventilated Hipbelt and Free Flow Back Panelshaped much like the outline of an hourglass. In profile, though, the frame is concave, so that its center is inset nearly three inches from the packís tensioned mesh backpanel. This creates a cavity between the wearerís back and the pack body, the purpose of which is to mitigate heat build-up by encouraging air circulation.

To further enhance breathability, the Venturiís pre-curved shoulder straps and hipbelt incorporate perforated foam padding and mesh inner faces. The hipbelt has a nylon exterior, while the shoulder strapsí outer faces have nylon borders and wide strips of mesh down the middle. Stabilizer straps in the hipbeltís lumbar region and load-lifters at the top of the shoulder straps allow the user to customize the packís fit. The hipbelt closes with 1.5Ē (3.8 cm) plastic buckle and is attached to the main belt with v-shaped straps for a more ergonomic fit. The shoulder Pre-Curved, Ventilated Shoulder Strapsstraps include an adjustable sternum strap (the buckle has an integrated emergency whistle) and elastic loops for hydration tubes.

A floating lid protects the spacious, top loading main compartment, which offers a 5Ē (12.7 cm) extension collar and closes via a cord and cordlock. It includes a pocket and clips for water reservoirs and a hydration tube exit port. Alternatively, an 11Ē (28 cm) horizontal zipper above the pocket allows the user to hang a bladder in the rear cavity between the pack body and mesh backpanel (two additional clips are tucked away behind the zipper).

In addition to the main compartment, the Venturi boasts a total of eight internal and external pockets (because the pockets have curved corners, tapered edges, etc., all measurements are approximate):

  • Twin mesh hipbelt pockets Ė Each has a curved, six-inch zipper, nylon top, and mesh outer face. They measure 6Ē (15.2 cm) wide, 3.5Ē (8.9 cm) tall, and taper from 2Ē (5.1 cm) deep at the center of the top to about 0.75Ē (1.9 cm) deep at the center of the base.
  • Twin stretchable water bottle pockets Ė Each pocket has a 9Ē (22.9 cm) elastic band at the top, is 7Ē (17.8 cm) tall (it tapers slightly from front to rear in order to compensate for the upward curve of the base) and 6Ē (15.2 cm) wide at the base.
  • Front panel pocket Ė This pocket is accessible via an 11.5Ē (29.2 cm) vertical, water-resistant zipper. It measures 7Ē (17.8 cm) wide at the base, 13Ē (33 cm) wide at the top, 2.5Ē (6.4 cm) deep, and 17Ē (43.2 cm) tall.
  • Front stash pocket Ė This pocket is accessible via a 10Ē (25.4 cm) horizontal zipper thatís protected by the floating lid. Itís 14Ē (35.6 cm) wide and 8Ē (20.3 cm) tall (the lower half is tucked in behind the front panel pocket).
  • Top pocket on floating lid Ė This pocket is accessible via a 15Ē (38.1 cm) horizontal, water-resistant zipper. It measures 12Ē (30.5 cm) wide, 9Ē (22.9 cm) deep, and 3.5Ē (8.9 cm) tall.
  • Pocket on underside of floating lid Ė This pocket has an 11Ē (28 cm) zipper, an interior clip thatís ideal for key rings, and is roughly the same width and depth as the top pocket. The sides are stitched tight, so itís difficult to accurately measure the depth. The bottom panel has some slack in it, though, so that it has quite a bit of usable space.

External attachment points include two tool loops and coordinating bungee straps on the front of the pack (for securing trekking poles, ice axes, etc.), as well as four webbing loops on top of the floating lid.

Initial Impressions

The Venturi Pack arrived just in time for a three-day trip that Iíd planned for late June. My destination was the Black Mountains in North Carolinaís Pisgah National Venturi Pack Loaded for 3-Day TripForest, the highest terrain east of the Mississippi. This provided me with an excellent opportunity to give the Venturi a quick test run.

Before loading the pack, I took the time to inspect it carefully. All of the major seams are joined with a single row of stitching, wrapped in binding tape, and then stitched again. Anchor points for the various straps are reinforced with bar tack stitching, and the workmanship throughout is neat and precise (no loose threads, uneven seams, etc.). Finally, despite the packís relatively low weight, itís constructed from what appear to be robust materials (how these wear, of course, will be a key point of interest for me in the coming months).

Although REI categorizes the Venturi as a daypack, its 40 l (2,441 cu in) capacity makes it much more versatile. On this occasion, it easily accommodated all of the gear that I typically carry for a two to three-day summer backpacking trip. I began by loosely stuffing my sleeping bag (synthetic, rated to 30 F/-1 C) and waterproof bivy in the bottom of the main compartment. On top of that, I packed a torso-length, self-inflating mat, an inflatable pillow, bug net, small tarp, groundsheet, and spare socks. Finally, I topped it off with my food bag,Top Down View of the Main Compartment which included food for three days, a bowl, a small mug, a minimalist solid fuel stove and fuel tabs. This combination filled the main compartment to the top of the extension collar, but I still had no trouble closing it. I packed my gear reasonably tightly, but I could have squeezed in a few more small items if necessary.

The front panel pocket was the perfect size for my rain jacket, pants, trowel, and stake bag, and the pocket on top of the floating lid swallowed everything else (first aid/emergency kit, paperback book, trail journal, digital camera, and headlamp) with room to spare. With the exception of my key ring, the pocket underneath the lid was empty, as was the front stash pocket. I slipped my filter bottle into one water bottle pocket, and my 2 L (2 qt) Platypus bottle fit easily in the other. I ran a hydration tube from the latter behind the rear corner strap of the floating lid, down the shoulder strap, and through the elastic loop mentioned above.

Finally, I put an energy bar and my compass in one of the hipbelt pockets. Although they appear to be rather small, theyíll hold more than I would have thought. In fact, one pocket is definitely large enough to hold at least two energy bars or a modestly sized GPS unit or digital camera.

Before leaving for my trip, I spent a little time trying out the pack around the house, and I grew concerned about the hipbelt Ė it presses very firmly against my lower back, more so than any pack that Iíve previously carried. A quick investigation revealed what Spacer Block Between Hipbelt and Frameappears to be the culprit Ė a high-density foam spacer between the back of the hipbelt and the pack frame. The spacer is clearly integral to the packís structure Ė without it (or if it were too soft), the top of the hipbelt would roll back into the cavity. Other than this one area of concern, I felt very good about the fit. The shoulder straps were comfortable, the load lifters and lumbar straps did a nice job of pulling the pack in snugly against my body, and the pack felt stable and well balanced.

My trip began with a climb up the Black Ridge on Mt. Mitchellís eastern slope, and my concern about the hipbelt was at the forefront of my mind. Soon, though, I realized that it wasnít shaping up to be a big deal after all. The hipbelt definitely felt different from what I was used to, but it wasnít proving to be uncomfortable (as Iíd fully expected). Over the course of my trip, my pack weight varied from approximately 14 to 22 lb (6.4 to 10 kg) as my food and water weight fluctuated. While the hipbelt wasnít necessarily uncomfortable at the upper end of that spectrum, I did find that the pressure against my lower back was much less noticeable with a lighter load.

Otherwise, the packís fit and balance proved to be outstanding. I really like the pre-curved shoulder straps Ė they fit snugly and follow the contours of my upper body without rubbing or chafing. I did notice a little sway in the top of the pack, but it balanced well and remained stable even when I was moving around and under obstacles. A key reason, I suspect, is the fact that the frame can flex to match my upper body movements (Iíll pay closer attention to this in the coming months).

The packís hallmark feature, its Free Flow tensioned mesh backpanel, was a big perk on this outing. Although morning temps started out in the upper 50ís F (14 to 15 C), the afternoon highs were in the upper 70ís (25 to 26 C) and lower 80ís F (27 to 28 C) and the strenuous trails kept me perspiring from head to toe. The cavity between the mesh backpanel and the pack frame is big enough that I can slip my hand in, so I frequently checked my shirt to see if it was wet to the touch Ė it never was. Likewise, the hipbelt and shoulder straps seemed to offer good ventilation, as well.

I definitely appreciated the packís easy organization over the course of my trip Ė the copious pockets allowed me to keep frequently used items easily accessible. I also feel good about its durability. Several of the trails that I followed were overgrown (and one was crisscrossed by numerous fallen trees), and the pack weathered quite a few scuffs and scrapes without any signs of damage.

Summary

I thoroughly enjoyed carrying REIís Venturi Pack on my latest backpacking trip. It was easily up to the task of hauling three days worth of food and gear, and, despite my initial concern about the hipbelt, it proved to be surprisingly comfortable. Moreover, its Free Flow backpanel offered superb ventilation, its generous array of pockets made organization a snap, and it turned out be quite stable and well balanced despite its somewhat unorthodox frame design. Nonetheless, my initial impressions are just that Ė initial. The test series has just begun, and Iím not in a position to offer any firm conclusions at this point. Therefore, please check back for my Field Report in late August.


Field Report
September 2, 2008

Test Locations & Conditions

During the field report period, I carried the Venturi on a two-day, 19-mile (30.6 km) backpacking trip to North Carolinaís Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. The trip took place in mid-July, and the weather was typical for this time of year in the southeastern US Ė warm (mid to upper 80ís F/29-30 C) and muggy. The gorge offers some of the most rugged terrain in the region, and the trails are rough, rocky, criss-crossed by roots, and often very steep. Strong thunderstorms had swept through on the day before my trip began, so the trails were also quite slippery.

Unfortunately, I was forced to postpone a three-day outing that Iíd planned for late August, so Iíll report on that trip (and others) in my long-term report in early November. When I realized that I wasnít going to be able to fit it in, I tried to scale back to a day trip. That didnít work out either, but, when preparing for the trip, I did learn a few things about how the pack handles a smaller load (which Iíll discuss below).

Observations

My trip to Linville Gorge confirmed many of the positive impressions that I reported after my first outing in June:

  • The Venturi lends itself to easy organization thanks to its numerous and well-placed pockets. Additionally, I experimented with accessing both the water bottle pockets and top lid pocket while wearing the pack with reasonably good success. My first tries were awkward, but, with a little practice, I can now remove and replace my water bottle in the side pockets with relative ease. Itís a little harder to access the top lid pocket, but itís certainly possible.
  • The backpanel offers impressive ventilation, a feature that I thoroughly appreciated on this trip. My back was noticeably cooler than would be the norm with a traditional backpanel, especially given the hot and humid weather conditions. One particularly memorable occasion was during a climb up an exposed trail in the hot morning sun. There was a cool breeze lifting out of the gorge, and, when I turned at just the right angle, I could feel it slip through the cavity between my back and the pack body.
  • The shoulder straps fit comfortably and snugly. Iíve noticed no pinching, chafing, soreness, etc. on any of the five days on which Iíve worn the pack, and theyíre secure without being in any way constrictive.

My trip also brought to light several concerns, some (but not all) of which I raised after my first outing:

  • On the gorgeís uneven trails, the sway that I previously noted at the top of the pack became more of a concern. Slipping and stumbling were constant hazards on the rough terrain, and once or twice the pack nearly compromised my balance as it moved in response to a misstep on my part. It never actually caused me to fall, but I did come very close on one occasion.
  • While Iíve grown accustomed to the pressure that the lumbar spacer applies to my lower back, Iím still a little unsure about the overall stiffness of the hipbelt. Especially toward the end of my trip, my hips began to grow sore -- unclipping the belt at the end of day two proved to be quite a relief even though my load was relatively light at that point (less than 15 lbs/6.8 kg).
  • Near the midpoint of day two, I became aware of a squeaking noise coming from somewhere in the upper right corner of the pack. While not especially loud, it was a bit of annoyance. Iím not sure at this point what caused it, but Iíll be curious to see if it continues in the future.
  • Finally, Linville Gorge is one of the few places where I carry a handheld GPS device, and I quickly discovered that, while my modestly sized Magellan Explorist 100 will fit in the hipbelt pocket, I canít zip the pocket closed without inadvertently pressing the buttons on the face of the unit. This is caused in part by the curve of the hipbelt, which interferes with my ability to utilize the full capacity of the pocket.

Despite these concerns, Iím still very happy with the Venturiís overall performance on this trip. Its size and features make it a solid choice for two or three-day warm weather excursions. Furthermore, although Iíve yet to carry it on a one-day trip, I was very impressed with how well the pack appears to handle a light load. In preparing for my aborted day hike, I packed a poncho/tarp, an emergency/first aid kit, four energy bars, a digital camera, and a two-liter Platypus bottle with drinking tube. The bottle fit easily in the hydration sleeve, and I had no trouble running the tube through the hydration port. I then stuffed the other items in the bottom of the pack and cinched down the compression straps and top lid. Overall, the pack compressed surprisingly well, which suggests that it would be a versatile choice for someone looking for a single pack to handle everything from single day to weekend outings. I will, of course, test the Venturi on an actual day hike or two during the next phase of the test process and report my findings in approximately two months.

Summary

Iíve now carried the Venturi for a total of five days in the field, and Iím impressed by its performance thus far. I do have some lingering concerns about the stiffness of the hipbelt and the upper pack sway that I noted above, but its strengths are still very compelling: itís a versatile, well organized pack that offers great ventilation and a comfortable fit overall. Iíll continue to test it over the next two months, so please check back in early November when Iíll post my final conclusions.


Long-Term Report
October 28, 2008

Test Locations & Conditions

Day Hiking with the Venturi 40During this last phase of the test series, I carried the Venturi pack on two outings Ė a day hike in early October and a three-day backpacking trip in mid-October. My day hiking destination was Crowders Mountain State Park in the North Carolinaís Piedmont region. With a few exceptions, the trails there are smooth and well graded, and elevations range from about 850 to 1600 ft (259 to 488 m) above sea level. The day was unusually warm for fall in NC, and the mercury topped out near 80 degrees F (27 C). My total pack weight for this trip was about 8 lbs (3.6 kg), including food, water, and emergency gear.

My backpacking destination was North Carolinaís Black Mountains, where I covered about 21 miles over the course of three days in the field. The trails in the Blacks are very rugged (roots, rocks, etc.) and very steep Ė on average, Iím lucky to cover about 1.5 miles per hour (half my usual pace on more even terrain). My trip began and ended at about 2,800 ft (853 m) above sea level and peaked at nearly 6,700 ft (2,037 m) near the summit of Mount Mitchell. The weather was dry and mild Ė morning temperatures were in the lower 40ís F (4.5-6.5 C), and the high all three days was in the lower 60ís F (16 to 18 C). Because of the cooler temps and concerns about water availability, my pack weighed nearly 27 lbs (12.2 kg) on my first day out. By the end of the trip, it was down to approximately 17 lbs (7.7 kg).

Observations

Iíve most enjoyed carrying the Venturi when my total weight fell in the 15-20 lb (6.8-9 kg) range. At these weights, itís comfortable and sufficiently stable for on-trail hiking. Pushing the Venturi's Limits on a 3-Day Fall Outing in NC's Black MountainsWhen I factor in its other advantages Ė ventilated backpanel, superb organization, etc. Ė it becomes a compelling choice for lightweight, three-season weekend trips here in the southeastern US.

For lighter loads, like the one I carried on my recent day hike, itís really too much pack. My usual choice for light loads is a simple, 9 oz (0.25 kg) daypack with a webbing hipbelt. By contrast, on my recent day trip to Crowders Mountain, the bulky suspension on the Venturi felt a bit confining and very unnecessary. Nonetheless, I had no complaints about how the Venturi handled the light load -- it compressed nicely and was comfortable and stable throughout the trip.

The Venturi is significantly less stable at the other extreme. With my maximum load of 27 lbs (12.2 kg) on the first day of my Black Mountains trip, I was negotiating a steep and difficult ascent. As I climbed, the pack bounced around constantly, and it often collapsed the upper section of the ventilation cavity and bounced against my back near my shoulder blades. The amount of side sway was also noteworthy. I tried rearranging the packís contents, but my effort was to no avail. None of the stability issues were over the top, but they were significant enough to be an annoyance.

The pack was also less comfortable with a heavy load, but it was more of a general rather than a specific sense of discomfort. While carrying it, Iíd occasionally become aware that the shoulder straps were tugging on my upper body a bit more than I liked or that my lower back felt a bit sore from the pressure of the hipbelt. What really clued me in was the relief that I felt when I took the pack off at rest breaks, something that I hadnít felt previously.

Here are a few follow-ups on earlier observations:

  • From the beginning, Iíve had nagging concerns about the hipbelt. After my final trip, I think Iíve gotten a better grasp of why I donít especially like it: in addition to the pressure that it applies to my lower back (which makes my lower back feel faintly numb, as if the hipbelt impeding circulation), itís very stiff. The result is that the hipbelt sits on my hips but doesnít move with them: if I hop, the hipbelt slides up off of my hips and the whole pack bounces; if I bend my upper body to one side, the hipbelt slips up and off the opposite hip.
  • The faint squeaking that I noticed during the field test phase shifted sides on this last outing Ė it was over my left shoulder. I only noticed it occasionally, though, and it was a minor annoyance at most. Unfortunately, Iím still no closer to identifying the exact cause.
  • Iíve encountered no problems with the packís durability Ė all of the seams are intact, there are no signs of fabric abrasion, etc.
  • Although I have no new observations to add, the packís two standout features Ė ventilation and organization Ė continue to impress me.

Summary

With nine days of hiking and backpacking behind me, I have mixed feelings about the Venturi. The tensioned mesh back panel offers superb ventilation, its copious and well-placed pockets make packing a snap, and itís quite comfortable as long as I keep the load under about 20 lbs (9 kg). On the other hand, I donít particularly like the hipbelt design, and the packís emphasis on ventilation comes at the expense of some stability. Nonetheless, if youíre looking for an affordable pack for on-trail hiking that offers excellent ventilation, is well organized, and is versatile enough to handle one to three day trips, then the Venturi deserves serious consideration.

This concludes my REI Venturi 40 test series. Iíd like to thank both REI and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this innovative new pack.



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