Mutant 38 from Osprey, a pack specifically designed for ice climbing, snowshoeing, and ski mountaineering that offers everything you need and nothing you don't.
I recently carried the Mutant 38 with me on my trip to Canada, where I got the chance to put it through its paces while dogsledding and snowshoeing in subzero conditions. Before I set out I knew that my visit to Quebec would be an active one, and I wanted a pack that would offer plenty of capacity to carry the various gear, extra clothing, and supplies that I'd need for a busy day in the backcountry. The Mutant met that description nicely, and ended up exceeding the expectations I placed on it.
As the name implies, this pack has 38 liters of capacity, most of which is found in its spacious main compartment. I poured all kinds of gear – including camera and lenses, extra layers, food, and more – into it, and it still never felt like it was close to running out of space. That brought a nice level of confidence as we'd head out for the day, as I knew that I had all of the things I needed, and a pack that could carry it all quite comfortably.
When designing the Mutant 38, Osprey was looking to go as light as possible without compromising comfort or durability. Out of the box, the pack weighs about 2.5 pounds, but it gives the wearer the option to shed items they might not need in an effort to cut ounces. For instance, the pack's lid can be removed completely, as can attachment and side straps, aluminum stays, the helmet carry, and framesheet.
With all of that out of the way, the Mutant transforms into an ultralight minimalist pack that weighs next to nothing. Surprisingly though, it is sill capable of comfortably carrying lots of gear for those quick dashes to the summit or fast hiking on a trail. This level of versatility also allows you to dial in exactly what features you need, and do away with the ones that you don't.
At first glance, the Mutant looks like it might not be all that comfortable, particularly when you fill it to its 50 pound (22 kg) capacity. The shoulder straps and hipbelt are thin and lightly padded, and look like they wouldn't provide a lot of support. That is misleading however, as once you have the pack on, it feels great, even with a heavy load. The fact that Osprey has managed to pull off this minimalist approach to design, while still delivering a very high level of performance, is impressive indeed.
Other nice features of the Mutant 38 include two handy bungie tie-offs for keeping your ice tools close at hand, reinforced ski carry loops, crampon attachment loops, and compression straps for maintaining a well balanced load. The hipbeilt is also designed to wrap away from the body so as to not interfere with a climbing harness, while an integrated hydration sleeve can accept reservoirs up to 3 liters in size, and doubles as an adequate laptop sleeve when used for travel.
It is important to point out that the Mutant isn't loaded with a lot of pockets or organizational stashes. The removable top-lid does have two other zippered pockets built into it, but other than that the design of the pack would best be described as spartan. This isn't a knock on the backpack at all, but something to be aware of. If you're looking for a bag that has lots of places to store small items and keep your gear organized, this probably isn't going to work for you. On the other hand, if you know this going in, and organize your gear accordingly, the Mutant will work very well for you.
While putting this pack to use in the Canadian backcountry, I was extremely pleased with how it performed. It was comfortable enough to wear all day long, with the ventilated backpanel helping to keep the air flowing, which was useful even in the cold conditions. The Mutant allowed me to carry everything I needed for a full day of adventure, without even really noticing that it was on my back, and since it is designed for use in the winter, everything inside was well protected from moisture and cold.
I'd be remiss in my review if I didn't mention that this pack is also backed by Osprey's awesome All Mighty Guarantee. That means that the company will fix or replace the pack if it becomes damaged for as long as you own it. It's tough to beat that kind of service, and it is just one of the reasons I happen to love their packs.
The Mutant 38 is just $160, which strikes me as a great price for a technical pack of this quality. It is a very comfortable and versatile bag that has a lot of nice touches that winter warriors will definitely love. That said, it is so well designed, you'll be able to use this pack all year long, no matter what the season.