Earlier this week (first week of February 2017) I got in the mail the brand new, 2017, backpack from Vargo Outdoors, the “ExoTi 50”
I have done an initial video walk around, much as I did with the SMD Fusion 65, and other backpacks when the first show up. This article is intended to show the features of this new Vargo ExoTi50 and some of the differences between it and the Vargo Ti-Arc backpack.
Eventually, after I get some miles onto the backpack I will update this post with further thoughts, but as I have zero miles (well, close to) on the backpack at this point, this really is just an initial look at the backpack, as nobody else has any publications on the backpack at this time, beyond the official Vargo Outdoors blog on this new backpack.
I intend to use the ExoTi 50 as my primary, maybe only, backpack this year, for all non sub 2268 hiking trips, so I should be able to get a decent amount of miles on it.
My initial thoughts, are very good. Having designed a backpack or two myself, and having used a couple dozen backpacks over the last 10 years, I have kind of reached a point where I know what I want in a backpack, when a backpack is going to work for me or not work for me, and if a backpack is just utter junk, or if it has some actual quality to it. All that experience put together has me initially impressed with the ExoTi 50. Of course, the only way to really know is to get miles on the backpack, and given it was just released ten days ago (as of time of publication of this article) well, yeah. Obvious is what obvious is.
Now a bit of history: I am one of the very few people in the world to put on any serious miles with the first Vargo backpack, the Ti-Arc, which I have reviewed, and give it very high praise, along with a few comments of things I would like to see changed.
Vargo Outdoors really listened to myself and the others that shared thoughts on the original Ti-Arc. Pretty much all of us wanted the same few basic changes, and a few of those giving feedback had more off the wall, or specific, or even pet peeve, requests, some of which Vargo Outdoors has changed with the release of the ExoTi 50.
You may also want to read a dedicated interview I had with Vargo, specifically on the ExoTi 50, shortly after it was announced that Vargo would be releasing this new backpack. As well as an interview I did with Vargo, a month ago, that is about their entire company, and not just backpack specific.
Let us take a look at some of those changes, but first let me just state that Vargo is not replacing the Ti-Arc with the ExoTi 50, rather this is a second backpack in their backpack lineup, that is largely based on the Ti-Arc external titanium frame.
Differences Between ExoTi 50 and Ti-Arc:
Below I will highlight some of the major changes in this second backpack from Vargo Outdoors.
Full Size Bag:
Probably the biggest difference between these two backpacks is, of course, the bag itself. I was personally a huge fan of the 85/15’ish size bag, with the gap on the bottom for a dedicated stuff sack, shelter, sleeping pad, whatever, but I also understand how that style of a design is pretty much an unthinkable in this day and age. Vargo could have done themselves a favor by having built-in straps on the Ti-Arc, which I think would have gone a long way to helping folks to not fight with this old school approach. I know there were a few times when I had a problem trying to find straps to attach something under there. In the end, Vargo probably did the smart thing and went with a full size bag with the ExoTi50 – it is what most hikers are accustomed to these days.
Antennas Are Gone:
The second big difference is that Vargo did away with are the ‘antennas‘ – as they came to be called – on the ExoTi50 external titanium frame. This one issue alone scared off many hikers that I know. I think Vargo heard it loud and clear that the antennas just had to go. The top ones were able to go bye-bye with the change to a full size bag and different reattachment points. The bottom ones were able to be removed because there was no longer a need for them – to have gear attached to the bottom of the frame rest on them. Beyond every other change, the removal of the antennas are, to me, the most important change between the Ti-Arc and the ExoTi 50. I can now feel safe having the backpack safe around my high dollar hiking gear that I was always worried would get a hole from the antennas.
My readers know that I have a special place in my heart for front load panel backpacks. It was a sad moment when I heard that Vargo had made the decision to move away from a front panel loader to a top loader with the new ExoTi50. In the end, it was probably a very good decision, as I am in the very small minority of people that like and enjoy front panel loaders. Vargo did make a surprising decision to go with a pull cordage top closure and not with a roll down closure. That truly did surprise me. The ExoTi50 has a pull cordage closure unlike any I have seen before, maybe it is popular in the more traditional big box name backpack market. It is going to take me a bit of use to get use to how this system works. In my video below I start to talk about the top loader at the 17:48 mark. It looks like it is harder to deal with than what it really is. Trying to open it one handed, holding my camera with the other hand, was just a bit of a struggle. While not the easiest top loader of all times, please do not think it is some overtly complicated top loader, after watching my video, it is not.
Lid / Brain:
One could not talk about the switch to a top loader without talking about the newly introduced lid, or ‘brain‘ as some folks like to call them, that the ExoTi50 has. Personally, I have zero experience with backpacks that have a dedicated lid/brain. As in, I have never owned a backpack that has one. So in the scope of this feature, I am a total newb. Back in 2013/2014 when I used the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, it had an over-the-top lid and it annoyed me enough to never buy a backpack with a lid/brain on it. After watching the official launch video of the ExoTi 50, it looked like it was possible to remove the lid, so that left me with hope, and thankfully it is possible. On the unfortunate side of that, is, as mentioned in the above section, the ExoTi50 is a draw cord closure and not a roll top closure. Vargo going with a roll top closure would have allowed significant increase in water resistance of the backpack during rain storms. Even with the use of an internal dry bag (trash compactor bag, or whatever) the draw string closure gap when fully tightened is just not going to be enough to keep rain from pouring right into the top of the bag. This is one of the very few design negatives that I would score against the ExoTi50. A deal breaker, of course not. Anything in my backpacks that need to stay dry are already inside of another bag. I took the lid off the backpack and put it onto my scale and it is 82.7 grams (2.917 ounces.)
It seems like Vargo stepped it up a notch in regards to the lumbar pad. The Ti-Arc already had a good lumbar pad, but the ExoTi 50 seems to have both a more predominant lumbar pad and a significantly more padded lumbar pad. If you love and or need a good lumbar pad you are going to love the ExoTi 50. If you do not need, or do not want, a lumbar pad, well, probably bad news for ya.
Answers to questions I have received:
I have received a number of questions about the backpack since I got it last week, most of which I have been able to answer, but some I have had to contact Vargo Outdoors about, below are most of the Q&A’s I have gotten so far, and I will try to keep this section updated.
>> If I have the backpack set at the smallest torso height (16) will the top of the backpack hit me in the head?
In my testing, having moved the torso down to the lowest setting and putting on the backpack (without using the hip belt, obviously) I did not have any head banging issues.
>> Is Vargo going to release a harness system that has S-style shoulder straps?
I asked Vargo about this and their response was that they have not planned to make any harness system other than the standard J-style shoulder straps. However, if they receive feedback from (potential)customers about having S-style shoulder straps, it is something they can look into having manufactured for the ExoTi50. You can rest assured that my name is at the very top of the list. It was my first and pretty much only request to them.
>> What is the weight of the lid and can it be removed?
I addressed this question in my section above on the lid, but to rehash that, yes, it can be removed and it is 82.7 grams in weight.
>> What is that big orange strap for on the top/back of the backpack?
That is a really good question. I will admit I did a “meh?” when I first saw it. It is either the biggest haul loop of any haul loop ever, or a helper strap to help you open/close the draw string top closure, or maybe both. Regardless, is it overkill, yep. Check out my video at the 18:00 minute mark. I make a good point about why a haul loop on an external frame backpack is, in my opinion, uhh, can I say stupid.
>> Is Vargo going to release any additional bags that will attach to the frame, in different styles and pocket configurations? Maybe a version or ladies.
To directly quote Vargo on this matter, they have ‘a few other models we’re working to create‘. I have zero further details on what they are/might be at this time. If I every find out, you can be sure I will let everybody know.
Initial Walk Around Video:
Here is a video, about 20 minutes long, and about 10 minutes longer than I planned it to be, of my initial thoughts on the backpack, having just gotten it and taken it outside for the first time to shoot the video.
Thanks for reading!
As of the time of this being published I am a sponsored hiker of Vargo Outdoors.