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First Look: Tough, Easy-Access, Affordable Backpack

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[leadin]For 2016, Mountainsmith is introducing a line of backpacks made from tough Cordura fabric. We tested the Mayhem 35 and 45 on a recent hike.[/leadin]

Mountainsmith Backpack

Over the last decade or so, backpacks have shed significant weight compared with their brethren of the ’90s and early 2000’s. Mountainsmith swam upstream with some of its 2016 line, choosing durability over extreme lightweight.

Mountainsmith Mayhem 45

For 2016, Mountainsmith is introducing a line of packs made from burly Cordura HP fabrics (a tough polyester weave).

These packs are aimed more at all-around users — those who might go hiking one weekend, then take the pack on a plane to Europe the next — than the ultra-light hiking crowd.

I tested the Mayhem 35 and 45 packs on a recent overnight trip with the company. It was a quick test — a 4-mile uphill hike in Golden, Colo. — but gave me a good initial feel for how these 2016 backpacks will perform in the long run.

In a broad stroke, I’d say they are good mid-level packs, nicely made, that would be perfect for rolling around Central America in a bumpy bus.

Mountainsmith Mayhem (2)

The Gear: Mountainsmith Mayhem Backpack 35 & 45

Available: January, 2016 ($140 and $160)

Who’s It For: If you want a pack to bring on planes and trains, but that will do double duty as a hiking backpack, the Mayhem line will fit the bill. The price is right, too, for a quality pack.

The price is on the low end of good backpacks, so budget travelers will appreciate the extra dollars left in their pockets.

Mountainsmith Mayhem (1)

First Impressions: Loading the Mayhem is easy thanks to a large zipper panel that wraps around the top and side of the pack.

The shoulder straps, hip belt and back panels are comfortable and reasonably breathable. I tested it on a hot, humid day, and I didn’t notice too much sweat build-up under the pack.

Weight is well distributed, and for my 20-pound load it was quite comfortable.

For Travel: The pack has a small, hidden stash pocket for important documents, passports, and money.

The large zipper opening will make finding a pair of fresh socks easier in the morning at a dimly lit hostel.

stash pocket

For Backpacking: At 2,135 cubic inches, the Mayhem 35 is on the small side for backpacking, but it will do in a pinch. It is pretty average weight for its size, tipping the scales at 2 pounds, 15 ounces empty.

But if overnight backpacking is a secondary duty this pack should work fine. You may have to load a sleeping pad on the outside and limit your gear.

If backpacking is your primary use, look at other models from Mountainsmith (it is also launching a lightweight Scream series in 2016) or other brands.

2016 Mountainsmith Packs
Some of Mountainsmith’s 2016 lineup.

Fit: The Mayhem 35 and 45 have a slightly different fit. At 5’8″, the 35 fit me very well, but the 45 was too big. It seems people over 5’8 will want to choose the 45, and 5’8 and under will do better with the 35. If possible, head to a shop to try sizing if you are, like me, on the cusp between the two.

The packs shoulder straps and hip belt are adjustable, but not enough so to fit everyone. The shoulder straps are fixed where they meet the top of the pack, so adjustment is limited. Smaller folks should look at the 35, while talker will want the 45.

Mountainsmith Mayhem (1)

The Mayhem 45 on another, taller (six-footish) tester

Bottle Carry & Pockets: The Mayham has a nice bottle pocket mounted behind the hip. It is easy to access while hiking without removing any straps, and it fits large bottles like a Hydroflask well.

The pack has several other pockets and the typical hydration access points.

Mayhem Backpack (1)

Parting Thoughts: The Mountainsmith Mayhem is a nice option for those who will use a backpack for a variety of scenarios, such as budget travel mixed with a little backpacking. It offers easy access to interior space in a durable package. Finally, it comes at a low enough price that even budget travelers can buy it.


  • Torso Size: 15” – 20”
  • Waistbelt: 28” – 48”
  • Dimensions: 24.75” x 11” x 8.5”
  • Weight: 2 lbs 15 oz / 1.34 kg
  • Volume: 2135 in
  • Capacity: Up to 45 lbs
  • 305d Multi-Rip Cordura HP
  • 610d Cordura HP
  • Spring steel wireframe suspension

Mountainsmith Mayhem 45

  • Torso Size: 16” – 21”
  • Waistbelt: 28” – 48”
  • Dimensions: 27” x 12” x 9”
  • Weight: 3 lbs 8 oz / 1.58 kg
  • Volume: 2745 in
  • Capacity: Up to 45 lbs
  • 305d Multi-Rip Cordura HP
  • 610d Cordura HP
  • Spring steel wireframe suspension

More Info: Mountainsmith

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