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Vargo ExoTi 50 Titanium External Frame Backpack Review

The Vargo ExoTi 50 is an external frame backpack made with an ultralight titanium-alloy frame. Weighing 42 oz (2 lbs 11 oz), it combines the ventilation and load carrying benefits of an external frame with the light weight of a modern, ultralight-style pack bag. While the pack’s titanium external frame is unique, it also has a highly functional compression system with a lower center of gravity than old-school external frame backpacks. If you’ve been deterred from trying an external frame backpack because they’re too heavy or hard to pack, the Vargo ExoTi 50 is the cure you’ve been waiting for. It combines the best elements of an external frame with the packability of an internal frame backpack.

Specs at a Glance

  • Type: External frame
  • Gender Unisex
  • Torso length: 16-22 inches (40-55 cm)
  • Hipbelt size: 24-60″ (61-152 cm)
  • Pack volume: 3,051 cubic inches (50 L)
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 11 oz (1.21 kg)
  • Bear canister compatibility: Vertical in pack bag
  • Maximum recommend load: 40 pounds+

Backpack Storage and Organization

The ExoTi 50 has a pack bag that would be feel at home on an internal frame backpack. It has a floating top lid with four webbing straps and can be raised or lowered to compress gear against the top of the pack bag. The lid has one large top pocket and is ideal for storing items that you need close to hand, like a map, GPS, gloves, or a hat.

The ExoTi 50 pack bag has two side water bottle pockets and a top lid
The ExoTi 50 pack bag has two side water bottle pockets and a top lid

The pack bag has a large main compartment with a deep internal hydration pocket. It has a central webbing loop so you can suspend a hydration bladder. However, there is just one hydration port, located above the left hand shoulder.

There are also two mesh side water bottle pockets, both sized to fit a single liter-sized water bottle. I can reach back and pull them out or replace them while wearing the backpack, which is pretty cool to be able to do with an external frame backpack. The side pocket mesh is not terribly durable, but the bottom of the pockets is reinforced with solid nylon, so they’re less likely to rip when you place the pack on the ground.

While the pack bag itself isn’t that innovative, its positioning on the frame is. When the pack is full, the bottom of the pack bag lines up with the base of the titanium frame. This gives the ExoTi 50 a low center of gravity that’s comparable to an internal frame backpack, and lower than a classic external frame backpack, which feels top-heavy and tippy in comparison.

The ExoTi pack bag is connected to the frame with velcro and webbing straps
The ExoTi pack bag is connected to the frame with velcro and webbing straps

Backpack Frame and Suspension System

The Vargo ExoTi 50 external frame backpack has a classic rectangular box shape with three horizontal struts for extra rigidity. The pack bag is attached to the frame vertically with a webbing strap and along the sides with velcro, like a classic Kelty external frame backpack.

The suspension system is entirely separate from the pack bag and consists of hip belt, lumbar pad, and adjustable shoulder harness which can be moved up or down to accommodate different torso lengths. The hip belt has two zippered mesh pockets, large enough to fit an iPhone, but the mesh isn’t very strong or durable, so I’d caution you to keep this pack on-trail. Like the hip belt, the shoulder straps are backed with lightly padded breathable mesh, with one horizontal hydration tube keeper on each side, and a rail-based sternum strap.

The hip belt has a central buckle and pull forward straps that provide mechanical advantage for getting a tight fit. The hip belt wings are 4″ wide and lightly padded compared to a conventional external frame backpack, like a Kelty, which has a much beefier and heavily padded hip belt for carrying heavier loads. I found the hip belt wings a bit short on my 38″ waist, barely reaching around my hip bones, despite the fact that the hipbelt is 60″ long. This also compromised the usability of the hip belt pockets which I had to reach backwards to use.

The ExoTi 50 has an adjustable torso length
The ExoTi 50 has an adjustable torso length.

The lumbar pad is fairly assertive, but I’m very sensitive to pressure in that spot, and other people might find it more comfortable depending on where you wear your hip belt (high or low). It is a permanent part of the hip belt and cannot be “reduced” in size unfortunately, like a Gregory Baltoro 65, which has removable padding shims that you can take out to reduce the lumbar pad’s profile.

The torso length is adjustable by shortening or lengthening a webbing strap that connects the shoulder harness to the hip belt. It doesn’t have any length indications so you have to adjust it by feel and by inspection, making sure to keep the lifter straps at a 30-45 degree angle (see video below). This may be a bit intimidating for beginners, but more experienced backpack users will find it to be a straightforward process.

While the hip belt and shoulder harness are backed by breathable mesh, the rest of the frame is uncovered and ventilated, which helps keep you cooler and allows your shirt to dry faster. Lest you write off the benefit of a ventilated backpack, they do cut down on the amount of sweat you experience between the cheeks, and are one of the key benefits of external frame backpacks.

The orange straps of the compression system also help secure long skinny objects (tenkara rods) in the side pockets
The orange straps of the compression system also help secure long skinny objects (for example, Tenkara rods) in the side pockets

Compression and External Attachment and System

The ExoTi 50 has two orange webbing straps that criss-cross over the front of the pack bag and can be tightened to bring the load closer to your hips and core muscles. They work well as long as your pack contents are compressible. The effect is similar to REI’s uplift compression system (see REI Flash 45 review) which pulls loads up and closer to your back, so that you’re not pulled backwards and off-balance.

However, the crisscrossed front straps don’t work well as external attachment points for bulky objects if you want to attach gear to the front of the pack. In that case, your best bet is to lash it to the top of the pack, under the floating lid, and not underneath the pack bag like you’d normally do on a conventional external frame pack. This is because the bottom of the ExoTi 50 pack bag is flush with the bottom of its titanium frame and there’s not really any room to attach it. While you could scrunch it under the top lid, I’ve found that attaching the item to the top of the titanium frame with ski straps is even more secure and comfortable to carry. The top lid is also easily removable if you don’t need the extra pocket.

The best place to lash gear is at the top of the frame using ski straps
The best place to lash gear is at the top of the frame using ski straps.

Comparable External Frame Backpacks

Recommendation

The Vargo ExoTi 50 backpack combines an internal-frame style pack bag with a titanium external frame, combining the best of both worlds, a bag that’s easy to pack and organize, with an adjustable-length, ventilated external frame that can carry heavier loads. Weighing just 2 lbs 11 oz, ExoTi 50’s low center of gravity and compact size make it possible to use almost anywhere you’d use a internal frame backpack. That’s not to say that the ExoTi 50 carries like an internal frame backpack, because it doesn’t. It’s far stiffer, less body hugging, and will make you stand up straighter. But the ExoTi 50 is by far the nimblest external frame backpack I’ve ever used and a great way to experience the benefits of an external frame backpack without giving up the packability of an internal frame backpack.

Likes

  • Stiff frame improves your posture
  • Good back ventilation
  • Internal frame style pack bag is much easier to pack than the pack bags on “old school” external frame packs.

Dislikes

  • Lumbar pad is assertive and may be uncomfortable for some people
  • Hip belt wings are shorter than the hip belt sizing would indicate.
  • External mesh durability could be improved.

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Last updated: 2018-08-20 19:42:48

Vargo provided the author with a sample backpack.

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