The REI Trail 40 is a great value and a very versatile bag. This bag was my day-hike, overnight backpacking, personal item on airplanes (it fits under the seat if it's not super full) and general purpose travel bag. The things that make it a good hiking pack are the same things that make it an excellent traveling bag.
Full disclosure, I returned my Trail 40 and bought an Osprey Manta 36. It was a great all around bag but it had a couple flaws I wasn't willing to compromise on with as much as I hike. I also didn't replace this bag with just 1, I replaced it with 2 specialized bags. One for hiking and one for travel. The travel bag? The REI Ruckpack 40. I'm going to detail the reasons I don't use it first, if those aren't deal breakers for you then read on because this pack will probably work well for most people, especially for the price.
- The back on this thing doesn't move heat that well in hot weather. I don't think this would be a deal breaker for everyone but it was for me. I want a bag that is comfortable for 10+ miles in sweat inducing weather. I'm willing to pay extra for that.
- It's not super comfortable with significant weight packed in. This was only a problem on overnight backpacking trips but it is something to consider. The Manta 36 has a better suspension. It feels significantly smaller than the Trail 40 from a capacity standpoint, but again, I was going for a specialized bag for day hiking, not an all around wonder.
The Trail 40 has a clamshell design that makes it great for organizing your pack laying down. This is most useful for overnight trips and travel, but even for a dayhike it's nice if you're packing something like camera equipment or food for 2. This was my favorite feature of the Trail 40.
The bag uses 4 zippers on the main compartment. This makes accessing the relatively deep bag pretty painless. It's the small things that make this bag stand out and this is one example of that.
The bag also has a side pocket and a top pocket. The side pocket is tall but won't fit very wide items. The top pocket is meant for things like food, phones or other items that don't need a lot of space.
The inside the main compartment you'll find a separate sleeve for a hydration pack as well as a zippered mesh pouch. The mesh pouch is very easy to access once you open up the main compartment. It's a great spot to store items that need to be accessed quickly but you maybe want to be a tad more secure than the outer pockets.
Holding Your Gear
One interesting thing about this bag is the way you attach your hiking poles. At the bottom of each side of the bag there is a metal ring that fits the tips of your poles and at the top are metal clasps that slide into a cloth loop, intended to be wrapped around the tops of your poles.
For the way I generally use my trekking poles I found this to be annoying. I couldn't get to them while keeping the bag on and the tops of the poles wound up pretty high. This is a problem when you're ducking below a fallen tree, something that happens a lot when you're hiking in western Washington. The Osprey packs generally have a more holster like setup that doesn't put the poles in a position where they would get caught up in anything.
The mesh pockets on both sides for the water bottle are the perfect size for your standard REI Nalgene. One side even has a double pocket, allowing you to fit something smaller, say a small thing of bug spray, alongside the bottle. One drawback is that you have to do some wrist bending in order to pull out a bottle from these without taking the pack off. It's not a deal breaker at all, but again Osprey angled these pouches a little more toward the front so you don't feel like you're doing something impressive just to grab your water while moving.
Loops, Loops, Loops
One thing you have to give credit to REI for was creating a pack where you could stick damn near everything you can think of on it. The back of the bag has a string of loops running down either side of it. The fact that they are on both sides allows you to get very creative with the way you're attaching things. You could stick a tent to the back with little effort if you had a few extra straps and it wouldn't get in the way of opening the bag. The loops lay flat against the pack which means they never wind up getting caught on branches, thankfully.
The bottom of the bag has a pair of adjustable loops intended for tents or sleeping pads. As I mentioned earlier I don't love this bag when there is much weight in it but it certainly has the capacity to let you weigh your pack down.
If you're on the fence about the bag after reading this review, just buy it. Weight and heat are deal breakers for me but for some buying a more expensive bag won't be worth it. For the money you can't get a better all around bag. It doubles as a fantastic travel bag, especially one that winds up fitting under seats on airplanes. Worst case you hate it and can return it within a year, don't overthink it.
If you're not sure what you really need in a bag make sure to read our overview of hiking backpacks. This digs a bit into a lot of the common features that make up a hiking pack. It covers the must haves, nice to haves and a few different manufacturers.