Much like King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I've long been in search of my own grail: the perfect backpack. Over the last decade, I've encountered plenty of worthy contenders — packable options, lightweight wonders, everyday commuters and everything in-between — but so far, the ideal one has eluded me.
The perfect backpack, in my eyes, needs to be equal parts form and function. I need it to perform to my standards, and transition seamlessly between outdoor and everyday activities. Organization is key, lightweight and tough materials are a must, and sustainable manufacturing is at the top of the list.
In many ways, the Big Agnes Ditch Rider 32L checks off most of the boxes I have on my "perfect pack" checklist. It's lightweight, packs down when not in use, is comfortable and distributes weight evenly when packed full. However, it does miss the mark (for me) in a few key areas. Below are my thoughts on this capable, not-quite-perfect pack.
What I liked about the Big Agnes Ditch Rider 32L
Big Agnes went big on organization
The top-loading Ditch Rider 32 L features compartmentalized storage that includes a 2L hydration bladder pocket, two stretch mesh side pockets, a front quick-stash pocket and two front zip pockets, totaling seven distinct areas (including the main compartment) to stash jackets, headlamps, snacks and more. I'm definitely Type A when it comes to organizing my gear: in a perfect world, everything has its own distinct pocket or panel, so that I can grab items with ease.
While using the Ditch Rider, I appreciated the way the stretch mesh side pockets held my Nalgene in place, without having to use most of my strength pre-hike to get the dang bottle in the pocket in the first place. I used one of the front zip pockets for uneaten snacks, and the other for apple cores, bar wrappers and the like once I'd had my trail snack.
I appreciated the quick-stash pocket for quick sunglasses stowing, and the puncture and tear-resistant outer material (made with GRS certified, recycled high-tenacity nylon featuring a solution-dyed ripstop grid and UTS environmentally sustainable coating) held up against climbing rocks, ascending trails and a boulder-top lunch break.
With the Ditch Rider 32L, comfort is king
On one of the hikes I used Big Agnes's capable day pack, I held snacks, water and four pairs of binoculars for myself and three fellow hikers, as well as a few jackets as temps started to climb and we started shedding layers. I hardly noticed the load on my back, thanks to the brand's proprietary Hoist Compression system, which pulls pack weight inward and upward for positive load transfer, while raising the bottom panel up to secure the load — essentially, this pack was made to haul gear.
Apart from the internal weight distribution system built into the pack, I also appreciated the contoured shoulder straps and the Open Range Hip Belt, which have just enough padding to maintain comfort, without adding unnecessary weight. Although I wished the hip belt had a pocket, knowing the pack itself had plenty of storage assuaged any angst I had at not being able to have my sunglasses, phone and pocket knife right at my fingertips.
What I didn't like about Big Agnes' backpack
The straps were hard to adjust, and too long
One of the most important aspects of any pack, in my opinion, is the ability to adjust on the go. As loads shift throughout the day and items get taken out, or added into, my pack, it's important to me to be able to quickly adjust straps on the go, especially if I'm taking turns carrying the pack with someone who's bigger than me.
I found the straps on the Big Agnes Ditch Rider to be the biggest pain point by far. Upon opening the box for the first time, I noticed that the sternum strap was broken — it was missing the clip that held it in place across my chest. When I took the pack out for my first hike with it, I realized the hip belt didn't cinch down far enough to fit my waist, and the small loops meant to hold excess strap length weren't stretchy, so I couldn't fit the excess material into them — the extra-long straps hung down my sides, which is one of the most annoying aspects of any pack.
I have a narrow waist and hips, so I recognize that this may not be an issue for everyone that wears the pack, but I did find it to be bothersome as I hiked with the Ditch Rider. Similarly, the sternum strap issue is most likely unique to my pack, — but notwithstanding, I found the straps and adjustment to be trickier than I had anticipated from the pack.
The Ditch Rider 32L: The Verdict
Although the Ditch Rider 32L has plenty of positive attributes, and only a few negative ones, I'm certain I haven't found my perfect pack yet. The Ditch Rider is comfortable, made with sustainable materials and can hold plenty of gear for day hikes or overnighters, but the aesthetics, strap mishaps and lack of adjustment for smaller sizes kept it from being my new favorite.