I recently picked up the Women’s Lookout 40 from REI, and I thought I’d start out with Kevin’s template as a way to review this bag.

The Highs: Lightweight, supportive, streamlined, looks smaller than what it can hold

The Lows: May be too casual for some, not square-shaped

The Verdict: Great for efficient one-bagging when wheels are not ideal and lots of walking is in store, & also good for short-term outdoor treks/camping


  • 3 lbs
  • 40L / 2441 cu inches capacity
  • 21″ in length, about 13″ across, and depth/height depends on fullness
  • YKK zippers, front organizational zipper looks to be rain-resistant
  • Stowable/removeable rain fly
  • Made of Ripstop recycled PET/recycled PET oxford (they claim making the bag keeps 20 or so plastic bottles out of landfills)
  • Manufacturer’s link

When I was in Asia last December with my OPEC, there were many times (usually while wandering around looking for my hotel/train) when I considered tossing it for a bag with a hip belt.  As anyone who has ever worn a bag outfitted with one will testify, a hip belt is essential if you’ll be carrying anything over 20lbs and don’t want your neck, back and shoulders to start a coup against you after 30 minutes.  Many bags come with hip belts, but most are just simple cloth meant to keep the bag close to your body to reduce bounce.  A proper hip belt is padded and integrated into the suspension of the pack, and is meant to take 80-90% of the weight off of your shoulders and onto your waist, which can carry heavy loads much more easily.

An Overview

This is a women’s pack, but only in the sense that the torso length is shorter than the men’s version.  The women’s version comes in this cool green color (the photos don’t really do it justice), while the men’s comes in black and redstone (reddish orange).  I’m about 5’5″ and the women’s pack fits me just fine, but if I were any taller, I might consider the men’s pack.

I’ll start with the outside of the pack, which is well-streamlined for travel (few extraneous straps hanging off the bag), but yet would still function well as a camping/trekking pack.  You could latch on a sleep pad/bag onto the bottom straps, and there are daisy chains on the front as well for attachment purposes.  Stowed in a pouch in the bottom of the pack is a removable rain fly.

There are two mesh cloth water bottle holders (one on each side), as well as two side pockets running the length of the pack.  Compression straps help make the pack appear smaller than it already does, and also helps reduce the odd shape of the bag (reverse teardrop, with the tapering going toward the bottom rather than the top).  This shape might actually come in handy in, say, an overhead bin, but since it goes against most suspension pack designs, I don’t yet know how it affects how the bag carries on the back on a long haul.  My guess is how one packs the bag would have a bigger impact in that case.

There’s also two hydration openings (one on each side), leading to a sleeve on the inside, as most packs have these days.  Additionally, there is a small stow pocket on the top of the pack, and an organizational pocket on the front.  A whistle is attached to the sternum strap (the whistle is the small orange thing).  The straps are all well-padded, and the padding against your back is shaped and cut to help with sweating/air flow.  An aluminum support stay runs the length of the pack (I don’t know what those look like on x-rays, but I’ve never had an issue with taking internal suspension packs on airplanes).  Access to the stay is gained through the main compartment, but it’s quite difficult to get it out if you want/need to reshape it.

Moving to the inside, which is one large cavity plus the pouch for a hydration sleeve (or whatever you want to put in there).  Two small hooks near the top of the pouch are there to keep your water sleeve upright and in place (not pictured).  A 15″ EC folder will fit into this bag, but I’m not sure about a bigger one, just because of the curved shape of the compartment.  The bundle or stacking method might work better here, but you can still use a folder, if that’s your thing.

How big is the bag?  Although it measures up even next to the OPEC, it’s hard to convey that it simply appears much smaller than the latter.  I don’t have any doubt that the OPEC can hold more, but the Lookout just looks more compact in person, period, and can be compressed and cinched down to be physically smaller.

So, while I haven’t taken this bag anywhere yet, I did walk around the store with about 20lbs on my back for almost half an hour.  The odd shape of the pack made the weights cluster at the bottom of the teardrop, which in turn pressed against my tailbone, but wearing jeans with a seam over that area could have been the main culprit in that instance.  My shoulders also hurt a little, but after some adjusting, I was able to get the pack to fit a little better.  Sometimes stiff padding needs time to break in and work properly after it has a chance to conform to your body.

REI claims that this pack can carry up to 40lbs comfortably, but I’m not sure how they determine if that’s a comfort thing, or if it’s indicative of the strength of the material.  At any rate, this isn’t one of those 60L trekking packs meant to carry large amounts of heavy gear.  I’d say 40lbs would definitely be pushing the comfort level, but maybe it’s just because I’m not used to carrying that much.

An out-of-the-box mod…

One thing of note: I did have to modify the waist belt, which came with far too little material to allow slack to fit over a coat, jacket, or even a big lunch.  I don’t consider myself THAT out of shape, so I wondered who had put so little thought into such an otherwise well-thought-out bag, but the salesman told me other people had had the same complaint.  I simply took the bag next door to an alterations place, which sewed an extra 6 inches of material onto the waist belt for me.  If you are thin enough, you may not have to do this, but it only cost me $10.  The men’s version may not have this issue.

Wrapping up

The only trip I can think of in my near future won’t be for at least a few months, but this pack will be perfect for it (Glacier Nat’l Park).  As I am planning to start riding my bike to work this year, I may opt to carry this bag, though it seems excessively big for what I’d need just for commuting, and I already have several messenger bags that would do nicely.  I will report back on my experiences.

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4 Comments on REI Lookout 40 Women’s pack

  1. Michael W. says:


    Thanks for reminding me that if you don’t mind the “pack” look, a conventional backpack also makes a good travel bag.

    My favorites tend to run a little lighter – and my experience is limited to hiking the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite out of Tuolumne Meadows.

    Back then I experimented with the GoLite Breeze (no waist belt), GoLite Dawn, and GoLite Jam. All had sufficient capacity to carry sleeping bag, toiletries, warm layers, food for lunches, a lot of water.

    I soon discovered that, as you mentioned, once you are over 15 pounds and if you have to spend more than an hour with the pack on your back, a waistbelt really helps. Actually I will back up a bit – to stabilize the bag so it won’t try to slip off, I needed at least a sternum strap. To shift weight to my hips, I needed a waist belt.

    But in terms of a waistbelt, I didn’t need much more than a 3/4″ or 1″ strap, which I added to one of my Breezes. Admittedly it wasn’t as comfortable as a luxe padded hip belt as on your new bag, but it got the job done.

    The Dawn and Jam included both sternum straps and waistbelts, iirc. Definitely waist straps.

    I mention these alternatives because all of these bags were under 18 ounces each – much less than the 48 ounces or more for your REI Lookout.

    I admit that none of these bags had a stay to provide support, but I always used a sleeping pad for my “stay” and it worked fine, kept the bags from slumping.

    If you need an ultralight hiking bag that comes with a stay, the Granite Gear Vapor Trail is the one I recall that got top reviews. Also Glen Pesker used to design ultralight hiking bags with stays – he got out of the business but gossamergear.com seems to be in good hands, because they continue to churn out excellent designs.

    Of course if you want to ever check a bag like this down to the aircraft’s hold, you going to need something sturdier than my old silnylon Dawn or even the Dyneema Breeze. Even the exterior mesh panels on these three would be problematic. But I still think you may be able to find lighter travel, and even lighter hiking, alternatives to the Lookout.

    It should serve you well for bicycle commuting though – daily use really thrashes a bag. I hope you will share some of your bicycle commuting tips with us later!

    BTW the reason I haven’t yet used one of my ultralight bags for travel, is their lack of organizing compartments. I much prefer the convertible backpacks which make a fair trade between organizing and ease of carry. And most of them are lighter than the Lookout! I think the OPEC is 1.8 pounds or so, almost half the weight. That’s a lot!


  2. Michael W. says:

    PS – I think some of the convertible backpacks DO have waist straps – something I object to in a convertible suitcase/backpack due to the hassle of deploying then re-stowing the waist straps- and I find them of minor benefit on the relatively short “bag on my back” portions of my transits – nevertheless they are available and for travel – not trekking – might be a better alternative to the smaller, but heavier, Lookout.


  3. Berg says:

    My Osprey 46 has a waist belt, but I almost never use it for the reasons you stated. But I don’t agree that an unpadded belt is just as supportive as a padded one. At least for me, that is. An integrated suspension system really does make a difference. And the Lookout does have panel-loading rather than top-loading, which is more handy for travel.

    There are obviously tons of lightweight backpack options. The Opsrey Talons are terrific. The ones you mentioned look great, too. I suppose one has to figure out durability, organizational capabilities, and weight. 3lbs is still pretty light for a travel pack– add a good strap to the OPEC and you may be up to 2.2 or even 2.5. However, the durability can’t be compared. The Lookout has better zippers and better material. But it’s apple & oranges. All bags have their niches. What made me pick up this bag was the cost, the layout, and the size. For my travel uses, it seemed like a good fit. ‘Course, I could be totally wrong, but I’ll have to use it to find out. :)

    As for commuting, I’ve been using my medium Timbuk2. It holds all of my bike gear (pump, spare tube, repair tool, etc.), plus has room for a change of clothes, if need-be. It’s also bright and comes with a stability crossbody strap.


  4. Hey!

    Love the review on this bag. I’m taking it across Europe and I find its the perfect size for all my needs (I’ve used it for hiking and other things as well).

    I have to say the best part is that it fits under the seat on the airplane!

    By the way, I posted a link to this page on my site in case people are interested in learning more on the backpack: http://operationblank.com/2010.....it-begins/


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