Even for the most resilient hiker, there are a few pieces of gear that can determine if your backpacking trip will be a fabulous adventure counting up the fun photos on your camera or a painful slog counting down the long miles back to the car. The right backpack sits near the top of that list – when that doesn’t fit and function just right, you’re going to have a rough time on the trail. No one wants to risk their trip to the wrong gear, and so I get questions all of the time about what the “best” pack is – to which I can usually only reply that there isn’t one. Every pack has compromises, and fit is different for every person. However, Mountainsmith’s Mayhem 45 gets about as close to checking all of the boxes of any pack that I’ve tried to date.
I spent 10 days in the Swiss and Italian Alps with the Mayhem 45, hiking hut-to-hut to circumnavigate the Bernina Group on the border between the two countries. I wanted to pack light – there’d be no need for a tent or sleeping bag, so a midsize 45-liter pack would do the trick. A pack this size would be too large for a simple day trip, and too small for most multi-day backpacking trips, but it’s the perfect solution for a technical day trip with extra gear, or a backpacking trip like mine where we didn’t need to carry the normal complement because we were sleeping in mountain huts along the way.
I was somewhat concerned about taking a new pack on a 100-mile trip because it’d be the first time I had tested the suspension on this pack, and if it didn’t hold up to the mileage or the fit wasn’t right, I’d still be stuck wearing it for 10 days. After just the first day, though, all of those concerns melted away – the materials on the pack are high quality and have construction to match. The foam in the belt was supple enough to hug my hips, but held up well even under a full load of Italian wine and cheese. The shoulder harness was nice and wide at the top not to rub my neck, and was fully-outfitted with load lifters and elastic sternum strap to keep everything in place. The suspension fit like I was wearing a shrunken mountaineering pack.
Better even than the fit were the features! The Mayhem 45 made organizing my pack a breeze – a bright yellow interior lining was not only attractive against the blue exterior, but it made finding things inside easier. Lots of daisy chain and tool attachments made for quick access to important gear, and thoughtful pocket placement meant that everything else was just a zipper away.
Asymmetry is the name of the game with this pack. One side pocket faces forward for easy bottle access (I liked putting my sealed coffee cup here for a mid-morning pick-me-up), the other opens at the top, and both are delightfully stretchy to shove things in with quality construction that inspired confidence they wouldn’t tear and things wouldn’t fall out. Both side pockets also allow the compressions straps to travel over or under them to accommodate various uses. It has hip belt pockets on both sides, one zips closed and the other is an open stash pocket that is the perfect size and location for a smartphone. The J zipper on the main compartment made it possible to access it like a top-loading pack, but when I got to the hut each night I could lay it down on the bed and open it wide like a panel loader to get at my gear at the bottom of the pack without yard sale-ing everything in there.
I worked hard to be critical of the pack, and only came up with a concern about weight. As mentioned earlier, every pack has compromises, and at 3.5lbs, this pack is a little heavy for its size. However, that may be excused due to its mix of 305 and 610d Cordura fabrics, which are heavier-duty than most packs in this category, and would hold up better to abrasive activities like canyoneering or climbing.
The Mayhem 45 made sure that my adventure was nothing but fabulous, taking away any worry or pain and leaving me to devote myself to counting up those photos on my camera. If you’re looking for a durable midsize pack with all of the accoutrements, you won’t regret picking this one up.