Gear Review: Osprey Mutant 38 Backpack

When I think of Cortez, Colo., I now think of Osprey Packs.  Based in the small town, the company is near some of the state’s purest backcountry destinations.  Osprey is a well-known brand and manufacturer of backpacks.  Stay alert and you’ll notice fellow trailgoers sporting Osprey gear, uniquely stamped with the trademark red and gray logo.  I’m new to the Osprey brand – despite it being around since the 70s.  (“You’ll have to excuse my friend. He’s a little slow. The town is back that way.”)  After a day with the Osprey Mutant 38, I was no longer “Dumb and Dumber” … no longer a virgin to the Osprey brand.  The Mutant 38 “wined and dined” me proper.      

The Mutant 38 is more of a technical pack: Chock-full of removable elements and reversible systems.  It’s something climbers and mountaineering enthusiasts will appreciate.  But the snowshoer will dig it as well.  I know I did.  

While the climber will enjoy the “reverse wrap” ergopull hipbelt – securing it out of the way while wearing a climbing harness – the snowshoer can use the same feature for versatility while ascending/descending in deep snow.  I used the reverse wrap hipbelt to further secure the handle of my snow shovel and my telescopic poles – keeping them faced out, rather than on the side of the pack.  This was useful in stopping random hip stabbings, which tend to occur when quickly changing direction.  Then again, I often flail around like a large predatory animal that has trouble stabilizing itself in cold temperatures.  Or maybe that would classify me as prey?

The Mutant delivers a sweet back panel that helps with ventilation and minimizes moisture absorption.  Its structured padding system offers snow-shedding capabilities, and it’s friendly to the lower back (especially when full of gear).  It has an internal frame with a removable framesheet that not only adds to its comfort but also helps stabilize the pack.  Using the framesheet as a sled on small icefields is not recommended.  Trust me.  

Coupled with the framesheet is a removable foam tri-fold bivy pad.  I used the pad when stopping for lunch and needed a place to sit on the snow.  The pad can be used as a pillow when bedding down for the night.  It can also be used to thump your snoring hiking partner in the head.  

Grab handles and reinforced loops help climbers haul the pack up steep slopes and rock wall faces (also known as a three-point haul system).  The Mutant also boasts dual tool loops that provide lash points for ice axes or other tools.  A Gorilla Grip patch prevents wear and tear, including punctures from sharp tools and climbing equipment.  

For the snowshoer, the multiple grab handles help with general transportation.  My pack has everything attached to it, including my snowshoes.  It’s ready to go at any time for a quick snowshoe trip.  Extra loops help me quickly grab the bag, throw it into my trusty Ford Escape and drive off into the mountains.  Extra loops also help stabilize equipment, such as poles, shovels, ice axes and whatever else needs to be carried into the backcountry.           

The Gorilla Grip patch on the back is great for snowshoes.  Those pesky, sometimes sharp, crampons can scratch and fray the material on most packs.  I had my Tubbs FLEX ALPs attached to the Mutant more often than not, purely because of my late season hikes in Colorado.  Not a lot of snow forced me to strap the shoes onto the Mutant with its Z-compression straps.  Secure!  Perfect!

My only complaint with the Mutant is the lack of areas, on the outside of the pack, for storing water bottles.  The mesh/elastic insert areas on the side are too small for a wide bottle.  I had to purchase a more narrow (or skinny) bottle specifically for this pack.  The Mutant is hydration ready: It has an internal sleeve and drink tube exit port to accommodate a three-liter reservoir.  I tried using that and it worked fine.  But I’m old school.  I prefer a narrow-mouth Nalgene bottle as opposed to a feeding tube.

I view the Osprey Mutant 38 as a simple pack with an inordinate amount of features.  It’s intelligently designed, but engineered for the climber.  Nonetheless, it has a snowshoer’s best interests in mind.  Snowshoers live and die by the weight of their packs.  The Mutant has a floating lid with a spindrift collar and internal/external pockets.  This allows the user to increase capacity or shed unwanted pounds with ease.

Versatile enough to be used as a day pack, or quickly add to its capacity for multi-day excursions, the Mutant 38 is Snowshoe Magazine approved.  Mine is ready to go when the snow starts falling again.

Key Fabrics:

•Armourlite 420D
•Armourguard 900D

Stripped Weights:

Small: 0.94 kg
Medium: 0.95 kg
Large: 0.96 kg

Dimensions are shown as length (height) x width x depth
In: 32.3 x 14.6 x 11.4
Cm: 82 x 37 x 29

To purchase an Osprey Mutant 38 backpack, click here.  For a cool video on how to use the Mutant 38 properly, click here.  For more information about Osprey Packs, visit

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About the author

Ryan Alford