Gear Review: Osprey Mutant 38 Backpack

When I think of Cortez, Colorado, I now think of Osprey, a well-known brand and manufacturer of backpacks.  The company is based in this small town near some of the state’s purest backcountry destinations.   Stay alert, and you’ll notice fellow trail goers sporting Osprey gear, uniquely stamped with the trademark 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 properly.

side by side Osprey Mutant 38 R: 2010 model L: 2022 model

The Mutant 38 has been a reliable backpack for over a decade! R: The 2010 Osprey Mutant 38, the star of this review. L: The most recent version of Mutant 38 with all of the same great features. Photos: Osprey

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Stand Out Features of the Mutant 38

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.

Depending on your torso size, you can choose a S/M pack or a M/L fit. The S/M fits torsos 15in (38cm) to 19in (48sm), whereas the M/L fits torsos 18in (46cm) to 22in (56cm). The color tested here was the grey/red 2010 model. Over the years, the features below have remained, now in a blue fire color.

Reverse-Wrap Hipbelt

While the climber will enjoy the “reverse-wrap” 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 face out rather than on the side of the pack.  This feature helped stop 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 most recent version of the Mutant 38 includes gear loops and an ice gear attachment on the hipbelt.

Read More: Choosing a Backpack: Features to Consider for Snowshoeing

Padded Backpanel

The Mutant 38 delivers a sweet backpanel that helps with ventilation and minimizes moisture absorption.  Its structured padding system offers snow-shedding capabilities and is friendly to the lower back (especially when full of gear).  It has an internal frame with a removable framesheet and dual stays that add to its comfort and help stabilize the pack.  Using the framesheet as a sled on small ice fields is not recommended.  Trust me.

side by side: L: close up of reverse hipbelt R: close up of backpanel

L: The snowshoer can use the reversible hipbelt while ascending/descending in deep snow.R: The backpanel helps with ventilation and minimizes moisture absorption. Photos: Ryan Alford

Loops and Attachments

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 with bungee tie-offs 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. So 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. Additional loops also help stabilize equipment, such as poles, shovels, ice axes, and whatever needs to be carried into the backcountry.

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

Read More: How To Attach Snowshoes to a Pack (3 Methods)

Consideration

My only complaint with the Mutant 38 is the lack of areas outside the pack for storing water bottles.  The side mesh/elastic insert areas are too small for a wide bottle. So, I had to purchase a more narrow (or skinny) bottle specifically for this pack.  But, 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.

Overall

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 38 has a floating lid, spindrift collar, and internal/external pockets.  These features allow the user to increase capacity or easily shed unwanted pounds.

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.

Learn more information and purchase the Mutant 38 (MSRP 170) at Osprey.

Would you use the Mutant 38 backpack by Osprey? What is your review? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

This article was first published on August 11, 2010, and was most recently updated on July 19, 2022. 

Read Next: Why You Should Use Snowshoes On Your Next Mountaineering Adventure

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