Pack It In, Pack It Out: Mountainsmith Mayhem 35 Backpack Review

Recently, a friend commented on my apparent love for backpacks. True, the four packs at the foot of my bed might seem overkill, but having lived on the road for the last eight months, backpacks are more of a necessity – not an accessory. Given my need for packs, however, I’ve amassed some real duds: ones that aren’t quite capable for my needs as a transient outdoor junkie. Mountainsmith_Mayhem 35 backpack

As if answering my woes, Mountainsmith sent me the Mayhem 35 backpack that seemed up for the challenge. This oversized daypack totes a 35-liter (2,135 square-inch) capacity that carries hefty loads up to 45 pounds. More than adequate. And tipping the scales at just over two pounds, it’s already a perfect contender before putting it to use.

Based in Golden, Colorado, Mountainsmith has been building no-frills backpacks since 1979. While you won’t find them sporting trendy colorways or industry-changing features among the line, their functional and durable approach makes their outdoor packs a hot ticket for the outdoorsman (or woman) who understands the value of pockets, loops, bungees, storage space and all the other amenities that make a good backpack extremely reliable and versatile.

Mountainsmith Mayhem 35
The Mayhem 35 pack is no exception. It’s so fully loaded that after a month of testing, I’ve yet rig every loop, bungee and pocket. But that hasn’t kept me from making some important observations about this functional workhorse.

First, this top-loading pack is built with outdoor activities – and gear – in mind, as its loaded with ski and snowboard features. Nevertheless, it works equally as well for snowshoers looking to ditch the trail and huff it across a snow field all day long or for a quick overnighter.

I often find hydration stashes lacking in quantity or size on packs of this caliber. Not so with the Mayhem 35. Dual elastic side pockets store Nalgene-sized water bottles on each side. Opt for a hydration bladder instead, and an integrated H2O port with shoulder strap loops will stream instant liquid to your lips.

H2O hose port with shoulder strap loops will keep your hydration pack within reach.

H2O hose port with shoulder strap loops will keep your hydration pack within reach.

As for storage, you’ll find all that you need and none of it you don’t. Between two compartments, two zippered pockets, four compression straps, two bungees, ski straps and more than a half-dozen loops for dangling all your bells and whistles, I’d be surprised if you ran out of gear space. If the external compartment doesn’t fit your snowshoes and poles when not in use, the extra-long side compression straps most certainly will. It’s worth nothing, however, that small objects – like, say, a wallet – will easily fall through the front compartment without your knowledge, thanks to an opening at the bottom. Better to stash your valuables internally.

Loops, bungees, pockets galore

Loops, bungees, pockets galore

Comfort reigns over the load on your back. Air mesh back panels feature a proprietary Anvil Airway system that is designed to pull sweat away from your back. But the cushy panels also provide the kind of support you need when hauling a heavy load without it caving in against your back. Cinch down the adjustable waist, shoulder and chest straps for a tighter fit, and the Mayhem will effectively and noticeably disperse weight to the strongest parts of your upper body for an easy-riding daypack.

Adjustable chest, waist and shoulder straps even out the pack's load.

Adjustable chest, waist and shoulder straps even out the pack’s load.

Lastly, the Ripstop nylon fabric is a durable material when caught in a battle against tree branches or carbide ski pole tips. I’d consider spraying it with a coat of water-repellent treatment for extra boost when a little weather rolls in.

With all the subtle features of this pack, it’s worth adding it to your winter assets. Or summer assets, for that matter. This bag just wants to be outside, regardless of conditions. For that reason, I have no doubt this pack will be put to use on my next off-piste snowshoe hike or splitboard tour – and easily every one after that.

The Mountainsmith Mayhem 35 retails for $129.95. For more information on MountainSmith, visit

To purchase the Mountainsmith gear,  click here.


  • Stephanie Nitsch

    Stephanie Nitsch is an outdoor writer with roots in the Pacific Northwest but calls Utah home. Stephanie writes adventure stories, gear reviews and profiles for the likes of ESPN, Bike, Snowboard Canada, Utah Adventure Journal and more.

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