ORTLIEB Atrack Metrosphere Review
The ORTLIEB Atrack Metrosphere’s TIZIP zipper feels very stiff yet gives the pack an IP67 rating—a worthwhile trade for outdoor adventurers.
- TIZIP waterproof zipper seals the main compartment
- Back-side main compartment opening prevents straps from touching the ground when unpacking
- Doesn’t look or feel saggy even when not fully packed
- TIZIP zipper difficult to unzip
- Harness system reinforcement makes it feel a bit stiff
- Only one secondary pocket for everyday carry items
Every bag that comes across the desks of the Pack Hacker crew is unique on some level. Whether it’s the types of fabrics used, the eye-catching colorways available, or the different combinations of straps, brands usually find a way to stand out from the rest. Then there’s ORTLIEB and their Atrack Metrosphere backpack, which combines the styles of a backpack and duffle bag to make something that truly deserves attention and a closer look.
We know what you’re thinking, though. Backpacks that double as duffle bags aren’t really new or groundbreaking, so what’s the fuss? Well, ORTLIEB specializes in waterproof outdoor gear. To achieve that on the Atrack, they’ve ditched the standard backpack opening for one that runs the length of the back panel, turning the front into a completely sealed shell. Obviously, this impacts access to the main compartment, and that’s what we’re most curious about in this review—among many things, of course.
Before we get into the review, we have to specify that the Atrack comes in many variants besides the Metrosphere we’re testing. This includes the BP, the CR, the ST, the CR Urban, and the regular Atrack, with their specialization as follows:
- Atrack—comes in 25-, 35-, and 45-liter versions and large hip wings for support
- Atrack BP—designed for bikepacking with a slender shape, a helmet fixing, and no hip wings
- Atrack CR—stripped down to the core features
- Atrack CR Urban—core features with CORDURA fabric
- Atrack ST—short-torso version designed for women
- Atrack Metrosphere—designed for travel with carry on compliant sizing (your mileage may vary depending on the specific airline)
Now without further ado, let’s get into the review.
As you can see, the Atrack Metrosphere has a rather plain exterior. It’s as if the pack already comes with a rainfly covering it—and that’s the point. The outer shell is made primarily of PU-coated PVC-free nylon. Translation? It’s a very waterproof material. In fact, the Atrack Metrosphere has an IP67 rating, meaning it’s dustproof and waterproof up to a depth of one meter for thirty minutes, the same rating you’ll find on a lot of smartphones.
The IP67 rating only applies if you have the TIZIP zipper closed, by the way. That’s the zipper on the back panel with the large T-shaped pull. Instead of having a typical horseshoe-style or clamshell design, the Atrack lineup’s main compartment opens from the rear panel. Just by looking at it, you can already tell that this is a stiff zipper to use, with a ton of initial resistance because of the way it locks in place for a good seal.
Is it worth the hassle? Given that we can’t squeeze out any air no matter how hard we press down on the body when it’s closed, we’d say so. So that’s good news for those in favor of waterproofing but bad news for those who want fast and easy access to the main compartment.
With all this talk of waterproofing and zippers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Atrack Metrosphere’s construction is perfect. It’s not, and there are a couple of loose threads on the shoulder straps. Luckily, these seem to be leftover strands that weren’t cleanly cut in the factory; rather than fraying or any damage, it’s mostly harmless.
A water bottle pocket on the right side looks quite small compared to the rest of the bag. Rest assured, it can fit a 40-ounce insulated water bottle just fine, and the elastic is strong enough to lock in even slender bottles. The pocket sits flush against the pack’s body when you’re not using it, so you don’t have to worry about spoiling its otherwise clean silhouette.
On the left side is a built-in waterproof pocket where you can slide in an address card. Yep, there’s no need to fuss around with a luggage tag for this bag, although you could still use an AirTag, of course. It’s one of the specialized features on the Metrosphere but not on the other Atrack variants.
From the Atrack Metrosphere’s size alone, you can expect an appropriately sized harness system. However, it’s not the amount of padding, mesh, or straps giving the impression of beefiness to this harness system. Instead, we attribute this robustness to the two metal rods acting as the mounting mechanism for the shoulder straps. They provide a significant amount of rigidity to the bag’s structure, which also impacts comfort.
The shoulder straps attach to these metal rods through various buckles, including the load lifters at the top and adjustable buckles at the bottom. The latter can loosen to slide the shoulder straps up or down for three nominal adjustments of small, medium, and large. Many travel backpacks feature a similar system that allows their respective harness systems to be height adjusted. For example, you can shift the Salkan Backpacker’s harness system by undoing the VELCRO within the back panel. ORTLIEB’s implementation here is clunkier by comparison since each strap has to be adjusted independently, though some users may appreciate that level of control.
That said, it’s worth noting that tightening the bottom buckles to the smallest nominal adjustment is actually quite hard. That’s because as you adjust them, they begin to clash with the rest of the hardware and straps down there—bad news if you have a small torso that necessitates lowering the harness system.
Each shoulder strap has a relatively decent amount of padding covered in mesh for breathability. The overall feel leans more towards stiff than soft, though that’s not surprising for the ruggedized theme ORTLIEB’s going for. There’s also a sternum strap that slides along rails, our preferred style of sternum strap mounting, as it allows for very granular adjustment.
Lastly, the Atrack Metrosphere also comes with a removable waist strap—ORTLIEB decided to ditch the beefier hip wings of the vanilla Atrack in favor of a plain one. Does it make a difference in terms of carrying comfort? Let’s find out in the next section.
The tall size of the Atrack Metrosphere means it can feel quite large for those with smaller torsos. Even with the harness system as tight as we can get it, you’ll still feel how tall the pack is. Fortunately, the load lifters and sternum strap do an excellent job pulling the weight off the back and closer to you, mitigating that carry aspect.
The same can’t be said for the removable waist strap. It doesn’t really pull as much weight as the other supporting straps. The beefier padded hip belts of the Atrack and Atrack ST versions should perform better, but we don’t have those in hand to verify at the time of writing.
As for those metal rods we mentioned earlier, we can definitely feel them, and they also affect posture. The rods can force you to straighten up, which may be a positive feature for some. However, you should temper your expectations if you expect a pliable back panel that conforms to your back and not the other way around.
Inside The Backpack
The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a zippered pocket near the one for the address card and wonder if that’s where everyday carry items go. You’d be correct, and bonus points if you also guessed it uses an AquaGuard-style zipper. However, if you’re assuming that it doesn’t have a ton of room because of how relatively narrow the opening looks, then you’d be wrong.
The interior extends a long way toward the top, so you can fit a lot of items inside. We’re glad to have this much room, even though there are no built-in pockets for organization. There’s really no fast and easy way to unzip the TIZIP zipper, so it’s nice to put frequently used items in this pocket. Unfortunately, this is also the only pocket you have for that purpose unless you count the water bottle pocket or, worse, the address card pocket—and neither are good options.
It’s also worth noting that while this AquaGuard-style zipper may be very water resistant, it’s not waterproof like the TIZIP zipper. In other words, don’t expect the gear inside to remain dry if the bag gets submerged.
That leaves us with the main compartment. Before unzipping it at the back, you must undo the magnetically buckled tips of the opening. From there, it’s only a matter of unzipping the TIZIP zipper. That said, you may wonder if there’s an actual benefit to having the opening on the back panel instead of the edges or the front. You can—presumably—still have the same waterproof TIZIP zipper anywhere else, so why have it at the back?
The answer is so that you can access the main compartment while the pack’s lying on its front. Yep, it all comes back to convenience. Imagine that you’re on an outdoor adventure and stop by the river. The ground is damp, but you need to get your camera cube out. In a regular backpack with a horseshoe-style opening, you’d place your other gear on the ground to get it out—not ideal since it’s wet. If you have a clamshell backpack, you’ll have to set it with the front facing up and the harness system touching the ground—also not ideal since that soils your straps. The Atrack Metrosphere gets around both issues by placing the harness system and a wide opening at the back.
Okay, the concept of a duffle-backpack combo with a back-side opening isn’t unique, either. Both the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag 40L and The North Face Base Camp Duffel have their backpack straps at the back, along with the opening. That said, neither of these options has an IP67 rating, so the Atrack Metrosphere still has a leg up in that regard.
Still, the main drawback to ORTLIEB’s approach is that it’s not very quick to access, nor is it totally easy to pack. While you get an extremely wide opening that far exceeds the length of the pack thanks to the fold-out magnetized tips, it’s tricky to keep it spread out when you’re trying to get gear inside. It’s not impossible, but there’s room for improvement here. The culprit seems to be the reinforced harness system, whose weight and stiffness cause the opening to snap back to position whenever we try to spread them open.
On the plus side, you get a ton of room for a 34-liter bag, and there are plenty of pockets for organizing your gear. There are four zippered pockets—two on each side—which are good spots for your toiletries and loose accessories. The only problem with these pockets is that they hang loose and are not stitched completely to the sides of the liner. This can leave them poured over your other gear, making unpacking even trickier.
There’s also a tie-down strap in the middle, a common feature on a lot of travel bags to hold down clothing. We use packing cubes on trips, so this is a feature we don’t typically use, but it’s there if you need it. Lastly, there’s also a key strap in the top right corner. It’s not inside a pocket and is, strangely, just freely hanging in the main compartment. Needless to say, we wish it were in a more secure place, either in one of the four zippered pockets or an exterior pocket that’s lacking on the Atrack Metrosphere.
If you look closely at the interior, you’ll notice a matte black column running down the length of the base. That’s what ORTLIEB calls the Atrack’s internal stiffener, which holds its rounded shape even when it’s not fully packed out. This is a thoughtful design choice since a lot of roomy travel bags fall prey to saggy-ness when their large capacities are under-utilized.
- Waterproof and dustproof with an IP67 rating
- Bit of a learning curve to get inside the bag and adjust the fit
- Spacious interior that feels more like a duffle
- A couple loose threads on the shoulder straps, but it looks like it’s extra thread vs. a manufacturing error
- Hard to load up because of the weight of the harness system
- Structured harness system feels almost like a frame sheet—takes some getting used to