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Backpacker Magazine – May 2006

Backpack Review: 4 Perfect Packs

Midsize internal-frame backpacks that do everything--and do it well

by: Mike Lanza, BACKPACKER Northwest Editor

PAGE 1 2 3 4

When it comes to reviewing new gear, we're more Great Santini than Dr. Phil: stingy with praise and quick to drop-kick poor performers. But this review produced a remarkably strong crop of contenders. Each of the packs that survived our 6-month test is so comfortable and well-made that our editor-in-chief says "picking a favorite was the hardest call I've made in 30-plus BACKPACKER field tests."

Our goal was to find the perfect workhorse pack for every situation from overnights and weekends to streamlined summer weeks. After selecting six models that met our criteria, we turned five testers loose--four men and one woman. More than 1,000 miles later, after being lugged on trails from Washington's Hoh River to New Hampshire's Kilkenny Ridge, four packs remained. All of our selections are versatile, yet each is distinctive enough to appeal to a specific type of user--so choosing your favorite shouldn't be too grueling.

©Mitch Mandel

Osprey Aether 70/Ariel 65
A custom fit, great load control, and a competitive price push this pack to the head of its class.

Our map editor nailed it: "This is the ideal pack for hikers who have trouble finding the perfect fit." Credit goes to Osprey's IsoForm hipbelt, which comes in multiple gender-specific sizes and is custom-fitted to buyers' hips in the showroom with a heat-molding process unique to Osprey and its dealers. Props also go to the gender-specific shoulder straps and a choice of two suspension sizes per model; the suspensions are adjustable so you can fine-tune torso length. All of this leads to best-in-class comfort and carrying control. How do we know? I hauled 40 pounds straight up 4,000 feet in Washington's Olympics without soreness; other testers hauled 45 pounds without the hipbelt slipping south.

Given this pack's durable construction (you'll own it for years) and 5-plus-day capacity, its weight remains impressively low; the men's Aether comes in just an ounce heavier than the women's Ariel. Other plum features include the waffled foam back panel (which allows continuous cooling) and versatile wraparound compression (great for external lashing and controlling small loads). Plus, the recessed head cavity allowed me to gawk without whapping my noggin as I climbed Mt. Olympus. For all the bells and whistles, the price is pretty sweet, too.

Aether 70
Price: $239
Size: 4,200 cu. in.
Weight: 4 lbs. 9 oz.

Ariel 65
Price:$229
Size:4,000 cu. in.
Weight: 4 lbs. 8 oz.

Contact: (970) 564-5900; www.ospreypacks.com


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READERS COMMENTS

hilljack
Jun 27, 2012

Would be nice if replies stated the item name they were commenting on. Can't tell which was the worst pack and which packed 65# with ease.

Jerry
Dec 06, 2011

Because you can see her "review" under the descriptions of all four packs, it's impossible to tell which pack Julie Meadows disliked so much.

julie meadows
Aug 26, 2011

Worst pack I have ever worn. Not packed too full, maybe 40 pounds. I have a small frame. It KILLED my hips and shoulders the whole time. VERY limited adjustability!

Brent
Oct 14, 2009

I was wondering about the fore-mentioned heat molding process of the hip belt. Is this actually something that is done in the shop? My focus would be that what if the pack is bought online. Recommendations?

Tristan
Sep 10, 2009

Great all round pack only used it once (to bad) but love it great for any day huge capacity but hip belt feels funny. Any way great pack very very stable!

Tristan
Sep 10, 2009

Trailhead
Aug 02, 2009

I have only used this pack on 3 and 4 day trips but it is the most comfortable pack I have ever worn. On three day trips I tend to pack heavy foods; veggies, fruits, cheese. I have the 70 and it handles heavy loads great. To me the 70L looks and feels smaller then it is, I just can't work in the confines of a sub 60L bag, and the suspension in those smaller bags leave a lot to be desired. Go to your local mountaineering shop and try it on. You will be pleased. For smaller loads it packs down nicely. A final not. On my last trip in Yosemite a black bear took off with my pack and got a pack of beef jerky that I missed. He could have easily shredded the pack but he didn't only the small pocket the jerky was in. I got the pack back and now have a story and a pack that survived a bear attack. Hows that for a VOC.

chris
Mar 19, 2009

I've taken this pack on a 24 day trip with 65 pounds and it handled the load with ease, and didn't hurt my back in the process. A great all around pack. The brain turns into a fanny pack which is another neat feature.

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