Sometimes you use a piece of gear for the first time and you just know. That was the case when our gear editor took the Aether 55 (the Ariel is the women’s-specific design; both have been around in various forms since 1997) on a trip in northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness. “Because it was a holiday weekend and I was playing guide for a couple friends, I loaded the pack up with way too many goodies. Charcuterie, an oversized camp chair, string lights, you name it. Everything probably weighed around 35 pounds,” he says. “I was dreading our 11-mile hike to a lakeside camp, but then I put the Aether on and knew I’d be fine.”
This pack is as well thought-out and as handsomely appointed as a luxury car, expertly balancing a comfortable ride, back-saving support, and smart features. Designers augmented some of the most cushiony hipbelt and shoulder straps we’ve ever worn—they’re like structured pillows for your hips and collarbone—with a wire perimeter frame and a dense, injection-molded plastic framesheet that distributes weight to all the right places. That means that if you’re a backpacking maximalist like our gear editor, the Aether is more than capable of making loads north of 40 pounds feel like much less.
As for all the stuff you’ll be hauling with this pack, the Aether has a place for everything. Two large toplid pockets can fit the day’s snacks and sundries, as well as an included rain cover. Dual hipbelt pockets each swallow a full-size smartphone or a couple of energy bars with ease (the curved zippers can be a bit snaggy, though). The main packbag offers both top and back access, as well as a sleeping bag compartment, so we never found ourselves blindly rooting around for gear. We especially appreciated the Aether’s dorsal hardware: Two buckles that connect wide fabric flaps secured tents, chairs, and sleeping pads with no shifting as we hiked and scrambled.
The Aether doesn’t have a trampoline backpanel, but the heavily channeled framesheet and its mesh covering moved air well, even on 90°F days in the Adirondacks’ boggy Seward Range. With a mix of 420- and 210-denier nylon this pack elevates durability above lightness, which makes us feel even better about using it nonstop: Just like we knew it’d be a winner the moment we put it on, we know the Aether will be our go-to load-hauler for years to come.
two sizes each, men’s and women’s