When it comes to backpacks I put my trust in Osprey. Backpacks is what they do and they know their trade well. I bought my very first Osprey day pack in 2005 and it endured thousand of miles on three different continents, rain, shine, snow, and hail; whatever condition the nature can throw at a hiker, the pack seen it all. After 9 years of service the zipper on the top lid started wearing out but otherwise the pack was still in a decent shape. I sent it to Osprey hoping they will be able to replace the zipper but for one reason or another they decided the repair was not worth it and offered me a new pack. They do not make the Stratos 40 anymore which is a shame because the backpack was just perfect for my 4 season adventures, and I found myself on a hunt for a new model. Considering overall fit when fully loaded and features I narrowed it down to two packs, the Kestrel and the Exos.
Many people we met during our JMT thru hike carried the Exos and I heard nothing but positive feedback so naturally I turned to this pack first. The pack was light and worked well for me with a medium load but when I increased the weight I could feel the shoulder straps and harness dig into my skin more than I was willing to accept. I am not too cushy in those areas and I suspect that?s why I found it a bit uncomfortable. The pack had an ice axe loop which is essential for me as many of my winter adventures take places on steeper snow, and side pockets which I like for carrying tripod, shovel handle, map and a bottle of water but it lacked horizontal compression straps in the front which I frequently use to attach snowshoes. And while we did not hear about any issues with durability from the summer JMT users I was worried the material could easily be damaged when carrying crampons or microspikes. After this evaluation I turned my attention to the Kestrel.
The first decision I had to make was regarding size. The 38 l version would be closer in volume to my old Stratos; however the pack is constructed differently and I found out that my gear, and again especially my winter gear which is bulkier and heavier and more plentiful fits in the 48 l more naturally. I like the pack for several reasons.
- The torso length is easily adjustable. All you have to do is peel the back, adjust to where it feel right and stick it back. It holds well, I never had problems with it slipping out of the place.
- The shoulder straps and hipbelt are not as padded as you see on some others Osprey overnight packs but the pack carries comfortably even if loaded. I tested it with my snow scrambling gear - about 23 lb. total pack weight and it felt good the whole day.
- Two ice axe loops and and stretchy tie offs make it easy to carry the tools. My shovel blade fits in the front mesh pocket. There is not much space left, especially if the main compartment is full but it fits.
- The compression straps let you cinch down the sides or can be clipped as horizontal straps at the front of the pack.
- Multiple pockets and separate compartments make it easy to keep gear organized. There are two compartments in the top pouch, two small pockets on the hip belt, separate sleeping bag compartment and inside you can find storage for water bladder. Some people might see this as unnecessary weight. I like it and it played an important factor in my decision making. I used this pack primarily for day trips and the externally accessible sleeping bag compartment is perfect for stoving rain gear. The pack comes with rain cover; however living in the PNW I do not put my trust on a rain cover entirely to keep my gear dry and I always line the main compartment with a trash bag to ensure my items will stay dry. If a sudden shower surprises me, I have a quick access to my rain gear without opening the main compartment and exposing the rest of my gear to the rain.
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