Well, after 30 years I've gone and done it. Yep, bought myself a new backpack. After who knows how many treks in New England, Pennsylvania, and the Rockies, my Alpenlite (anyone remember that line?) pack simply was ready to be put up for good.
What motivated me to move on? It basically came down to a desire to keep backpacking. While the Alpenlite was great in its day, that day is long past and the pack is ready for an antique collection. I'm a born again believer in lightweight packing, and if you buy into that concept, you need to go the whole route: light pack, light sleeping bag, light gear from compass to tent.
After searching around and reading reviews, I went with Osprey's Aether 70, a lightweight, interior frame pack (MSRP $239) that can haul enough for a week or more, depending on how often you like to change your skivvies.
There are plenty of other contenders out there, packs from Mountain Hardware, Mountainsmith, Arc'teryx, Marmot, The North Face and others, but after trying out a number of them I felt Osprey was the best fit for me.
Of course, actually getting the pack was something of an odyssey. I had scoped it out at two Salt Lake City shops, trying it on, checking out the various features, and comparing it to others. When I finally got ready to pull the trigger a few weeks later, though, the task got a bit more complicated. The first shop I had visited and was ready to purchase from had sold out its allotment of the pack (this is one hot seller), and the REI store for some reason only carries the Aether 70 in emerald green, not the eye-catching sunburst pictured above.
I figured that if I was going to invest in a new pack after all these years, it was going to be in the color of my choice. So, sitting in the parking lot of the REI store, I surveyed my options. A quick phone call to the folks at Inland Sports in Layton, Utah, told me that not only did these guys have the pack in my size, but also my color.
After a drive of about 30 minutes or so I was soon fitted with the pack and happy with what I had found.
And what was that exactly? Well, for starters, a pack that is lightweight, ringing in at 4 pounds, 12 ounces for the large. The lightness can be traced to a variety of nylon panels (210 denir ripstop, 420 denir twill, 500 denir plain, and 1000 denir plain) that provide durability as well as strength.
It has one main compartment that, along with the sleeping bag nook at the bottom, offers 4400 cubic inches of storage space in the large model (4200 in medium). On the outside are three pockets -- one on each side and one running down the back -- that are made from a stretchy woven material (how's that for tech talk?) that not only hold items tightly so they don't slop around but also provide a streamlined exterior, one that won't snag on the vegetation as you bushwhack.
There are plenty of other interesting features, such as the internal hydration sleeve that comes with two ports, one on either side to please both righties and lefties; an internal compression strap to keep things snug; plenty of exterior compression straps; and two loops to let you haul your skis up the mountain.
Not to be overlooked is the "Airscape Suspension System." I'm still trying to figure out exactly what "Airscape" means, but I have deduced that it makes this pack very comfortable. Sewn into either side of the pack are two 7075 aluminum rods that offer stability and, when you add weight to the pack, keep it close to your back.
The IsoForm CM hipbelt is extremely comfortable. And it should be, because they mold it to your hips, not some generic pair back at the factory. This is done by sticking the belt into an Osprey oven for about 10 minutes and then cinching it around your waist and wearing it for 10 more. (You can move up to the BioForm hipbelt, which is beefier, but if you're carrying less than 45-50 pounds that'd probably be overkill.) The shoulder straps are well-padded and offer great adjustments for balancing the weight just right.
This is my first interior frame pack, and I was a bit concerned about the pack riding against my back, generating friction spots and swimming in a pool of sweat. Well, that didn't happen. The suspension system includes a nubbed Airscape backpanel that provides not only a comfortable ride but also pretty decent airflow.
Are there downsides to this pack? Well, I think Osprey went overboard when they decided to make the top pocket detachable so it could double as a fanny pack. To make this transformation, not only do you have to take the top pocket off, but you have to take the hip belt off the main pack and then attach it to this pocket. It's a tedious process.
I field-tested this baby in Utah's San Rafael Swell and was impressed with how well it performed. Carrying enough cloths, food and gear (not to mention the hydration bladder with 2 liters of water) for two days, this pack weighed in at a breezy 30 pounds, and there was room to spare for more gear.
While I've heard tell that some have used this pack for 5-day adventures, you might want to consider the Aether 85, which, in the large, weighs only 3 ounces more and can store 5400 cubic inches of gear.