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Osprey Exos Backpacks – UpaDowna
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Osprey Exos Backpacks

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Osprey Packs is based in Cortez, CO, so as with most Colorado-based gear companies, UpaDowna is slightly biased towards them because we love to support our local folks when they make solid products. Osprey's Exos line, released last year, brings us a line of extremely lightweight, yet full-featured, overnight backpacks. I've probably read close to 20 different reviews of this line of packs since they were released, but I feel like a lot of those reviews were made after one or two trips with these packs. Here are my thoughts on this line of packs after more than a year and a several hundred trail miles….

Osprey Exos 46 and 58

Volume: 46 L = 2800 cu in, 58 L = 3500 cu in (for size M, -/+ 200 cu in for S/L)

Weight: 2lbs 5oz, 2lbs 8oz

Carrying capacity: up to 30lbs, up to 40lbs

MSRP: $179, $219

The first thing I noticed when putting on the Exos packs was the "BioStretch" shoulder straps and hip belt. Osprey has blown out the archaic idea of a bulky solid piece of foam covered with a nylon sleeve and replaced it with a lighter, spongier, slotted piece of foam covered with a nylon mesh. The photo on the left shows the shoulder and hip straps, as well as the back panel. When I sinch the straps I can feel them flatten out and conform to my body. The flexibility of the straps seems to conform to the little irregularities of a body like collar and hip bones, spots that are otherwise known to become pressure spots or hot spots. For me, it actually feels comfortable to put the pack on, much more so than other packs I have owned. (BioStretch is also featured on the Atmos and Talon lines.)

The frame system for these packs is unique and inventive, yet simple. The Exos series features Osprey's AirSpeed suspension. This is essentially an alloy frame design that holds the pack about 2" off the hiker's back (check the side profile pic below). As you walk air flows through the gap allowing this bag to vent moisture like no other. When walking I literally feel the breeze shoot down my back, and I love it. In fact, a few times while getting used to this pack I suddenly became very paranoid that my bladder had ruptured because of how much air was hitting my sweaty back and cooling me down. Osprey has done a few versions of this type of suspension and the biggest gripe from users is the amount of dead space the gap creates, and how it ultimately shifts your center of gravity backward. This revision compensates for that by closing the gap a bit to get rid of some of the dead space while still allowing plenty of air flow. To me, this is their best version of this frame so far. (AirSpeed suspension is available on the Atmos and Aura series as well, and the very similar AirCore suspension is featured on Osprey's Stratos series.)

The overall design of the bag is similar to many overnight packs; lid compartment, external mesh storage, compression straps along the sides, water bottle pockets behind your hips, sleeping pad straps, etc. The difference is they have shaved weight by making every single strap and every single buckle half the size that would normally be used; 5/8" webbing for the shoulder straps, 3/4" for the hip belt and vertical compression, and tiny 1/4" webbing for the sleeping pad and side compression. For gram-counters that cut excess strapping, Osprey has eliminated a good portion of this weight for you already. For the side compression, there are two individual V-shaped straps on either side of the pack so the compression is thorough even though the straps are tiny. The lower V compression is set up so it can run on the outside (shown) or the inside of the water bottle pocket. I like this because I usually only carry one bottle, but I don't want a bag that insists that I always set up my load the same way. The concern with the tiny compression straps is that they put more focused points of pressure on the seams. From a physics standpoint this concern is valid, and Osprey addressed it by reinforcing these contact points internally. (You can feel it when you get your fingers on it.)

A gripe about the bottle pockets; my experience with Osprey packs has been that their bottle pockets are barely big enough to accommodate a standard 32oz Nalgene bottle. The bottles fit in at an angle, but I bend and bounce a lot. I've had bottles fall out of the pockets before, so I like to get the bottle all the way into the pocket. When you do this on a stuffed Osprey pack (or at least the ones I have used) the bottle lid puts a lot of pressure on the mesh of the pocket putting it at risk for a tear, and I did tear mine just a little bit. I switched to slimmer 24oz bottles and carry a bulk of my water in a bladder. (We'll get into the disadvantages of bladders another day.)

Osprey has also come up with a way to store your trekking poles on-the-fly, without removing your pack. There is a loop for the tips of your poles (after you shorten them) just behind your left hip, and on the left shoulder strap there is an adjustable stretch-cord loop. Loosen the loop, put it around the pole grips, and tighten it up a bit. Your poles are now stored running under your left arm. It can be kinda like having a holstered shotgun at your side, but it's a good way to free your hands if you would like to go without poles for a mile or two. One down-side, my inner arm was brushing the loop on the shoulder strap which caused some chaffing/irritation. After the pack was broken in and I made adjustments to the fit the problem seemed to resolve itself. However, it seems possible that this problem could be permanent for someone with the right (or wrong, in this case) torso shape.

There are a few other things worth mentioning that make this pack feature-rich. There are two baggy mesh pockets on the hip belt. You could store a baseball in either, and the mesh takes the guesswork out of remembering what is where. The shoulder strap has another small, stretchy storage pocket. I once heard a rep refer to this as a Goo Pocket. I don't carry gels or goo, but this pocket is perfect for my iPod Nano. There are two zippered, side-entry storage pockets outside of the main bag and two tool attachments (only one of each for the 46L). There is also a zippered mesh storage pocket hidden under the lid. The external pouch where you would store a wet rain jacket is made of a stretchy fabric rather than mesh, which has become popular with a lot of pack makers. Also, as with all Osprey packs, the buckle on the torso strap has a built-in emergency whistle that is great for annoying your friends while on the trail.

These packs do not feature zippered access to the sleeping bag compartment. No doubt this once again saves a bunch of weight. This is my first bag without this zipper, and after rethinking my method of packing it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would.

Regarding the weight capacity of these packs listed above, 30 and 40lbs are the absolute limits of these packs and you are definitely sacrificing comfort with loads of this size. The ideal loads for these packs are about 10lbs below this limit. The 58 will carry a compressed 20 degree synthetic sleeping bag (basketball-sized) but it seems to work best with a down bag (large loaf of bread). The 46, in my opinion, will not accommodate a sleeping bag larger than a loaf of bread. There is also a 34L (2050 cu in) size Exos bag which I did not test, but I did play with it in the store. With a weight limit of 25lbs (subtract 5-10lbs again) it would mostly be used as a large daypack or a warm weather single overnight pack. The 34 has no tool attachments or external zippered pocket.

After steady use for a year, I can say that I don't feel like durability was compromised in the design of this pack. However, I feel like it has limited usefulness in the winter. The lighter materials and slimmer external webbing will probably not endure the abuse of sharp edges on crampons, skis, and snowshoes for long. The external tool storage will handle an ice axe, but you may find limitations in carrying heavier items.

Overall, the Osprey Exos line brings excellent packs to the market for backpackers wanting to carry a light load without sacrificing the comfort, durability, and money of a true "ultralight" pack. And this seems to be what a lot of backpackers are working towards these days. Personally, I love carrying a light load for multi-day treks through the Colorado Rockies so I am a huge fan of these packs.

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