Next to your boots, a backpack is the one other piece of gear you’ll either loathe or love at the end of a multi-day backcountry trip. That’s because the way it fits makes itself known on every inch of trail you hike with it. The way it carries your gear and how easily you can access your trail mix, map or ibuprofen are also equally important. I’ve been using the same heavy ugly pack for the past 20 years simply because others I’ve tried couldn’t live up to its standard and got sold, returned or stuffed in the back of my gear closet. But then Osprey sent me the Kestrel 68 Backpack ($170-$200) to try, and it might be time to put the old pack out to pasture.
The Kestrel 68 is classified as a multi-day backpack, ideal for carrying 40 to 60 pounds on long weekends or week-long trips far from civilization. The 68 in the name refers to the 68 liters of gear it can haul (M/L size) and it does it intelligently. One gripe I’ve had about packs in the past is the lack of large outside pockets for quick access to key items. The Kestrel 68 has two long slash pockets along either side, as well as a stretchy mesh back panel, the latter of which is perfect for a holding pair of sandals to wear around camp and a rain shell. In addition, the Kestrel also has two stretchy side pockets that are sized right for liter water bottles. Even the hip belt has two small pockets, which allow your energy bars and GPS to be close at hand. The floating top has no less than three zippered compartments in different sizes. Multiple bungees and compression straps make for easy lashing of loose items such as tent poles or a camera tripod. There is a smartly-placed pair of loops made specifically for stowing trekking poles on the fly. Brilliant.
With all these outer pockets and straps and loops, the cavernous inside is still left for bulkier items. The separated bottom compartment means your sleeping bag rides alone below everything else for easy access so you don’t have to empty all your clothes out just to get to it. Par for the course, the Kestrel 68 has an inner sleeve for a large hydration bladder and routing ports for the drinking hose.
OK, so it carries a lot and does it well. So how does it fit? Like a dream. Osprey uses a curved rigid frame called the Airscape ™ that keeps the load close to the body and keep it all stable. A ribbed back panel allows for air circulation and the whole torso panel is adjustable to fine tune for different length backs. The result is a pack that I’d happily take on a week-long backpacking trip. On a couple of test hikes, I loaded the Kestrel down with camera gear, food, clothes and a tent, totaling around 40 pounds. By the end of the hikes, I still felt fresh and ready to keep going, which might be the best thing you can say about a pack.
Buy Now: $170-$200