Osprey Aura 65 Backpack
The perfect beginner's backpack. Note: I am reviewing the Non-AG pack, which is an earlier version of this pack and is no longer available. The packs are basically identical though, the only difference being the hipbelt/ Anti-Gravity suspension.
Name: Osprey Aura 65
Updated Version: Osprey Aura AG 65
Size: 65 Liters (varies slightly depending on torso length)
Weight: approx. 4 lbs
Access: Top & Bottom
Tool attachment loops: 2
Sleeping pad straps: Yes
External pouch: Yes
Hydration sleeve: Yes, internal
Top lid: Yes, removable
Frame: Peripheral, LightWire
What I Like:
Comfort: The non-AG pack is super comfortable, so I have to believe that the AG pack is even more comfortable! This pack has been stuffed before - probably in the 45-50 lbs range, and I loved it. Once I adjusted the load lifters the suit my needs, everything felt very light on my back. I never had issues with the hip belt rubbing my skin raw. The hip belt is adjustable, so you can extend it out if you're a little wider at the hips. The frame with the mesh arc-ed backpanel is amazing. Having airflow on your back while backpacking is critical for me, and I don't think I'd ever be able to use a pack that didn't have this type of backpanel.
Organization: For a beginning backpacker, I think all of the organizational pockets can be really helpful when you don't know where you want to put things. The bottom compartment for a sleeping bag is something I really liked, and the external side zippered pockets were nice to put random things I wanted to access easily: first aid kit, trowel & TP, etc. or to keep dirty clothes separate from cleaner ones.
Load Capacity: I said this earlier: you can weigh this pack down. Osprey advertises a load limit of 50 lbs, but you could probably push 55 lbs if you needed to for some reason. Which is why I think this pack is great for a beginner who may or may not have a gear list dialed-in, or someone who is a comfort backpacker and wants to bring extra luxury items to the backcountry with them.
Space: This pack is big. You can fit all of your necessities into the pack with plenty more room to spare. You can even fit a bear canister horizontally!
Durability: This pack can definitely take a beating. I threw it on an airplane in checked baggage on an international flight to Peru and it didn't die! Its rolled around in dirt and on rocks and has never ripped, even the mesh pockets. And, even if it did get injured, Osprey's own warranty is so amazing: they will repair FOR FREE any defect or damage in product, no matter when/ where it was purchased.
Leave No Trace Reminder: LNT ethics are printed on the inner fabric at the top of this pack! Gotta love that, and Osprey's dedication to promoting LNT. This was actually my very first introduction to LNT, so thanks Osprey!
What I Don't Like:
Top Lid/ Closure: This has been rectified on the new version, but my style has a "removable" top lid that I would never remove because there was no "FlapJacket" lid to protect the top if it was lightly raining, for example. The drawstring closure does not close the top of the bag fully, so there is always space for water/ dirt/ bugs/ whatever to creep in if you were not using the lid. Like I said, the new version has this, so you can still securely close the top with a fabric lid if you are not using the bulky top lid.
Accessibility: For me, it was difficult to access items in the side pockets without taking off the pack. Even when using water bottles in the slanted, "easy access" configuration where the bottle points forward instead of up, it was difficult for me to reach. Maybe I'm just not flexible enough, but the pack is pretty far away from your body (hence, comfort), so this is a trade off.
"Bells & Whistles": As I backpacked more and dabbled into lightweight gear, I found the extra organizational features were unnecessary. Bottom access? Not necessary, everything eventually explodes out of my pack at camp. Bottom compartment "separator shelf" thing? Waste of extra fabric, straps, weight. External zippered areas? I didn't really need them - everything in there can go into the body of the pack. There also seemed to be straps I didn't really need and use. Why does one need 2 tool attachment loops? No idea, I don't. There was a lot going on with this pack which I thought was great and cool and definitely necessary when starting out, but I have come to realize that its just extra stuff (and weight) that I don't need.
Overall, I think this is a great pack, especially for a beginner or a comfort backpacker who will be carrying more weight. People use this pack for travel, weekend backpacking trips, and even thru-hiking long trails, and it consistently gets good reviews. Osprey is a great brand that stands behind their products, and I can't think of any reason to not buy from them unless their packs just don't fit you. P.s. if you're a man, or looking to buy for a man, their version is the Atoms 65.