Gear Review: Osprey Exos 34 Ultralight Pack

I have acquired a lot of packs over the years, so it takes something pretty special to interest me in adding to my collection. After nearly three years of coveting the Osprey Exos 34, I finally pulled the trigger earlier this month—and then put it to the test on a series of challenging hikes.

Initial review: Outstanding, especially for tall hikers. Long-term review: Uncertain—I have several significant concerns about how well this pack will hold up over time.

A quick backgrounder on this pack. It's a very lightweight, 2-pound pack with enough room (1,953 to 2,197 cubic inches, depending on size) to carry a lot of day hiking gear or enough equipment for an ultralight backpacking trip. It uses the company's "AirSpeed suspension," which features a distinctive thin metal frame that runs around the perimeter of the pack; a tensioned mesh backpanel stretches across it for maximum ventilation.

Otherwise it has most of the standard features of packs these days, including a floating lid pocket, kangaroo pocket on the back, large water bottle pockets on this side, internal hydration system, load stabilizer straps, side compression straps, plus some bonus features such as two small waistbelt pockets and a "Stow-on-the-Go" trekking pole attachment system. It's reasonably priced at $149.

There are plenty of ultralight packs out there, so what is about this pack that I found so enticing? Easy. The large size fits tall people extremely well, a rarity for packs of this capacity. I've long searched for a pack of this size and weight that properly fits my 6 foot 5 inch frame—and this is one of the few that fits the bill (so to speak).

The pack features a lightweight mesh waistbelt and is designed to handle loads up to 25 or so pounds, which it did easily and comfortably on a series of long day hikes and one short overnight excursion. The suspension system easily transferred the load onto my waist and lower body, finally freeing my shoulder muscles from day-hiking loads.

Overall I'm quite excited to have this pack in my collection, but it's tempered with a nagging sense of foreboding that certain parts of the pack will not stand the test of time. Specific concerns include:

1) When you set the pack down, it rests on two points on the metal frame, which is covered with a thin layer of fabric. It seems inevitable that this fabric will abrade over time, expose the metal frame underneath, and potentially affect the tension of the backpanel. I may put some duct tape over these points to improve their durability.

2) The water bottle and waistbelt pockets are mesh, as is the waistbelt. In my experience, mesh fabric is almost always one of the first things to fail on any backpack. It only takes a small tear and the damage can steadily propagate, plus it's a very challenging material to repair.

3) The compression straps, and the straps that attach the floating lid, are extremely narrow (approx. 1/8") and run through equally small buckles, which are subjected to a lot of force when you pull the straps tight. I am concerned that these (hard to find or replace) buckles have the potential to fail over time.

Of course, these are the compromises you make to gain such significant weight savings, so we'll see how things hold up in the years to come. It's got a tough predecessor to beat, however: It replaces a North Face Exocet day pack I purchased in 1997 and used as my go-to day pack for more than 15 years.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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