The backpack. A hiker's/traveler's/wanderer's/schoolchild's most used piece of gear. You have no spare, you rarely replace it, and it's always with you – it quickly becomes an extension of your person (congratulations, now you're a hunchback).
That being said, you should really think carefully about your pack since you will not only be using it every day but also wearing it (aka it has to look nice). A pack's most important measure? How comfortable it is when you are wearing it (with weight in it). It matters not how amazingly awesome a pack's features are, what incredible things the review of the internet had to say about it, or how ridiculously good-looking it is (contrary to my claim above), if your pack isn't comfortable, then it's not a good pack (for you).
After careful consideration of many packs (and the visiting of many an outfitter to try said packs on), I finally decided upon the Osprey Atmos 65 for my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike (and subsequent travels). What brought me to this conclusion?
Well for some arbitrary reason I believed that I needed at least a 55-liter capacity, and I also wanted two points of access for the pack; I also liked the idea of having two front pockets and a hood with two additional pockets. The reviews weren't bad either. The need for a 55-liter capacity, front access, and extra pockets ended up being unnecessary as my time with the pack continued and I became more accustomed to living out of it. Still, I enjoy using this pack, and besides the time I had it replaced on account of some busted zippers, I have been happy with its performance.
- Frame type: Internal
- Gear capacity: 65 L / 3,967 in³
- Weight: 3 lbs. 9 oz. / 1.59 kg
- Adjustable torso: Yes
- Fits torso: 18 – 21 in / 45 – 53 cm
- Fits waist/hips: 28 – 38 in / 71 – 96 cm
- Material: High-tenacity/mini-ripstop nylon
- Frame material: Metal alloy
- Number of stays: 1 peripheral hoop
- Pack loading: Top
- Pack access: Top / front
- Number of exterior pockets: 8
- Sleeping bag compartment: Yes
- Gender: Men's
- Adjustable harness: 3 in / 7.5 cm of adjustment.
- AirSpeed suspension: 3D tensioned breathable mesh back panel
- Fit-On-The-Fly hipbelt: 6 in / 15 cm of adjustment while wearing
- Hydration sleeve: With exits on both sides
- Removable sleeping pad straps
- Removable top pocket
- Sleeping bag compartment: With removable divider
- Tool attachment: Two ice tool loops and bungee tool tie-offs
- Vertical zip pocket: Two vertical zip front pocket
NOTE: I have this pack in a MEDIUM. It also comes in small (62 L) and large (68 L). The information below reflects that of the Atmos in a medium (65).
THE COMFORT | Like I said, comfort is key, and the Osprey Atmos 65 is comfortable. Between the ventilated back, the load capacity, and the strap adjustments, this pack has what's needed to ensure a smooth and comfortable piggyback. Even when I have this pack filled beyond a reasonable level, it remains (relatively) comfortable as I drag it around. Occasionally I have to play with the load lifters following a long and heavy carry, but adjusting the pack whilst wearing it is easy.
THE VENTILATION | Osprey's AirSpeed suspension back panel does an excellent job of maintaining airflow between you and your pack. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this will somehow prevent your back from becoming a wet, smelly, disgusting mess of filth. What it does is create space for your back to breathe (lessening said mess) and prevent your pack from becoming soaked in your sweat. And it works.
THE FRONT ACCESS | For some reason, I was fixated on getting a pack with a front (or bottom) access zipper. The Atmos 65 meets these criteria. I love being able to access my sleeping bag (or sometimes food bag) from the bottom of the pack. As time went on I realized that I don't really need extra access, but it is nice to have. Also, I have packed the front access incredibly tight (the removable divider helps in this regard) and have yet to experience problems with the zipper or seams.
THE LOAD CAPACITY | One of the reasons I never regret having this pack is because I can pack it heavy without having to worry about not being able to handle to load. The heaviest I have carried this pack is around 55 pounds (leaving Kennedy Meadows on a ten-day stretch in the Sierra with no resupply), and it took it like a champ. I rarely found myself toying with straps loosening up because of the load.
THE BEAR CANISTER | This is not applicable to everyone, but for those of you dealing with a bear canister, know that you can fit it horizontally into this pack. Although this was (for some reason) a major consideration for me when deciding what pack to buy, I ended up carrying my bear canister vertically in the pack to allow for access to my food without having to remove anything from the pack. Funny how things work out.
THE WARRANTY | I like Osprey – they stand behind their products. Here is their All Mighty Guarantee straight from their website: “Osprey will repair for any reason, free of charge, any damage or defect in our product – whether it was purchased in 1974 or yesterday. If we are unable to perform a functional repair on your pack, we will happily replace it. We proudly stand behind this guarantee, so much so that it bears the signature of company founder and head designer, Mike Pfotenhauer.”
THE FRONT POCKETS | At first I was excited to have two additional compartments to organize my belongings into. However, I quickly found the two front pockets to be rather useless. With a fully loaded pack, it becomes nearly impossible to put anything bulkier than a map into these things. I usually leave the front pockets empty (especially if I have the hood attached) as I find little need for the additional compartmentalized space.
THE WEIGHT | This pack is big – sixty-five liters. It also weighs in at over three pounds (1.36 kg) which could easily be your heaviest piece of gear. Our friend the Atmos is not what many would call an ultralight pack. That being said, this is the price to be paid for a pack that can withstand a lot of abuse and a heavy load (while remaining comfortable).
THE EXCESSIVE STRAPS | This pack has a log of straps. A lot of very long straps. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the strappage did begin to annoy me and so I ended up taking a knife to the pack at a motel in Big Bear, California (scissors would have been a better option – and I would likely have one less scar). I suppose it's better to begin with more than you need than to wish you had more than you have.
THE ZIPPERS | The two front pockets are controlled with zippers. Zippers that proved to be useless. On day one of using this pack, one of the zippers broke and rendered its pocket (even more) useless. A few weeks later the second zipper went out in much the same fashion. Fortunately, I was able to have the pack replaced (after being accused of trying to overload it – the pack was not overloaded during the incidents in question). Also, note that this was not an isolated incident; I spoke to other hikers with Atmos packs who had the same issue with these zippers.
THE SIDE POCKETS | The side pockets are useful and spacious, but they are not very flexible. The pocket comes topped with a tight piece of elastic that cannot be stretched much beyond its resting state. I always find myself envious of other pack's true mesh pockets and their ability to hold whatever was thrown at them. Although you can manage to stretch them a bit, the pockets will disappoint should you attempt to get more than maybe two one-liter water bottles into them.
Yes, the Osprey Atmos 65 is a bit larger and heavier than other packs on the market, but I had no quarrels with this pack (outside the front pocket zipper issue) on my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. As I said before: comfort is key. This is why you cannot simply say “this pack is best”; backpack ratings involve a large degree of subjectivity.
So be wary of buying a pack online before you get a chance to try it on in a store. Get out of your hole and drag yourself to an outfitter to do some hands-on research. Check out the Atmos 65 here.
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