For several reasons I am in the market for a serious backpack – reasons I will undoubtedly get back to in this blog. I am a bit late to backpacking, at the age of 43, I am anything but a hipster touring the world to party on some remote beach or in guesthouses in the tropics. Consequently, I took my time reading backpack reviews and forums, trying to figure out what I really need – how big, how heavy, how comfortable, features I want and I don’t want, etc.
The pack that sounded most promising among the myriad of options (buying a car, fridge or even a full kitchen seems to be an easy undertaking compared to the world of hiking and trekking gear) was the Osprey Exos 46 – translating to 46 liters volume, or in the case of the L version, even 49 liters or 3000 cubic inches.
The Osprey backpacks come, basically, in three sizes – small, medium and large, made to fit short or long backs. I soon found that I need the ‚large‘ option, when I was able to try on a few Osprey packs at my local outdoor outfitter’s, but they didn’t have an Exos, so I ordered it online.
Why the Osprey Exos 46?
First and foremost, it is ultralight – 1100 g for a backpack with a lightweight frame is incredibly light (although the hardcore ultralight backpackers still find ways to make it even lighter). Schlepping around gear for a three-night wilderness trek or a 9-week backpacking tour will leave you with a lot of stuff to carry, and shedding a few ounces here and there helps tremendously.
Then, I fell in love with the air-mesh back, which gives you lots of circulation, no soaked shirts for me, thanks a lot. (I have a small daypack from Deuter which I bought for the same reason, and I absolutely love it). The sales lady at my outdoor shop told me that a mesh back will cost you too much of that valuable volume – but the Exos series demonstrates that you can have both.
Reason no. 3 was the fast-stow technology for hiking poles. With an injured and still recovering knee, hiking poles are part of my standard hiking setup these days.
And, of course, there were some great reviews and testimonials for the Exos, e.g. Lauren from Neverending Footsteps. View her post on her packing list and what she fits into the Exos 46 – it is quite impressive!
As was this video review by a guy who walked the Arizona Trail.
When the backpack arrived, I was ecstatic, and after trying it on, I loaded it up with a lot of stuff, coming to 11 kg (more than 22 lb). Yes, the Exos is as light as advertised, and the volume is impressive at second glance. The 11 kg felt quite comfortable, weight distribution is very good, and carrying the load for a longer time was as comfortable as expected.
Some people on the net complain that the waist strap is not suitable for waists above 32 inches circumference – but it is, absolutely, (unless, maybe, you have a beer belly, then you’d need a longer strap). I am anything but slim, but the Osprey fit just fine.
Still, in the end I decided to not keep the Exos, but hunt for a new pack instead.
Why not the Osprey Exos 46?
- It is a top loader. Now I knew that from the start, so, if the other factors wouldn’t chime in, this would have been something I could deal with, although not very happily. Most packs you find these days have more than one way to access the interior. Shedding grams also means losing extra zippers and access routes to the stuff you have packed. That may be okay on a three-day-wilderness trip, but will be a nuisance on a trip taking several weeks – since my backpack will have to double as travel luggage.
- No rain cover. When traveling parts of the world with less sunshine than Arizona, a rain cover is an absolute must-have, so I’ll have to buy one separately (which is okay, though it adds another 20 bucks) and will have to carry it separately, because there is no pocket dedicated to that purpose – and of course it adds to the weight, too.
- When I don’t load the Exos with more than 5 kg, it isn’t comfortable. That’s a strange complaint of sorts, but the pack is made to fit a body fully loaded.
- The straps and buckles are very flimsy, due to weight-reduction. I prefer something I can grab more easily, adjusting straps is sometimes quite complicated. And the padding of the waist/hip belt is nonexistent, plus the zippered bag on the hip belt (which I like) isn’t reachable easily. The side mesh pocket designed to carry water bottles doesn’t hold them as good as expected. Or in short: too many straps dangling, too little usability (for my purposes).
- My main reason not to keep the Exos 46, though, was the rigid part of the carrying system pressing on my hip (or you could say: big butt). Although the load distribution was good, this would have made the Exos literally a pain in the ass over long time.
Overall, the Exos 46 is a great minimalist backpack, with lots of useful features, if you need them – like strapping your sleeping pad or ice picks onto it, excellent compression straps, and lots of space you wouldn’t expect. If you can deal with a one-compartment-only backpack (I would always love a wet/used clothing space), and are looking for something really light without losing the comfort of a carrying system, this might be what you are looking for.
For me, unfortunately, it isn’t.