Photo 1: Osprey Aether 60.
Osprey’s Aether 60 has rightfully become a favorite backpack among many lightweight enthusiasts even though there are lighter alternatives. It is a great stepping-stone for backpackers who are transitioning to lighter loads. The Aether 60 makes its mark by providing a feature-rich, durable, 3,700 cubic inch (61 L) pack which weighs 56.6 oz (1.6 kg). The Aether 60 can handle loads approaching 40 pounds (18 kg) although there was some discomfort in the hipbelt with the heavier loads. It can carry skis, snowshoes, snowboards, ice axes, climbing ropes, kitchen sinks, and other necessary backcountry gear (many of these items can be carried simultaneously). The versatility and durability of the Aether 60 is excessive for those whose pursuit is simply lightweight trail hiking.
• Backpack Style
|Top-loading internal frame backpack.|
• Fabric Description
|210d double ripstop used in main pack body and pockets. Heavier 420d “chainlink” fabric used on bottom, sides, and center of compression panel.|
• Sizes (Size M tested)
• Volume (Size M tested)
• Weight (Size M tested)
• Volume to Weight Ratio
|65 ci/oz size M (based on 3,700 ci and Backpacking Light measured weight of 56.6 oz)|
• Load Carrying Capacity
|35 lb (15.9 kg) as estimated by Backpacking Light|
• Carry Load to Pack Weight Performance Ratio
|10 (based on 35 lbs and Backpacking Light measured weight of 56.6 oz)|
• Manufacturers Contact Information
|Osprey Packs, Inc.|
Ratings follow subtitles on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, and are relative to other Backpacking Light tested framed packs.
Frame and Suspension – 4.0
Photo 2: The Osprey Aether 60 Ergopull hipbelt showing the reverse pull adjustment straps.
The frame of the Aether 60 combines two composite rods with an exceptional pack compression system to create a rigid frame for loads up to 35 to 40 pounds (16 – 18 kg). The two composite rods run down each side of the back panel, ending where the hipbelt and shoulder harness stabilizers attach to the pack. This design is a lighter weight version of the frame Osprey uses in its larger packs. Tightening the shoulder strap and hipbelt stabilizers flexes the composite rods like a long bow and quite effectively pulls the packbag into the user’s back. The pack hugs the back and has great flexibility while doing an excellent job of transferring weight to the hips.
The suspension consists of a shoulder harness, padded hipbelt, sternum strap (with whistle), and hipbelt and shoulder strap stabilizers. Osprey’s unique Ergopull hipbelt adjustment straps attach to each side of the hipbelt in two locations, one high and one low, and to a single side-release buckle (Photo 2). Tightening the adjustment straps causes the hipbelt to cup, better forming to the shape of one’s hips. Rather than pulling away from a center buckle, the hipbelt adjustment straps are pulled toward the center buckle. Thus, while tightening the adjustment straps, the user is pulling the padded hipbelt and lower portion of the back panel into his or her lumbar instead of away from it. This adjustment is easier to make and more effective at locking the lower portion of the pack to the user’s lower torso. Unfortunately, we found that the padding used in the hipbelt lacks enough suppleness to perfectly shape to the contour of our testers’ hips, tending to be tighter along the lower edge than it was along the upper. We found the poor fitting belt tolerable, but improvements could be made. The shoulder straps, with their dual density foam, are contour cut, and follow body curves well. The point where the shoulder strap stabilizers attach to the shoulder straps can be adjusted. The sternum strap’s vertical adjustment range is long enough to suit all users, both male and female.
The Aether 60 is offered in three sizes to fit torsos from 16 to 22+ inches (41 – 56 cm). In addition, the shoulder harness is easily adjustable. The shoulder straps are connected to a short fabric and Velcro covered frame sheet which slides behind the padded mesh back panel and attaches to Velcro on the backside of the back panel. Field adjustment is a simple matter of breaking the Velcro connection and sliding the framesheet up and down. The question must be raised whether this connection will remain firm under a fully loaded pack. After anchoring the hipbelt to the floor and connecting a fish scale to both loose shoulder straps, I was able to pull over 50 pounds (23 kg) on this Velcro attachment without the slightest sign of release. Now consider that the pack will typically be loaded with less than 40 pounds (18 kg) and that most of this weight will be on the hipbelt. Also, the bottoms of the shoulder straps are connected to the lower back panel, so the weight on the Velcro will be that much less. Bottom line: it’s not going to slip.
Usable Features and Ease of Use – 4.5
The Aether 60 is loaded with features to adapt to a variety of outdoor pursuits. Pockets include two mesh water bottle pockets, a larger mesh back pocket, and a top lid pocket. The two mesh water bottle pockets located at the bottom of each side panel are uniquely accessible from both the top and front-facing side. This allows easy access to smaller items and secure storage for larger items. The pockets are large enough for a 1-liter water bottle and both openings are accessible while wearing the pack. The large mesh back pocket is a handy place to store gear and is secured by three of the back compression straps. The top hood pocket is roomy and fits well atop the pack. A keychain clip on the inside prevents those troublesome “where are the keys!” episodes many of us have experienced upon returning to the parking lot, but just prior to finding them buried in the pack. A double slider #5 YKK coil zipper closes this top pocket.
Plenty of essential attachment points are provided for the backcountry skier, snowboarder, snowshoer, and mountaineer. There are two ice axe loops located below the large mesh back pocket. The back compression straps, which are connected with side-release buckles, are ideal for attaching a snowboard or snowshoes. Along each side panel are attachment points for carrying skis. A climbing rope can be secured by the top lid and the upper ski attachment straps located on each side panel. If this is not enough, there are additional attachment points on the hood pocket and removable sleeping pad straps across the bottom that adjust with side release buckles.
The Aether 60 does not have a hydration pocket. There is a space behind the shoulder strap harness, but it was not large enough to comfortably hold a bladder without bulging the back panel out into the user’s back.
Load Volume Flexibility (Compression) – 5.0
Osprey’s unique compression system easily adjusts to varying load volumes. There are four compression straps on the back of the pack. Combined with the compression from the top pocket, these straps quickly reduce the pack to accommodate decreasing volume over an extended trip. For even smaller loads, three of the compression straps can be disconnected via side-release buckles and reconnected at points along the front of the side panels. They act to fold the left side of the pack over the right (like a burrito) creating a volume suited to day-hikes or a summit push.
The Aether 60 has an extension collar and numerous compression straps and accessory attachment points to attach additional gear to the outside to accommodate larger volume loads.
Osprey offers a line of add-on accessories, such as small day packs and crampon pockets, that cleanly attach to their ReCurve and Ethereal suspension packs. On the Aether 60, attachment points for such accessories lie at the sides of the large back mesh pocket and beneath the back compression straps. The accessory packs attach with sliders that button through D-rings on the Aether 60 pack. Those connections combined with the compression straps create a seamless, stable pack set up. We did not field test any accessories; however, we did observe their attachment at a local backcountry store. They add considerable weight (10 to 21 oz, 283 – 595 g) pushing the Aether 60 beyond a lightweight pack, but may provide some utility for those who occasionally need the extra capacity.
Pack Load Carrying – 4.0
The Osprey Aether 60 was tested with loads of varying volumes weighing from 45 to 20 pounds (20 – 9 kg). We found Osprey’s Ethereal two-composite rod suspension system was well suited for maximum loads of 35 – 40 pounds (16 – 18 kg). The frame, combined with the compression system, maintains rigidity up to 40 pounds but the hipbelt becomes less comfortable above 35 pounds. At this weight some reviewers preferred to shift more weight onto their shoulders. For users who find weight on their shoulders uncomfortable 35 pounds is a more accurate maximum comfortable carrying capacity.
The Aether 60’s ability to easily and effectively adjust to smaller volumes allows this pack to carry small, heavy loads with ease. After loading the pack, the compression strap side-release buckles can be reattached to the side panel attachment points. Tightening these effectively contains the load in as small a volume as necessary, close to one’s back, providing a comfortable and stable pack.
Durability – 5.0
Osprey made this pack to handle a considerable amount of abuse from a lightweight enthusiast. The fabrics used are durable and able to handle many encounters with rock and brush. Nothing has been overlooked in this regard as every likely location where durability could be in question is either made with more hardy fabric or reinforced with Hypalon.
Stitching quality is superb, all of the seams are taped, and countless bar tacks hold it all together under the most demanding use. In short, this pack is built to last.
Value – 4.0
The Aether 60 may be a little heavier and pricier than some would prefer, but it is still a reasonable value considering it has features to carry just about anything found in a backcountry store. The weight is directly reflective of its durability, which will appeal to those covering harsh terrain. On the other hand, these features and durability are excessive for trail hikers.
Recommendations for Improvement
Some reviewers found the hipbelt in the Osprey Aether 60 uncomfortable when tightened down for a heavier load. This is the result of the hipbelt not conforming to the hips, particularly along its lower edge. We’d like to see Osprey redesign the hipbelt.