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TheBigOutside.com  – Featuring Atmos/Aura AG 65, Ace Series, and Ultralight Dry Sack – November 2015

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Atmos/Aura AG 65, Ace Series, and Ultralight Dry Sack – November 2015

November 1, 2015
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It’s that time of year again, when you’re looking for the right gift for a special person—or maybe you want to give a special someone the right suggestions for a gift for you. Either way, check out my annual list of 25 favorite new pieces of outdoor gear and apparel, with links to my original reviews of these jackets, packs, boots, tents, and other gear.

The biggest innovation to emerge in backpacks in 2015—and the most-read gear review at this blog for months (so apparently a lot of backpackers were interested in these new packs)—was the Anti-Gravity suspension in Osprey’s Atmos AG series for men and Aura AG series for women. See my review of the Osprey Atmos AG 65 and Aura AG 65

Want your kid to like backpacking? Give her a pack that’s as comfortable as yours with the Osprey Ace kids backpacks, which come in 38L, 50L, and 75L volumes, for young people of all sizes.

In my years-long quest for the lightest stuff sacks that keep extra clothes and other items in my backpack dry (short of complete immersion), I’ve arrived lately at two brands I like: the roll-top Osprey Ultralight Dry Sacks

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Exos 58 – October 2015

October 1, 2015
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I was just getting ready to get the Osprey Atmos 65 backpack for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Osprey and REI say a large is 3 lbs. 10 oz. Your review of the 2015 Atmos 65 said a medium would be 4 lbs. 6 oz. Really? Why the significant extra weight?

…It’s a good thru-hiker pack, though I’d also suggest you take a good look at the Osprey Exos 58 for thru-hiking if your gear is light and compact. I used the Exos 58 on a four-day, 86-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite, carrying up to 25 pounds, and on a weeklong hut trek in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. (My friend, Todd, is carrying the first generation of the Exos 58 on the Pacific Crest Trail at Glen Aulin in Yosemite National Park in the lead photo, above.) I’ve liked that pack a lot since the first version of it came out in 2008.

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Talon 18/Tempest 16 – July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015
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I’ve used enough daypacks over the years to notice the little differences between the many models out there—and to be very picky about them. Not only do I favor lighter, simpler daypacks for everything from dayhikes with my family to ultra-dayhikes, but I expect comfort, good access, and versatility, and I know what I like in features. With those requirements in mind, I took Osprey’s Talon 18 out on several dayhikes of varying lengths—including a 27-mile, 12-hour day—during a six-day rafting trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

It carried comfortably even throughout my longest day. The molded-foam, Airscape back panel flexes and doesn’t have the rigidity of a wire frame, but has good support for 15 or more pounds and keeps the pack’s weight down; it also allowed some air circulation across my back.

If, like me, you prefer a lightweight, multi-use pack for dayhiking, adventure racing, or scrambling peaks, with simple but smart organization, the men’s Talon 18 and women’s Tempest 16 are good choices. Osprey’s Talon series includes several models from 6L to 44L. The women’s Tempest series, with a gender-specific harness, is available in models from 6L to 40L.

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Atmos AG, Aura AG and Ace Series – August 14, 2014

August 14, 2014

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Thinking about buying a new backpack, tent, boots, or other outdoor gear or apparel? I recently spent a couple of days wandering the floor of The Salt Palace in Salt Lake City—a convention center you could fit a few Wal-Marts inside—at the Outdoor Retailer Show, ogling the best of the new products for hiking and backpacking that will hit stores in 2015…

I’m a fan of the Osprey Atmos packs, and for 2015 the pack maker updates the series with a unique, lightweight mesh suspension that wraps around the hips and torso like a sock on your foot. True to the Atmos and Aura pedigree, the peripheral-wire frame is built for loads of 50 pounds or more…

As a father of two young backpackers, I understand the challenge of finding kids’ packs that fit well and are comfortable—especially on smaller, skinny kids age nine to 11. So I’m eager to have my kids test drive the new Osprey Ace 38 (2 lbs. 6 oz., for ages 10 to 14), Ace 50 (2 lbs. 15 oz., for ages 11 to 16), and Ace 75 (3 lbs. 9 oz., for ages 12 to 17)…

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Exos 58 – July 21, 2014

July 21, 2014

When Osprey introduced the Exos pack series in 2008, it immediately became a leader—and helped redefine how we think about backpacking. It showed us that a backpack weighing under three pounds can serve the needs of everyone from weekenders to longer-distance backpackers and thru-hikers, and it gave ultralighters an option to the minimalist rucksacks that fill that category (which are “minimalist” both in weight and comfort). Success is a tough act to follow, and revising a popular product is risky. As a longtime fan of the original Exos packs, I took the new Exos 58 out on a seven-day, hut-to-hut trek on the Alta Via 2 through Italy’s Dolomites and concluded that Osprey has taken something that was very good and made it lighter and better.

The secret sauce in the top-loading Exos—the reason it carries up to about 30 pounds comfortably while itself tipping the scales at a pound or two less than many competitors—is the perimeter frame made of 6065 aluminum with a stabilizing cross strut. (Picture a somewhat squared-off figure eight.) The frame has only the slightest flex to it along both its vertical and horizontal axes—compared to, say, a plastic framesheet found in many packs that will flex much more—and the frame’s curved shape transfers much of the pack weight onto your hips, where you want it.

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thebigoutside.com – Featuring Reverb 18 – March 11, 2014

March 11, 2014

You’re skiing or snowboarding at a resort, riding lifts, but the groomers have been totally carved up and even the off-piste snow in the trees is hash. So the only remaining option for finding untracked powder is to go where most skiers and riders don’t go: to the slopes not served by lifts, where you have to climb uphill under your own power. For that, you’ll need a lightweight, compact backcountry snow pack—one that has enough space for your safety gear but isn’t too cumbersome to wear while lift-served skiing. A pack like the Reverb 18.

I really liked this streamlined pack for days of riding lifts at my local resort to access the adjacent backcountry, and for carrying a little food and water on days of just skiing the inbounds terrain at a couple of Idaho resorts with my kids. The slender dimensions of the pack made it virtually unnoticeable on my back when riding lifts or telemark skiing in- or out-of-bounds—even stuffed full, it bulges out only about six inches, so I never removed it for riding lifts, and it hugged me tightly when cruising downhill. Dual zippers the full length of the Reverb 18 open the back panel to access the main compartment and the zippered hydration sleeve, so you can lay it down to keep snow out and get at the contents even when carrying skis or a snowboard.

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Xenith 88 and Xena 85 – November 21, 2013

November 21, 2013

Looking for a gift idea for a hiker, backpacker, climber, skier… or maybe something special to suggest to someone shopping for you? I test a lot of adult and children’s outdoor gear and apparel every year for Backpacker Magazine and to review in this blog, and friends and readers ask me regularly for advice on buying gear.

So here’s my annual list of my top 25 favorite new pieces of outdoor gear and apparel—with links to my original reviews of these packs, boots, tents, jackets, and other gear—plus a new backcountry food my entire family loves, and a terrific book for traveling families. If you’re dreaming of big adventures in 2014, get busy prepping your gear for it.

Got a huge load to carry? The Osprey Xenith 88 and women’s Xena 85 are my top choices for hauling over 50 pounds.

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Xenith 88 and Xena 85 – August 23, 2013

August 23, 2013

When loading the men’s Xenith 88 (the Xena 85 is the women’s model) with nearly 60 pounds of family gear and food for a six-day, 45-mile family hike in Sequoia National Park, I cringed, expecting my hipbones and hip flexors to protest loudly when I put it on. But the moment I shouldered the pack, I was surprised by how comfortable it felt. And it remained comfortable throughout several hours of hiking every day.

What’s the explanation? There have been impressive design innovations to make backpacks more comfortable, stable, and lightweight in recent years. But when you’re carrying a big load—50 pounds or more—comfort boils down to the pack’s foundation: the frame and hipbelt. The Xenith and Xena’s plastic framesheet and peripheral aluminum rods bend toward the base of the pack, transferring most of its weight to the hips (despite the lack of stabilizer straps, the straps normally found where the hipbelt connects to the packbag). Meanwhile, the hipbelt sports bodacious padding and molded-plastic reinforcement to maintain its shape under a monster load. The frame holds the pack close to the hips and shoulders while allowing air to pass through a gap between my spine and the back pad, keeping me much cooler. Plus, the packs come in three sizes, all adjustable for five inches of torso range, with four sizes of harness and custom-moldable hipbelt for both men and women. So you can really fine-tune the fit—also a big deal with a big load.

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TheBigOutside.com – Featuring Manta 28 – June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013

For multi-hour dayhikes, when you need to carry a fair bit of extra clothing, food, and water, I like a pack with at least 20 liters of capacity, good organization, easy access, and that carries a load efficiently. It’s just a bonus if your back stays cool, too. With those two sentences, I’ve just summed up the Manta 28.

Carrying it on a two-day, June hut trek in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I found it excels at that last attribute: keeping me cool in sweaty conditions. The reason? A trampoline-style, taut mesh back panel that creates a gap between your back and the pack, letting air flow across my sweaty back on hot uphill slogs. The mesh-covered, perforated foam hipbelt—which is mounted directly onto the mesh back panel, so that it wraps cleanly around my waist—and perforated mesh shoulder straps also breathe remarkably well. But unlike some packs with a similar trampoline design, the Manta does not sit so far off your back that the weight pulls on your shoulders, thanks to a supportive, peripheral wire frame that carried 15 pounds or more very comfortably for me over 12-mile days. Plus, the pack rides low on your back, making it versatile for longer mountain bike rides as well.

The Manta 28 had space for two days’ worth of trail food (I ate breakfast and dinner in the hut), plus all the clothes I needed for two days in the mountains, incidentals like sunglasses and cell phone, a sleeping bag liner, and a full three-liter bladder. I really like the organization. The panel-loading design provides quick access to the main compartment. There are three zippered front pockets—one of them lined with an embossed fabric for delicate objects like sunglasses and electronics—two stretchy side pockets large enough to hold a liter bottle, and two spacious hipbelt pockets. The Hydraulics three-liter bladder—which comes with the Manta 28, a $30 value—nests inside a dedicated slot at the back of the pack, so I could remove and refill the bladder without unloading the pack.

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