Best Technical Commuter Bag: Gear freaks who want a purpose-built cycling bag that’s also good for a day hike would do well with the Osprey Spin, which has thoughtful features to prep efficiently for a commute. There’s a top stash pocket, a helmet attachment, a main compartment with laptop/tablet/folder sleeves, dedicated U-lock storage, a blinker attachment, expansion bellows and a slick rain cover for when the rain comes — and it usually does.
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.
Prior to leaving for Corsica to cover the 100th running of the Tour de France, I was searching for a backpack that would suit my needs as a one of Bicycling’s videographers for the race. I needed to haul a 15-inch laptop and an assortment of production gear, including my DSLR, microphones, cables, and adaptors. That made the Quantum my top choice. The pack includes plenty of pockets to stow and organize my gear. The zippers have handy pull-tabs that made accessing the main compartment easy. The ridged back panel was comfortable and breathable even with the backpack completely full. The laptop sleeve has a 15.4-inch capacity and it held my 15-inch computer securely. An additional sleeve kept my iPad safe and I used the internal zippered pockets for smaller items like keys, a GoPro camera, and iPhone chargers. A few other travel friendly features: side compression straps to secure small loads, side pockets for water bottles, and a removable waist strap.
Best For: 6 months—40 pounds (child must be able to support his head)
This pack gets five stars on just about every feature, but what else would you expect out of an Osprey pack? Though a little late to the party in the child carrier game (first model was released in 2010), it is clear that Osprey has done their homework, as their line of carriers is top-notch.
This work horse boasts a whopping 2075 cubic inches of storage space, as well as a detachable daypack for shorter excursions, just like the Kelty. Of the frame backpacks, this is the most adjustable—26” to 52” in the hip belt, and 15.5” to 21.5” in the torso. Of course, this carrier also comes with all the bells and whistles of the other frame packs—changing pad, sun shade, hydration compatible, and plenty of pockets.
PROS: Adjustability. This is probably the best option for parents who are on opposite ends of the size spectrum. As with other Osprey products, the customer service team is top-notch—expect answers to your questions within 24 hours, and in the event that something breaks, rest assured Osprey will stand by their products. A perfect option for backpacking and climbing approaches.
CONS: It hardly seems like a fair review without listing at least one con, but, to be honest, I was hard-pressed to find any.
Sneak Peek at 2014 Trail Running Gear
Osprey’s Rev Series
A removable, touch-screen phone pocket flips down for easy access. This pack comes in five(!) sizes, the smallest pack being the Rev 1.5 (1.5 Liter reservoir, $70, picutred), plus a Rev Solo ($40) waist pack. (Available January 2014)
Osprey has released a new lineup of packs, some of which have an innovative feature which allows the wearer to use their tablet without removing the device from the bag. I see this being a great feature for rail or bus commuters who often find themselves riding with their bags in their laps.
Field Test: All right, this is a brand new model, but here’s why I’m keen on it. Size: there are times—ski mountaineering; family backpacking trips—when capacity is king. The 75-liter version is the smallest of three monster packs (there’s an 88 and a 105, too) loaded with features—slick ski and tool attachments, pockets everywhere, smart access. But the best elements have to do with fit. If you’re carrying 20 pounds you can get away with webbing straps. When you bump that weight past 50, suspension is crucial. Here, the harness is anatomically correct (and gender specific) and the thickly cushioned waist belt is heat moldable. A must for those of us without hips.
Why It’s Timeless: Big adventures = big packs.