Like the natural world, the gear we use follows a cycle. Backpacking in the ’90s was all about having equipment that would stand up to the abuse offered up by gnarly wilderness. Back then, I was lugging a 60+ pound Astralplane on mountaineering expeditions. By 2005 my kit was pared down to 30 pounds of gear for the exact same trips.
Nowadays, we seem to be swinging back towards favoring comfort and solid construction in our gear. My wife and I wear packs that usually include a hammock, camp chairs and a couple cans of craft beer. And since we’re usually working while in the backcountry, our camp often looks like a solar farm. For these kinds of trips, we need a pack that can comfortably carry some weight for about 10-15 miles without being overbuilt. Osprey’s Aether 70 fits that description perfectly.
We packed up the Aether 70 for a three-day backpacking trip (including camp chairs and a hammock) and hit the lush beauty of Oregon’s North Umpqua Trail. The segment we walked is a solid track with gradual ups and downs. Nothing too strenuous, except for the weather: pouring rain and 48 degrees. Not so good for chilling in the hammock, but perfect for using the Aether’s J-Panel to access gear deep inside the pack body without going through the top opening. The J-Panel offers zippered access from the front of the pack; you can open it just a little to get to what you need, keeping out less rain than top access. If you work it right, you can also use it without entirely removing the rain cover.
The Aether is a fully featured pack, with comfortable padding where you need it and just the right number of bells and whistles. The dual zippered pockets on the hipbelt are easy to access and spacious enough for snacks, smartphones or a pocket camera. There’s a nifty connection for your trekking poles on the left shoulder strap. The mesh side pocket holds a water bottle, though it’s a bit tight for smooth access. The top lid comes with a waist belt, allowing it to be used on day missions from your basecamp instead of taking the whole pack. The top lid can even be attached to the pack’s hipbelt, which is removable, for a more comfortable carry. I can actually see using this feature to carry a full-size camera plus a couple lenses for a day mission.
The hipbelt was plenty comfy on our test run without molding, and the waist strap cinched up nice and snug. Using a warming oven, someone in the know at REI can custom mold Osprey’s IsoForm4 hipbelt to your hips for ideal comfort. The shoulder straps and internal frame also performed flawlessly, comfortably supporting our loads (about 35 pounds) while we walked. Weighing just shy of five pounds empty, it’s right at the average for a 70-liter pack. When you don’t need to fill the pack, the side straps cinch it in nicely.
Overall, the Aether 70 is a classic, comfortable pack for any backpacker who needs the volume, from weekend warriors to those heading off on longer adventures.