Ideally, I would have loved to have tested this pack on a long trek like the Sierra High Route, hauling multiple days’ worth of food and gear, bopping from rock to rock for miles on end—but that was out of season.
Instead, we loaded up the packs for a three–day trek in January, a cold month with long nights. This was not a trip to cut out luxuries. I packed up my 15-degree sleeping bag, a chair for the long nights around the fire, a compressible pillow for the best night’s sleep, decadent foods to indulge on, and lots of layers. The 65-liter Osprey Ariel pack had no problem carrying these extra amenities on top of all the usual backpacking items.
When I first saw the backpack with its bulky-looking hipbelt, I hesitated. In the past I’ve had to constantly adjust large hipbelts in order to prevent the load from bouncing around on my hips. In the end I’m usually left with sore hips and two big raw cherries on my back. I tend to lean towards thinner hipbelts that cling to my waist better.
However, when I tried the pack on I was immediately impressed with the hipbelt’s fit. The women-specific padding molded to my hips nicely and the straps cinched tight to hold the pack in place. The extra padding made the weight of the pack barely noticeable and there was no bouncing on the rocky down-climbs. Nice additions to the hipbelt are the two generously sized zippered pockets. My phone fit in one easily with enough room for other necessities such as lip balm, while a healthy assortment of snacks stowed in the other.
Other handy features of the pack include the external access to the hydration sleeve, which makes it quicker and easier to refill the water reservoir midday. The front mesh pocket is great for stowing extra layers for stops or rain gear for intermittent showers. And the front panel J-zipper keeps even your bottom-of-the-pack gear handy. No need to worry if you accidentally buried the first-aid kit on the third day.
In the future I could see the removable, oversized top lid being handy on day hikes as it has plenty of space for snacks, water and layers. Side mesh pockets on the pack are a bit tight for a wide water bottle, and I hesitated to put anything valuable in them. The pack has good compression straps that kept the load tight, letting me move with good balance and agility across uneven terrain. There were several more buckles I didn’t use, and my guess is the pack gives you options for condensing your load on longer trips.
In the end, if you need a backpack roomy and comfortable enough for a long haul or sturdy enough to carry a heavy load—or simply for enjoying weekend backpacking—the Osprey Ariel will fit your needs. This is a solid, classic pack with good weight distribution, easy access and a comfortable hipbelt, plus all the bells and whistles. With three different sizes there’s a pack to fit every woman. Osprey also makes a men’s version for the man in your life.