Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Pack Smell: Osprey Kestrel 32 Review



There’s nothing like holding a new pack in your hands, meticulously combing over its slick features, and imagining all the great trips you’ll have with it.  Don’t get me wrong—old packs have their charm.  Every stain, fray, and battle wound conjures up past trips and fond memories.  But new packs invoke an excitement for adventures yet to come that old, trusted packs could never rival.  As I write this, one eye is staring at my new Osprey Kestrel 32 daypack and dreaming about future hikes and travels we’ll have together.  I took it out on its maiden voyage today and here is my review.  


I have been researching daypacks for about 2 months.  My old daypack (a North Face Recon II) was ready for retirement and I wanted something a little more technical.  Aside from the obvious like comfort and fit, my technical requirements were the following:

  • Panel loader for easier access to gear
  • Hip belt pockets that open with one hand  
  • Side pockets that are accessible without taking the pack off
  • Hip belt straps that tighten by pulling forward
  • Able to carry snowshoes
  • Front mesh pocket

The Kestrel 32 not only met all of my requirements, but exceeded my expectations with features I didn’t even think about.  After all of my research, I decided that this was the pack for me.  The best part?  While the pack retails for $130, I found a brand new one on eBay for only $85!  If you don’t hate me out of jealousy yet, please continue reading to see why this pack is so cool.

I’m 5’ 10” and got the S/M size, which fits me perfectly.  The suspension is adjustable so I adjusted it to fit my torso length.  Once dialed in, it was apparent that this is an extremely comfortable pack.  One thing I like is the Airscape system which allows air to circulate against your back to keep you cooler.  I’ve always been skeptical of these “sculpted” back panels but on my hike today, I was noticeably cooler.  I like the fact that the Airscape design doesn’t intrude on the main compartment of the pack, making it awkward to pack like some designs.  It’s just enough space to allow airflow but subtle enough that you don’t even know it’s there when you open up the pack (you can still pack stuff flat against the inside of the back panel).




The panel loading is probably my favorite feature.  This is a true panel loader that unzips beyond 50% of the pack length giving you easy access to all of your gear.  Nothing gets buried.  



In terms of organization, the Kestrel is a gem.  I love the hip belt pockets and the fact that I can grab and return my water bottle to the side pockets without taking the pack off.  There’s a slash pocket on the top of the pack that is good for storing smaller items you might need semi-quick access to on the trail or quick access to at the trailhead. 

One of Osprey’s strong points for me has always been their “straightjacket” compression system.    The Kestrel features a version of this that is slightly pared down from their older packs like the Ceres but it still just plain works.  Remember how I said that one of my requirements was to be able to carry snowshoes?  How smart is this:  The compression straps on the side of the pack have opposing male and female buckles.  This means you can unclip them from the sides, bring them around, and clip them together horizontally across the back of the pack.  This gives me the perfect system to carry my snowshoes (or other gear) when not in use.  That’s smart design.

Something that wasn’t a requirement for me but turned out to be a serendipity was the built-in rain cover.  Rather than digging through a trash compactor bag liner, all you have to do is unzip the zipper on the bottom of the pack, pull out the rain cover, and pull it over the pack.  If you absolutely don’t need it, it’s removable and will give you another pocket!



Another feature I really like (but didn’t expect) was the Stow and Go trekking pole storage system.  I hike in a lot of places where trekking poles are intermittently a good idea.  Sometimes you want them, sometimes they’re a nuisance.  This feature solves that problem by allowing you to easily stow your trekking poles out of the way when you don’t need them, but keeps them easily accessible when you do.  



Some other small details worth mentioning:

  • Dual daisy chains with loop Velcro on the inside
  • Reflective stretch cord loops with cord locks to carry ice axes or other gear
  • Hydration sleeve is accessible from the outside of the pack for easier refilling
  • Sternum strap is adjustable and has an integrated whistle

Nitpicks

Of course, no pack is perfect so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few design changes I’d like to see:

  • The slash pocket opening is a little narrow.  You can’t really open it up wide and see all the contents (but you can easily reach your hand in and feel for the piece of gear you’re looking for).  I’d like to see it open a little wider.
  • The front pocket is a stretch mesh that is very tight and narrow.  It’s perfect for things like maps but you wouldn’t be able to put a wet rain jacket or pair of Chacos in there to dry out.  This isn’t such a big deal because the Kestrel has so many other points of attachment but it would be nice to have a bigger front mesh pocket.
  • The hip belt pockets could be gusseted a little more to hold more gear.  I can easily fit my camera, Chapstick, lens cloth, and other things I need quick access to on the trail but it would be nice if there was a little more room like in the ULA-style pockets so I could carry slightly bulkier items like snacks.  
  • The hip belt straps are way too long but I will cut them down to a more appropriate length.

Conclusion

None of the nitpicks above were deal breakers for me (obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought the pack).  Overall, I think I made the right decision and the Kestrel 32 outshines every other daypack I have researched over the last 2 months. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had a problem paying the full retail price for this pack given its brilliant design, but the fact that I got such a great deal on it was just icing on the cake.  If I had to put a percentage on it, I’d give the Kestrel 32 a 99.5% approval rating.  I’m not sure if a 100% or 99.9% is even possible, but I think this pack comes the closest I’ve ever seen to the perfect daypack for me.  Nice job Osprey!  For the specs, visit Osprey.  Now, let me get pack to daydreaming about all the adventures my Kestrel and I have in store for us…


New Pack Smell: Osprey Kestrel 32 ReviewSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

21 comments:

Husky Hiker - Jim Bradley said...

I have a Osprey Kestrel 28 and love it. I just found another feature of the pack the other day... The clip on the sternum strap has a built in whistle. Enjoy the new pack!

Kathy Handyside said...

Jason - I just went to Osprey's website and can't find anything listing the torso sizes for this pack. My torso is 15". I wonder if this pack will adjust short enough for me. I really like this pack! It's just what I was looking for.

Jason Klass said...

Kathy, I think I read somewhere that the S/M fits torso sizes 15" - 19" but you might want to confirm that with Osprey. Or, you could just go down to a shop that sells them and try one on. Let us know what you find.

Kathy Handyside said...

After looking at the Kestrel series of packs on Osprey's website, I might just skip the daypack and go with a larger Kestrel that I can use for both day hikes and up to 3-day trips. I really like all the features of the Kestrel packs - much better than my Nimbus Ozone.

Izzy G. said...

Hmmm. I have been looking for a nice high end daypack. This just got put on the list.

Jason Klass said...

Kathy,

Which one are you thinking of getting? All the Kestrels share most of the same cool features except the larger ones are top loaders rather than panel loaders.

Izzy,

I spent a lot of time researching and just couldn't find the right daypack that had all the features I wanted. If you have similar requirements to mine, I think you will not be disappointed.

Husky,
I looked at the 28 but wanted something a littler smaller and a panel loader. I'm actually surprised they make the 28 in a top loading design while the larger 32 is a panel loader. I would have expected it to be the other way around. Oh well, it works out for me because I get the size I wanted in a panel loading design!

Kathy Handyside said...

Either the 38 or the 48. Reviews on REI's website said that both of these packs can be compressed down for day hiking. I don't mind a top loader. And these larger Kestrels have a zippered access at the bottom, which is cool. I've heard only good things about Osprey packs.

Desert Dog said...

I've been using a Kestrel 48 for about a year now and I have no complaints. Jason covered all of the bells and whistles so I'll just say that mine has proven very comfortable and durable. I've carried it well over the design weight limit with no problem. I was worried about the durability of the external mesh pockets but they've survived the thorns and branches of every off-trail challenge I've thrown at them. I could easily get five days out of this pack.

Matt Lacuesta said...

congrats on yet another mention on backpacker.com.
http://www.backpacker.com/prof_hike_gear_bargains/skills/14596

Jason Klass said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for pointing that out! Jason Stevenson was my editor for some articles I wrote for Backpacker Magazine. I knew I was mentioned in his new book but I didn't know he would be publishing excerpts online. Jason is an excellent writer and he taught me a lot.

One day, he invited me to come visit the Backpacker Magazine office in Boulder so I got to see what's it's like behind the scenes. It was right before the annual gear guide and there was literally gear piled everywhere--floor to ceiling! There was gear piled on everyone's desks and everyone just seemed really happy and laid back. I think the people at Backpacker might just have the best jobs in the world.

Winter Warlock said...

Kathy - I have both the Kestrel 32, and an Osprey Stratos 40. If you're thinking about the larger volume models, I would definitely consider the Stratos. Only drawback, as Jason points out, is that the mesh back panel intrudes into the pack body, but for me it actually helps pack it tighter and stabilize the load. I doubt you'd be disappointed either way, but check them both out.
Oh, and I think the Stratos line comes in three sizes (S,M,L) instead of two (S/M, M/L)

Anonymous said...

Have the Kestrel 38, a top-loader with lots of great features: fixed lid (which I prefer), good compression that holds my snowshoes, excellent hip belt w/pockets, airscape back panel that is very comfortable. Use it as large daypack, it carries my snowshoes, poles, and winter gear; and as light/overnighter backpack. By far my most comfortable pack.

Russell said...

Gotta Love a new pack. I will have to check this one out. I am looking for a great day pack for my wife.

Thanks!

Mr. B said...

Thanks for sharing. I've been looking for a daypack to replace my Jansport I purchased a goodwill store. The Kestel 32 will definitely fit my 10 essentials. I really like the belt pockets; one for a camera and another for binoculars.

I'm curious about how you attach your snowshoes to the pack. Would you include a picture of this?

I know what I asking Santa for Christmas.

MATHEW said...

I found another feature of the package the other day. I'll just jump and go with a kestrel largest backpack I can use for day trips and two trips of 3 days with the best camping tents have.I I'm really surprised that they're doing 28 in a top loading design, while 32 is an important panel charger.

Best Wishes,

Miles said...

I'm 5'10" as well and I am just curious about your torso measurement. The REI doesn't stock that model in my location but I can order it on their website. Cheers

Anonymous said...

If you have narrow hips, the hipbelt may be too long. Fortunately, you are bound to have lots of other options.

I, on the other hand, have very wide hips and a short torso. I've tried on over 25 packs, and this is the ONLY pack in the 30-50 L range that even comes close to fitting me. All the other packs, including the Osprey Stratos and Sirrus, are either too long in the torso, if I get a medium, or the hip belts are too short if I get a small.

The only problem with the Kestrel 38 is that the shoulder straps are too narrow, and it chafes around the neck. I will try covering the straps with athletic tape, or maybe I will try to sew some very soft fabric over the material on the underside of the shoulder straps. The salesguy at REI said that a women's bag would be better in the shoulder area, but the hip belts are too short to give me any support. Larger women's packs have waist bands that detach and expand with velcro. This way, I could find a more comfortable fit in a small or x-small, but nothing like that is offered in the smaller pack size. Since we do mostly day hiking, I really did not want a 60L+ bag. The women's mediums fit me perfectly around the hips in other bags, but they're too long through the torso. If you're an exceptionally hard to fit size, give this one a try. It's got a lot of adjustment. I just wish I could make the shoulders a little wider, as well.

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