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
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.
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…