Q:

Do suspension systems on lightweight packs really measure up?

Once again I find myself kneeling at the altar of the Gear Guy, seeking truth, wisdom, and equipment bliss. After having lugged my Gregory Whitney to Rainier’s Camp Muir on two occasions, I looking to shave more weight. Do the load-carrying suspension systems in lighter packs measure up to what I getting with my Gregory pack? Please, enlighten me. Stan El Dorado Hills, California

Jul 20, 2007
Outside
Outside Magazine
Osprey Aether 85

Aether 85

A:

Stan, my son. It is good to encounter one who adopts the proper attitude when approaching His Gearness for wisdom and enlightenment. So often it’s a quick, “Hey, GG, I need a pack/shoe/bike. Whassup??" No respect. You, on the other hand, know which side your bread is buttered on.

Camp Muir. That’s a pretty tough hike. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Camp Muir is the main “climbers’ camp" at the 10,200-foot level of Mount Rainier. It’s almost a dead vertical mile from the start point at the Paradise Lodge parking lot to Camp Muir. Four and a half miles, but that’s somewhat irrelevant. The worst part of it is that for much of the hike, as one struggles up the seemingly endless Muir Snowfield, you can see the blocky little rectangles that comprise the camp’s huts.

Anyway, a pack. I agree completely that weight is weight, and the less weight you carry the better. But with packs it’s a little different equation. If a light pack can’t handle the load and begins to collapse around your torso and shoulders, a 40-pound load in a four-pound pack can feel much heavier than the same load in a seven-pound pack. So the suspension counts for a lot. Hence your fondness for the Gregory Whitney ($339; gregorypacks.com), one of the best big-load packs out there, especially for the money.

But these days, pack makers have figured out ways to shave 50 percent of the weight from a pack while keeping 80 percent of the load-carrying capability—maybe even better. That’s a big step forward. GoLite’s Odyssey ($199; golite.com), for instance, weighs three pounds, eight ounces, has a whopping 5,500 cubic inches of capacity, and is rated by GoLite for loads up to 50 pounds. That’s pretty good. I haven’t had direct experience with that pack, but reports are that it lives up to its billing.

I have used Osprey’s Aether 85 ($279; ospreypacks.com), however, and must say I am mightily impressed with it. It can handle 50 pounds pretty easily, and smaller loads extremely well. It weighs in at four pounds, 12 ounces with 5,200 cubic inches of capacity. The added weight comes from a slightly heavier suspension, a few more bells and whistles on the pack, and somewhat beefier fabric. So longevity of the Aether may be better than the GoLite pack. And comfort is great; the hip belt can be heat-molded to your waist for a custom fit.

So, simply based on my own experience, I’d go with the Osprey. But find a store that has both it and the GoLite, pack some weight into them, and see what you think.

You may rise now.

You’ve seen our picks for 2007 Gear of the Year, and now the entire Outside Summer Buyer’s Guide is online. Check out this year’s more than 400 must-have gear items, including backpacks.

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