A classic goes head-to-head with a modern rival
We’ve been trained to think that when it comes to a product’s price tag, more expensive automatically equates to better. And while that is often the case (see my head-to-head test between a $600 ski jacket and a $50 Walmart jacket), I wanted to see if that theory holds up when it comes to backpacks.
JanSport Right Pack Backpack ($60)
The pared-down pack we all grew up with—ubiquitous in high schools across the country—made with burly Cordura and a suede bottom. The main compartment holds 31 liters, and a couple front pockets hold smaller items.
Osprey Hikelite 26 ($100)
A technical pack that Osprey bills for day hiking and everyday use. Read the description on the website and you’ll find words like “unassuming” and “simple,” but this pack is blinged out with plenty of features.
I used these two packs for a week as my everyday haulers. To get a good feel for how they fared in a bunch of areas, I used each of them for carrying diapers and supplies during leisurely two- to four-mile walks with my daughter on pavement, errands to the grocery store, and commuting back and forth from my office. I also packed them to the brim with clothing to see how they handled being overstuffed. Finally, I filled each pack with my lawyer friend’s three heaviest law books (clocking in at more than 25 pounds and 45,000 pages combined) and took them on moderate three-mile hikes.
The Osprey Hikelite excelled when weighed down with the books. The sternum strap, bare-bones waist strap, and well-padded shoulder straps worked together to bring the weight closer to my hips for a more comfortable carry, giving it a leg up over the JanSport. The Right Pack, in contrast, sagged on my back, leaving all the weight on the shoulder straps, which, despite being padded, became notably uncomfortable a half-mile into my hike.
The JanSport has one large main compartment, a utility pocket, and a stash pocket, but it really doesn’t have a lot going on in terms of bells and whistles. I don’t mind that, as I prefer something a little simpler. The Osprey, on the other hand, has more than eight notable accessories, including an integrated rain cover and an internal hydration sleeve. That said, all the doohickies on the Hikelite actually make it about five ounces heavier than the JanSport while robbing it of some capacity. But if you want all that and are willing to overlook five fewer liters, the Osprey is a clear win.
While back sweat could fit under the Comfort category, it’s worth going deep on how the each pack performed here, given that too much sweat can put a damper on any activity all by itself. And the difference was night and day. I sweated through my shirt while testing the JanSport in 57-degree weather—the pack sat directly against my back with ventilation. Even though I tested the Osprey on a warmer, 65-degree day, I didn’t have any issues because of its trampoline-style back panel that left only airy mesh against my back.
Even though the JanSport, at 31 liters, was only five liters larger than the Osprey, it was way easier to stuff full. I was easily able to get bulky items like toilet paper into the JanSport during store runs, thanks to its larger opening and wider dimensions, while I couldn’t fit as much as a six-pack into the Osprey. I also couldn’t zip the Hikelite all the way up with all the law books in it, leaving one book awkwardly teetering halfway out the top of the pack. The zipper on the Osprey was smoother when the pack was crammed full, but as an everyday hauler for a lot of stuff, the Right Pack is indeed right.
I received half a dozen compliments on the JanSport, most of them something like: “That’s exactly like the backpack I used in high school!” No such compliments were forthcoming on the aesthetics of the Osprey. On the contrary, a guy in my local supermarket asked if I was trying to get my workout in while grocery shopping. I didn’t consider it a dig as much as a sign that the styling of the pack reinforced my alpha-outdoor-geek look.
For the record, I have never worked out in a supermarket.
The Bottom Line
I thought a verdict would be easy, but I’ve had a hard time coming up with a strong opinion one way or the other.
The JanSport Right Pack is nearly identical to the first backpack I took on an outdoor trip—even down to the color—so I admittedly came into this test with some nostalgic bias. But in the end, which pack is better comes down to how you’re going to use it. In the case of these two, price is more a reflection of accessories and comfort. Right now, I need a daypack to carry diapers and enchilada fixings more than Gu and a first-aid kit. So, for my purposes, the JanSport gets the win. But if you’re planning to take the pack on strenuous hikes carrying serious weight, go for the Osprey.