2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW

What a conundrum! The upgraded pack has some great improvements, and is now an outstanding value, but (darn it) it's also heavier.

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by Will Rietveld | 2005-12-13 03:00:00-07

2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW

Introduction

Internal frame backpacks now have “model years” just like cars - there are incremental changes each year, and a makeover every 3-5 years. The popular Osprey Aether 60 was last updated in 2003. It gained some features and weight, to the chagrin of some backpackers who relished its light weight and simplicity. For a while the previous model was sought after because it was a few ounces lighter. The Aether 60 is updated again for 2006, and again it advances in features and weight. This review details how much weight the 2006 Aether 60 gains and whether the new features are worth it.

What’s Good

  • Removable Isoform custom molded hipbelt
  • 7075 aluminum peripheral frame rods
  • Airscape nubbed foam backpanel improves ventilation
  • Fitted top pocket
  • Internal 3-liter hydration sleeve with two hose ports
  • Removing the hipbelt and top pocket creates a lumbar pack for day hikes from camp

What’s Not So Good

  • Heavier than the previous model
  • Stretch-woven side and front pockets are too tight
  • Lacks hipbelt pockets
  • No place to attach a case for a digital camera or MP3 player

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Osprey Packs

  Model

2006 Aether 60

  Style

Internal frame, top loading, drawstring closure, floating top lid

  Volume

Size M tested: 3700 ci (61 L)

  Weight

4 lb 0.1 oz (1.82 kg) measured weight; manufacturer’s specification 3 lb 15 oz (1.79 kg)

  Fabrics

Main body is 210d double ripstop and 210d oxford, wear areas are 420d oxford and 500d Kodra, pockets are two-way stretch woven nylon with Lycra, backpanel surface is 840d power mesh

  Features

Floating top lid with two connecting straps, 6-inch extension collar with drawstring closure, zippered floating top pocket with key clip, two side and three front compression straps, two stretch-woven side pockets with top and side openings, stretch-woven front pocket, two ice axe loops, two ski loops, two front accessory straps, 3-liter hydration sleeve with two ports, haul loop, load lifters, hipbelt stabilizers, sternum strap

  Volume To Weight Ratio

57.7 ci/oz size L (based on 3700 ci and a measured weight of 64.1 oz)

  Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity

35 lb (16 kg) estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day

  Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio

8.73 (based on 35 lb and a measured weight of 4.01 lb)

  MSRP

$199

Performance

It’s an understatement to say that the Osprey Aether 60 (and Ariel 60 for women, now the Ariel 55) is a popular lightweight backpack. The beauty of the Aether 60 is that it’s just the right size, loaded with useful features, very comfortable to carry, very durable, and lightweight. When a new model comes out it gets a lot of attention. So, what are the changes, and how do they translate into comfort and convenience on the trail?

In brief, the changes from the previous version are: the top pocket is better fitted, an internal hydration sleeve and hose ports have been added, the peripheral frame rods are now 7075 aluminum instead of delrin composite, the backpanel is a nubbed foam that ventilates better, outside pockets are a stretch-woven fabric instead of mesh, and the hipbelt is custom molded to the user and is removable. It sounds like the Aether 60 just got a lot better. Well, mostly yes, but read on to get the analysis. There is one upgrade that is not necessarily better, I have a few nitpicks, and then there is the issue of added weight…

Frame and suspension changes are by far the nicest upgrades to the Aether 60. The peripheral delrin composite strut has been replaced with a 7075 aluminum alloy rod for more strength and durability. The bottom of the each rod fits into a sleeve connected to the hipbelt stabilizers, and the rigid top loop fits into a tight sleeve. These stiffer peripheral rods combined with an internal HDPE framesheet create a frame that is capable of carrying a substantial load, yet is still flexible enough so the load lifters and shoulder straps effectively pull the top of the pack to your shoulders for a body hugging fit.

2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW  - 1
The most important changes to the Aether 60 are in the frame and suspension (top left). The peripheral composite frame rods have been replaced with strong 7075 aluminum rods, the Airscape backpanel has foam nubs faced with a durable mesh for better ventilation, and the underside of the shoulder straps is spacer mesh (top right). Another big upgrade is the addition of Osprey’s Bioform custom moldable hipbelt to the Aether series (bottom left). Both the hipbelt and shoulder harness are removable (bottom right) and available in sizes so your dealer can fit you with a combination of pack, hipbelt, and shoulder harness sizes.

Contoured shoulder straps on the new pack are 0.5 inch narrower than the previous version, which is not necessarily an improvement. The underside of the shoulder straps is now spacer mesh for more ventilation. The sternum strap has a sliding adjustment on each end, and incorporates a whistle. The Airscape backpanel is firm closed-cell foam that has projections (nubs) at a 0.5-inch spacing that stick out about 0.25-inch toward your back. It’s faced with 840 denier power mesh for durability. I really liked the improved ventilation and resistance to sliding.

The biggie is the addition of Osprey’s Isoform CM heat-moldable hipbelt to the Aether pack series. While the hipbelt on the previous Aether 60 was sewn-in, the Isoform CM hipbelt is removable, and adjustable with a Velcro attachment behind the backpanel. It has to be removable for the custom bake-to-fit service at your local dealer. The process is to remove the hipbelt, place it in a special Osprey oven (at about 125-150 degrees) for about 10 minutes, put it on your hips and hold it tight for about 10 minutes while it cools, then put it back on the backpack. It’s an outstanding personalized feature, and it really works to increase the hipbelt contact area and make it fit perfectly. Another feature on the hipbelt that I really like is that the tightening straps work on a pulley principle, where each strap doubles back through another buckle. Both straps pull toward the center to provide precise tightening.

Fitting the Aether 60 is easy with Osprey’s Velcro-attached shoulder harness and hipbelt. The pack’s torso length can easily be lengthened or shortened by sliding your hand between the Velcro panels and moving the shoulder harness or hipbelt up or down. Additionally, both the shoulder harness unit and the hipbelt come in sizes, so they can be interchanged to fit the user. For example, a person can get a medium pack with a large shoulder harness and/or hipbelt, or vice versa.

Turning to features on the packbag, the addition of an internal 3-liter hydration sleeve will delight many backpacking enthusiasts. It has a hose port on each side and an elastic hose sleeve on each shoulder strap. The floating top pocket on the new Aether 60 is better fitted than its predecessor, and its zipper now has one slider instead of two. The bottom of the packbag has two ice axe loops and two ski loops.

The pack has two side compression straps plus three front compression straps that combine to provide good load control and volume adjustment, and lots of options for external attachment. The three straps on the frontpanel connect to a flange that can be used to cradle snowshoes, snowboard, tent, sleeping pad, or tall stuff sack of gear mounted vertically. In addition, there are two accessory straps near the bottom for attaching even more gear to the outside of the pack.

2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW  - 2
The top pocket on the new Aether 60 is better fitted to cover the top of the pack (top left). Removing the hipbelt and top pocket creates a nice lumbar pack for taking day hikes from camp (top right). A 3-liter hydration sleeve has been added (bottom left). The exterior has lots of attachment straps for securely carrying gear on the outside of the pack (bottom right).

Since the hipbelt is now removable, one can remove both the hipbelt and top pocket and combine them to create a lumbar pack for day hikes from camp. It takes a few minutes to assemble and disassemble, but is worth the effort. (Tip: the Velcro hook panel under the backpanel snags the fabric on the inside of the hipbelt, so protect it with your hand as you pull the hipbelt out.)

One item that is missing is hipbelt pockets, which are becoming increasingly popular on backpacks. Another thing I missed was a convenient place to mount my digital camera. I resorted to attaching it to the surface of the hipbelt using safety pins. In my opinion, hipbelt pockets and a case for a compact digital camera or MP3 player are very useful features and a good way to impress potential buyers.

Now for the change that I am less excited about. The outside pockets (two on the sides and a larger one on the front) have been changed from a durable mesh to a stretch-woven fabric. When the pack is empty they indeed look impressive compared to the previous old-technology mesh pockets. However, when the pack is stuffed full of gear, the pockets are way too tight. They have half the capacity of the old mesh pockets, and are very difficult to reach into with your hand. The side pockets are especially tight, making it laborious to insert and remove even a slender water bottle. Don’t get me wrong, I like the stretch-woven fabric, the pockets just need to be bellowed out more so they have good capacity when the pack is full.

2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW  - 3
The outside mesh pockets on the old Aether 60 (left) are voluminous, capable of holding a lot of gear (even a 2-liter bottle in a side pocket) within easy reach. The stretch-woven outside pockets on the new Aether 60 (right) are much smaller and very tight when the pack is stuffed full of gear. Even a slender 1-liter water bottle is a tight fit in a side pocket.

So, what’s the weight penalty for all of these improvements? By Osprey’s numbers it comes to 7 ounces more weight compared to the 2005 model (7.5 ounces by our scale, based on a size medium). That’s almost a half pound (12%) heavier. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand I acknowledge that most of the upgrades make it a better pack, but on the other hand I wish the changes were weight-neutral, or close to it. I hate to see the weight of a favorite pack escalate higher and higher. Compared to the previous Aether 60, the volume to weight ratio has dropped 7.3 cubic inches per ounce of pack weight. Strictly speaking, the Osprey Aether 60 no longer makes our list of lightweight internal frame backpacks; at 57.7 ci/oz it is below our cutoff of 60 ci/oz. We opted to review it because of its legendary superb fit, comfort, and weight-carrying capacity (read my comments below). In comparison, the GoLite Galaxy pack recently reviewed by Backpacking Light has a volume to weight ratio of 79 ci/oz and is also a superb internal frame pack.

When I backpack with my wife I morph into a lightweight backpacker, leaving my ultralight backpack at home and carrying about 25 pounds that includes extra luxuries. Being a pack mule and carrying extra weight keeps me from getting out 100 yards ahead, and makes me more humble and sociable. I carried the Aether 60 on numerous mountain and desert trips, on-trail and off-trail, in a variety of weather conditions. Besides family trips, I used it on section hikes where I carried as much as five days of food, and also for cold weather trips where I carried more volume and weight.

2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW  - 4
The new Aether 60 conforms to my back well. It was very stable for off-trail backpacking, like this steep descent to a wilderness lake during a September rain/snow shower. I found that I didn’t need a pack cover for light rains.

The Osprey Aether 60’s claim to fame is its size and comfort. At 3700 cubic inches (size medium) it is a perfect size for lightweight backpacking. Not too big, not too little. It allowed me to conveniently organize my gear. I like to put rainwear in the top pocket and frequently used items in the other outside pockets. Its fit me like putting on a jacket, and the pack weight became part of me. The load levelers really work to pull the top of the pack to my shoulders. With proper adjustment of the suspension system I could easily place most of the weight on my hips. I often didn’t use the sternum strap, except where I needed more lateral stability.

To determine the pack’s maximum comfortable load-carrying capacity (my estimate of the amount of weight an average person can carry in the pack all day) I assessed the pack’s structural load capacity and suspension comfort (see Quantitative Analysis of Backpack Suspension Performance by Ryan Jordan). I tested the Aether 60 with up to 45 pounds and found no pack torso collapse. To evaluate suspension comfort I carried the pack all day with a range of loads. The narrower shoulder straps reduced suspension comfort a little, but this didn't matter because I carried most of the pack weight on my hips. From these tests, I estimated the Aether 60’s maximum comfortable load carrying capacity to be 35 pounds. For a strong person, this pack will carry 40 pounds or more. For me, it easily carried my normal lightweight backpacking loads of 24-30 pounds, which now includes an extra half pound of weight due to the 2006 Osprey Aether weight gain.

What’s Unique

Osprey has pioneered the heat molded hipbelt for backpacks, and has added that feature to the Aether 60 in the 2006 model. Overall, the upgrades in the Aether 60’s frame and suspension system adjust to achieve a superb fit and make the pack very comfortable to carry.

Let’s not forget value. With all of the improvements to the 2006 Aether 60, Osprey has kept the price at $199, so the value has taken a big jump. The new Aether 60 is an outstanding value!

Recommendations for Improvement

The conundrum is this: the new 2006 Aether 60 is a superb pack that has benefited from another round of improvements, and it is now an outstanding value because the price has not gone up. But, darn it, I just don’t like to see the weight jumping higher and higher. With this upgrade, the Aether 60 has gained 7.5 ounces and weighs over 4 pounds, and its volume to weight ratio has dropped to under 60 ci/oz. I like the upgrades, but what I would like to see even more is for Osprey to keep the changes weight-neutral, or better yet, find ways to reduce pack weight.

Some further refinements I would like to recommend are:

  • Bellow the stretch-woven outside pockets more so they are not so tight when the pack is fully loaded
  • Add hipbelt pockets for convenient access to small items
  • Provide a case or attachment point for a digital camera or MP3 player

Citation

"2006 Osprey Aether 60 Backpack REVIEW ," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/2006_osprey_aether_60_backpack_review.html, 2005-12-13 03:00:00-07.

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