Name: Mark Verber
Height/Weight/Torso: 5'10" (1.8 m) / 180 lb (82 kg) / 19.5" (50 cm)
Region: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Date: Feb 22, 2004
Review Item: 2002 Osprey Aether 60 Internal Frame Backpack
Manufacture: Osprey Packs Aether 60
Size: "L", Volume: 3900 cu (63 l)
Listed weight: 3 lb 8 oz (1.58 kg)
Weight as delivered: 3 lb 8 oz (1.58 kg)
The 2002 and 2003 Aether 60 packs are identical except for some minor differences in the color (the inside of the 2003 hip strap is slightly lighter color) and the main bag in the 2002 has a stripe on the side. The 2006 model gains weight (now approx 4lbs) from upgraded frame rods, removable, custom fit hip strap, and the top lid now converts to a lumbar pack. I have not used the 2006 model Aether.
The Aether uses Osprey's straight-jacket compression straps. There are three straps which can either be clipped to corresponding tabs symmetrically placed on the back of the pack, or can be extended to the other side of the pack if carrying an extremely light load. Underneath the flaps which make up the straight jacket system are four D rings which can be used to attach Osprey "Excessories" (e.g. extra bags). I thread the extra webbing from the compression straps through the D rings to keep the webbing out of the way.
The Ethereal suspension is light since it does not have a framesheet or traditional stays. Instead, there is a composite strut sewn vertically into either side of the pack. The hip belt is contoured, made from a dual density foam, and sewn into the pack. [The 2006 hip belt is removable and can be custom formed.] The shoulder straps are also contoured, made from a dual density foam, and attach to an anchor which slides up and down behind the mesh back panel which makes it easy to adjust for different torso sizes. The right shoulder strap has a rotating attachment for a hydration hose.
The pack is available in green, blue, and yellow (which shows dirt very easily. I determined this from observing an acquaintance's pack and his recommendation).
I have used the Aether 60 for approximately 500 miles (480 km): a number of training hikes in the Santa Cruz mountains, and a few trips in the Ventana Wilderness, some trips in the Sierras. Trips have been mostly weekends covering 10-30 miles (16-48 km) each day, with 3000-4000 ft (900-1200 m) elevation changes. Daytime weather has been 20 to 80 F (-6 to 27 C). I have yet to experience precipitation while wearing this pack (hopefully this is a trend :-). My full pack weight has been 22-40 lb (10-18 kg) depending on a variety of factors. My typical base weight is around 14 lb (6 kg).
I load the sleeping bag at the bottom, a folded up Therm-A-Rest running up one side, shelter running up the opposite side, clothing and cooking gear just above the sleeping bag, and the middle of the pack for food (bear canister placed vertically when required), and a Platypus water bag which has a hydration hose threaded out through a the space left by not pulling the top closure draw string completely tight. I load the lid with most of my smaller items such as my first aid kit, repair kit, book, extra maps, etc.
My first experience with the Aether 60 was in Yosemite. I was using a GoLite Speed pack and met a fellow hiker with an Aether 60. He was interested in how a frameless pack carried and I was interested in the Aether, so we swapped packs to compare. Even though his Aether 60 was 9 lb (4 kg) heavier than my GoLite Speed's 22 lb (10 kg), we both thought his pack was more comfortable. What can I say? I was sold and proceeded to get my own Aether 60.
This is the first pack I have used that was comfortable the day after the first 20 mile (40 km) day of a trip. No bruises or sensitive spots. I can carry most of the pack's weight on either the hip or shoulder straps for an extended period of time without discomfort. This permits me to vary how I carry the pack and adjust to conditions. The hip strap is particularly comfortable. I believe one factor which contributes to the hip belt comfort is that the hip belt system pulls on both sides of the belt, rather than the middle, which spreads out the weight. The straps to tighten the hip belt go through a pulley which makes it easier to pull the belt tight.
I mostly like the overall dimensions of the pack and the compression system. I am able to comfortably use the pack for a quick overnight trip with minimalist gear as well as for a week+ trip. While the pack is narrow enough not to get in the way when navigating tight passages, it is not too narrow to carry a bear canister. The only thing that I have found slightly annoying is that the pack extends almost as high as the top of my head. The headrail keeps the pack away from my head giving me good visibility and head mobility, but if I wear my typical hat (an OR Sombrero) the back brim rubs against the lid of the pack which is quite annoying. I have found two solutions. One is to use a different hat. The other option is to wear the OR Sombrero sideways, and fold up the side which is facing backwards which is kind of hooky, but effective.
I have found the side pockets very convenient. I carry the day's lunch / snacks in one of the side pockets, and a small camera in the other side pocket. This lets me snack and take pictures without removing my pack.
Durability? So far, the pack still looks almost like new after more than 1500 miles.
This is the best backpack I have ever used for weights 25-40 lb (18 kg), and one of the better for weights under 25 lbs. As I downsized gear eventually switched to the Granite Gear Vapor Trail which was a better volume and 1.5lb lighter, and and then to a Gossamer Gear Gorilla which has been my go-to pack since 2009. The Aether 60 has come out time to time on winter trips or when I needed to be a pack mule for a group..