Osprey Packs released updated Aether and Ariel backpacks in October, giving them a substantial upgrade. We packed them to the brim to see how much these new models could handle.

These packs are bestsellers for a good reason — they are the big dogs in the Osprey lineup. The Aether and Ariel have 55L and 65L capacities, but the Plus versions of each can expand to an enormous 85 L. We tested the new Aether 55 and Ariel 55 during a 2-day backpacking trip (overloading them on purpose for this review).

The Aether 55 and Ariel 55 carried heavier loads with exceptional stability. Rigid frames mate with thick and luxurious foam to create a suspension system that was incredibly stable under load yet maintained comfort and ventilation.

New this year, Osprey also adorned these packs with the ability to custom-tailor every touchpoint, to offer every feature a backpacker could ever want. But these packs weigh around 5 pounds.

In short: These new packs are full of features. Their pack support, adjustability, and stability are amazing. But they are by no means “light.”

The Nuts and Bolts: Osprey Aether 55 and Ariel 55

A relatively stiff Lightwire frame, rigid frame sheet, and a visually stunning, die-cut foam AirScape back make up the skeleton of the Aether and Ariel. (Compared to the current Aether and Ariel AG packs Osprey offers, the main fabric got a beefier denier upgrade. The packs are made entirely with Bluesign-approved materials, and they weigh less. If you’re familiar with the Aether or Ariel AG, some features are similar.)

Also, every part of the pack that touches the body is adjustable in multiple dimensions. The torso length is adjustable via webbing ladder locks while the shoulder straps and hip belt are adjustable in length. The user can also adjust the hip belt’s height and, uniquely, its angle. See the vast customization options in the video below.

As a bonus, Osprey chose Bluesign-approved nylon and PFC-free DWR to construct the Aether and Ariel 55. A 420-denier fabric covers the main body (with 210-denier on the accent panels), and the same 420-denier fabric covers the bottom, where packs take the bulk of their wear and tear.

At 52 to 58 L (depending on pack size) of capacity, the Aether and Ariel are large packs. And they’re loaded with all the features a backpacker could want:

  • Main compartment: Top-loading design with a floating lid, with a zip access front panel
  • Additional features: Front “shove-it” pocket, 2 stretch mesh bottle pockets, 2 zippered hip belt pockets
  • Compression straps: 4 on the sides, 2 on the front
  • Zippered lower sleeping bag compartment with an internal, removable divider and sleeping bag straps
  • Internal hydration bladder sleeve
  • Loops: External anchor loops to attach Osprey’s Daylite packs, dual ice axe loops with bungee cord tie-offs
  • Weight: 4.78-4.96 pounds
  • Price: $260

But all that comes with one caveat: The large volume and the long feature list denies the Aether 55 and Ariel 55 ultralight status. Our L/XL Aether has a verified weight of 5 pounds 5 ounces while our XS/S Ariel is 4 pounds 13 ounces.

The Ariel 55 and Aether 55: Trail Tested

Although my backpacking trip was only 2 days, I purposefully overloaded the packs with extra testing gear. It hit the scale at 35 pounds (the pack’s recommended range is 30 to 60 pounds fully expanded).

The immediate sensation was that the Aether 55 could easily carry much more than the 35 pounds I had loaded. The AirScape suspension also did an excellent job of directing most of the load to the hip belt and mesh-lined lumbar pad, and it was extremely stable.

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The downside of the load-carrying capacity and stability was the lack of upper body mobility; the relatively stiff perimeter wire and frame sheet made twisting movements difficult. But on a positive note, my shoulders received almost no vertical load. And there was only a hint of frontal pressure after correctly adjusting the pack for my dimensions.

I felt like there were enough external pockets and space to accommodate any needs while hiking long distances. Layers, guidebooks, maps, snacks, tools, a phone, a satellite messenger — all of it had a place outside the pack so that accessing the main body was unnecessary. At the very least, my hiking companion could get to anything I needed, which kept time-consuming breaks at bay.

I vastly prefer loading packs from the top, and I felt it made for easier compaction and load distribution in the Osprey pack. But when I got to camp, the zipped front panel was the way to go and made for easier unloading and organization.

The front panel allowed us to get the tent, split between us, and cooking gear out without laying any other equipment on the wet ground or endlessly digging through the packs from the top. (Speaking of rain, these packs come with a rain cover at no extra cost.)

Aether 55 and Ariel 55 on Trail
Osprey Ariel 55 Pack

Conclusion

The Aether 55 and Ariel 55 are load-carrying monsters. I felt they were entirely capable of carrying well into the 60-pound suggested limit. This load-carrying ability comes with the slight drawback of limited mobility.

Note: The hip belt might be a bit on the small side for the high end of the range, but for loads in the 45-plus-pound range, I believe the suspension would remain stable and comfortable.

For aggressive trails or alpine travel that involves boulder hopping, frequent river crossings, or terrain nearing Class IV, more flexible suspension would be prudent.

But for backpacking objectives that don’t involve scrambling, the Osprey Aether 55 and Ariel 55 are excellent choices for heavier loads and more extended travel plans. The packs’ weight makes them suitable for backpackers that put a premium on comfort when carrying a variety of loads.

Not sure where your adventure will take you (and don’t care much about extra ounces)? This pack is perfect.

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