I have to admit I have been partial to my old expedition pack for the last 15 years, the loyal pack that has hauled my stuff on month-long mountaineering trips with vengeance. Not that I’m against trying new things, but why change if the tried and true solution still works? Well, I was enticed out of my comfort zone when the Head Geargal dangled a shiny new Osprey Xenon 85 in front of me as I was preparing for a three week trip to climb and ski in the Alaska Range. I was excited not only because it came in pretty Pacific – not Atlantic or Arctic but Pacific – but also because my husband observed “That pack is so big it makes your butt look small!” [She does not have a big butt – I think her hubby might have to pay for that remark, and hopefully pay for it in the form of beer and pizza for the Geargals. -Head Geargal] Aesthetics aside, I was excited for the ReCurve suspension system with heat moldable hip belt and the possibility of the AirScape ventilation keeping my back dry even when huffing 70-pound loads in the Alaska Range.
Before leaving on the trip, I had no time to get the pack correctly fitted for me, which was somewhat of a mistake on my part. I was motivated to figure out the suspension system in the field by the first unbearable few days carrying the ill-fitting pack. [I warned her. -HG.] The Velcro closures on the suspension make adjustments easy enough even on the glacier, but it would have made the first impression on the pack better if I would have taken the time to at least read through the instruction manual before taking this load carrying beast out in the elements. I guess the best outcome is that I learned very quickly how to adjust this pack to make it comfortable. And that is what this pack is all about, lot of options for adjusting for specific torso lengths and hip widths and so forth. Yes, both ReCurve and AirScape worked. Welcome to the new age of in-the-field custom fitted packs!
My gear mantra has always been “simple, easy to repair in the field and light weight”. [Note “repair.” She’s hard on gear. -HG] When there are a lot of zippers, compartments and special features, those three characteristics usually get buried under less desirable bulk and complexity. And this pack has an abundance of features, some of which I was quite skeptical about. Like the sleeping bag compartment, never been a fan…nor have I ever used a lumbar pack option in any of my packs. But after few weeks of use, I had grown to like some of the special features. I was able to utilize the outside front pocket to have my avalanche safety gear easily accessible and the ski and ice ax loops worked really well. The zippered side pocket was awesome and I used it daily to keep sunscreen, snacks and camera in an easy to find spot. The three front straps and the side straps allowed me to adjust the volume of the pack from big hauling machine to slim day tour pack. And I did like the LNT principles inside the pack, nice little detail from an environmentally conscious brand.
Despite being a big load carrying beast, it was able to switch gears for different uses from ski mountaineering to alpine climbing and glacier travel. The stretchy material on the outside got a few rips from sharp tools, though, and is definitely not too resistant to abrasions either. I was little bummed that the hip belt requires two hands for tightening, which is not ideal when you already have two ski poles or at least an ice ax in your hand. I suspect that this is to account for the heat moldable hip belt, as a one-strap system might pull the hipbelt out of place, but it is one of those small preferences that might matter to some. Still, this pack got tested for the first time under gruesome conditions on a three week expedition in the Alaska Range and all in all I give it a pretty high mark. My old pack might have a rival….