When you hike for 6 weeks straight, carrying all your possessions on your back, your backpack becomes somewhat of an extension of yourself. So it’s pretty important to choose the right one. As practice walks with a borrowed pack have taught me, an uncomfortable and ill suited backpack can cause you unnecessary misery and strife. They can rub your hips sore, clamp your shoulders tight and leave your spine painfully twisted; especially if your backpack is not designed well.
I had borrowed a backpack from my brother before I invested in my own and though perfectly decent, it was amongst the cheaper types of pack and not so suitable for day in day out use. Plus it was a guy’s pack, designed for men’s hips and chests rather than women’s. The marginal increased comfort of a women’s pack when trying it in store didn’t seem like too much of an issue, but in reality when you’re on the trail those small measures of comfort are a godsend. And so, with all this in mind, I forked out and bought a women’s Osprey backpack; ‘Xena 70’, and I don’t regret it one bit. It’s served me very well on our six week hike across the Pyrenees with ample compartments for easy accessibility and a great back support system. Although it looks smaller due to the female friendly design, it actually holds the same amount as both of the guy’s backpacks; 70 litres. I really wouldn’t get a pack any bigger than this unless I needed to carry extra equipment for mountaineering or snowy conditions. The more room your backpack has, the more you are tempted to fill it with unnecessary weight.
Of course, regardless of how comfy and well designed your backpack is, carrying so many kilograms of weight is always going to be uncomfortable, and the best way to keep your back supple and strong is to only carry what you need and to invest, where possible, in lightweight materials. The Osprey ‘Xena 70’ pack has a fantastic back support system which uses the latest technology with an ‘AirScape’ backpanel and ‘NeoSpacer’ harness exclusive to the Osprey design. Coming from someone who has suffered with back pain and problems all my life, it was great to have a backpack that protected my back so well. The added luxury of the mouldable hip belt made for very minimal discomfort. The downside of this is that the core weight of the backpack is a little heavier than other 70 litre backpacks. It weighs 2.28 kilograms as compared to other backpacks of the same size which often weigh less than 2 kilograms. As far as I’m concerned though, the extra weight of the pack is made up for in it’s high durability and great back support, but the toss up of comfort over weight is one that applies to many trekking gear choices.
The backpack also comes with a removable top section which masquerades as a bumbag when you detach it. Very helpful if you want to leave your pack somewhere and just take valuables with you. Additionally the sternum strap, again designed for women and therefore allowing for extra chest space, has an attached whistle which is helpful for many things, not least if you get lost in poor visibility. The one thing not included within the pack is a raincover so I had to purchase one of these individually; something to bear in mind before taking your pack out in rainy conditions. Additionally I purchased a hydraulics system, also from Osprey, which slots perfectly into the back of the pack. For this reason I strongly recommend purchasing the Osprey Hydraulics system with this backpack as other water reserve systems are not as compatible. For example, a friend of mine had a bit more trouble squeezing his camelbak into the Osprey backpack. Still doable, just a faff.
Overall I am very happy with how this Osprey pack boded over the duration of a 6-week walking trek, and am continuing to use it a year later for general backpacking purposes. I would definitely recommend. Osprey also has excellent customer service as I discovered when the mouthpiece of my Hydraulics system broke and they sent me out a replacement piece almost instantly. The backpack may be a little more expensive (£200) compared to cheaper alternatives on the market but it’s definitely worth it. Plus Osprey do free delivery, so it’s super easy to order direct from Osprey online.