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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Osprey Aether 85 > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Osprey Aether 85 Backpack
By Raymond Estrella
December 24, 2008


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my wife Jenn or brother-in-law Dave.

The Product

Manufacturer: Osprey
Web site:
Product: Aether 85
Size, pack: Large (also available in Small and Medium)
Size, hip belt: Medium (also available in Small and Large)
Year manufactured/received: 2008
Weight listed: 4 lb 15 oz (2.27 kg) Verified exact.
Volume: 5400 cu in (88 L)
Load weight capacity suggested: to about 66 lb (30 kg)
Color reviewed: Bluestone (also available in Emerald Green and Sunburst)
Warranty: (from company web site), "Our lifetime warranty covers defects in materials and craftsmanship for the lifetime of the backpack. Products found to be defective will be repaired or replaced at the discretion of our Warranty Department."

Aether 85 side view

Product Description

The Osprey Aether 85 pack (hereafter referred to as the Aether or the pack) is a blue and grey top-loading pack. It is the largest of the Aether series of packs which according to Osprey "are built to be light, without sacrificing fit and carrying comfort".

The Aether came with a hang tag with an overview of the company's product lines. Inside was a pamphlet containing the pertinent details for the pack itself.

The grey areas are 210D double ripstop nylon, while blue areas are made of heavier 420D nylon pack cloth. From the feel both types seem to be urethane coated on the inside. The heaviest material is the 500D plain weave nylon oxford used on the bottom of the pack.

At the top of the pack body is a 6 in (15 cm) extension sleeve. A black cord runs around the top of the sleeve and through a sliding finger-pull cord lock, allowing the top to be drawn shut. At the bottom of the sleeve, inside the pack is a Tyvek-type tag with a "Leave No Trace" message printed in English and French (sacré bleu). Below the sleeve inside is a red internal compression strap running from the front of the pack to the back that allows the load to be snugged down and pulled away from the back of my head.

This is a true top-loading pack, but it can be accessed at the bottom by means of the sleeping bag compartment zipper which hides under a 2 in (5 cm) wide weather flap 4 in (10 cm) from the bottom of the Aether. This compartment has a shelf that allows it to be separated from the rest of the pack. The shelf is not removable but it can be detached on one side from two buckles allowing it to fold down. This is how I use it.

Inside the pack against my back is a hydration bladder pocket with a hang-clip at the top. Two ports allow the tube to be routed out of the pack on either side. The ports are large enough to allow the use of my winter insulated hydration tubes. The tube can be routed through a pair of stretch loops on each shoulder strap to keep it from flapping around.

On the front of the pack body is a large stuff-it pocket made of grey stretch woven nylon with Lycra. The black oval in the center is made of stretch mesh that allows the contents of the pocket to get some air. (Maybe I can put a puppy in there… nah... how about some wet gear?) A little patch of the mesh is at the bottom of the pocket to allow water to drain from it. The pocket stuffs from the top and closes with a single quick connect fastener.

On either side of the pack are side pockets made of the same grey stretch woven nylon with Lycra. These pockets have dual entry options. Besides opening at the top they also can be accessed from the side closest to me. The pockets are very roomy and can hold standard Nalgene bottles, or my favorite Aquafina bottles with ease. They also have a patch of mesh at the bottom to allow water to drain from them. Nice touch.

Front view

At the bottom of the pack are two ice axe or tool loops. Below them and to the side a bit more are two larger gear loops. They are large enough to put most skis through, something that I really like to see.

There is a pair of removable external sleeping pad straps at the bottom of the pack.

Compression is handled by what they call the StraightJacket wings and straps on the front of the pack. The wings are made of a double thickness of the heavy nylon. Three straps with quick-connect buckles go from one StraightJacket wing to the other. Along with the one upper compression strap on the upper sides of the Aether the load can be compressed and adjusted to suit. Two extra female connections at the right side (when worn) allow two of the StraightJacket straps to go all the way across, letting the pack volume be greatly reduced when space is not needed.
Inside the lid
A removable top pocket/lid sits above the main pack body. It is accessed by a single pulled zipper. A key clip may be found inside. The lid closes the body of the pack by the use of two short straps that run from the upper side-compression straps up to connectors on the lid. The lid turns into a fanny pack by taking the hip belt off the main pack and threading it through the designated spot on the lid. A cool detail is the ridged foam lumbar pad that may add to the comfort level and heat transfer while wearing it. Here is a shot of the underside of the lid.

The hip compression webbing from the hipbelt can be threaded through the ladder locks. (the buckles to the side of the lumbar patch). Osprey suggests crossing the connector straps like an "X" for added compression and stability.

The two zippers on the Aether have nylon cord with curved plastic finger pulls that are large enough to fit a gloved finger into.

The Aether features an IsoForm harness with AirScape suspension. It has dual peripheral aluminum rods to stabilize the load and transfer weight close to the body. These run from the hip belt up the side of the pack. They turn at the top and go across the pack curving in the center to create an integral aluminum contoured headrail for maximum headroom.

Helping spread the load is an HDPE framesheet with cutouts for weight reduction that has a single aluminum stay in the center of it. Between my back and the framesheet is a nubbed foam backpanel with a grip mesh covering to add breathability and comfort.

Back view

The IsoForm shoulder straps are made of dual density spacer mesh foam. All seams are made to not contact the wearer. The shoulder straps have two adjustment straps on them. The one at the top of the shoulder adjusts the distance the pack body rides away from my body. The one at the lower end of the shoulder strap pulls the pack down onto my shoulders changing the balance of weight between hip and shoulders. A sternum strap crosses the between the shoulder straps. It is mounted with sliders on a nylon strap to allow adjustment. The buckle of the sternum strap does double duty as an emergency whistle.

The IsoForm hip belt is custom moldable using the warming ovens at Osprey dealers to heat the belt and then let it cool while wearing to give an instant fit. Once cooled the foam stays formed to my hips cutting down on break-in time. I had this done as soon as I got it at my Santa Ana REI store. (Thanks guys.)

The belt closes with a quick-connect buckle. It adjusts with the Osprey's ErgoPull system, a design that has the straps make a sideways V and tightens by pulling towards the center instead of away. They say, "It creates mechanical advantage to provide extra leverage in cinching down the hipbelt. The ErgoPull design also draws tension along the top and bottom of the belt, not through the center, so it distributes pressure more evenly over the padding and relieves direct pressure on the hipbones." As I have had it on a bunch of other packs I just say, "I like it!" The hip belt has two side adjustment straps going to the pack at the sides, instead of the standard one found on most of my packs. This lets the belt be finely adjusted and will let it cant to fit my hips better.

Field Data

I have used the Aether on the following trips.

A two-day trip with Jenn, taking the South Fork Trail to a camp site at Lodgepole in the San Bernardino National Forest. This 11 mile (18 km) round trip hike had 3400 ft (1040 m) of gain and loss. It got up to 83 F and only down to 59 F (28 to 15 C). My pack weight starting was about 35 lb (15.9 kg)

A tough solo 2-day 11 mile (18 km) trip to the top of Mt San Jacinto by way of the Marion Mountain Trail. I spent the night in Little Round Valley. This rough hike gains over 4400 ft (1340 m) in 5.5 miles (8.9 km) in temps that topped 81 F (27 C). I purposely carried a lot of weight (luxury items like cold drinks, chair, hardbound book, fresh food…) to see how it handled it in preparation for the trips to follow. My pack weight was 37 lb (16.8 kg) starting out.

The next weekend I took Jenn to the same place, but made a three-day trip out of it, stopping the first day at Little Round Valley where we made a base camp. Temps ranged from 54 to 81 F (12 to 27 C). Again I started with 37 lb (16.8 kg).

Next was two nights in Yosemite National Park for a very hot and hard 44 miles (71 km) of backpacking, and another 3 miles (5 km) getting back to a road in temps up to 84 F (29 C) with 7790 ft (2374 m) of gain carrying a 36 lb (16.3 kg) pack.

Last was a 79 mile (127 km) 3-1/2 day monster hike from Sonora Pass down through the Emigrant Wilderness to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. This hike saw 15200 (4633 m) of elevation gain with temperatures that ranged from 83 to 43 F (28 to 6 C). My starting pack weight with food and 3 qt/L water was exactly 37 lb (16.8 kg). Here is a picture near Tuolumne Falls from that trip.

yosemite llamas


As may be known by my writing here and other places, I am a big fan of Osprey packs, this being the seventh one I have owned. But lest it be thought that I am a shill let me disclose that I once had a 2004 Aether 90, but I only kept it for four months. While the packability of it was great I did not care for the pockets, or the lack of gear loops as I really need them in winter (which was what I bought it for). And I found that it became very uncomfortable with over 40 lb (18 kg) in it. As my summer loads did not require the amount of volume it had unless I was carrying extra gear for other people (which meant I would be over weight then) I sold it. This was before Osprey went to the new BioForm technology for their suspension, which I believe started in 2005. After becoming a huge fan of their Talon line (my all-time favorite packs) and testing their top-end Argon 110, and my wife testing and loving the Arial 55 (see reviews) I decided to try the Aether again for some big late-summer, fall and early-winter trips in 2008.

What a difference from the older model. The Aether 85 is a very comfortable pack. While I only could get it to 37 lb (16.8 kg) as my modern loads just are not that large, it handled that with no problem or discomfort. (Since I owned the 2004 model I have radically changed my hiking style and gear.) I was able to adjust the weight from hip to shoulders with ease when going up and down hill.

The Aether 85 holds a lot of gear, more than I could put in it most of the time. On the trips with my wife I had some of her gear plus my stuff and still had room to take a soft cooler with drinks and food for some special backpacking dinners. (Margaritas anyone?) Here is a picture she took of me walking ahead of her in San Jacinto State Park. (Nice Halloween socks dude…)

Loaded for comfort

On the trips to Yosemite I had wanted to take my Osprey Talon 44 (review coming) but I could not fit the required bear canister in it so was forced to take the Aether. Even with the bear canister I had too much room. To take up space in the pack I did not stuff my sleeping bag, but just put it in the bottom of the pack and put everything else on top of it. I see now that I could get away with the Aether 70 quite well.

For use in canister-required areas it is good to know that the Aether 85 will take my biggest canisters lying down in the bottom of the pack, or slid in upright near the top. I am using a small one slid in vertically near the top of the pack in the shot below taken in Emigrant Wilderness.


I use the red internal compression strap to pull the canister tight and then put my rain gear on top of that so that I can get it out quickly without disturbing the entire load.

The top lid is roomy enough to carry my first aid kit, lunch, compass, sun glasses, reading glasses, wallet, headlamp, and more. I carry my hat and maps in the back stuff-it pocket and what ever extra layer I think I will need. I dried my socks out by hanging them out of the pocket too. When I would stop I swap ends so that they would dry completely. Some may be seen drying in the picture above.

The hydration sleeve holds all sizes of my hydration bladders. I need to take a lot of gear out of the pack though to refill it. That is common with internal sleeve packs. The exit port is large enough to use my insulated tubes with, which I will do so this winter.

So far I have no durability issues to report. It does not show scuff marks from the abrasion that it has received brushing against and falling on the granite that I hike on and around. All seams are still sound.

I have one thing for my Aether wish list. I have come to love the pockets they put on the hipbelts of their other models. Please put some on the Aethers too…

If there is a shortcoming with the Aether it is with the side pockets, something I complain about across the entire line. While these are better than all the others I have had on my other Osprey packs they still could be much better. I find that the stretch fabric is so tight, and the pockets so deep that it is very hard to get a bottle or my camera out of them. And it is even worse getting them back in. If I am hiking with Jenn or Dave it is easier to have them replace the item for me. I would really like to see a return to actual fabric pockets with maybe just a bit of elastic to help small stuff stay in.

In conclusion I really like the Aether 85. It is big enough for my luxury trips with the wife and I will keep using it solo for winter. But as it is much larger than I need for my normal three-season hiking I think I will try the Aether 70 next year. If I do I will certainly report about here. I leave with a shot soloing on the PCT near the Marion Mountain trail junction.

On the PCT

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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