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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Osprey Ariel > Colleen Porter > Test Report by Colleen Porter

Osprey Ariel 75

Test Report - March 20, 2007

Tester Information

Name: Colleen Porter
Age: 31
Gender: F
5' 8” (1.73 m)
Weight: 137 lb (62 kg)

Email: tarbubble at yahoo dot com
Location: coastal southern California

Biography:  I’ve been backpacking for about 11 years.  I used to pack HEAVY, but then I had kids.  So to bring them backpacking I reduced my pack weight drastically, and I’m now a quasi-ultralighter (roughly 11 lbs/5 kg solo base pack weight).  However, I still have to carry the kids' gear and food.  I sew some of my own gear (tarps, tents, down jacket).  I mostly backpack in the mountains & deserts of southern California, with occasional jaunts to adjacent states.


Product Information

Manufacturer: Osprey Packs, Inc.
Year Manufactured: Fall 2006
MSRP: $260 US
Color: Guava
Size:  Small harness, Large hip belt
Listed Weight: 4 lb 7 oz / 2 kg
Tested Weight:

Product Description:  A 4300 cubic in / 70 L woman-specific backpack.  Although it is probably classified as an internal frame, the frame is actually more of a hybrid, as the metal portion of the frame is not limited merely to two stays hidden next to the frame sheet, but instead is a modified semi-hoop frame that runs around the perimeter of the harness area.  It has a detachable top-pocket-cum-lumbar-pack, a separate sleeping bag compartment, multiple exterior pockets, internal bladder pocket, bladder tube ports, side and front compression straps, and a detachable, heat-moldable IsoForm CM hip belt.  The harness length is adjustable via a huge patch of Velcro that attaches the straps to the pack  The Ariel 75 is suggested for loads weighing about 58 lbs/26 kg and lower.

Ariel full from the side     Ariel cinched down    side view of top lid lumbar pack
Views of the Ariel full (with the top lid somewhat askew), cinched down in StraightJacket mode, and with the top lid as a lumbar pack.

Initial Impressions:  This pack has an awful lot of capacity.  I've already loaded it up with canyoneering gear (harness, hardware, rope, shoes, extra clothing, food, water, etc.) for a workshop I attended last weekend, and I had lots of room to spare.  For a minimalist like me, the Ariel 75 also offers a mildly bewildering array of straps and features.  One of these features is the StraightJacket compression option, which offers massive compression, shrinking the pack's capacity to that of a daysack.  At first I couldn't figure it out, but now I can see how much versatility it adds to the Ariel.  It involves taking the male buckle ends from the front compression straps and plugging them into a set of female buckles that are mounted on the right side of the pack, very close to the metal frame on the outside of the pack.  Then, one simply cinches the cords down to create the desired capacity inside the pack, folding the pack in on itself as if I were rolling a burrito.  This does render two out of the three external pockets unusable, though. 

The top lid detaches for use as a lumbar pack, but in order to use it this way one must also detach the hip belt from the pack, since the top lid does not have a belt sewn into it.  When used in this way, there are many buckles and straps hanging off of the belt & lid. One problem I have found with this is that it wasn't immediately obvious to me how to re-attach  the top lid (which is why the lid is askew in the above photo).  I did eventually figure it out.  Remember, I'm accustomed to simple ultralight packs and my LuxuryLite external frame, and the Ariel is more complicated than those.

The frame on the Ariel is extremely interesting.  It is really almost an internal/external hybrid, due to the metal hoop/stays that are sewn onto the outside of the pack.  Actually they are not strictly stays; they are part of a modified hoop frame - imagine a hoop shaped like an upside-down U, with the top of the hoop bent backwards, away from the legs at a 90-degree angle. I've never seen anything quite like it. 

The Airscape back panel is unique as well - a sheet of flexible closed-cell foam with a pattern of high-relief dots, covered by a lightweight open-weave mesh fabric.  The idea is to allow maximum air circulation across the user's back.  So far it seems to work nicely.  The canyoneering workshop I attended was held on a warm day and required hiking in to the training area, and my back stayed comfortable enough. 
      backpanel at an angle

In this photo you can see the external metal hoop frame and the Airscape back panel.  The metal rods that you see are actually the same piece of metal - the hoop frame.  They rise up as high as the haul loop and then the hoop bends out, away from the user's back, more than three inches.  I removed the shoulder straps for this picture and you can see the glossy plastic frame sheet as well.

The IsoForm CM hip belt can be heated in a special oven that Osprey provides to their dealers.  When I used the Ariel to attend the workshop, I had not had the belt heat-adjusted.  Since that time, I have been to my local REI and had the procedure done.  The difference is not dramatic, but it did visibly change the shape of the belt and impart a curve to it that was not there before.  I was informed that this can be done multiple times, and that leaving the pack belt-down in a hot car can result in the belt being heat-molded as well.  I was advised that if I must leave the pack in a hot car, to leave it belt-side up.  Also, they mentioned that the belt will continue to heat-mold when worn on warm days.  I'm not sure if this feature is useful or a bit of a gimmick; field testing will have to determine that.  Another note about the belt - when I received the pack, the belt was not attached.  I attached the belt by threading the webbing through the tri-glides on the pack, but I had failed to realize that the center portion of the belt slides behind the back panel.  The REI employee pointed out my mistake and I fixed it.  Had I paid more attention to the photo inside the Owner Manual, I would have figured that out myself, but I only glanced at the pictures and then read the text, which didn't address attaching the belt.   Since most people buy their packs with the belt already attached this probably isn't too much of an issue, but I think it's worth mentioning here.

Field Report - January 16, 2007

Field Conditions:  I've used the Ariel exclusively in southern California.  Conditions have been mainly dry and clear; no serious precipitation has been encountered yet.  Daytime temperatures have ranged from 51 F (11 C) with winds gusting to 30 mph (48 kph), to around 90 F ( 32 C ) with no wind at all.  Elevations have been between sea level and 4,300 ft (1311 m).  Terrain has included low-lying coastal forests, chaparral foothills, and the Mojave Desert.  Trails have ranged from rocky and root-choked to wide and smooth.  Many of our trails here suffer from runoff erosion due to our tendency to be bone-dry half of the year, and then be attacked by deluges of dumping rain. 

Report:  I have mainly been carrying loads of 40 lb (18 kg) and under in the Ariel.  With those weights, I have been extremely happy with how the Ariel carries.  On one occasion I carried about 50 lbs, but much of that load was made up of dense, heavy iron cooking gear which made for an uncomfortable hike.  I was unable to find a comfortable carrying adjustment for such a load, but this was an unusual occasion and I doubt the Ariel was designed to carry much cast iron!  So I'm pleased with the Ariel's harness & frame.  The backpanel is especially comfortable.  I don't have the world's greatest posture, and the panel is curved away from the user's back, so I can still slouch a bit and the pack feels fine on me.  As our weather turns colder (and it just began to last week), my loads will increase in weight and I'll have multiple opportunities to carry loads close to (and occasionally exceeding) the Ariel's stated weight and capacity.  Once we have sufficient snow I'll be carrying snowshoes, crampons, ice axes, and other snowy gear on and inside the Ariel.

Regarding the Ariel's features, any problems I have found are minor.  The side pockets are made of a stretchy fabric and the more tightly packed the interior of the pack is, the more difficult it becomes to get items in and out of the side pockets.  The pockets have been designed with this in mind, as there are openings on the front sides of the pockets themselves, but even so it requires really digging with one's fingers to retrieve small items stored in the pockets.  This is a typical problem with pockets of this kind, but I do like that Osprey added the side openings in consideration of this.  It doesn't solve the issue completely, but it helps.  So far, nothing has fallen out of the pockets.

As I mentioned in the Initial phase of this report, the Ariel 75 has an awful lot of buckles and straps.  I now know what each strap and buckle is for, and how to properly re-attach the top lid, but when packing up at home I do occasionally miss a buckle or two and then immediately notice it when I heft up the pack. 

The hip belt buckle is the only item that has really bothered me.  It is extremely easy to buckle it incompletely, which results in the buckle popping open while walking.  I don't know if it is just the design of this particular buckle, but something about it fools me into believing that I have done it properly.  I have had the buckle pop open on me so many times that I now tend to get angrier at myself for forgetting to visually check it, instead of just relying on my hands and ears to confirm that the belt is properly buckled shut.  It's not an issue of accidentally catching clothing in it, or any interference.  I simply, based on many years of buckling various belts, believe that I have completely closed the buckle when in fact I have not.  This may be due to the design of the buckle, which operates on the same dual-horned concept as standard hip belt buckles, but is executed very differently. 

Durability has not really been put to the test yet.  Even the narrowest trails I've found myself on haven't had many branches to snag me, and I have done no bushwhacking or real scrambling while wearing it.  It's endured not much more than being set down in the dirt, swung on and off of my back, and being tossed into the back of my station wagon.  Well, my kids have crawled over it occasionally.  I've crammed it full of some awkward stuff -a Bearikade Expedition canister, gallon-size water jug, cast-iron cookware.  I have picked it up by both the haul loop and the shoulder straps when packed full, and everything seems to be staying sewn on with no problems.  The straps all adjust easily and stay in place during use. 

    Long Term Report - March 20, 2007

I like the Ariel 75; I'm just not in love with it.  It's well-made; I can't fault the quality of materials or construction.  I've scraped it across rocks, filled it with unholy heavy loads (up to 54 lb/25 kg, which is well more than 1/3 of my body weight), jammed it to the brim and tied more stuff on the outside.  But I think it needs some changes in order to really be a great load monster.  The IsoForm CM hip belt is simply not stiff enough to transfer the load cleanly onto the hips.  Under heavy loads the belt ends up either riding up in the front or sagging in the back (see photos below for an example).  As a result, whenever I carried heavier loads I would take the precaution of lengthening the back panel in order to compensate for the sagging of the pack bag.  This isn't a tremendous problem for the relatively short trips I did while carrying this load, but I've used hipbelts that were definitely superior under such conditions.  However, the Ariel is significantly lighter than other packs I have used to carry these weights.  A stiffer belt, in conjunction with a more controlled belt cant, could help transform the Ariel 75 into a thing of wonder. 

fully loaded              wearing the Ariel
Both of these pictures illustrate the way the Ariel's hip belt tends to angle upward under heavier
This has resulted in the strap tending to pull downward/backward and into my abdomen, rather
than placing the weight solely onto my hipbones and rear pelvis.


My other nitpicks are minor.  For example, the stretch-fabric side and front pockets become very difficult to use when the pack bag is stuffed full.  Some bellowing of the fabric would help with this, although Osprey has offered side openings to the pockets as a solution.  Nothing has ever fallen out of the pockets, and they are large enough to hold a 1-liter bottle each.
The capacity is good, but I would like to see it be able to be filled a few inches higher than it currently can be.  This would require lengthening the extension collar and the rear straps that attach the top lid to the pack.   The hydration sleeve is just big enough to cram in a 4 L water bladder, but jamming in my DromLite with the big lid was kind of a pain.  The side ports for drinking tubes are very generously sized and even allowed bite valve covers to pass through easily.

The StraightJacket compression system offers great versatility and I have enjoyed using the Ariel 75 as a cinched-down day pack as well.  I also really like the fact that the top lid does not have a built-in belt for use as a lumbar pack - the waist belt must be removed from the pack and then attached to the top lid.  This is a nice example of dual usage and ounce-trimming.  I have continued to occasionally have issues with the hip belt buckle popping open when I have forgotten to close it properly.  I do think this is due to the unique design of the buckle, and it does require me to remember to double check that I have in fact closed the buckle completely.

I've definitely been less nice to the Ariel 75 during the last two months of testing.  Honestly, I've treated it rather badly, even carrying three pairs of snowshoes with it at one time (two inside, one strapped outside).  I've tossed it thoughtlessly in the back of a car filled with additional gear & junk, accidentally poked it with a trekking pole, stepped on it, left it lying in the snow.  I never really got it dirty, though.  It is holding up quite well, so I can't fault its durability or quality of construction.  No stitches appear to be coming loose, all the straps stay where they are adjusted to, and I can find no flaws.

carrying 3 pairs of snowshoes
Carrying three pairs of snowshoes, plus extra clothes & food on a family day hike.

I have occasionally had some issues with the sternum strap and shoulder straps making problems for me in regards to my breasts - compressing them from the side and top.  This occurred intermittently and primarily when I was carrying loads of 40 lb/18 kg and higher.  This seems to be a common problem for most full-breasted women in regards to pack straps.  I consistently used the sternum strap at the highest possible adjustment, right underneath my clavicle (as seen in one of the photos above), which caused the least amount of interference with my breasts.

Conclusions: The Osprey Ariel 75 is an adequately comfortable pack for loads at the upper end of its stated weight capacity range (the most I carried in it was 54 lb/25 kg), but the hip belt is the weak spot in the suspension - in my opinion it is not stiff enough for heavier loads.  Loads in the neighborhood of 40 lb//18 kg are extremely comfortable.  The Ariel 75's features are mainly useful and well-designed (but there is something strange about the hipbelt buckle) and allow quite a bit of versatility in how loads can be compressed.  All of my suggestions for improvement would add weight to the pack itself, so for those willing to trade some suspension comfort in order to carry 50 lbs/22.5 kg in a 4.5 lb/2 kg pack, the Ariel 75 might be a good choice.

Thank you to Osprey and for the opportunity to test & review the Ariel 75.

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