I just finished my third winter using the ultralight Osprey Exos as my primary multi-day backpack, and as I enter my fourth summer I still can’t imagine loading up another pack when headed to the backcountry. With Osprey updating their Aether and Ariel series, and with the Exos seemingly due for a refresh having been introduced in its current capacity back in 2014, I started getting panicky that Osprey would be tinkering with the Exos for this spring, so I recently reached out to them to ask if they’d any plans to discontinue the pack or otherwise give it a facelift. I’m relieved to report that they have no plans to screw with their very good thing.
The version I use, the 58-liter model, is widely available for less than $220, a steal considering MSRP is $290. It weighs only 2 lbs 10 oz. (medium), and though you can find a few lighter internal frame packs, the Exos will comfortably swallow at least 40 pounds. I’m sure I’ve crammed close to 50 pounds in mine before and it’s always carried like a dream. It’ll even fit a BearVault 500 bear can sideways at the bottom.
The pack’s secret is in the tensioned, trampoline-style suspension system. A taut mesh wall separates your back from the pack—as opposed to the usual foam padding most packs use—which allows incredible ventilation and helps with weight distribution. I’ve never worn a pack so light that can comfortably carry a 40-pound load. It’s an extraordinary bit of engineering.
The Exos is fairly minimalist. It’s a top-loader with just the one access point. You get a floating lid with the usual pockets, which is easily removable to lessen weight. Sleeping pad straps and thin compression straps at the sides help with lashing things to the pack, and you get a loop for trekking poles, but I’ve never found that made much sense to use. For you alpinists out there, yes, there’s an ice axe loop too.
A MASSIVE mesh pocket at the front of the back will hold pretty much anything. You could probably fit a side of beef in there if you were so inclined. I’ve yet to find that pocket’s breaking point. The side water bottle pockets are stretchy mesh too, and feature two openings, one of which points forward so you can pull a bottle of water out without having to pop your shoulder out of socket to reach around behind yourself.
The pack’s fabric is lightweight, but I’ve yet to tear it. The compression straps are spaghetti-thin, but I’ve yet to break one. The shoulder harness is light, but with just enough padding; same with the hip belt. I’ve used it on on frigid winter hut trips, and baking hot low elevation foothill trips, and it’s shined in every possible environment. Osprey managed to save a ton of weight, but also produce a pack that a novice backpacker could use in comfort without having to sacrifice anything a heavier pack offers.
If you’re just getting into ultralight backpacking, the Exos is an awesome choice. It’s robust enough to port all your non-quite ultralight gear, but also is light enough to motivate you to upgrade some of your heavier components. If you’re already a dedicated ultra lighter but want a pack that might handle a bigger load, say with heavier winter gear, or a week-long trip with a big food bill, the Exos is your bag.
Does the Exos have the ultralight cool-factor of packs from ULA or Gossamer Gear? Probably not. But for my money, it’s a more functional bag than most ultralight/lightweight packs, and the extra weight you can carry with it makes it more versatile.
$220 • BUY
I GUESS IF I HAD TO USE A DIFFERENT LIGHTWEIGHT PACK, I’D CONSIDER THESE
My wife’s favorite pack is the ULA Catalyst, and she gets way more “hey, cool pack” chatter at trailheads than I do ($260).
The REI Flash 65 is a little larger than the Exos, and weighs about a half pound more, but it’s light, durable, and only $199.
For a minimalist, lightweight pack that weighs about the same as the Exos, and can still handle loads in the mid-30 pound range, the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 is a voluminous top-loader that is light on features but super comfortable.