Review: Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack and how to choose a great backpack

On November 25th, 2015

backpack thumbA good backpack can make or break a trip. Drenching rain, language barriers, delayed flights — you can weather all with humor and go-get-’em attitude.

But a good backpack is the foundation upon which your trip rests. It holds your entire life in one place. It protects it. Sometimes you wear it so often it feels like another appendage.

That’s why it’s important to take some time before your trip to figure out what kind of new appendage — or backpack — works for you. Next to figuring out which book to take with me, this decision was the most important on my two-week trip to Europe.

Review on Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack

osprey frontAfter lots of research, I decided on Osprey Packs Kestrel 48 backpack for three reasons:

  • carrying capacity and size: airplane carry-on capable and men’s size fit my longer torso well;
  • price: $180 with a lifetime guarantee;
  • functionality: top-loading with sleeping bag compartment, integrated rain cover, and water-repellant fabric.

But the true test came after wearing my pack for two solid weeks. Included in that time were some very long midnight wanderings in suburban Rome searching for our hotel, running through train stations and for vaporettos, and getting shoved under train seats.

What I liked and disliked about the Osprey Kestrel


  • The relative smallness of the pack. It was just large enough to cram in extra purchases made on the trip, but not too big I couldn’t shove it under the airplane seat on a budget Ryanair flight. Wearing it didn’t make me feel like I had strapped a minivan to my back.
  • All the straps. If need be, I could cinch the pack down to 2/3 of its original size.
  • Pockets galore: I love me lots of pockets. They help keep things organized and easily findable. Plus you never end up with dirty laundry cavorting with the clean.
  • Upper flap of the pack had a pocket for easy access to those things you always need quickly.
  • Access to the bag interior from the top and bottom: perfect for reaching everything in your pack without messing up the organizational system.
  • Made from 420D nylon packcloth: durable, water-repellant fabric. If it got too wet, enter the integrated rain cover that I could never leave behind.
  • The minimalist and stylish look. I picked the dark grey color with a red Osprey logo. Just subdued enough, it camouflaged dirt and didn’t look too expensive.
  • Lifetime toughness guarantee on all Osprey products for any damage or defect. Perfect.
  • Interior frame and hip belt with pockets. This hip belt was a lifesaver to relieve the pack’s weight off my shoulders.


  • How heavy my pack got at the end of the trip. But perhaps that’s my own fault.
  • If you crammed too much into the upper flap, it got difficult to close and cinch down.
  • The side pockets needed more closure than just wimpy elastic to prevent things from falling out.

What to look for when choosing a backpack

1. Functionality

How are you planning to use your pack? Will you be hiking or walking a lot? Do you need it to be water-repellant?

If you’ll be walking with it a lot, pick one with an interior frame and hip belt to redistribute the weight off your shoulders. Water-resistance is a good thing to consider, so check for a rain cover. You can’t always control the weather, but it’s nice to know your stuff won’t get soaked.

2. Durability

You want a pack that wears its age and travels well. You don’t want to deal with broken zippers or rips on the road.

Look for fabric at least 400 denier nylon packcloth with a urethane coating (aka water-repellant). Test the zippers. Do some Google searches on “broken zipper + pack name” to see how it stands up.

A good place to check out long-term durability is reading Amazon’s reviews on the pack; you get a wide smattering of opinions to help your decision.

3. Access into the bag

Do you want to access the bag just from the top (top-loading pack)? Or from the top and bottom (called the sleeping bag compartment)? Exterior pockets or no pockets?

These are things to consider if you want to lock your bag. The more access points into your bag equals more locks you need.

4. Carrying Capacity

Ah, the clincher. Getting a pack that’s too big will restrict your ability to carry it on the plane. Getting a pack too small will curtail your purchasing abilities.

It’s a really good idea to check out the bags in person. After all, this is gear that interacts with your body. Like shoes, how it feels on you will impact how you feel about the trip.

Play around with the packs. Try them on. Figure out how it feels on your back and do a few spins to check your bull in a china shop prowess. The empty pack should feel light and not too bulky on your back.

For me, the perfect capacity size was 48: still small enough for carry on, but large enough for clothes and extras picked up along the way.

5. Backpack size

Backpacks come in three sizes: small, medium and large. The sizes are determined by your torso length, not your height.

Here’s a general guide to figuring out the pack size from your torso length:

Men’s and Women’s
Pack Size Torso Length
Extra small Up to 15½”
Small 16″ to 17½”
Medium/Regular 18″ to 19½”
Large/Tall 20″+

Difference between men and women packs:

Generally, compared to men’s packs, women’s packs are:

  • a shorter torso range;
  • smaller carrying capacity;
  • the shoulder straps are narrower and shorter;
  • hip belts are shorter and may be contoured differently;
  • prettier.

But really, it comes down to how the pack feels on you. Even though I’m a woman, I picked a men’s pack based on how it fit me and what it looked like. Oh — and that it had good pockets.

Ready plan a Round The World adventure?

Read more by Laura at Waiting To Be Read.

Photo Credit: Maridav