My requirements for a big pack are pretty simple:
– relatively light
– able to comfortably carry 25kgs+
– a few pockets for organization of essential & small items
– external lash points and compression straps
The Osprey Xenith ticks all these boxes. It’s relatively light – 2330g for my size Medium – yet still has the ability to comfortably pack over 30kg (66lbs). It has seven different zippered pockets, as well as three stretch mesh pockets on the outside. All the external straps are dual-function, working as either compression or attachment straps. And at $320, the Xenith is about middle-of-the-road price wise, yet comes with Osprey’s unbeatable “All Mighty Guarantee.”
Upon first impression, the Xenith doesn’t look all that spacious, yet once you start loading it, gear just starts to disappear somewhere within the cavernous main compartment. Outside the main compartment are two long, zippered, pockets large enough to cram a mid-layer or waterproof jacket into. The lid has two pockets, the lower one spacious enough to fit my helmet, the upper one somewhat smaller but still big enough for those small yet ubiquitous items such as a headlamp, sunscreen, tp, small knife. There are also two small pockets on the sides of the hipbelt, one stretchy, the other water-resistant. Finally, the side stretch pockets are large and stretchy enough to accommodate tent poles, bear spray or even a 1L Nalgene, and the single stretch pocket on the outside will expand enough to fit a helmet.
The pack has dual compression straps on each side, as well as a single compression strap across the top, just under the lid. There is also a compression strap inside the pack, at the very top of the main compartment, coloured red for easy identification. Two minimalist, thin straps loop over the sleeping bag compartment, useful for securing a sleeping pad, yet long enough to attach a helmet with.
Among miscellaneous other features, there are two ice-axe loops, with corresponding elastic loops for the handles, as well as zippered access into the main compartment from either side of the pack. There is also a water-bladder ‘sleeve’ hidden between the back padding and the pack bag (more on this below), as well as Osprey’s clever Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole attachment. There is even a sculpted occipital cutout, so that you can actually look up, even with a fully loaded pack!
On the trail, the pack carries amazingly well. The low-profile backpanel keeps the weight close to your back, while the generously padded (and thermo-moldable!) hip belt carries massive loads comfortably. The Stow-on-the-Go system is a brilliant solution for keeping track of errant trekking poles, keeping poles out of the way during short scrambles or trail-side photo-ops. The hip belt pockets keep snacks and a small camera easily accessible. There really isn’t much more to say about the Xenith – it stows gear efficiently, carries heavy loads comfortably and keeps all my stuff organized.
As great as I think the Xenith is, there is always room for improvement:
– The two zippered outside pockets use a pretty small, weak zipper, and I’ve already blown a couple of teeth on one side. As my buddy remarked “They know we’re going to yard on it, why not make it super-beefy?”
– The lid came with a bit of padding and a webbing strap to convert it to a lumbar pack, however this took up space and added extra weight so I cut both pieces out before I even used the pack. Perhaps these are useful to hikers, but I typically take along a dedicated climbing pack which takes up very little space and weighs only a couple hundred grams.
– The ice-axe attachment loops work well with traditional ice axes, however modern ice tools are near-impossible to affix. I’d like to see a more technical, climbing-pack style method of attachment.
– The hydration-bladder ‘sleeve’ is absolutely useless when the pack is fully loaded. The ‘sleeve’ bulges into the main compartment, but with a fully loaded pack there is no room for the pocket to expand into so instead it bulges out the backpanel. I ended up putting my bladder into one of the lid pockets, but I would like to see a better solution (though I don’t have any good ideas on how to solve this issue!).
– As long as I’m nit-picking, the two hipbelt pockets are non-removable and on the small side. I’d love to see these as modular items, able to be replaced with various larger pockets, gear loops, a bear-spray holster or even removed altogether. Not much extra weight for much better function and customizability.
As I only have two days and about 30km with the Xenith, I will reserve my final opinion for later. So far, however, I am very happy with the pack and seriously impressed by its ability to handle heavy loads.