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Osprey Ariel 65 Review

The beast you want for substantial loads, this pack is highly comfortable and incredibly adjustable to many body types
Osprey Ariel 65
Photo: Osprey
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $280 List | $279.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Outstanding support under heavy loads, well-cushioned hip belt and shoulder straps, highly adjustable, durable materials
Cons:  Heavy, too tight side pockets, rigid and not suited for scrambling
Manufacturer:   Osprey
By Elizabeth Paashaus ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 7, 2021
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65
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 14
  • Comfort and Suspension - 45% 7
  • Organizational systems - 20% 6
  • Weight - 20% 3
  • Adjustability - 15% 10

Our Verdict

A well-loved veteran of the backpacking community, the Osprey Ariel wins our award as the best pack for carrying heavy loads. For almost any woman looking for a pack that can handle hefty loads with comfort and ease, the Ariel is hard to beat. The unique and highly adjustable shoulder straps and hip belt will allow many different body types to find a custom fit and the rigid suspension can support all that you throw at it. For a pack as hardcore as you are, read on to find out why we think the Ariel is the go-to workhorse for you.

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Osprey Ariel 65
This Product
Osprey Ariel 65
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $279.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$255 List$249.95 at REI
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Pros Outstanding support under heavy loads, well-cushioned hip belt and shoulder straps, highly adjustable, durable materialsComfortable, lightweight, supportive suspension, simple design, large pocketsComfortable and supportive, fully-featured with pockets and access points, adjustable torso and hip beltUltra comfortable, roomy, inexpensive, durable, can fit a bear can horizontally, low center of gravity, airy mesh frameUltralight, large stow pockets, comfortable even when fully loaded
Cons Heavy, too tight side pockets, rigid and not suited for scramblingNon-ventilated back panel, less organizational featuresMesh pockets lack durabilityNot many bells and whistles, set torso adjustment points, no back stash pocketMinimal padding, fixed torso length, side pockets hard to load
Bottom Line The beast you want for substantial loads, this pack is highly comfortable and incredibly adjustable to many body typesA durable bag with all the right pockets and suspension that will keep your back, hips, and shoulders comfortable all dayA comfortable and supportive suspension, a comprehensive feature set, and adjustability all in a lightweight packageThis simple pack combines comfort, volume, and price; it will take you anywhere and won’t break the bankThis super-light pack gets our award for Top Pick in Ultralight Design; it's made for the thru-hiker, and women who want to go light to go fast
Rating Categories Osprey Ariel 65 Circuit Gregory Maven 65L Osprey Renn 65 Osprey Lumina 60
Comfort And Suspension (45%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Organizational Systems (20%)
6.0
8.0
7.0
4.0
5.0
Weight (20%)
3.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
10.0
Adjustability (15%)
10.0
4.0
7.0
7.0
3.0
Specs Osprey Ariel 65 Circuit Gregory Maven 65L Osprey Renn 65 Osprey Lumina 60
Measured Weight (pounds) 4.8 lbs 2.7 lbs 3.4 lbs 3.6 lbs 1.8 lbs
Volumes Available (liters) 55, 65 68 45, 55, 65 50, 65 45, 60
Organization: Compartments Lid with two pockets, front pocket, side pockets, hip belt pockets, main compartment Side pockets, front pocket, hip belt pockets, main compartment Lid with two pockets, front pocket, side pockets, hip belt pockets, main compartment Lid, side pockets, hip belt pockets, main compartment Lid, side pockets, front pocket, main compartment
Access Top, front, bottom Top Top, side, bottom Top, bottom Top
Hydration Compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rain Cover Included Yes No Yes Yes No
Women's Specific Features Women's specific fit S-Curve Shoulder Straps Women's specific fit Women's Specific fit Women's specific fit and sizing
Sleeping bag Compartment Yes No Yes No No
Bear Can Compatible Yes - Vertical Yes - Vertical Yes - Vertical and Horizontal Yes - Vertical and Horizontal Yes - Vertical
Main Materials 420HD nylon packcloth 500 Cordura Nylon 600D polyester 30D Cordura Silnylon Ripstop
Sizes Available XS/SM, M/L S, M, L, XL, Kids XS/S, S/M One size, with adjustable torso XS, S, M

Our Analysis and Test Results

Osprey came out with the Ariel and Aether (the men's version) line of packs over 20 years ago and has continually tweaked and changed its suspension, design, and features. We put the newest version through the wringer again to see how they did this round. Color us impressed. This classic has been rejuvenated with some of the best and most functional adjustability in the shoulder straps, hip belt, and torso length. Osprey moved away from their Anti-Gravity (AG) suspension and seems to have gone back to more of a traditional internal frame suspension which performs exceedingly well even under considerable loads. The pack is one of the heaviest in the category but shouldn't be discounted because of its ability to make pack weights over 40 pounds feel noticeably lighter than its more dainty colleagues can.

Performance Comparison


Our testers are so committed to thorough testing, one even took the...
Our testers are so committed to thorough testing, one even took the Ariel for a spin on Mars.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Comfort and Suspension


The Osprey Ariel carries exactly as a traditional pack should. It has the engineering needed to comfortably carry heavy loads but isn't over-engineered to the point of complexity. It's a classic and an icon and even after something like 20 years, still has a place in the backpacking world for many years to come.


The hip belt is formed into a rounded shape and angled to fit women's hips but it isn't so heavily shaped that you have to pry it open to get it on. The dense foam may take some getting used to if you are not regularly carrying a heavy backpack. That is not unique to the Ariel but rather is just a fact with any pack loaded down with a lot of weight. The hip belt connects to the frame at multiple points which helps give it a leg up on load transfer and stabilization compared to packs whose frame only transfers the load to the back center of the hip belt or to two points on the sides.

The cushy hip belt and shoulder straps are rigid enough to support...
The cushy hip belt and shoulder straps are rigid enough to support larger loads but not so stiff that you have to wedge yourself into the pack like some we have tested.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Allowing this heavy-duty pack to be suited for smaller-framed women are the narrower shoulder straps that are padded and supportive enough to withstand the load of the pack but are small enough to fit the contours of a person whose shoulders are less broad than many men's. There is a sleeve of soft, smooth, cushy material surrounding the shoulder straps where they contact your back and wrap around to the front of your shoulders. This ends with a soft stretchy band so even if the remaining padding on the shoulder strap is contacting your skin, there isn't a bulky seam when it changes fabric. Additionally, the shoulder straps are securely connected to the rigid frame, minimizing any shifting of the load as you bend and climb over difficult terrain.

Where in some packs the loads can shift around behind the shoulders...
Where in some packs the loads can shift around behind the shoulders, the Ariel's frame is taller than some in lighter weight packs and strong enough that the load transfer off the shoulders is effective and stable.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

The pack suspension, like in most packs designed to carry heavy loads, is the style that keeps the weight close to your back but therefore, can't offer as much ventilation. Some breathability is achieved with the foam cut-outs and mesh cover that hold half-inch air channels away from your back. This does make a difference versus packs that entirely contact your back but don't expect to feel a breeze blowing through on a hot day. We comfortably carried loads from 25 up to over 45 pounds during our testing.

The one complaint our testers have about the comfort and suspension is the limited range of motion. A rigid frame that can carry heavy loads is always going to move less with your body than a lightweight pack that can afford to be flexible since it doesn't have to support so much weight. When hiking most trails, this was not an issue, but upon scrambling up a steep slope of loose dirt and rocks that required hands on the ground, the pack frame inhibited our ability to lift our head and look up the slope.

When leaning over, the rigid pack can shift up causing the taller...
When leaning over, the rigid pack can shift up causing the taller frame to limit the extension of the neck. In most hiking applications this isn't even noticed but when scrambling up rocks or very steep hills that require you to lean over and use you hands, it limits visibility.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Organizational Systems


This classic pack comes with a classic feature set. You get all the standard pockets plus a few extras. The main body of the bag is highly accessible with the wide j-shaped zipper and large sleeping bag compartment in addition to the standard top access. The removable two-pocket lid includes a rain cover and even has a couple of attachment points for strapping additional gear on top.


In addition to pockets and access points, the Ariel has a lot of straps. This can be helpful for bulky loads that can't fit fully inside but all the webbing can seem to get in the way if you are looking for a more simple pack set up. A few of the straps are removable but most are permanently attached, or as permanent as something that can be cut off with scissors can be.

The hip belt pockets are a decent size and can fit most phones if...
The hip belt pockets are a decent size and can fit most phones if wedged in at the right angle but are placed a little far back due to the space required for the hip belt padding adjustment. We accept that trade-off but would like to see the pockets a little larger and more square for easier phone storage.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Now let's talk about our least favorite pockets. The back stuff pocket is not made of a stretchy material and when the pack is fully loaded, offers limited storage space. Throughout our years testing packs we have come to love the on-the-fly storage of large stretchy back pockets but the lack of space here is made up for in the large lid. The only big issue we have with the organizational options on the Ariel is the function of the side pockets. Like many backpacking packs, they are made of a stretchy mesh and have access from the top and the front. However, the way they were designed is such that, when the pack is loaded, only the thinnest items can be stored vertically. We were completely unable to fit even a thin SmartWater bottle vertically. The horizontal access for water bottle storage works fine but has the same issue as with any horizontal water bottle storage pockets; your elbows tend to hit them when your arms swing.

We are baffled by the design of this pocket. Why is it so tight in...
We are baffled by the design of this pocket. Why is it so tight in the center? These pockets are rendered useless from the top entrance except for very thin objects like trekking poles.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Weight


When we first picked up the empty Ariel 65, we went digging around looking for what was inside weighing it down. After testing so many packs that weight pounds less than this model, we were certain there had to be a water bottle in there somewhere. At 4.8 pounds in a size medium/large, the Ariel is a heavy pack by modern standards.


If you hike fast and light, carry an ultralight tent and sleeping bag, and don't spend time winter backpacking, this is probably not the right pack for you. But hear us on this, for those who want to be able to carry loads over 40 pounds regularly, your 45 pounds is going to feel lighter and better on your body in the Ariel than even 35 pounds in most lighter weight packs. The dense foam hip belt and back panel, and rigid plastic frame with aluminum stays are what makes this model so heavy but they are also what make it a workhorse that is ready to haul a ton of gear in comfort.

Putting on a pack loaded down with over 40 pounds of gear is more of...
Putting on a pack loaded down with over 40 pounds of gear is more of a multi-step process beyond grabbing it and slinging it onto your shoulder. We like the "lift to leg, put one arm through, hoist around to back" method.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Adjustability


Osprey has eliminated the interchangeable hip belt and shoulder harness that you used to have to purchase to fit at the time you bought the pack and replaced them with some of the most easily adjusted, well-padded, and comprehensive fit modifications of any pack we have tested scoring the Ariel top marks for adjustability.


The Ariel's hip belt is easy to adjust and even the padding extends. Unlike other hip belt adjustments on the market, there is no tight velcro sleeve to shove your fingers into, giving them a less than gentle exfoliation. Simple grab either side of the padding and rip it apart. You can even fine-tune the angle of the hip belt by adjusting how you attach the padding back together.

Women with broad shoulders and full chests rejoice! The length of the padding in the shoulder straps is extendable by four full inches. Very few packs on the market have this ability to lengthen the padding of the shoulder straps which makes a huge difference in comfort; shorter women sometimes find that shoulder straps are too long, preventing them from tightening a pack down enough and women who need a little more length in the shoulder straps typically have to make do with thin webbing digging in under their arms. The Ariel's unique extendable shoulder strap padding gives this model a much more versatile fit. It is also easy to lengthen and shorten by just ripping apart the velcro.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Because the adjustment is not encased in a sleeve, if the velcro begins to wear out, there is nothing else keeping the padding in place. This is a durability concern for folks who are planning to share the pack with someone else and will be regularly adjusting the velcro attachment, exposing it to more dirt and wear.

The pack is sold in two sizes and each torso length has four inches of adjustment. It is fairly easy to adjust with two hands but you may need to pry the buckles out from behind the back panel the first time. Overall, there is so much adjustability and each adjustment is so easy to move. This is one of our favorite aspects of Osprey's re-design of the Ariel.

The sliding torso length adjustment allows for fine-tuning your fit.
The sliding torso length adjustment allows for fine-tuning your fit.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Value


The price of the Osprey Ariel aligns with many of the other models in our test and we believe its value is determined primarily by the end use of the user. For women who are planning to keep their pack weights under 35 pounds most of the time, there are multiple less expensive packs that still offer plenty of comfort. In that case, the Ariel may not be worth the price. But, for women who work outdoors carrying heavy loads, do a lot of winter backpacking, or travel on extended trips without resupply, the Ariel more than proves its worth. Put up against other models in the price range, this pack has the most comfort and stability.

Conclusion


Through our testing, we have come to believe that the Ariel is the backpack for heavy loads. It's a beast that is built to carry over 40 pounds with comfort and ease. Its frame is strong and the load transfer to the hips is one of the best we have seen. Another feature that sets this model above others is its simple yet innovative adjustability offering easy-to-use hip belt padding, torso length, and even shoulder strap padding adjustability. If you need a pack that can withstand whatever you load into it you will probably be willing to overlook the 4.8-pound weight of the pack itself. But, for those who don't plan to carry enough equipment to require a hefty pack like the Ariel, there are lighter and less expensive options available that will offer just as much comfort for the more trifling loads.

The Ariel just fits as it should and that might be the best...
The Ariel just fits as it should and that might be the best compliment we can pay a backpacking pack. The hip belt hugs the hips without riding up or pinching, the shoulder straps smoothly wrap from shoulder to under the arms without friction points, the suspension sits close to the back and distributes the pack weight effortlessly around the entire hips with the ideal amount on your shoulders. Pick this model for the one that can carry heavy loads in comfort.
Photo: Adam Paashaus

Elizabeth Paashaus