The Osprey Stratos family of packs are as fully rigid, well ventilated, hiking-specific series. On your back, on foot, there is nothing quite this comfortable. If you are not walking, the rigid frame can get in the way.
Overall, the Stratos is right at the top of the heap, but it's not that versatile. This is a "no holds barred" hiker's pack. If you are a dedicated day hiker, you can't do better than the Stratos 34. In that context, it wins our Editors Choice award.
The large volume and larger size of the Stratos 34 makes for a bulkier profile on our 5'10" lead tester.
The Stratos really excels in terms of how comfortable it is. Osprey invests a great deal in the shape and materials of their packs and all else equal, they make comfortable ones. You can count on it. When that pack is optimized for walking, as the Stratos 34 is, you can expect ergonomic weight distribution, stable load management, comfortable fabrics against your body, and prodigious venting.
It is this pack's venting that sets it apart from the other Editors Choice winner. The Stratos 34 (and the other sizes in this model line up) features a rigid, suspended back panel that leaves a generous air space behind the wearer's back. This is by far the best solution to manage perspiration.
The Osprey Talon 22 also has a mesh and suspended back panel, but the superstructure isn't nearly as rigid. So the airspace on the Talon isn't as robust. You will notice more air flow on the Stratos than on the Talon. The rigidity of the Stratos structure also lends greater support to your load when the pack is less full. Paradoxically, a full backpack takes on more rigidity, just from the contents, than a less-loaded backpack. The Stratos suspension characteristics are basically the same whether it is stuffed full or if it is holding just a water bottle and jacket.
This shot shows the ventilation channel between the mesh back panel and the bulk of the pack. This channel remains "open" by virtue of the tensioned back panel and the rigid pack frame.
The rigid, vented structure of the Stratos 34 is similar to that of the Gregory Zulu 30 and The North Face Litus 22. Of these three, the Stratos is the most comfortable. Most notably, the mesh fabrics that contact your body on the Stratos are soft and smooth; more so than those on the Gregory and Litus. As compared to the unstructured, simple, and ultralight packs like the Top Pick Marmot Kompressor or the tiny REI Co-op Flash 18, the Stratos is like a luxury piece of furniture.
Up above the trees on Wyoming's Medicine Bow peak, the Stratos 34 held clothing for gnarly weather, even though it was cool and comfortable.
This is a heavy backpack. Over 3 pounds is a lot of weight for a daypack. We have used and tested packs for multi-week trips that weigh less. The extra material that results in that weight, though, delivers that aforementioned comfort and venting. It is the rigid structure that most contributes to the greater weight. For dedicated day packing, where your loads aren't necessarily large, the weight of the pack itself may not be a big deal. This is a personal choice, but we know that committed day hikers will dig the comfort and durability of the Stratos. Some of the weight, also, is attributed to the organizational and usability features of the Osprey Stratos. You can't have all those organizational pockets without some weight penalty.
Our next heaviest award winner is the other Editors Choice. The Osprey Talon 22 is just over half the weight of the Stratos 34. Some of this weight discrepancy is explained by the different volume allowances in each. We didn't test a 34-liter Talon nor a 22-liter Stratos, but comparing apples to apples generate closer weights. However, the rigid and handily organizing design of the Stratos will always be heavier than the soft construction of the Talon and similar bags. As noted above, we don't mind the weight of the Stratos. This is a pack for the comfort-minded, durability-seeking day hiker.
An ice axe in the dedicated holder of the Osprey Stratos.
As we've said, the Stratos 34 is a purpose-built hiker's pack. This is the kind of pack you leave packed and ready to go in your closet all week long. It keeps your water bladder, rain jacket, trekking poles, and first aid kit contained. You won't be using this to commute to work or as a carry-on on your next flight. Again, it is the rigid frame that defines this pack, and its performance in this metric. The large profile, even when unloaded, inhibits use outside of day hiking. This is ok. Purpose built equipment isn't meant to be versatile. All uses that aren't day hiking work better with a soft-sided backpack.
The other rigid, highly-vented packs suffer from the same issues, in terms of versatility. The Litus 22 from The North Face and the Gregory Zulu 30 are also rigid framed packs that excel when hiking but just get in the way in other situations.
The Stratos 34 is one of only a couple packs tested that comes with a rain cover.
Ease of Use
The plethora of pockets and straps are tailored to exactly the demands of day hiking. There is a pocket for everything. For those of you that like everything in its pocket, this is great. Even the main compartment is divided in two, with a permanent panel separating the lower 1/4 of the pack. This lower compartment is nice for stowing wet rain gear or the trunks or swimsuit you carry for that alpine lake dip. The side water bottle compartments hold the largest of hiking water bottles.
Many packs in this category feature a similar set of features and, the other Osprey brand packs are similarly usable. The hiking specific packs from other brands are similarly equipped.
We look for a carefully chosen set of pockets, zippers that don't snag, and main pouches that aren't obscured by straps. Hiking specific features like trekking pole holders and hydration system compatibility round out the list of things that make a dedicated hiking pack useful. The Osprey Stratos 34 has all of these things. As does the Osprey Talon 22 and the close competitor The North Face Litus 22.
Generous waist belt pockets on the Stratos 34
The Camelbak Fourteener 24 has many of the things we like, in terms of ease of use, but the construction is a little clumsier. Notably, the Camelbak pack has compression straps that obscure access to the main compartment. The simpler, more versatile packs have fewer features. Some prefer, even in terms of ease of use, a shorter list of add-ons. The super simple construction of something like the Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 is easier for some to keep track of.
Getting in and out of the main compartment of the Stratos 34 is easy. No straps cross the main zipper.
Between the solid initial construction and Osprey's warranty and repair policy, the Stratos 34 will last you as long as you want it to. We experienced no sense of premature degradation with this backpack. We had no issues at all in our relatively short test period. While we try to put a pack through the ringer in our multi-month test period, a bag like this really won't show any wear for years of normal use.
Each component of the Stratos 34 is designed to last, but it must be noted that there are many things that could fail. The buckles, straps, frame components, zippers, and fabrics are robust, but still prone to failure. More layers and doodads leave more room for failure. Simpler packs, all else equal, might experience fewer durability issues.
The waterproof and thick construction of the Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30, for instance, will likely stand up better to extended and rugged use. The super ultra-robust and super straightforward design of the Fjallraven Kanken Classic will be even more durable, but it's an entirely different type of daypack.
The waist belt pockets of the Stratos 34 are handy for snacks and a cell phone. Here, lead test editor Jediah Porter in the Snowy Range.
We'll say it again. This is an excellent dedicated backpack for day hiking. You'll want something else for rock climbing or commuting. But you can do no better if your passion lies in day hiking. This has the space, the support, and the features to accompany you on hikes of all sorts, through all seasons.
The side mesh pockets of the Stratos 34 are both generous and secure for holding the largest of hiking water bottles.
There are a few ways to look at the value of this backpack. For its narrow applications, it could be seen as expensive. Who wants to pay this much for such a specific piece of equipment? Or, you could see the expense as a cost of dedication to an activity like day hiking. Purpose built equipment fills a narrow niche. Narrow niches of the population buy less equipment, simply because there are fewer of them. To realize profits on the innovation and design in the Stratos 34, while selling relatively few units, Osprey has to charge more money. The good news is that the performance should meet or exceed expectations, the pack's construction and materials will last for years of even very frequent hiking, and Osprey offers excellent warranty and repair services.
When we measured the volume of the Stratos 34 we found it to be less than advertised, but more than the other packs we tested.
If you came here for an all-around daypack, this isn't the product for you. For a pack you can carry to work and to the peaks, check out the other Editors Choice Osprey Talon 22. If you came here because you need a pack for weekend after weekend of day trips to all kinds of trails and in all seasons, this is the pack for you. The support and venting serve on hikes long and short, and the volume holds exactly what you need. You can overstuff it, or lighten the load and the suspension system stays with you.