The Osprey Stratos family of packs are fully rigid, well ventilated, and designed for organized, avid users. On your back, on foot, only the REi Traverse 35 is more comfortable. If you are not walking, however, the rigid frame can get in the way, and the numerous zippered pockets add unnecessary weight if you don't need that level of organization.
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 that keeps items large and small in separate, easy to access compartments while maintaining an extremely comfortable fit. In that context, it wins our Top Pick as a panel-loader for day-hiking.
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 comfort. 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 other rigid frame, full-suspension pack in this review, the REI Co-op Traverse 35. 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. During long, hard days, we never got the terrible feeling of putting on a wet, freezing backpack that we get with other, less ventilated packs.
The Osprey Talon 22 also has a mesh and suspended back panel, but the superstructure isn't nearly as rigid; the airspace on the Talon just 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 slightly rough. While this roughness irritated our bare skin slightly, it helped the pack stay put during dynamic activities, which led to an overall more comfortable carry. As compared to the unstructured, simple, and ultralight packs like 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.
In our standardized calisthenics testing, the Stratos 34 restricted our range of motion more than most other packs we tested. While this is fine for hiking, which requires little dynamic movement, it makes biking or scrambling cumbersome. On the other hand, this pack didn't slip a bit during use, which kept the weight squarely on our hips all day.
This is a heavy backpack. At 51 oz and only 29 L of volume (weight-to-volume ratio of 1.8 oz/L), it's one of the heaviest packs we tested for the volume. 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.
The only heavier pack in this review is our Editors' Choice winner, the REI Co-op Traverse 35, which is just three ounces heavier than this pack, but can carry 19 more L of gear. The Osprey Talon 22 is just over half the weight of the Stratos 34, and has a much lower weight to volume ratio of 1.2 oz/L. The rigid and handy 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. It keeps your water bladder, rain jacket, trekking poles, and first aid kit contained. It has sufficient extrenal attachment points for activities like snowshoeing, but we preferred the snowshoe storage on the REI Traverse 35. You probably won't like it for commuting or use as a carry-on for flying due to its bulk. 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.
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 most 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 one-fourth of the pack (although this can be unhooked from the back panel to allow for big items in the main compartment). 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.
The hip belt pockets on the Stratos are the biggest of all the packs in this review, but even fully stuffed, they don't get in the way. We like them for carrying sunscreen, snacks, and light gloves or hats. These items moved around a bit in the relatively uncompressible larger, outer zip pocket, which also Velcros closed at its top. This pocket is ideal for storing a shovel for winter hikes, or bulky layers that get in the way in the main compartment. To round out the list of handy features, we loved the front-side pole carry loops on the Stratos 34. They are similar to those on the Osprey Talon 22, but burlier and more secure. They changed the way we view poles on day hikes, allowing us to very easily store and deploy our poles to optimize our walking style for the terrain.
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 REI Trail 25 or the ultralight functionality of the REI Co-op Flash 22 may be better for you if you prefer less bells and whistles.
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. 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. Compared to top-loaders, panel-loaders tend to fair more poorly in dusty and sandy environments where sand can clog up zippers. However, the big toothed zippers and solid warranty on this pack make this a minor concern.
The ultra-robust and super straightforward design of the Fjallraven Kanken Classic or Black Diamond Street Creek 24 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.
In our hose testing, the included rain cover shed rain exactly as designed. We didn't like it as much as the rain cover for the REI Traverse 35, which attaches to the hip belt as well as the back of the pack. Without the rain cover, the Stratos still didn't let in much water due to the large flaps over the zippers.
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 if your passion lies in day hiking and you prefer the convenience of a panel-loader, this pack excels. It 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. 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 like to dial in your hiking kit and need a pack for weekend after weekend on all kinds of trails, 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.