Osprey Aether Plus 85: Tested

By Mark Watson 22 April 2021
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The Osprey Aether Plus 85 is designed to carry heavy loads when trekking. We head into the alpine backcountry to test this big bopper out.

When multi-day trekking, there are a few key basics that make or break an experience. Comfortable quality boots, a warm sleeping bag, solid shelter and hearty food are of primary concern. However just as important is what your gear is carried in. An ill-fitting, poorly designed backpack will leave you aching at best, or injured at worst.

I’ve had my fair share of good and bad experiences when it comes to carrying heavy loads over multiple days, in all types of terrain and all types of weather. I’ll even admit I own a notebook with sketches and diagrams of ‘the perfect pack’ drawn out during rainy nights in tents or snowed-in days in mountain huts.  

Fortunately, Osprey’s near-50 years of designing backpacks has put it in good stead to nullify most of my regular complaints, and I have a suspicion their designers might have stolen a few ideas from my notebook for the all-new Osprey Aether Plus 85.

The design

First, let’s cut to the chase. At nearly 2.9 kilograms the Osprey Aether Plus 85 is no lightweight. It weighs in on the heftier side of the trekking pack scales, where most packs aim below 2.5kg. Importantly however, the 210D high-tenacity nylon fabric is extremely durable and the Aether cuts no corners with features. It is designed to carry large loads over long distances and is built accordingly.

Before you gram-counters throw your arms in the air, take note. The Aether carries its weight well. In fact, it carries all weight well, remarkably well… up to 30kg (or more) of wellness to be specific. It might be 300g heavier than some counterparts, but it carries 300g lighter.

The Airscape back panel’s moulded frame of dye-cut foam and mesh ensures optimum ventilation.

All versions of the Aether come with a LightWire aluminium alloy peripheral frame to transfer the load to its hefty lumbar pad and hip belt. The frame is accompanied by Osprey’s Airscape back panel – a moulded frame of dye-cut foam and mesh for ventilation. The men’s Aether comes in four volumes, 60L, 70L, 85L and 100L, with each pack offering two torso lengths. The identically designed women’s Ariel pack offers a female specific harness in three volumes, 60L, 70L and 85L, and two torso lengths. Shoulder straps, hip belt and sternum strap (with whistle) are well padded and easily adjusted, with two easy-to-access buckles. Osprey’s ‘fit on the fly’ fine tuning then offers further tweaking of shoulder and waist padding placement to ensure a perfect customised fit.

In the field

Once perfect fit is attained, there’s a multitude of features to explore. A removable Daylid turns the lid into a daypack. We were pleasantly surprised with capacity and comfort when we used the Daylid for a full day mountain biking.

With the Daylid removed or wide open, the Aether’s ease of accessibility is evident. Acting as a regular top loader, the pack offers one-handed (and glove friendly) quick-pull drawstring access. A large zipped front flap gives access to the main compartment and a bottom ‘sleeping bag’ zip allows entry to the internal base of the pack.

The harness, all the buckles, straps and load points are overbuilt to ensure reliability.

If you’re a pocket addict, don’t be deterred, this mothership offers nine pockets in total. Two oversized zippered pockets in the lid, two large zippered front pockets (that fit a one litre water bottle easily, or crampons) an elasticated ‘Shovit’ pocket (great for a downie or shell) and dual zippered hip belt pockets large enough for phone, scroggin and most importantly, multiple double packs of Don Hot Salami Donskis. Two stretch mesh side water bottle pockets are on hand (can access bottle when on the move) along with an internal hydration reservoir pocket in case you eat too many of those hot Donskis. Oh, and there’s even a sneaky hidden pocket for the accompanying rain cover.

The inbuilt rain cover is accessed via a hidden pocket. The pack has numerous additional stowage areas with nine pockets in total.

Once loaded up, there’s plenty of external strap action to cinch it all in. Dual upper and lower side compression straps accompany dual two-piece front panel compression straps. There are removable sleeping pad straps (they like to catch on undergrowth so being removable is a bonus) and even dual ice axe loops for those going Arctic. The hood also offers lash points perfect for custom helmet stash. If you’re a trekking pole lover, the left shoulder strap offers a stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment.

The final word on the Osprey Aether Plus 85

No backpack is perfect but the Osprey Aether Plus 85’s load capacity, excellent feature set and overall build quality mean it comes very close and is a great option for those going big with their trekking adventures.

With all the above in mind it’s hard to find a missed trick in the Aether Plus 85. We could be forgiven for suggesting it’s a perfect pack…but it’s not.

The Aether Plus 85 is not only weighty in grams but in price. Getting super picky; the nicety of unobtrusive buckles is offset by the frustration of finding them. The shoulder strap ladder-lock buckles lack thumb tabs and are difficult to loosen unless you have tiny gremlin-fingers. 

Overall, though, it is hard to fault the Osprey Aether Plus 85. While it might set you back a decent chunk of change, you’ll be at ease with the knowledge you have one of the most comfortable, impeccably designed and feature-rich trekking packs available today – and one that’s likely to be lugging heavy loads for you many years later.

RRP: $539 See Osprey Australia for more info and stockists.