Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Backpacker's Backpack Review: Osprey Ariel 65

I actually thought that I could go on a Round The World (RTW) trip lugging around one big suitcase. When I first came up with the idea of traveling – I didn’t think I was going full-on backpacker. I thought backpacks only worked for campers and hikers and hippies… Boy was I painfully mistaken. 

After doing tremendous amounts of research, I have discovered that backpacking isn’t only the best way to go – it’s practically the ONLY way to go with the kind of thing I plan to do. My resources, of course, are other travel bloggers who have done it before. According to them, you want to travel as light as possible, bringing only a week’s worth of clothing with you. 

Now… I have written posts in the past about how I like to “look as good as the places I visit” when I travel. So naturally, the realization that I’m only supposed to bring a week’s worth of clothes for months (or even a year) of traveling - brought about a slight panic attack. I’ve never been a light packer… but I’ve never been one to back down on a challenge either. If I’m ever just one thing – that’s that I’m creative. If it means buying reversible clothing and washing every week, and only bringing 2 pairs of shoes (gulp!) so be it! Challenge Accepted!!!

Another harsh realization I’ve discovered is that backpacks are practically like cars… there are SO many things to consider before buying one. There’s size, fit, comfort, color, cost, etc. It’s crazy. You have to find one that’s specific to the type of traveling you’re going to do, and you have to make sure you’re as comfortable as you can be while carrying it on your back – because the weight of the pack has to fall on your hips, not your back. I know… my head is spinning as well. 

Enter Adventure 16

Adventure 16  is an outdoor and travel outfitters store where you can find anything and everything you’d need for activities under the sun (literally). I love them because they’re local… they’re exclusive to Southern California, and the company started out catering to specific needs of adventurous backpackers! 

Adventure 16 in West LA

They’ve been doing this 50 years and they have such a “homey” feel to them. I love locals!!!  I went to the West LA branch - which was the closest one to me. One of the many awesome things about them is that they rent out backpacks! For Thanksgiving, I had a quick 5 day trip to San Francisco, so I thought I’d rent one of their backpacks to give it a test run! I figured it would be smart to see how I felt when I carried it, or if I’d have any problems with it being a carry-on luggage at the airport.

Out of all their options (and with the help of their uber friendly and knowledgable staff), I decided to rent the Osprey Ariel 65L pack. 
 A lot of the other backpackers might say that 65 litres is too big for an RTW trip. I’ve seen a lot of them recommend nothing above 40 litres, or 55 litres at the most. But then I thought – I’m not really going camping or trekking or hiking on my travels. I’ll mostly be staying with friends, or couchsurfing, or HelpEx-ing… A lot of the walking I’ll be doing (with my pack) will be in airports and train stations only anyways, so maybe I could stand a little bit more weight. A lot of the backpacker guys I’ve spoken to carried 80 – 85 liter packs, and since I’m a big girl, I thought 65 might be an okay size to start with. That’s what this experiment is for anyways, right? To see if it works or not?

OK, so this is the Osprey Ariel 65 (pic above)  Since this is my first ever encounter with a backpacker’s backpack, all these little straps intimidated me. What the heck were they for? Why are there so many zippers? And dayumm it looks so small!!! But thanks to Devin, my Adventure 16 aid, I sort of got the hang of it eventually. This pack apparently works best if you go camping because it has a lot of compartments you can use for water or a sleeping bag, or anything else you might need out in the wild. I just figured if I wasn’t doing any of that, it just leaves much more space for all of my other stuff.

Even if technically the size is 65L, you also have to find your size as a user, as it comes in S, M, L, XS – depending on the length of your torso. I was all too happy to discover that I was a small. :)
One of the fun things about this pack is that you can get the hip belt molded to sort of go with the shape of your body for maximum comfort! One not so cool thing about it (in my opinion) is that the top portion is detachable and converts to a fanny pack. When you think about it – it actually isn’t bad, but I don’t really do fanny packs. There are other backpacks that have detachable small daypacks – and I think I prefer that over this.

Anyway, after picking up my pack, Adventure 16 gave me free coffee to wish me well on my journey, AND for being their fan on Facebook! Aren’t they awesome? I’ve never had coffee from a paper bag before --- they actually taste really REALLy good! Thanks guys!!!

Yay for freebies!
The review

A girl took this photo for me in the restroom
Ok let’s move on to the nitty gritty details. After stuffing my pack the way Devin taught me how (heavy and electronic stuff nearer to the body resting on my back, lay clothes flat – not rolled, pull strings backwards not downwards) I have to say that the backpack was quite comfortable. I think I was carrying about 20 – 25 pounds on it, and walking around the airport didn’t really bother me… it felt like the weight was evenly distributed. Devin also gave me a tip – when I get to the counter, wear the pack on my back instead of carrying it by hand… He says usually, the airline attendants don’t even weigh your bag or check the size if it’s worn like a backpack… and true enough, he was right. One attendant did stop me once to see the size. I turned around to show it to her, and she just nodded and let me right through. Phew! I would’ve hated to have to check it in! The dimensions of this pack when filled to the brim I think is exactly the dimensions allowed for a carry-on on a US domestic flight. I guess that’s why the lady had to inspect me. She probably thought I was cutting it close.

On my way back though, the ground attendant stopped me right before I boarded the plane. She said she thought the pack looked too big and I might need to check it in. I protested and said I flew in with the same pack just as a hand carry! She asked me to drop it in the size checker thingie so she could verify. I plopped the backpack and it fit snugly inside the alloted space. “I can even compress it further – look!” – and with the hands of a pro, I started fiddling with the straps, tightening them to make them look small and sexy --- and it work! The agent looked satisfied and let me through. Double Phew!!! That was a close one.

This is what it looks like from behind

The Verdict

Well, since this is the first backpack I’ve ever tried – I don’t know what the verdict is just yet because I don’t have anything to compare it with. All I know is that the size and dimensions work for domestic US flights – which is good. I don’t know if the limitations are the same for International flights so we’ll have to see. The beauty is that I’ll be spending a bulk of my RTW trip in Europe so I’ll be in trains more than planes, then this wouldn’t be a problem. The pack is comfortable, I didn’t have any problems carrying it around, and it was easy to stuff my clothes in and take them all out. Like I said – the only thing I wasn’t too crazy about was the fanny pack. I don’t have to use it if I don’t want to though, so that’s okay too.

I think I’ll have to go on another mini trip with another backpack of a different size before I can decide. If I ever do end up traveling with the Osprey Ariel 65, I don’t think I’d mind though.

Have you ever gone backpacking before? What kind of backpack have YOU used? What do you recommend? :)