Category Archives: Gear

Gear Review: Osprey Exos 58 Backpack

 Osprey Exos 58 Details:

Size: Small 55 liter, Medium 58 Liter, Large 61 Liter
Weight: 2 lb, 11 oz, to 2 lb, 12 oz
Load Range: 20-40 lbs.
MSRP: $220
Warranty: Lifetime

I have used an Osprey Exos 58 pack for years and believe it has been a great all around choice for backpacking. Apparently, I’m not alone in that thinking either. The results of The Trek’s 2017 survey of AT hikers listed it as the most popular pack. Last week, I presented a program at the Adventure Summit in Dayton. The featured speaker, Dale “Grey Beard” Sanders (oldest man to thru-hike the AT) began his presentation by walking out on stage wearing an Exos. When I check my gear closet, two of the three backpacks in there have Exos written on them. So, I had high expectations when Osprey sent me the newest version of the Exos 58 to test.

Grey Beard showing off his pack

I have had extensive experience with older versions of the pack. Besides numerous weekend trips, my first Exos 58 carried my gear on thru-hikes of the Colorado Trail, Long Trail and John Muir Trail. When I sent the pack back for repair of a worn hip belt attachment, I learned that their All Mighty Guarantee was the real deal. Rather than repair the pack they sent me a newer model, at no charge. That pack was happily carried on thru-hikes of the Tahoe Rim Trail and Sheltowee Trace and remains in good shape.

This newest alliteration of the Exos 58 has not yet been on any thru-hikes, but enough shorter trips (Twin Creek and Caesar Creek backpack trails in Ohio and up and down some serious elevation changes in Great Smoky Mountain National Park) to give me a good feel for the new model.

The Pack

Like past versions, the pack is built around an aluminum frame with Airspeed suspension which allows for ventilation room between the load and your back. At 6’ 2” with a 22” torso measurement, I went with the large; actual size 61 liters. The medium is 58 liters and the small is another three liters smaller.

The Exos has a main, top loading compartment, two large side stretch pockets, a large front, stretch/mesh pocket and a removable “brain.” If the brain is removed, an integrated flap still covers the main compartment. There’s also an internal sleeve designed to handle a 3 liter water bladder.

My first test was to see how it would handle one of my larger loads. Arrayed in the photo below is what I pack for a multi-day trip in temperatures down to 25 or so at night. Since it is required on occasion, I included a 650 cubic inch bear canister. The load also contained a solo tent, 20 degree bag, pad, cook kit, 2nd set of clothes, fleece, down vest, rain jacket, rain pants and typical odds and ends.

All my crap!

It all fit!

The entire load fit with (a little) room to spare. No item needed to be hung or strapped to the outside of the pack. My weight at that point was 20 lbs., including 2lb., 12 oz for the pack. Adding in two liters of water and four days of food at 1 ½ lb. per day put me right at 30 lbs.
The pack felt comfortable at that weight, easily adjusting to put most of the tonnage on my hips through a well padded hip belt.

Osprey states the pack can handle up to 40 lbs., but my personal experience was that comfort drops quickly above 35. Thankfully, I rarely need to go that high. With lighter loads (two days of food, no bear canister, no brain), the pack was just a joy to carry. The side compression straps kept smaller loads from shifting. Heavy or light, I had no issues with ill fit or rubbing.

A smaller load without the “brain”

Overall quality of construction was very high. While it has All Mighty lifetime warranty; don’t expect to need it. Although the pack closely resembles the earlier model, there have been some significant changes that affect the use of the product.

New Model Changes

The hip belt has been redesigned to have a wider, but shorter padded area. I found that it quickly adapted comfortably to my body. It also appears to allow the belt to be tighten around a smaller waist size. On the Colorado Trail, I went from 180 pounds to about 165 and nearly ran out of hip belt adjustment. This new version would alleviate that issue. For those that like lots of pockets, the downside to the change is that the zippered pockets on the hip belt are gone. I suppose I could use a few more of the dozen pockets on my cargo pants.

Heading up toward Chimney Tops in GSMNP

The other small pocket to disappear was on the shoulder strap. The folks at Osprey state they were looking for simplification with these changes. On the flip side, the side “water bottle” pockets were made larger and can now handle items like tent poles (or in my case, rain gear) while still giving access to a water bottle without having to remove the pack.

The sternum strap can now be quickly adjusted by simply sliding it up or down, a significant improvement.

The pack comes in two color options; the red & black pictured or a two tone green. I vote for the red & black as it shows up better in pictures and when you lay it down on the trail. Note to whomever found my “forest green” fleece along the Sheltowee Trace Trail: you’re welcome.

Overall, the pack is built to be more durable than past versions. The frame is slightly redesigned, and there’s less stretch material and more nylon on the remaining pockets. The Airspace mesh and brain attachments have been beefed up as well. This should all add to long term durability. On the downside, this tougher version does result in a weight penalty. The Exos 58 in large now weighs 2 lb., 12 oz. This is four ounces more than the previous model. For those looking for the lightest weight possible, removing the brain drops the total by 4 1/2 ounces. In addition, the trekking pole attachment, sleeping pad straps and side compression straps can all be removed to save a bit more.

If weight is an issue, you can consider the Exos 48, though you only save two ounces with that version.  As I occasionally use a bear canister though, the 58 is my choice.

Pros and Cons

• Strong history as a quality lightweight pack. Lifetime Warranty.
• Airspeed suspension keeps ventilation between the load and your back.
• Very comfortable with loads up to 35 lbs.
• New version appears more durable than older model.
• Hip belt can tighten further for smaller waists.
• Easy adjustment of the height of the sternum strap.
• Larger side pockets can handle more than just water bottles.

• Hip belt and shoulder strap pockets have disappeared
• Weight has crept up four oz.

The Verdict

Reward for a steep climb

While certainly not ultralight, I’m a fan of the pack’s design. I’m willing to pay some weight penalty for the comfortable carry and rugged construction. In addition, the ventilation on the back provided by the Airspeed suspension was huge plus on uphill climbs even during some unseasonably warm February weather. Come July, I’ll enjoy the ventilation even more. For me, the comfort and carrying capacity of the Exos 58 “outweigh” the benefits of lighter packs I’ve tried.

Osprey has taken a winning design and fine-tuned it for simplicity and durability. Despite the loss of pockets and the addition of four ounces, the Osprey Exos 58 remains a great option for either overnights or thru-hiking.

Gear Review: Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repellent

I hate mosquitos. A big part of why I rarely backpack close to my Ohio home in the summer is because I don’t want to deal with them. The choice of getting repeatedly bitten or covering myself in Deet on a hot summer evening is picking one of two bad options to me. So you know, I’ve tried other chemical sprays and lotions, but for me, nothing works like Deet.

I’d looked at some of the Thermacell products in the past, but they all appeared to be too heavy and/or bulky to bring backpacking. I was intrigued however when I saw that Thermacell had created a mosquito repellent device targeting backpackers.

All Thermacell devices work on the same principal. They use a fuel source to heat a mat impregnated with a chemical called allethrin. The chemical is in the same class as Permethrin, which is used in insect repellent clothing. Both are synthetic versions of pyrethrum, a naturally occurring chemical found in certain types of the chrysanthemum plant. The device heats the chemical causing it to vaporize into the air where it does not kill the mosquitos, but repel them.

The EPA Material Safety Data Sheet cautions against eating it or putting into water (toxic to fish). However, the personal protection requirements are to use with proper ventilation (outside only). No protection is needed or recommended for skin, eye or respiratory exposure. The sheet for Deet looks scarier to me.

Anyhow, at only four ounces, the Backpacker version of the repellent device seemed to be worth a try. The repellent promised a 15′ by 15′ zone of protection by using the isobutane fuel canister that I already carried to power my small stove. The initial package was $39.99 and also contained three of the chemical mats; enough for 12 hours of protection.

The product appears to be well constructed and simple to use. Screw onto a gas canister, slide a mat under the guard, turn it on and push on the starter. A small viewing port lets you check that it’s lit. Gas usage is minimal. Thermacell states that a four ounce canister will power the repellent for 90 hours.

My first use was at a family picnic. I fired it up on my deck as the sun set and we spent the next hour or so mosquito free. No noise, no mess and no significant odor. When everyone came inside I just switched it off.

The real test was a recent backpacking trip. The skeeters were bad enough through the day’s hike that some Deet was required. Once we set up camp and had dinner, it was just getting dark. At that point I was expecting an onslaught. Done with the stove, I hooked up the device to my gas canister and started it up. I was still using the original chemical mat. They change color as they’re used up so I could easily tell it was still good. The onslaught never came.

I was thinking that perhaps the Deet from hours earlier was still working, but a quick stroll away from the Thermacell proved otherwise. The mosquitos were still in the area and eager to draw my blood; just not within range of the device. I did not bring a tape measure to gauge the exact size of the zone of mosquito protection, but it seemed like the advertised 15′ by 15′ area was a good estimate or even conservative.

With the included carry bag, the device weighs 4 1/2 ounces

Would I take this device on a thru-hike? No; just like I wouldn’t bring a camp chair. If I’m trying to cover long miles, the extra weight and time needed for these conveniences aren’t worth it to me. However, a weekend trip is a different story. This could make a summer evening spent hanging out at the campsite much more enjoyable than slathering on the Deet or being driven into the tent early.

There’s going to be bugs there?

When I’ve read books about hiking the Appalachian Trail, more often than you would think, the author contracts Lyme disease. A case of this tick borne illness can put a real damper on a person’s hike. In addition, without proper treatment, there can be long term neurological damage. And guess where a real hotspot for this disease is located? That’s right, Vermont, where I’m going to be hiking the Long Trail.

In addition, the sometimes swampy backwoods of the state are a great place for breeding mosquitoes, and this past July was one of the wettest in Vermont’s history.

pants

Sounds like I need to pull out all the stops in preparing for bugs. Clothing is one way to do that. I’ll be trying out some Rail Rider “Eco-Mesh Pants with Insect Shield.” I typically wear zip off pants on the trail. Ones that start out as long pants, but convert to shorts when it gets warm. Bare legs are a tick magnet though. The rail riders have zippers, but they run vertical the length of the pant leg. Unzipped, there is a mesh panel that provides ventilation without giving a tick a direct path in. Remember the pants MC Hammer wore? They’re not that bad. Also, they’re treated with permethrin, a natural insecticide that stays in the fabric to repel and/or kill the little bastards. The factory treatment is supposed to last for dozens of washings.

I also bought a Buff, a tube of material that’s also treated with the same chemical. A buff can be worn over the neck for shade, like a dew rag, Russian Peasant woman, you name it. They even have a video that shows all the ways to wear it. I just want it to keep the ticks off my head.

Beyond the fashion statement I’ll be making, treated clothing sounded like a good idea, so I bought some of the chemical and treated my shirts and socks. Home treatment only lasts for 6 washings or so, but that should be long enough unless I’m walking slow and/or doing laundry pretty often.

bug juice

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m not a fan of either ticks or mosquitoes. So they’ll be more weapons in the arsenal. My sunscreen is a product called Skin so Soft. This is not a poison, but supposedly has a scent that repels insects. Based on my initial testing, I hope it’s a better sunblock than it is a repellant. Otherwise, it’s time for skin cancer. I’ll be carrying a small tube of Picaridin, advertised to be as good as Deet, but won’t destroy your nylon clothes or equipment. And, if that fails, I have some Deet. I’m trying it in solid form, which will help target which part of my body I douse with poison. That’s gotta cover it, right? I’ll let you know who wins this little competition, me or the disease carrying insects.