Backpack Buying Guide for Large Packs (80 L and up)

Buying a pack is one of those exciting shopping experiences for backpackers, campers, and adventurers of all kinds. The trick is to find the best pack at the best price. If you’ve got a lot of hauling to do, strong legs, good endurance, or you’re just a big guy, you’re in the 80 liter and up pack category. But these packs are not for the faint of heart. If you’re going on a two week European backpacking trip you might want to think about leaving a couple pairs of jeans and that sleeping bag at home and check out a small or medium size pack in the Backpack Buying Guide for Medium Packs (50L – 75L).

If you’re looking for a large capacity pack you want it to be comfortable, adjustable, and relatively easy to load. These three packs meet all of those requirements and more, making them my top three picks for a large 80 liter and up backpack.

Osprey Aether

Osprey makes great packs, and this is one of them.

Osprey Aether

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Highly Adjustable
  • Easy to Load
  • Good Suspension
  • Detachable Lumbar Pack
  • Fair Price

Cons

I had a hard time finding any major drawbacks for this pack and most owners say the same.

Description

  • Removable IsoForm CM™ (Custom Moldable) hipbelt offers superior load support with 3D dual-density foam and an anatomically contoured shape
  • Osprey-certified Custom Molding available in most stores—check your local REI store for a custom hipbelt molding oven
  • ErgoPull™ hipbelt closure provides extra leverage in cinching, drawing tension along top and bottom—not through the center—to relieve hipbone pressure
  • IsoForm dual-density foam harness with spacer mesh promotes airflow and wicks away moisture during warm weather and intense activity
  • LightWire™ suspension uses peripheral rods, a nubbed foam back panel, single stay and an internal framesheet
  • Running down the sidewall, the peripheral rods anchor to load lifters and hipbelt, actively transferring load and resisting sag
  • HDPE framesheet protects your back from bulky or pointy items and supports heavy loads
  • Top pocket can be removed and converted into a lumbar pack; IsoForm hipbelt on pack can be removed and slid onto lumbar pack for comfortable carrying
  • J-zipper panel access makes packing and accessing your gear a breeze
  • Externally accessible bottom compartment with wide mouth and divider accommodates all types of sleeping bags
  • Dual-entry, stretch-woven side pockets keep essentials easily accessible, and a stretch-woven front pocket with welded vent accepts Osprey AddOns™ (sold separately)
  • Straightjacket™ compression with 3 horizontal straps let you securely compress the contents whether full or nearly empty, and without sag or load distortion
  • Internal compression strap stabilizes the load
  • Stow on the Go™ trekking pole attachment, side gear straps, ice axe tool loops, cord loop attachment slots and sleeping pad straps accommodate a variety of alpine gear
  • Hydration-compatible design features reservoir sleeve and dual drink tube exit ports for on-the-go hydration (reservoir sold separately)
  • Osprey Aether 85 pack shaves weight yet remains tough with a 210-denier double-ripstop nylon and 420-denier nylon packcloth body and 500-denier plain-weave oxford nylon bottom

Price

One of the Aether’s best features is its price. You can snag one of the 85L for $230 to $300 depending on the retailer and current sales. And there are usually sales going on with at least one seller for any given pack, so look around a bit before settling on the first retailer you find.

Recommended Retailers:

Review

Chicago, Illinois

Osprey Aether in use“Got this pack in and headed for a 4 day backpacking trip on the AT in the Smoky Mountains. This pack held A LOT of weight. Weighed in a 52lbs without water. The hipbelt did a great job of staying put and the adjusters and frame system kept the load balanced very well. This thing holds a TON. Everything was packed inside: MSR sweetwater system, MSR Alpine 2 pot set, MSR EGK stove, large bear vault with 4 days of food, sleeping bag, clothing, emergency cold weather clothes, etc.. I also added the Daylite pack to the outside which attaches quite well. The trekking pole quick stow works great. The pack has pretty lengthy adjusters so i used velcro to sinch them down after tightened which kept the excess out of my way. All in all, this thing held up very well with heavy weight. Took a few spills on some Ice and it still looks new.”

Gregory Denali Pro

This thing is a pack and a half. Gregory is another great company, this pack is one of the reasons.

Denali Pro

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Named “Best Value Expedition Pack” by Backpacker Magazine in 2003
  • Large Capacity
  • Comfortable
  • Easy to Load
  • Highly Adjustable
  • Good Padding
  • Detachable Lumbar Pack
  • Comes in 3 sizes: 100L, 106L, 115L

Cons

  • Starting at 7 lbs, it’s a bit on the heavy side
  • High Price Tag

Description

  • Denali Pro offers load support, custom fit and easy access for mountaineers and trekkers who demand performance without compromise
  • Foam-padded, contoured shoulder straps with Auto-Cant™ design fit a wide range of shoulders and adjust automatically to varying trail conditions
  • Soft, thermo-formed foam back panel with cushion inserts and molded air channels offers breathable comfort
  • Dual-density foam-padded hipbelt is pre-curved to hug the hips and provide greater comfort and load-carrying support
  • Light HDPE framesheet with cutouts and dual aluminum stays provide an optimal blend of stiffness and torsional flex
  • Sleeping bag compartment features a separate zippered entry and a removable divider
  • The Gregory Denali Pro pack offers 2 ways to get at your gear: top-loading and front pocket access to the main compartment
  • Mesh pocket divider zips closed to keep contents of the front pocket separate from the main bag; unzips for easy access to the main compartment
  • Removable top lid converts to a waist pack for quick hikes away from camp
  • 2 large mesh side pockets let you keep essentials close at hand
  • Includes vinyl-reinforced ski slots, dual ice axe/tool loops and a daisy chain for attaching additional gear
  • Top and side compression straps along with quick-release sleeping pad straps help stabilize the load
  • The Gregory Denali Pro pack is made of durable Cordura® nylon with Spectra®-reinforced nylon stress points that offer strength and abrasion resistance
  • Waterproof Shelter-Rite™ material covers the bottom of the pack to provide long-lasting wear and protection from the elements

Price

All this pack doesn’t come very cheap, though it’s still a good value. You can get it anywhere from $350 to $500 depending on the size and retailer. There are actually a few used ones for sale on Amazon as this is a pretty popular large-capacity back.

Recommended Retailers:

Review

Colorado

Gregory Denali in use“I have had this pack since 1998. Over the last decade, I have used this pack for multi day backcountry skiing and snowboarding outings, getting to our mountaineering basecamps, 10 day backpacking trips, weekend trips, and now overnight trips with my wife and child.

My number one commment on the Denali Pro is load it up. This pack can carry the weight. I am tall and thin, so the custom measurements were key for me. I have a large back panel with a medium waist belt, giving me the fit I always looked for. There is room for all kinds of gear on top of your overnight needs. Now that I’m a father, this pack has made the transition to my new “sherpa dad” role, allowing me to carry everything we need.

The only negative on this pack is its weight. But, in order to be able to manage bigger loads, you will want the extras that allow this pack to handle the big loads. It is also adjustable enough to handle smaller overnight loads (I put everything inside).

This pack has led me to only buy Gregory Packs for any serious pack needs. I just bought the Gregory Adze daypack, which has also proven itself as the perfect pack for its size.

I lead backcountry trips for a living, and I would never use another pack for my job, or another brand of backpack for any of my backcountry needs.

GO GREGORY! BEST PACKS EVER!”

Osprey Argon

Remember when I said Osprey makes good packs? Well that’s how they landed two on my list. This thing is quite the deluxe pack, it could be called the “Aether Deluxe Plus Extra,” but where’s the fun in that? I wanted the third to be my favorite company, Kelty, but this pack seems to beat most Kelty packs in this size range.

Osprey Argon

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Highly Adjustable
  • Large Capacity
  • Good Padding
  • Light for capacity
  • Detachable Lumbar Pack

Cons

The only complaints I’ve heard is that good loading can take some practice. That’s almost expected with most packs this size, but worth noting.

Description

  • AirScape backpanel features three sections of ridged foam and a central air chimney for increased ventilation
  • BioForm CM™ A/X hipbelt has heat-moldable laminated foam and internal seams providing a personalized fit while relieving hipbone pressure
  • Osprey’s certified Custom Molding available in most stores—check your local REI store for a custom hipbelt molding oven
  • Lightweight, removable sil nylon AquaSource hydration sleeve converts to a hydration pack for day-tripping (reservoir sold separately)
  • Removable top lid has one compartment with a waterproof zipper and lash-on points; converts to a lumbar pack with AirScape lumbar pad
  • ReCurve supsension optimizes fit and load transfer; features an HDPE framesheet, two aluminum stays and dual aluminum rods
  • Running down the sidewall, ReCurve aluminum rods create a pretensioned lift mechanism that resists sag and actively transfers load to hips
  • Load-lifter straps act with ReCurve rods and framesheet to draw load snug against your back for increased control and stability
  • Gender specific, the interchangeable, laminated dual-density shoulder straps adjust easily to fit a man’s shoulder and chest contours
  • Provides complete access to main compartment via top-loading and side zippered openings
  • Externally accessible, wide-mouth sleeping bag compartment accommodates large synthetic bags
  • Side pockets, one zippered and one mesh, keep essentials handy and secure and double as slots for hauling skis A-frame style
  • StraightJacket wings let you securely compress the contents of the pack, whether it’s full or nearly empty, without sag or load distortion
  • Wings buckle across the front when full; for small loads, connect straps to buckles at the edge of the backpanel, cinching one panel over the other
  • Stretch-woven front pocket allows quick and easy stashing

Price

If you were to find the average of the Aether and Denali Pro, you would get the Argon. This pack resembles a beefed up version of the Aether with the capacity of the Denali and likewise has a price tag somewhere in between. You can find one of the three versions (85L, 88L, 91L) for $300 to $420. Not a bad deal for a pack with this brand name, size, and features.

Recommended Retailers:

Review

Atlanta, GA

Osprey Argon in use“This pack is excellent. I’ve hiked all over Alaska with it. My only complaint is not doing more hiking with it. I put my big sleeping bag in the bottom pouch, a cooker, ammo, lights, a folding shovel, a bunch of other junk, and it holds it. I use the top removable pouch for day hikes and for carrying bear spray. The custom molded bottom straps feel good and fit perfect (make sure you get them to “cook” your lower supports). The shoulder straps are the best ever, and I’m a big shoulder guy. Previous bags were military type rucks. This bag blows them out of the water. Oh, and it doesn’t get wet at all. Easy to pack quick when you are just trying to get moving along, or you overslept. I wouldn’t recommend flying with it as the straps and clips would get caught in a conveyor belt and be messed up, but the guy who sold it to me who uses the smaller version, said his never did. Your back doesn’t hurt, but your legs might because you’ll keep going.”

 

Didn’t see your favorite pack on the list? Leave us a comment about why it’s awesome and we’ll include it in the next article!

2 Comments

  1. Can you review shoes for walking and or hiking? A trip is miserable if your feet hurt!

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  2. ospreys are the best!! I’ve hiked with mine at least 20 times and it still looks like new!

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Backpack Buying Guide for Large Packs (80 L and up)