Osprey Kestrel is a men’s hiking backpack. You can get it in several different sizes, but the 48 is by far the most popular choice for hikers. Which is why it will be our focus in this review.
We’re used to excellence from Osprey – the brand has held their position at the top of the backpack market for years. And their designs are favorite among avid hikers, because their packs rarely disappoint.
But will the Kestrel 48 live up to that standard? Let’s find out.
Kestrel 48: Quick Overview
Before we start talking about the features of the pack in detail, here’s a quick overview of the Kestrel’s main features and our impression of this Osprey pack.
Want to find out why the Kestrel 48 got such a high score and what features we considered when rating each category? You can read all about its features – both the good ones and the bad ones – in the rest of this detailed review!
First, you need to check out the basic specifications of this backpack, and then we’ll talk about how it compares to other packs in this category. Keep in mind that you can actually buy the Kestrel 48 in two sizes, and you can see their respective specifications right here:
11 x 12 x 30 inches
27 x 16 x 6 inches
3.22 lb (1.46 kg)
3.9 lb (1.76 kg)
Why two sizes? Because everyone has a different body, and one size does not fit tall. But that shouldn’t mean that you can’t get the size of the pack that you won’t; by offering several sizes of each variation of the pack, Osprey ensures that all of their customers will make the pack they choose fit them perfectly. With that in mind, someone who has a smaller body frame, or who is really slim, should go for the smallest version of the 48 pack. At the same time, someone who has a larger frame or a wider body, will benefit from the longer harness and straps of the largest version of this Osprey pack.
So, why such a low score on the weight? Well, 3.5 lbs might seem like a great weight for a hiking backpack. But, when I went ahead and compared it to some other Osprey packs in this category, it became clear that the Kestrel is on the heavier side. Additionally, I also considered the fact that this particular backpack has a lightweight peripheral frame, which is why I gave it a generous three. It all comes down to this: when you have to pack 40 lbs of gear in a backpack, would you rather carry it in a 0.8lb pack or a 3.5lb pack?
Osprey Levity is perhaps the only unrivalled lightweight backpack. However, Levity does not have a frame, and simply collapses into itself when empty. In addition to that, the pack was built for some lighter loads, which also accounts for its weight (or the lack of it). But, the Stratos, the Talon and even the Exos are all lighter than the Kestrel backpack, which is why we aren’t impressed with its weight. Granted, this Osprey pack does come with a raincover and that accounts for some of its weight, but not enough.
When rating the comfort of this pack, I took into consideration the adjustability of its harness and backpanel, their softness, as well as their ventilation. So, we’ll talk about all aspects of this backpack that influence your level of comfort, so that you can see for yourself just how much the Kestrel excels in that regard.
The backpanel is very important because it is the part of the pack with the largest surface in direct contact with your body. A good backpanel will be properly ventilated and allow your back to breathe while you’re wearing the pack, so that you don’t get sweaty and smelly. And trust me, that happens very often with bigger loads, especially in the warmer months.
It’s also important that the backpanel be soft, and thick enough to protect you from the insides of the pack. Say you have a tripod in your backpack – do you really want that poking you in the back throughout your hike? Of course you don’t.
So what about the Kestrel? It has an AirScape backpanel, which boasts superb ventilation properties. The mesh on the backpanel allows your back to breathe, and it doesn’t retain any moisture, which keeps you cool even in the hottest summer days. It is also equipped with foam ridges that ensure the pack fits you right, and enhance your comfort even when the pack is at its maximum capacity.
The Harness And Suspension System
The Kestrel backpack is equipped with a 3.5 mm LightWire peripheral frame, whose main function is to transfer the load of the pack from the harness to the hipbelt. In addition to that, the entire harness is completely padded and adjustable, just like the backpanel. So you can begin to understand why the Kestrel got such a high score for its comfort properties.
One more thing to note is that the shoulder straps are also equipped with a sternum strap. This helps keep them in place, and ensures that the load of the pack doesn’t shift at any point. Oh and the sternum strap doubles as an emergency whistle, which is pretty cool!
The hipbelt plays a big role in making you comfortable. Since hip muscles are the largest muscles in your body, they should be carrying most of the pack’s weight. And that’s exactly what the hipbelt is supposed to do – transfer the load from your shoulders and back to your hips.
Naturally, it is very important the hipbelt is comfortable, soft and ventilated, and the one on the Kestrel 48 is all of the above. It is made of soft and padded mesh, which means that it will feel comfortable against your hips, as well as keep them ventilated while you’re wearing the pack.
And finally, the hipbelt is adjustable to the width of your hips, and you don’t have to worry about it fitting.
Multiple Compression Straps
Vertical Zippered Access
The Kestrel 48 backpack has a ton of great features for organization. And because of that, I want to mention the one thing that I think is missing (and why it doesn't get a perfect score in this category) - an additional main compartment. I prefer all my packs to have two large compartments, to help organise my gear. Alternatively, if you travel with it, you can also separate out different gear that you need for various purposes. But, given this is intended as a hiking pack it's no big deal. Instead, it does have a sleeping area down the very bottom and a side zipper, which are great. More on those below.
Now let's talk about all the features that it does have, that really help you stay organized on the trail.
Top-Loading Main Compartment
To access the main compartment, first you need to unbuckle the compression straps that hold the lid in place, and then lift up the lid. That will expose the main compartment with the drawstring closure. That is a lot of unbuckling and clips, which is good and bad. It keeps things secure and more waterproof, but also means you can get things out fast. So use the side pockets for such things instead.
In terms of space, this compartment is pretty large – certainly large enough to fit all your on-the-trail necessities. One thing that I’m not really a fan of is that there are no pockets inside this compartment. But there is an internal compression strap, which will help keep is nice and tight.
With top loading compartments, there is always the issue of accessing the stuff at the bottom. But the Kestrel 48 solves this problem with a full size vertical zipper on the side of the bag, which gives you access to the entire compartment. Just grab what you need and you’re good to go.
Zippered Sleeping Bag Compartment
If you often go on overnight hiking trips, then you’ll love this feature. The sleeping bag compartment is at the very bottom of the bag and it’s pretty spacious – so much so that you can easily stuff a few other items inside it, apart from just the bag.
I personally like to keep my sleepwear and towels in this compartment, since it saves me some space in the main compartment and keeps things nicely separated for when you need such things (when you are ready for bed). And not to mention that your bag becomes thicker and more padded at the bottom, which also helps with shock-absorption. Which is good for so many reasons (protection, comfort etc).
There is also a removable divider, which separates this compartment from the main compartment. So, in case you decide you don’t need a sleeping bag after all, you can just take out the divider and gain some extra space inside the main compartment of the bag.
Hipbelt pockets are one of my all-time favorite inventions. Not only do they improve the organizational aspect of the pack, but they also greatly improve its functionality.
When you’re out and about, sometimes you just don’t have the time to stop, take off your pack and rummage through it to get your phone or a GoPro. And with the Kestrel 48, you’ll never have to do that again.
There are two hipbelt pockets on this backpack, which means that all smaller items that can fit inside them will be within hand’s reach. Just think in advance – what will you need during your hike? A GPS? A candy bar? Or a camera?
Top Lid Pockets
This Osprey pack features two pockets on the top lid. One is inside the top-lid, and it’s actually the pocket that you see here in the picture – a small, zippered mesh pocket.
The other one is on the outside of the lid, and because of that it’s more easily accessible. I would suggest using it for any items you might need during your hike or trip – especially if your hands are long enough to reach it without taking off the pack! :>
Stretch Side Pockets
Front Stretch Pocket
This reminds me a bit of a kangaroo’s pouch. Because it’s pretty much a pouch pocket – it’s great for quickly stashing away something you don't need anymore.
And due to its size, I’d size it’s pretty much perfect for storing spare layers of clothing. We all get hot and sweaty after two hours of uphill hikes, and you don’t want to stash that sweaty hoodie inside with all your clean clothes!
Vertical Side Pocket
If safety of your stuff is your main concern, then you’ll appreciate this particular pocket.
For one thing, it is very large – the zipper runs all the way from the bottom of the pack up to the backpanel. So, it’s suitable even for some larger items you’d want to keep inside it.
But what guarantees that your things will be extra safe is that the zipper is cleverly hidden. I bet you didn’t even notice it at first glance!
In addition to that, two compression straps go over the zipper, which ensures that no one will be able to touch this pocket without you noticing. Because of all that, I’d say that this is the perfect pocket for your most valuable items.
The Compression Straps
Overall, there are eight different external compression straps on the Kestrel 48. Two on the front (StraightJacket Compression Straps), four on the sides (two top, two bottom), and two tiny little ones that go over the sleeping bag compartment.
Compression straps have a couple different functions. For one thing, when your pack is completely full, they will ensure that everything stays exactly where you put it. And you want your backpack to be nice and tight, otherwise it’s going to jump up and down, which won’t be at all comfortable.
But their second function is even more important. There will be times when you only use a third or a half of the pack’s space. And when that time comes, the compression straps will help you not only keep everything in place, but also to reduce the entire size of your backpack. That could certainly come in handy on trips, or when you have to squeeze your pack into a small space. And not to mention how easier carrying your Kestrel 48 is going to be.
External Reservoir Sleeve
The Kestrel 48 is a pretty large backpack, which means it’s not really suitable for everyday (commuter, work, school) use. Can you really imagine yourself going to school or work wearing this beast on your back? I certainly can’t!
Additionally, the pack is about 28” tall, which also means that it is not suitable to be used as a carry on. That’s a couple of reasons why I’m not exactly impressed with its versatility. And I am talking about ignoring it's main purpose, hiking. Versatility to me also means - can it be used in other areas of my life?
This is primarily a hiking backpack. And it is more than great for this purpose. Also, the size of this pack and the various different pockets mean you could comfortably use it for a backpacking trip. And with many different attachment points for your gear, the Kestrel 48 would also serve you nicely on any camping trip.
So, let’s talk a little bit about the features that make this pack great for not just hiking, but also some other adventures.
Just like on all other Ospreys, the hydration sleeve on this pack is compatible with all Osprey Hydraulics Reservoirs (up to 3 liters). But you won’t get a reservoir with your Kestrel – which is perfectly fine if you already own one. But if you don’t, you will have to get yourself a hydration reservoir for the pack, preferably an Osprey one, to be able to take advantage of all its hydration features.
Osprey’s hydration system is pretty well designed – you will get a few magnets that you attach to the shoulder straps, which allow for completely hands-free hydration. And since the hydration sleeve is an external one, you don’t have to worry about it leaking inside the main compartment and over your clothes.
Oh and another thing – the fact that this backpack has an external hydration sleeve also negatively impacts its versatility. If the sleeve was internal, it could have easily doubled as a laptop sleeve. But since it’s not, I don’t think that it is secure enough for a laptop, especially since it so easily accessible.
But if you only use it for hiking, then it's perfect.
Tool Attachment Points
This Osprey backpack is equipped with several tool attachment points that you could use however you see fit (hiking poles, ice axes, camping great). However, there are a few things that they recommend you use them for.
The Stow-On-The-Go loops that are on the shoulder straps and sides of the pack were designed for trekking poles. But you could use these however you want – from the top of my head, I’d say they’re also great for stashing your hiking poles.
There are also loops on the front of your pack, which have the purpose of holding your ice-axe. And since these are bungee loops, they can be adjusted to fit whatever tool you decide to use them for.
Sleeping pad straps are another useful gear attachment point that the Kestrel 48 is equipped with. And they will save you plenty of space inside the main compartment of your bag.
Fixed Top Lid
You may wonder how exactly does this impact the versatility of the pack? Well, the answer is in a negative way.
Two larger versions of the Kestrel have a floating lid; basically, the top lid of the backpack can be detached and used as a smaller daypack. Or you can remove it from the pack to reduce its overall size and weight. But the Kestrel 48 lacks this feature, which kind of decreases its flexibility (especially since Osprey rocks this feature on their other packs).
The lid on this particular Osprey pack is completely fixed, and you can’t remove it. But, at least it does come with a couple of pockets, which improves the organization aspect of the pack! It helps to hide things too, which is great if you use this for travel.
Value For Money
It’s no secret that Osprey backpacks aren’t cheap. But, it’s also no secret that you never have to pay retail when you decide to shop on Amazon. Which is why I suggest you check out the pack there – you will save a lot of money, since the Kestrel 48 is currently on sale.
So, that’s the price that I had in mind when the determining the pack’s value for money. I also considered the fact that Osprey so graciously includes a raincover with this pack, which retails for some $30-40. When you deduct that from the price of the pack, you get a price tag in the double digits (for certain colors), which is more than fair for this high-end backpack.
The one thing that was missing, and which would have made me give this pack a perfect score what the Hydraulics Reservoir. It is not included in the purchase of the pack, and you will have to get it separately, if you want to take full advantage of this pack’s features.
Osprey Kestrel 48: Final Thoughts
I hope that all of those details helped you understand why I think the Osprey Kestrel 48 is a very good hiking backpack.
Many people can benefit from its incredibly comfortable structure, and will love the feel of this pack against their body - especially and longer and more difficult hikes. You can even use this pack for backpacking, since it is large enough to fit clothes for a trip of several weeks. And you'll be able to neatly organize everything you decide to pack inside it, since the pack has plenty of different organizational features.
- Breathable AirScape ridged foam backpanel with adjustable torso length
- External reservoir sleeve accommodates up to a 3L reservoir (sold separately)
But just like everything else, the Kestrel 48 has some downsides. It's slightly heavier than some other Osprey hiking packs with the same capacity, which might bother you if you're not used to carry heavier loads. But honestly, a pound or two here and there - you won't really notice it when the pack is at full capacity.
And one more thing to say about this backpack is that you can actually get great value for your money; something most of you are prioritizing, I'm sure. Not only does Osprey include a raincover (which is expensive enough on its own), but you can get a pretty good discount for this pack on Amazon right now, so be sure to check it out there!