Before I moved to Phoenix I spent a lot of time backpacking the Northwest with the “Two Towers”—i.e. my uncle Steve and cousin Luke. Their Norwegian blood stretched their impressive frames well past the 6-foot mark, and carrying 80 liter-plus backpacks made them look like Viking giants. I felt like a gnat next to them.
Opening the Osprey Xenith backpack after it arrived to my door, I was reminded of the Two Towers. This is a big backpack. At 75 liters, mine is the smallest of the series (they also come in 88 and 105), but certainly much larger than the 50-liter pack I normally carry. I was slightly intimidated. Being a lightweight backpacker I wondered how I was going to fill it up. I accomplished this feat by packing books on solo trips, and carrying all the shared gear when I hiked with a partner. Even then, I only managed a pack weight of 35 pounds, and it was the easiest 35 pounds I ever carried.
This mule carried my loads comfortably without too many on-the-go adjustments. Unlike load haulers I’ve used in the past, I didn’t need to over-tighten the hipbelt to keep it in place. The thickly padded belt never slid off my hips, and the suspension system kept the pressure off my shoulders.
Frankly, I felt like a beast wearing this backpack. Like I was ready to conquer Everest or bushwhack through Siberia. Since the Xenith made me feel so powerful, and reminded me of the big packs Luke and Steve used to carry, I began calling it “The Tower of Power” (never mind that I’m only 5’8”).
Like going to the dealership and buying a new car “fully loaded”, the Tower of Power (Xenith for men, Xena for women) comes with all the upgrades. It has compartments and straps galore for all your organizing and lashing needs, including ice ax loops and Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole attachment system that allows you to stow your poles without removing the pack. It features an adjustable harness, and a moldable hipbelt for form fit customization. It even has a dual compartment floating top pocket that converts into a padded lumbar pack for day tripping from base camp.
The curved backpanel was great for air circulation between my back and the pack, which was a luxury in desert and hot weather hiking. I especially like the dual access side pockets. These stretchy pockets are deep enough to store multiple items, and the bottom access port allows you to reach them without taking your pack off, perfect for bear spray or water bottles. A feature I really like are the loops sewn into the ends of the shoulder straps. For someone like me who always carries a DSLR into the backcountry, I found attaching my camera bag with mini-carabiners to the shoulder straps the most efficient and comfortable method of carrying a big camera backpacking I have tried.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the Osprey Xenith is the external hydration compartment. With the compartment located behind the backpanel instead of inside the pack, filling your water bladder is easier than ever, plus it eliminates the possibility of soaking your gear in the event of a leak. It literally takes 30 seconds to remove the bladder. If you use a Sawyer inline filter for water treatment, you wont even need to remove the bladder from the compartment at all, just open and scoop. It’s a great feature that I imagine other backpack makers will try to copy.
All these features combined with such a large load carrying capacity does come with some drawbacks. For starters, at 5lb, 6oz (for a large), the 75-liter Xenith is heavy when empty. I also found the number of pockets, zippers, and clips overkill. In the field I didn’t even use the zippered front pockets or the side access pockets (for accessing the main compartment without going through the lid). The sleeping bag compartment was my least favorite feature. Stuffing the bag through the small hole was a hassle, and when filled, the zipper was stiff and cumbersome.
However, overall it’s a great pack, especially if you are in to expedition backpacking or normally pack heavy. I would recommend this high-tech hardcore backpack for extended trips with severely limited resupply options, when space and load carrying ability is a primary concern, for wilderness areas that require the use of bear canisters for food storage, and for family trips with small kids that cant carry their own gear. If you are going on an expedition to the Yukon, or are planning on spending some serious time in the Frank Church River of No Return, I definitely recommend the Osprey Xenith backpack.
The Xenith 75 costs $319.00, while the 88 costs $349.00 and the 105 costs $379.00. Check out the Xenith on MountainGear.com by clicking here.