There are so many reasons to love backpacking—having days, rather than hours, to be fully immersed in nature; seeing amazing wildlife that can’t be found closer to civilization; and spending the night under the stars, just to name a few. There’s just one drawback: having to carry enough stuff to sustain yourself in the wilderness for days on end. This usually means a really heavy pack. That’s why I was excited to try the new Osprey Ariel 55 AG, a backpack that promises to make any load lighter with custom components and a unique anti-gravity harness.
Although I was looking forward to seeing how the pack delivered on its promise of lightening my load, the first thing that caught me eye was its convertible DayLid daypack. It was easy to remove, so I immediately took it for a spin. I was really impressed with how much thought went into its design: wider-than-usual straps that did a good job of distributing weight on my shoulders; a special sleeve for a water bladder; and a small front pocket that kept my smaller items from getting lost in the main compartment. It was clear that the DayLid wasn’t just an afterthought to this advanced pack but a large part of its design appeal.
I loaded the pack with as much weight as I could and
headed off to huff and puff my way up some local hills.
On the Trail
As impressed as I was with the daypack, I wanted to see how the Ariel 55 AG as a whole—especially those custom components and anti-gravity harness—performed. My first stop was REI, where I got some pointers in adjusting the pack to my body. Because this pack has such advanced features, it wasn’t as intuitive as with other backpacks, so I was happy to have the help. There were two main things to adjust for a custom fit: the height of the pack frame, which can be shortened or lengthened based on torso length, and the molding of the hipbelt, which requires a special Osprey oven (much like custom insoles). After we got the pack fitting just right, the backpack salesman let me in on a little secret: I’d get a better fit over the long-term if I skipped the oven and just let the hipbelt respond to my own body heat and mold over time.
I set about to do just that. I’ve been preparing for an upcoming backpack on Mount Rainier, so my training hikes were perfect for testing everything out on the trail. I loaded the pack with as much weight as I could and headed off to huff and puff my way up some local hills. On trail, the pack took a little getting used to. I liked the full mesh harness (which kept my back from getting sweaty on challenging inclines), and how the hipbelt did start to conform to my frame (they were incredibly stiff at first). However, it took a while to learn enough about the ins and outs of the pack to make the smaller fitting adjustments to make it feel just right. That said, because of the anti-gravity frame and really cushy shoulder straps, my load never felt especially heavy, even when I was packing quite a bit of weight.
Eventually, I came to appreciate that while the Ariel 55 AG wasn’t comfortable-as-can-be straight out of the package, I did like that it got better as time went on—and that the hipbelt, once molded to perfection, was detachable and could be transferred to a new backpack and frame once it was time to upgrade.
Pros and Cons
PROS: During my time with the Osprey Ariel 55 AG, I came to love the convertible DayLid daypack more than any of the other pack features. It’s a great grab-and-go daypack, not just for backpacking but for whenever you need a small pack that’s versatile and comfortable.
CONS: The main drawback to this pack is that it takes a while to get used to—and you’ll probably need a professional’s help for the very best fit. You’ll also need to buy a rain cover, because the pack doesn’t come with its own (or a dedicated pocket for the rain cover).
Start with a few shorter outings to get everything dialed in just the
way you like it, then watch how the pack gets better over the miles.
If you’re prepared to put in a little work to break in the Osprey Ariel 55 AG, you can lighten your load with the custom components and anti-gravity harness. To guarantee yourself the best experience possible, be intentional about the break-in period, much like you would with a new pair of hiking boots. Start with a few shorter outings to get everything dialed in just the way you like it, then watch how the pack gets better over the miles.
Women’s Ariel AG Info[column-group] [column]
Price: $290–$330[/column] [column]
XS, S, M
XS, S, M, L
XS, S, M
Also available as the men’s Aether 60 AG.
This review is based on the personal experiences of travel writer and columnist Cassandra Overby. This product was tested in a variety of weather, temperature and trail conditions. Individual results may vary. For more information on PCT: Oregon gear reviews, click here.
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Main photo: The Osprey Ariel 55 AG backpack loaded and ready to hit the trail. Photo by Cassandra Overby.