Choosing a multiday pack is one of the toughest and most important decisions you’ll make as a backpacke
Choosing a multiday pack is one of the toughest and most important decisions you’ll make as a backpacker. It doesn’t help that just about every brand will tell you that their model can handle the biggest loads and keep you comfier than all the rest. As we’ve learned over decades of testing, many of those products don’t hold up to the hype. However, some do.
Year after year, update after update, the Gregory Baltoro 65/Deva 60 and the Osprey Aether/Ariel 65 are among our favorites for both their comfort and load-carrying capacity. At first blush, both packs are incredibly similar. For one thing, they have many of the same features and almost the same weight. But they do differ in a few key areas: durability, organization, and price. Each model also takes its own distinct approach to fit, which has some subtle but important implications for those with hard-to-fit body sizes.
Which one is better for you? We put together this guide to help you choose.
Osprey Aether/Ariel 65
$290; 5 lbs. 2 oz.; Buy Now
We’ll start with the obvious: Of the two models, the Aether/Ariel (the Ariel is the women’s version) is the more budget-friendly option. Its $290 price tag is about $30 less than that of the Baltoro/Deva. Despite the price gap, we didn’t find any appreciable difference in carry: some testers preferred the Baltoro’s seamless wrap-around hipbelt, but others appreciated how the beefier lumbar padding on the Aether/Ariel helped eliminate sacral rubbing. The cost savings seem to come from a slightly pared-down feature set: The Aether/Ariel lacks pack-bottom reinforcement and has about four fewer pockets,though, unlike the Baltoro, the Aether/Ariel does come with an included raincover. If you prefer packs with a simpler floor plan, this could be your pick.
A large, U-shaped zipper gave us easy access to the main body of the pack, and a zippered bottom door let us grab our sleeping bags without unpacking. The other features are pretty standard. Ice tool attachments, a stretch-mesh shove-it-pouch, and dual hipbelt and water bottle pockets cover the bases. There are also tons of compression straps, so if you want a svelte, jostle-free carry for more technical terrain—or more versatility for shorter trips—the Aether/Ariel has you covered.
Both the main body and the bottom of the pack are made from a 420-denier high-density nylon. However, we never had trouble with punctures or tears, even while bushwhacking in Colorado’s Gore Range.
Unlike the Gregory Baltoro, the Aether fits a wide range of back lengths. Each of its two sizes features four inches of torso-length adjustability with little overlap, giving the model a total fit range of 16 to 23 inches. (The women’s version, the Ariel, runs from 13 to 20 inches, a wider range than the Gregory Deva). We also appreciated the adjustable hipbelt wings and the memory foam-like EVA padding. Even during long days in peak Adirondacks humidity, our hips never bruised or chafed. We were also able to carry up to 40 pounds without issue, thanks to a flexible aluminum alloy perimeter frame and a rigid, injection-molded framesheet.
In sum, the Aether/Ariel is the better bet if you:
- Want a great pack at a more budget-friendly price.
- Often encounter downpours and don’t want to buy your own raincover.
- Prefer a streamlined pack that can be cinched down for lighter-weight trips.
- Have an extra long or an extra short torso.
Gregory Baltoro 65/Deva 60
$320; 4 lbs. 14 oz.; Buy Now
The Baltoro and Deva’s (the women’s version) carrying comfort have never failed to impress. Between the roomy main packbag and all those pockets, we were able to easily carry 45 pounds over 50 miles of cumulative weekend trips in the Colorado Front Range. That’s thanks to an aluminum-alloy perimeter frame, which provides rigidity to support big loads. (A fiberglass cross-stay braces the frame to prevent barrelling.)
Still, what we love most about the most recent edition is its organization. It has three pockets on the dorsal panel and three in the top lid (the Aether/Ariel has only one pocket in each spot). The Baltoro/Deva also sports two enormous zippered pouches on the hipbelt—bigger than those on the Aether/Ariel. On the left side, the Baltoro/Deva has a stretch-mesh pocket for trekking poles, and on the right there’s a deployable bottle holder that fits a standard Nalgene. Like the Osprey Aether/Ariel, you can access your stuff via both a bottom entry to a sleeping bag compartment, and a full U-zipper that flays open the front panel.
The Baltoro/Deva comes in three torso-length sizes. Each size features three inches of adjustability and overlaps considerably with the next size up or down. Between that and the extendable hipbelt wings, the Baltoro/Deva makes it easy for off-sized hikers to find a small pack with a big hipbelt or vice versa.
We also loved the auto-rotating shoulder straps. Each strap is independently riveted to the back panel with a rotating pin. That allows the harness to automatically adjust to the angle of your shoulders. The hipbelt also moves independently of the frame, letting the pack follow your natural hip sway. The result: zero rubbing at either the hips or shoulders. (The Osprey Aether/Ariel does offer extendable shoulder padding, which we were able to adjust to achieve a more comfortable wrap across the front of the body, but the angle of the straps doesn’t change.)
Last but not least, the Baltoro has proved itself durable over more than 100 miles of testing. We scraped past blowdowns and boulders after flash flooding ravaged Colorado National Monument’s Ute Canyon and didn’t see so much as a scratch. Credit the 410-denier high-density nylon protecting the body of the pack and the burly 630-denier version covering the back bottom.
So, go with the Baltoro/Deva if you:
- Want a reinforced pack bottom for rough terrain.
- Prefer hip belt pouches big enough to fit your phone.
- Struggle to find packs that fit you in both the hips and torso.
- Like to stay hyper-organized with tons of pockets.