It took me a long time to decide which backpack would accompany me along Te Araroa. I read, again and again, about all the different brands and models they had. I went from outdoor shop to outdoor shop to check out what was there and what seemed useful. In the end I had narrowed it down to the choice between Osprey’s Xena 85 and Haglöf’s Oxo 80l model at that time. Because Xena was 500g lighter, about the same amount of Swedish crowns cheaper, and came with a lifetime warranty, it came out as the winner of the selection process. If you are wondering why, in that whole selection, I chose a pack that size I am afraid I cannot give you an answer because I myself am honestly still puzzled about it. Though until I discovered Aarn I enjoyed using Osprey, and I had the pack with me until the very end.
- Designed for Women
- AirScape™ backpanel with NeoSpacer™harness
- Sternum strap with emergency whistle
- Top lid access
- Stretch front pocket
- Pre-curved BioForm™ CM moldable hipbelt
- Twin zippered hip belt pockets
- Stow-on-the-Go™ trekking pole attachment
- Twin ice axe loops
- Removable top lid, converts into lumbar pack
- Adjustable torso length
- Sleeping bag base compartment with internal divider
- Cord loop accessory attachment slots
- External hydration access
- Internal top load compression strap
- Light weight peripheral frame
- Side compression straps
- Single aluminium stay
- Stretch mesh side pockets
- Twin vertical zippered side access points
- Twin zippered easy access front pockets
- Maximum dimensions : (cm) 95 (l) x 38 x 38 (d)
- Weight : 2.35 (M) kg
Osprey has a good reputation when it comes to designing women’s packs, and I have always enjoyed a women-specific fit with a shorter torso and a wider hipbelt. As I first fitted the pack (there was about 15kg of weight in there) I found it very comfortable. Even though I am 1.77m tall I have a very short back and needed a size small, which reduces the pack volume to about 81 liters. Once fully packed I still enjoyed the Osprey harness which provided a good division of the weight along my back. The only adjustment I regularly had to make was to tighten the hipbelt, which slowly seems to slide open, leaving all the weight on my shoulders rather than on the hips and legs. I quickly realized that a smaller pack would have been more comfortable to carry around, feeling less like a giant frame around my body and causing less disturbance hiking through the dense bush of New Zealand. Of course, this was my fault, and not the pack’s. However, I tried to limit the load in the head compartment and to make my load wide rather than high because I found that as I walked with the head compartment higher than halfway my neck, it would always push my neck forward which became very uncomfortable. As a final point, even with the AirSpace I found that the backpanel easily became sweaty, I don’t think there is enough air in between the back and the panel to allow for good ventilation. Generally though I liked the feel of the pack and I found it a comfortable companion with a good harness to carry around my load without all too much strain.
I think, as a starter, I would like to discuss the weight of the pack. As the “racehorse”of Osprey’s expedition packs it is still rather heavy, over 2kg without any weight in it. If the weight of the backpack itself could be reduced by shortening some of the extremely long straps (I think about the straps to tighten the head compartment, the hipbelt, the shoulders straps) this would already cut off a bit, as would maybe revising the heavy canvas fabric the backpack is made of. For its size it is lighter than say, the Ariel series, but it is still on the heavy side for modern backpacks. On an expedition in the remotest corners of the planet every gram will count when it comes to the division between supplies and gear, giving this backpack a disadvantage over other models that are designed for the same purpose.
Being able to take off the head compartment and use it as a hipbelt is a great feature, allowing you to leave the bulk of your items at base camp and only taking the necessities on a day trip. It won’t work for serious day undertakings requiring a lot or heavy gear, but for anything else it’s a great way to skip carrying a daypack around. The head compartment itself is fairly comfortably to have on your hips as well.
Very convenient are the Stow-on-the-Go™trekking pole attachment and hipbelt pockets. On steep terrain I often quickly folded up my hiking poles and attached them to my pack so I had my hands free. I always carried snacks and my phone (also used as GPS) in the hipbelt pockets so they were available without having to take the pack off.
As for the internal organization of the pack, I can see that Osprey tried to make it as practical as possible but it did not work out for me. The sleeping bag compartment was way too big to just fit my sleeping bag, and had a bit of an odd shape so it was hard to fit anything else. Plus, I try to keep my sleeping bag in the middle, as the bottom of the pack will be wet first as soon as you put it down in damp or rainy conditions. The two zippered front pocket are good but they are very big and can make the pack very bulky if you overload them, which is a burden in any kind of dense terrain. I also never put a waterbottle or anything heavy there as this tends to pull the weight of the pack away from you, placing more strain on the shoulders and altering the balance. As for the head compartment I also think it is very big: as said before I tried to keep it low to reduce neck discomfort, and too many items in there make the pack top-loaded rather than having a divided load which again places strain on the shoulders. I used the front pocket for flat items like maps or an e-reader so I could always quickly access them, and put beanies/gloves/anything that I could quickly put on or take off in the head compartment. Of course, it is personal how you use these compartments, but I would rather have seen a better division inside the main compartment than having these very big, extra compartments.
The external hydration sleeve is great, as it prevents your hydration system from leaking inside your bag, it makes for easy access to refill and it divided the weight of it evenly over the back. It can be a bit of a struggle getting the water bag in when the bag is fully packed, but with some practice it works.
The stretch mesh side pockets are too small to fit a water bottle (or at least a 1l Nalgene), which is too bad because the quick access system there was one of the reasons I chose the pack. I loved the compression straps to tighten up the back and make it a bit less bulky, and they are also great to attach tent poles etc to the side of the bag.
Now, this is the part where I was really disappointed in the Xena pack, especially as it is designed as an expedition pack built to outlast long periods in the backcountry in some of the remotest areas of the planet, which usually offer tough conditions. New Zealand is a rough country with a tough backcountry and it provided a great testing ground for gear. If your gear can outlive New Zealand, and few things out of everything we had did, it’s a keeper.
So taking this pack 3000km across this country seemed like a good test to me. That it would be damaged or broken in the end I would have understood: it’s a long period of usage for a pack, being exposed to heavy rain, abrasive rock, hail, snow, cold, humidity, heat, etc. But it wasn’t in the end of the trek that Xena broke, it was in the beginning.
After merely 3 weeks of using it, or a good 400km of walking, the mesh around the backpanel started ripping at the height of the hipbelt. This rip progressed and progressed until after about 2000km, not only the mesh was broken, but the panel itself as well: it is ripped open on the sides still at the height of the hipbelt, and about half the width of them. With time this issue of self-abrasion also came onto the hipbelt, where the first the fabric covering the hipbelt padding eroded away after which the padding started falling apart too. So by the end of the hike, Xena had come to the end of her lifetime as an expedition pack in this world, but an end that started rather soon in her career.
Already in the beginning stages of the defect I contacted Osprey about the defect but never received any answer. This frustrated me, as the backpack is covered by the “Almighty Warranty“, covering “defects in materials and craftsmanship for the reasonable lifetime and usage of your product“. An expedition pack should definitely live longer than 3 weeks of thru-hiking, which I would say is definitely an activity that falls within its intended usage. Because I got nothing back from them, I continued using the backpack, as I had no alternative. In the end of the hike I went to an Osprey dealer in Dunedin and explained them the problem. I was told that they could send the pack to the main Osprey importer in New Zealand, but it would take two weeks or more to establish whether or not it was a warranty issue. Still traveling, I again could not be without a backpack for that long, and a replacement pack would not be sent out until it was established whether or not it was a warranty issue.
I could only fix it home, where I contacted Osprey again and finally received an answer (this time I was also sure to mention our website). Osprey explained it was unusual for warranty issues not to be replied to, and that inspecting a pack does not take 2 weeks but 2 days. I sent them a copy of my previous message and mailed the pack to the Osprey Warranty office in the UK. At first I was told that the backpanel and hipbelt had been rubbing against each other because I chose the wrong size of backpack, and it would not be covered by warranty. I contested and explained I had bought and tried the backpack in a shop, being sure it was my size (there are only 2 sizes, it’s not that hard) plus that in any case a backpack in this category and for this price should not be constructed in a self-abrasive manner. I never heard back from them again, but two weeks later a brand new backpack arrived at home. I still find it a strange way of dealing with customer service, but all in all I’m happy that it is finally resolved.
While Xena is a comfortable option for women looking for a backpack with a large volume, I would recommend a smaller pack on through-hiking adventures ranging from spring to fall. I enjoyed using it, and I like Osprey’s design of women packs, and their harnesses, though there are a few flaws that I think could make it an even better backpack. After the short durability on my Osprey and the hassle of finally getting in touch with their warranty service I am not sure if I will pick an Osprey again next time.