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Osprey Kestrel 48 Review | HileHighValley

Osprey Kestrel 48 Review | HileHighValley

Osprey Kestrel 48 Review

Headquartered in the beautiful mountains of Cortez, Colorado, Osprey has been making quality backpacks with a best-in-class warranty since 1974.  They call it the “All Mighty Guarantee”, and they aren’t kidding: they will repair any damage or defect, whether your backpack was purchased last year or back in 1974. Though we found through our Osprey Kestrel 48 review that it is quite likely these replacements will never be needed. If the backpack cannot be repaired, it will be replaced free of charge.  “Any product, any reason, any era” is their motto. That includes simply wearing the thing out from overuse, which is possible, given that the Kestrel 48 is likely to become your number-one choice for everything from day trips in your nearby state park to thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

Price Level: Mid Range – Check Current Price Here



The Kestrel 48 has many of the comfort features people have come to expect from Osprey, including their unique ErgoPullTM hipbelt closure, their LightWireTM peripheral frame, and their AirScapeTM mesh backpanel.  Once properly fitted (easy to do with the adjustable mesh harness), people love the way the load balances and the feel of the pack.  The pack itself is 3.5 lbs, which doesn’t rank among the lightest in its class (those are around 2 lbs), but the heavy duty materials and comfortable suspension system are worth the extra ounces for all but the most weight-conscious backpacker.


Storage and Organization

Lots of pockets and all of them useful for loading up to 40 pounds of gear.  For the 2015 model, the main compartment is only accessible from the top.  The 2016 model adds a zippered side access to the main compartment, but sacrifices one of the two full-length vertical zippered side pockets offered on the older model.

The non-detachable lid offers two zippered pockets, one top-lid and one under-lid.  At the bottom of the pack is a zippered compartment for sleeping bag storage.  Rounding it off are two stretch woven side pockets that will each fit a one-liter bottle, a stretchable mesh pocket on the back, and zippered pockets on either side of the hipbelt.  There is also an external hydration sleeve that makes refills easy and protects the contents of your backpack from a leaky reservoir, and an integrated rain cover that stows in its own zippered compartment at the base of the pack.

For external attachments, there are removable and adjustable sleeping pad straps, two tool loops with bungee tie-offs, reverse StraightJacketTM side compression straps that help stabilize small loads and do double-duty as extra gear carry straps, Osprey’s Stow-on-the-GoTM trekking pole attachment system, and dual front panel daisy chains for additional external attachment points.  A neat ending touch: an integrated whistle in the sternum strap, positioned just right regardless of the emergency.


Size and Color Selection

The Kestrel 48 comes in two sizes (S/M and M/L), which means correctly choosing based on torso length, not height.  To measure torso length, measure from the base of your neck (the knobby bone there) to the top of your hipbone (like where you would rest a child you were holding).  Lengths greater than 19” inches should go for the larger size.

The 2015 model year comes in four colors: Tarn Blue, Fire Red, Talus (dark) Grey, and Conifer Green, all with light grey trim.  The 2016 model year gets rid of the blue option, but offers similar, if slightly more intense, shades of Dragon Red, Ash Grey and Jungle Green.  The biggest change is that the trim for the 2016 model is all matched to the main backpack color.  Very classy!  Fair warning, though: the integrated rain cover only comes in red.

osprey kestrel 48 pack

Public Reviews


The Good

Just the Right Size

A lot of users reveled in the fact that they have not had trouble flying with this pack as a carry-on except on the smallest of prop planes.  They do warn against overpacking it, particularly in the underlid compartment, as this can make it too tall for airline restrictions.  The backboard/frame height is 20.5” for the small/medium model and 22.5” for the medium/large model. (This is assuming you don’t pack the lower sleeping bag compartment, which increases the length to 26” and 28” respectively).

For casual backpackers and those who pack for comfort, it’s best for 1-3 day trips, but if you pack light, and you don’t need to carry cold weather gear, a lot of people have successfully used this for thru-hikes or prolonged backpacking jaunts overseas.

Unbeatable Warranty

The heavy duty materials and excellent construction make this pack very durable, but it hardly matters as everything from broken buckles to torn side pockets to a damaged frame is 100% guaranteed, for life.  People were invariably complimentary of the wonderful customer service they received from Osprey.


The Bad


This backpack has 48 liters, or 3000 cubic inches of space, and no more.  A lot of users bemoaned the fact that packing items in the side pocket or lid pocket reduced the size of the main compartment rather than adding to it.  This is the way the backpack is built – that you can remove the detachable sleeping bag divider and fill the entire main compartment with 48 liters of stuff, or you can arrange your load in the various pockets…and still have 48 liters of stuff.

Sizing for Slender Frames

The official Osprey size chart says the S/M fits a waist size of 26”-45” and the M/L 28”-50”, but a lot of the reviews say no.  If you are slender or particularly fit (waist size under 30”), and backpacking in warm weather (so no layers) you may have trouble getting the hipbelt tight enough to feel snug and balance the weight appropriately.  As always, it is best to stop by a retail store and try the backpack on for fit before buying, even if you plan to buy online.  Osprey does NOT offer an interchangeable hipbelt on the Kestrel, unlike many of their other models.


Osprey Kestrel 48 FAQs

Is this backpack waterproof?

One of the most useful items Osprey included is an integrated rain panel in its own zippered compartment that unfolds and pulls up and over the entire pack in less than 15 seconds.  But the backpack itself is not water-resistant, so if you’re kayaking or otherwise likely to drop yourself or it in a body of water, make sure you’re using a dry-bag for your electronics!

Is this a unisex backpack?

Osprey lists the Kestrel as a men’s backpack (with the Kyte being the women’s equivalent), but it’s been sold as a unisex backpack in prior model years and a number of women have left satisfied reviews if they were the right size to fit it well.  The Kyte is ever so slightly smaller (46 liters instead of 48) but fits torso length and waist size better for many women.

Does it come with a hydration system?

No, there is an external sleeve for a hydration reservoir, but the reservoir is not included with the backpack.  The sleeve is compatible with most 2 or 3 liter hydration reservoirs including Camelbak and Platypus, but many users say it works best with Osprey’s 3L HydraulicsTM system, because the rigid backerplate on the bladder helps prevent a full water bladder from bulging against the wearer’s back.  Also, users strongly suggested filling the reservoir before packing the main compartment so you are sure to have enough room in the sleeve to slide it in.

Can you ride a bike while wearing this backpack?

This was a surprisingly frequent question in the online forums.  In general, people seemed to say yes, it is possible; the base of the backpack ends above the tailbone for most wearers.  But they cautioned against trying to ride a bike with it fully loaded (40 pound capacity) due to safety concerns.  There are probably better backpacks out there for bike excursions.  For example, Kestrel also has 38- and 28-liter capacity models that would likely be better choices.

Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack review

The Verdict

Overall, we found this backpack to be an excellent value for its price.  Comfortable, well-made, durable, versatile, much-loved by users, and, thanks to the warranty, literally the last mid-size backpack you’ll ever have to buy.  Pick the color you like best, because you’re going to have this one for a while!


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