May 10, 2022
Image credit: Mark Watson
In this exclusive first Aussie review, we test Osprey’s new UNLTD AirScape® 68 backpack, the company’s Swiss Army knife of multi-day trekking packs.
If there is such a thing as a ‘sweet-spot’ for multi day backpack design, then Osprey’s UNLTD AirScape® 68 Backpack is all honey and sugar… new tech, new materials and new design have been melded into a no-compromise trekking pack and there’s very little to complain about, either fully loaded, in the searing heat on the trail, or acting too-cool-for-school in the airport lounge. Osprey was kind enough to loan Aus Geo ADVENTURE a shiny new pack to and we immediately fell in love with this Swiss Army knife of trek packs.
For 50 odd years Osprey founder Mike Pfotenhauer has been developing bags and packs for everything from ski mountaineering and mountain biking to thru-hiking and global travel. Today, Osprey is revered as a leader in technical backpack design and the UNLTD AirScape® 68 Backpack stitches together decades of refinement into a universal high-tech pack that works just as well for ski touring as it does for multi-day hikes.
The UNLTD AirScape® 68 is supplied with either a men’s, or women’s specific harness, and hip belt, to ensure maximum efficiency and comfort for varying body shapes. The men’s design delivers a 3.31 kg, 72 liter, 87cm (H) x 40cm (W) x 39cm (D), L / XL pack, whilst the women’s specific design offers a 3.27kg, 68L, 82cm (H) x 40cm ( W) x 39cm (D) S / M pack. Materials and design features are common across both styles.
Key to the comfort and usability of the Osprey UNLTD range is a newly developed harness design with three key areas of interest. Primarily, a 3D Printed Fitscape ™ Lumbar panel incorporates Carbon DLS ™ Technology to produce a latticework of varying density monofilaments. The result of these ‘tech terms’ is basically a bloody comfortable lumbar support on which the pack hinges, with the bonus of not absorbing water and being extremely durable. Secondary to the lumbar panel, a High Carbon Stainless Steel Frame and Polycarbonate Vacuum Formed frame sheet provides pack-rigidity whilst delivering a high degree of torso ventilation, a must for Aussie trekking. And thirdly, Osprey’s AutoLift System adjusts fit and harness length simultaneously, working in conjunction with a Fit-on-the-Fly® Hip belt to provide a super stable and snug fit.
With the high-tech harness ‘in the bag’ (excuse the pun), Osprey has gone to town on materials and features. A PFC-free 210-denier high-tenacity nylon / ultra-high-molecular-weight ripstop polyethylene coupled with 500-denier high-tenacity recycled nylon base and YKK buckles delivers a lightweight, yet solid and durable pack with super-high abrasion resistance . A durable water repellent finish (DWR) on face-fabrics, combined with well-considered storm flaps and water-resistant zippers on exposed closures provides impressive rain protection, but if it gets really wet, an integrated high-tenacity nylon ripstop rain cover is stashed in a zippered base pocket.
For multi-day excursions the UNLTD AirScape® 68 offers tech-features and pockets galore. The main pack offers top-loader and front panel access, internal compression divider, two large zippered front pockets, two elasticated mesh side bottle pockets with two-way access, a hydration reservoir pocket, an oversized hip-belt pocket, gear loops, removable sleeping pad straps and rain cover. For winter-sport enthusiasts variable-woven ski loops and tuck-away ax loops are a nice bonus, and Stow-On-The-Go pole attachment is key for both winter and summer use. The UNLTD AirScape® 68 also features a removable 8L top lid (with two pockets, extra gear loops and key tether) that converts into a fully functional 18L daypack. With the lid removed, a zip-away flap jacket covers the drawstring top-opening of the main-pack, allowing it to be used as a compact lidless pack. The removable daypack not only works well for short hikes, or even mountain bike side trips, but also doubles as a comfortable carry-on bag for airline travel where the UNLTD AirScape® 68 also tucks neatly into an included ‘Airporter travel cover’, with lockable zippers, to ensure even the most reckless baggage handlers can’t find an excuse to cut your straps or ‘loan’ your iPhone.
In the field
It wasn’t the trendy zip tabs, nor the exciting new harness that first grabbed my attention with Osprey’s new UNLTD AirScape® 68… it was the size. At 188cm tall, and only a few hamburgers shy of 90kg, I reckon 70L is right in the sweet spot for an all-round trekking pack. Any smaller and I can’t fit my size 12 down booties in the bottom of the pack cross-ways, and any larger and I am carrying a load of stuff I don’t need. To find a feature-rich, 70L pack is a dream, especially one that is usable for both summer and winter sports.
Positive first impressions were reinforced when I threw some kit in the pack and went for a teaser hike. Yes, I know, throwing a mere 15kg of kit inside is cheating, but I just wanted to get a feel for the new kid on the block, and most importantly see if all the trendy tech words like Fitscape Auto, AutoLift, Carbon DLS ™ , Fit-On-The-Fly® in fact translated to anything more than marketing hype… I am glad to say they did. Soon I was on a plane to Tassie, and then returning for use and abuse on the mainland.
There is no denying the UNLTD AirScape® 68 sits exceptionally well and is super-comfy, especially in the absence of a pimply teen spending hours adjusting unseen buckles in the local outdoor store, a common pack-fitting exercise with some other manufacturers. What stands out, in fact, is the ability to, “fit-on-the-fly”… Damn! Those marketing boffins are onto something. Although I did find the L / XL pack sat snuggly on the shoulders, even at the loosest setting, and so if you’ve a Thor-like build, you best check fit before purchasing.
With pack on or off, a basic adjustment of three straps customizes hip belt and lumbar panel placement, harness length and pack height, shoulder straps and proximity of pack to back. All this and we’ve not even got to the good stuff.
The lid alone is full of fun. Sizable top pockets with weatherproof zips fit not only car keys on a sexy red key-tab, but also fit a Leatherman, a beanie, a First-Aid kit, an entire down jacket, and a pack of sour-squirms to boot, all with room to spare. Convert the lid to an 18L daypack and believe it or not, it is a reasonably comfortable usable pack… even with an adjustable sternum strap.
The zip-away flap jacket, when the lid is removed, means the pack can be reduced to a winter-sport oriented mini-mission pack, without the frustrating pack-whack-to-helmet-over-eyes common to taller-hooded packs . In fact, reinforced ski loops and injection molded zipper tabs (usable with gloved hands), prove designers didn’t just add token ice-ax loops for street cred.
The simple stuff wins the day with this pack as well. The enormous zippered front panel access allowing ample access to the body of the pack, oversized front pockets that fit a shell jacket, the rope stowage strap under the lid, hip-belt pocket that more than an iPhone-mini, mesh side pockets with two -way access so water bottles can be grabbed on-the-move… even the whistle on the sternum strap saves having to remember to pack one.
The final word on the Osprey UNLTD AirScape® 68
We well know everybody has a differing fit and need for their packs, and thus there is not “one pack to rule them all”. But Osprey has had a damned good go at delivering on as much as possible in its new UNLTD AirScape® 68, and if I was only allowed one pack ‘for everything’ at this moment, the AirScape® 68 might just be it.
RRP: $ 799.95 Available exclusively at Paddy Pallin stores