Osprey Kestrel 38 Backpack Review

Osprey Kestrel 38 Backpack Review

The Osprey Kestrel 38 Backpack is well-sized for gear-intensive hiking and is built with more durable fabrics and features that make it suitable for on-trail, off-trail, and winter hiking. It is an adjustable torso-length backpack with an external pocket for carrying a hydration system, a sewn-on top lid pocket, a zippered bottom hatch, and side zipper access to the main compartment. A rain cover is also included. But best of all, the Kestrel 38 carries very well, especially if you need to haul more gear, food, or water, with a rigid frame that provides good load transfer to the hip belt.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Men’s (Women’s version is the Kyte 36)
  • Type: Internal frame: wire perimeter loop, and framesheet
  • Closed pockets: 5+ main compartment
  • Open pockets: 4
  • Access: top drawstring, bottom zipper, side zipper
  • Hydration compatible: Yes (external hydration sleeve)
  • Load lifters: Yes
  • Weight reviewed (without rain cover):  51.3 oz  / 1454g (size M/L)
  • Rain cover (optional, included): (3.1 oz)
  • Torso range: 16″-23″, two sizes available
  • Waist/hip range: 27″-55″, two sizes available
  • Material: 210D x 630D Nylon Dobby (main), 420HD Nylon Oxford (accent) ,
  • Max Recommended load: 30-35 pounds

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Kestrel 38 has loads of pockets and attachment points
The Kestrel 38 has loads of pockets and attachment points

The Osprey Kestrel 38 has five closed pockets and four open pockets so you have a lot of storage options. There are also three ways to access the main compartment: from the top, the bottom, and the side through zippers, letting you adopt a zonal approach to packing and making it very easy to retrieve the gear you want.

Closed Storage

A top lid is sewn to the front of the pack and has two zippered pockets, one on top, and an internal mesh pocket on the bottom with a key fob inside.

The Kestrel has an external hydration pocket behind the shoulder straps
The Kestrel has an external hydration pocket behind the shoulder straps

The main compartment closes with a drawstring but does not have a hydration pocket. Instead, there’s a gap behind the shoulder straps for storing a reservoir, so you don’t have to unpack and repack your backpack every time you need to refill it. You also never need to worry about a leak making all the gear in your main compartment gear.  This external pocket has a hang loop on top and is a key differentiator if you’re comparing the merits of the Kestrel 38 to other backpacks.

The main compartment has a flap inside which can be folded up to create a separate storage area for holding a sleeping bag or other less frequently used items you want to segregate from your other contents.

There is a rain cover in a pocket at the base of the pack.
There is a rain cover in a pocket at the base of the pack.

A rain cover is housed underneath the main compartment in a small zippered pocket at the bottom of the backpack.

The hip belt has a pair of large zippered pockets
The hip belt has a pair of large zippered pockets

The hip belt has two large solid-faced zippered pockets that can fit a smartphone and numerous snacks. I prefer sold-faced pockets over mesh ones because they’re much more durable and water-resistant.

Access methods

You can access the main compartment in three different ways, which is very handy if you’re carrying photography equipment or cold weather layers and want to pack them away into zones for easy access.

  • through the top using the drawstring closure under the lid,
  • through the bottom using the zipper outside the sleeping bag compartment,
  • and through a side zipper under the right compression straps.

If you find yourself having to unload everything in your current backpack pack to find something, these zippers are going to make your day because it’s much easier to find what you need.

Side zipper access makes it easy to retrieve items in the middle of the pack.
Side zipper access makes it easy to retrieve items in the middle of the pack.

Open Storage

There’s a solid face shove-it pocket on the front of the pack that is good for stuffing layers or wet items. It has a drain hole at its base. It has a solid front for durability but isn’t terribly large or stretchy like on some backpacks.

The front shove-it pocket is good for stuffing layers.
The front shove-it pocket is good for stuffing layers.

The side water bottle pockets are mesh on top with solid fabric on the base for durability, particularly when you set the pack down on the ground. They can swallow 1L Nalgene bottles or SmartWater bottles with ease and have front cutouts so you can pull them out from the front too.

Adjustable Length Backpack Frame

The Kestrel 38 has an adjustable length torso.
The Kestrel 38 has an adjustable-length torso.

The Kestrel 38 is an adjustable-length backpack, which means you can change the torso length by raising or lowering the shoulder pads. For example, raising the shoulder pads will increase the length between them and your hips, while lowering them will decrease it. The shoulder pads are connected to the backpack by velcro so to raise and lower them, you simply release and reposition them where you want.

The nice thing about an adjustable torso pack is that you get a custom fit that’s completely personalized. You also have much more control over the percentage of weight that rests on your hips or on your shoulders. In addition, you can dial that proportion between the two depending on how much weight you have to carry. For example, if you needed to carry extra water, you could adjust the torso length to be a little longer than normal, to have more of the weight rest on your hips and less on your shoulders. I do this when I carry winter gear, which is considerably heavier than the gear I carry the rest of the year

The hipbelt is sewn directly to the pack providing a very responsive carry.
The hip belt is sewn directly to the pack providing a very responsive carry.

The Kestrel has a lightweight wire frame that runs around the perimeter of the pack. The back area behind your shoulder blades isn’t ventilated like a trampoline pack, but it is covered with die-cut foam and mesh to help cool your back and keep it drier. The nice thing about this adjustment system is that it sits closer to your back than a trampoline pack with a big air gap. This makes it more efficient to carry because is closer to the big muscles in your hips and also makes it easier to scramble with.

The Kestrel’s hip belt is sewn to the back of the pack making it very responsive to your movements. The hip belt wings are padded with wicking mesh with a moderate amount of padding that is comfortable and secure. The hipbelt has a push-forward cinching mechanism so you can get a secure fit easily. There’s also a single large buckle closure which does NOT clog with snow when winter hiking. This is a problem with packs that use small buckles.

The Kestrel 38 includes a rain cover.
The Kestrel 38 includes a rain cover.

Compression and External Attachment System

The Kestrel 38 has two tiers of compression straps on the sides of the pack. The top strap closes with buckles but not the bottom, which makes it difficult to carry snowshoes along the side of the pack. The top strap is reversible however and the two end buckles can connect above the shove-it pocket.

The top compression strap is reversible, but you’ll probably want to thread a second strap through the gear loops.
The top compression strap is reversible, but you’ll probably want to thread a second strap through the gear loops to secure snowshoes.

My preference is to add a second strap with some webbing I have laying around and thread it through the gear loops located farther down along the side of the shove-it pocket. The Kestrel 38 carries this extra weight surprisingly because the Airscape suspension is so close to your back without a huge air gap. You can use this same system to attach any bulky gear to the front of the pack.

There are also sleeping pad straps at the base of the pack and two ice axe loops that can be used to carry additional gear.

Recommendation

The Osprey Kestrel 38 is a durably made backpack that’s loaded with features that are great for day hikes, bushwhacking, and winter hiking. Despite its small size, it has a lot of organizational features normally found on larger and heavier backpacks. With an adjustable length frame and external hydration system pocket, it’s really an easy backpack to get attached to if you like to venture into tougher terrain or need a pack that can withstand hard use. Highly recommended.

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Last updated: 2022-12-07 18:39:19

Disclosure: The author purchased this backpack.

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