Osprey Hornet 46 Backpack Review

Osprey Hornet 46 and Removable Frame Sheet
Osprey Hornet 46 and Removable Frame Sheet

Why is the Osprey Hornet a hot backpack in the lightweight backpacking scene? There are several reasons:

First, the Hornet series represents a radical change in the Osprey Design Philosophy away from their overbuilt backpacks to a more customizable design with removable features and lighter weight fabrics.

Second, this pack clearly signals Osprey Pack’s entry into the lightweight backpacking market, where consumers are interested in the improved comfort provided by ultralight gear.

Lastly, there’s the jaw-dropping fact that the Hornet 46 liter pack (2760 cubic inch) only weighs 25 oz fully configured or 19 oz without the Hornet’s optional 3.2 oz frame sheet and 2.8 oz floating pocket. That’s a coup for Osprey and puts them in an enviable market position for bringing lightweight backpacking to a mainstream audience.

Hip Belt Pockets are Too Far Back and Difficult to Reach
Hip Belt Pockets are Too Far Back and Difficult to Reach

Numerical Ratings follow a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = poor, 5 = excellent)

Suspension System –  4.0 out of 5

Out of the box, the Hornet 46 has an internal foam frame sheet that weighs just 3.2 oz. In addition, lightweight plastic rods run down the inside side corners of the pack, providing excellent load transfer to the hip belt. The frame sheet provides the pack with a stiffer feel, particularly when the pack is not stuffed full, but can be removed to save weight.

The Hornet 46 has a thin 5/8 inch webbing hip belt with un-padded oblong side fins that wrap around the back of the hips. For people who have never used an ultralight backpack, the lack of a padded hip belt may feel a bit strange, however given the lighter loads that you will carry, having a thick hip belt is unnecessary and only adds more weight to a pack.

Still, the Hornet hip belt has some deficiencies. First, the hip belt pockets are set too far back on the wings of the hip belt, making them very difficult to access while wearing the pack. A better solution would have been to leave the pockets off completely or sell them as an accessory add-on. On the flip side, the hip belt adjustment system is easy to use and provides a very secure fit.

Finally, the Hornet is outfitted with perforated shoulder straps lined with mesh fabric for enhanced ventilation like many of Osprey’s other packs. While comfortable with lighter loads, they are considerably less padded than on Osprey’s other packs and can lead to shoulder soreness on higher mileage days when carrying heavier loads.

Sizing and Fit – 3.0 out of 5

The Hornet 46L is rated for 20-30 lbs loads and comes in two sizes:

  • Size S/M, for torso lengths less than 19″ and hips, less than 32″, 2640 cubic inches or 44 L
  • Size M/L, for torso lengths equal or greater than 19″ and hips greater than 32″, 2760 cubic inches or 46 L

Although, I have an 18.5″ torso, I got the M/L size from Osprey because I’d heard that the S/M size feels small on people with a shorter torso. That was the right call and the larger size fits me quite well. The only caveat to this is that the pack’s load lifters are too far behind the top of my shoulders, but the pack fits me well enough that they are unnecessary.

However, I did some measuring of the pack and it is rather short, with only 19″ of length from the base of the back panel to the top curve of the shoulder straps. I realize that this is an anecdotal measurement and not causal, but it got me wondering how the M/L could fit people with longer torsos. I called Osprey Customer Support about this and they recommended that I try an Osprey Exos instead, which has a separate large sized model. They have been getting calls from customers with torsos longer than 19″ that have been complaining about the shortness of the Hornet M/L size.

Finally there is the issue of hip belt fit for shorter people who have wide hips and a little extra girth in their middle. One of my pet peeves with Osprey is that many of their packs don’t fit people who have torsos shorter than 19″ but hips that are wider than 32″ (short and chubby.) I wish Osprey would start providing replaceable hip belts to address this issue, and the Hornet is no exception. Other backpack manufacturers, both large and small, do this and Osprey should step up to the plate too.

External Features and Storage –  5.0 out of 5

The Hornet 46 has some really great external and storage features, starting with full length side mesh pockets. If you’ve ever owned a backpack with these, you’ll never buy a backpack without them again. They are incredibly useful and convenient for stowing gear that you plan on using during the day.

However full length mesh pockets can pose a problem if you want to provide compression straps on a pack. Osprey has done something quite clever on the Hornet, providing very thin side compression straps that be laced outside the mesh pockets or inside them, depending on your needs. They can even be tucked away if you decide to rig your own shock cord system to secure bulkier gear to the side of the pack, as the compression straps provided are rather short. Even then, you can still carry water bottles in the side pockets, and get at them through a gap in the mesh fabric while wearing the pack, a nice convenience.

Hornet 46 Front with Custom Shock Cord Setup. Floating Lid Pocket is Removed
Hornet 46 Front with Custom Shock Cord Setup. Floating Lid Pocket is Removed

The Hornet provides more storage at the top of the pack in the form of a 2.8 oz floating lid, which like the pack’s frame sheet, can be removed to save weight. The floating pocket has an top zippered pocket which is quite large, and there’s also an internal zippered mesh pocket underneath.

If you decide to remove the top pocket to save weight, you can still attach gear to the top of the pack using a top compression strap that loops under the floating pocket. Unfortunately, doing this creates a loose strap (see photo above) that normally secures the floating lid to the bottom front of the pack. It must be secured somehow, since cutting it off is not an option if you ever plan on using the floating lid again.

The Hornet has numerous attachment loops on the front of the pack and on top of the floating pocket. Simply rig up some shock cord and you can attach bulky gear to the pack this way. The possibilities are endless and Osprey deserves Kudos for including so many external attachments points on the Hornet, as it really enhances the pack’s versatility.

Alternatively, you can scrunch a sleeping pad or tent horizontally under the pack’s floating lid pocket. This works best if the main compartment is packed full, otherwise the floating pocket tends to slump down over the pack body.

The Hornet provides still more storage and attachment points, including:

  • An open mesh pocket on the front of the pack which is secured using the top compression strap.
  • Two two ice axe loops at the base of the back, good for climbing or mountaineering. Unfortunately, the Hornet does not come with any shock cord attachments for securing the ice axe shafts to the front of the pack, instead relying on customers to set up custom webbing themselves.
  • A separate hydration reservoir compartment, making it easier to get a bladder out of the pack and refill, even when the main compartment is full. In this arrangement the hydration hose comes out of the top of the pocket and is secured to either shoulder strap using elastic bands. There are no hydration ports needed.

Carrying Capacity and Durability- 4.0 out of 5

If you’re already a lightweight backpacker and you have fairly compact gear, the Hornet provides you with plenty of room and sufficient support to carry a 20lb-30lb load.  The main compartment is also big enough to fit a bear canister (ex. Backpackers Cache) as long as you stuff your soft gear around it and lash larger items to the outside of the pack.

However, while the Hornet 46 is rated up to 30 lbs of gear, the pack’s sweet spot is really closer to the 20-25 lb range, making this more of a weekend pack and not a serious thru-hiker pack, although Osprey is marketing it as such. Given the pack’s thinly padded shoulder straps and lightweight 70D nylon fabric, I’d caution against carrying thru-hiker loads with it for extended durations.

Overall Value – 4.0 out of 5

The Osprey Hornet 46 is a great backpack if you have the body shape and dimensions to get a good fit. That’s really the bottom line here.  However, if you can get a good fit with this year’s model, the Hornet’s configurability and versatility make it highly competitive when compared to similar backpacks such as the GoLite Jam, which also weighs 19 oz and is similarly configured.

Disclosure: Osprey Packs gave Sectionhiker.com a complimentary Osprey Hornet 46 for this review.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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  1. how well do the stretch pockets work for water bottles when the pack is full. On my Osprey Aether pack it is difficult if not impossible to use if the pack is full not to mention its so far back it makes it awkward to use with the pack on.

  2. Great question – actually they're great on this pack, and you can even reach them when you are wearing the pack.

  3. Thanks for the balanced review!

  4. Mountainwalker

    This pack is a welcome second foray into lightweight packs by Osprey (I consider Exos the first though they had some lighter weight tries earlier) but I view the Osprey as a beta version after trying it out. My wife and I purchased the packs in S/M and M/L, and we found that she would need a M/L for the length for her 18.5 in. torso and the M/L was too short for my 21 in. torso. The load lifters weren't ideally positioned for her either. Based on your comments Phil it seems the load lifters weren't high enough for you either. I know many people who didn't buy the pack or returned it for this reason. If this pack had been longer, with the load lifters placed properly, it would have been a keeper for us.

    Also, with a frame (or frame sheet and rods in this case), it would be nice if Osprey made the pack higher volume to take full advantage of that frame – in the 3,500 cu. in. range, by making the pack a little longer and possibly just slightly wider. This would provide backpackers with a lot more flexibility to use this pack for shorter as well as longer trips. It's certainly light enough that the bit of extra volume wouldn't have raised weight dramatically.

    We're waiting for the Osprey Hornet version II 58L (3,500 cu. in.) with longer torso.

  5. You're going to be waiting for a long time. Osprey Custom Support told me that they won't be releasing an update to the Hornet for at least one year. The new catalog has already been printed….

    Regarding the load lifters – they were low for me too. You need to have a pack that is several inches higher than the top of you shoulders for them to do any good.

  6. @ Earlylite – I heard the opposite, and that regardless of the catalog the new hornet would be released some time in feb/march apparently. we'll see what happens. they are getting too many returns on the sizing apparently, because the pack is a home run other than that. i think they are trying to update it quickly.

  7. Good review…I would bring up one point. 20-25lbs is ideal for long distance hiking such as thru-hikers.

  8. I think if you use a Ribz front pack, which can carry up to 10 lbs, you can easily get 5-7 days of supplies in the Hornet with your sleep gear, and still maintain the Hornet’s sweet spot capacity of 20-25 lbs for a thru-hike. Maxed out on my thru-hike, I carried 28-34 lbs in my 2010 Z55, and had 5-8 day resupplies. I’ve seen much more clever thru-hikers get away with under 25 lbs in a Golite Jam or similar pack.

  9. Thanks for the review! Very helpful! This backpack is currently on sale at REI and I am definitely jumping on board now.

  10. Dean of Summitpost

    I just discovered your blog and appreciate all that you provide in the way of information and reviews. I am an Osprey fan (I have 7 of their packs) and I really like the Hornet for summer day hiking. I’m also a big fan of the Stratos 40 but the lightness and position of the hydration pocket are big features. I avoid using this pack on bushwhacks because the mesh gets ripped up (then I use my Osprey 26 or 32) but this pack is my go to pack for most of my summer day hiking needs.

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