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Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack Review

Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack Review

Osprey Kestrel 48


Lightweight Adjustable Frame Backpack

The Osprey Kestrel 48 is a lightweight and adjustable length frame is a multi-day backpack ideal for thru-hiking or multi-day trips with lower volume ultralight backpacking gear.

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The Osprey Kestrel 48 is a lightweight backpack that’s well-sized for thru-hiking and weekend backpacking trips with moderate loads. Weighing 3 lbs and 5.3 ounces (size M/L), the Kestrel has many of the features you find on higher volume backpacks without the overhead of more weight. The 48L Kestrel is also great pack to use if you’ve switched to lower volume ultralight backpacking gear but still want a pack that has a lot of pockets and organization options.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Men’s (Women’s version is the Kyte 46)
  • Type: Internal frame, wire perimeter loop
  • Weight (without rain cover): 3 lbs 3.7 oz (S/M), 3 lbs 5.3 oz (M/L)
  • Rain cover (optional, included): (4.7 oz)
  • Torso range: 16″-23″, two sizes available
  • Waist/hip range: 27″-55″, two sizes available
  • Closed pockets: 7+ main compartment
  • Open pockets: 3
  • Material: 210 denier ripstop nylon
  • Bear canister compatible: Yes, vertical
  • Max Recommended load: 35 pounds

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Osprey Kestrel 48 has a top lid, main compartment, sleeping bag pocket, front mesh pocket, and side water bottle pockets. The top lid is sewn to the front of the pack and has two pockets, one on top, and an internal mesh pocket facing the top of the main compartment. 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. It’s super easy to use and a key differentiator, if you’re comparing merits of the Kestrel 48 to other backpacks.

The Kestrel 48 has the typical Osprey appearance with a top lid, front mesh pocket, and side bottle pockets
The Kestrel 48 has the typical Osprey appearance with a top lid, front mesh pocket, and side bottle pockets.

There are two full length zippers on the sides of the pack. The right side zipper opens into the main compartment so you can reach in and pull gear out without having to stop, open it from the top, and unpack. The left hand zipper opens to a full length pocket that’s ideal for stowing a rain coat, sweater, or hats and gloves that you want to keep in covered storage but easily accessible. There’s also a separate sleeping bag compartment at the base of the pack at the bottom of the main compartment. The top of the sleeping bag pocket is really a fold away shelf, that you can release if you’d rather pack the man compartment as one large space. An optional rain cover is also housed underneath the sleeping bag pocket in a small zippered pocket at the bottom of the backpack.

The Kestrel 48 has a separate zipper to let you access a sleeping bag or whatever is at the bottom of your pack.
The Kestrel 48 has a separate zipper to let you access a sleeping bag or whatever is at the bottom of your pack.

There’s a mesh shove-it pocket on the front of the pack, but it’s not that large. I put my Sawyer water filter, squeeze bag, snacks, and wet gear into it, but it’s not quite large enough for a wet 2 person tent.

The side water bottle pockets are also mesh and are sized to hold 1 liter Nalgene bottles. I can’t reach them when I’m wearing the pack. If you normally use a hydration system, this won’t be an issue. But if you prefer using water bottles, this could be a showstopper if you don’t like to stop every time you want a drink.

The hydration pocket is located right behind the adjustable length (torso) shoulder straps
The hydration pocket is located right behind the adjustable length (torso) shoulder straps.

Backpack Frame

The Kestrel is an adjustable frame backpack, which means you can change the torso length by raising or lowering the shoulder pads. For example, raising the shoulder pads will 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 pack 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 Kestrel has an adjustable torso length so you can dial in a perfect fit
The Kestrel has an adjustable torso length so you can dial in a perfect fit

The Kestrel’s hip belt is sewn the back of the pack. The hip belt wings are padded with wicking mesh and the hip belt has two solid-faced, zippered pockets, one on each side. They’re well sized and I can store my iPhone and some bars or a point and shoot camera in them.

The Kestrel 48 has a side zipper that provides direct access to the main compartment
The Kestrel 48 has a side zipper that provides direct access to the main compartment.

Compression and External Attachment System

The Kestrel 48 has two tiers of compression straps on the sides of the pack. Both straps open and close with buckles, making it easy to lash snowshoes or even skis to the sides of the pack.

The front of the pack also comes with sleeping pad straps, so you can secure a pad or tent to the bottom of the pack if you need extra storage.  The straps hang down behind you, but are removable if you don’t want to use them.

There are also gear loops all over the pack that you can attach more gear to, including loops on the top pocket (4), and 8 loops on the sides of the front mesh pocket, that can act like daisy chains if you prefer to lash gear there. The Kestrel also has Osprey’s Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole retainer.

The Kestrel 48 has Osprey's stow-on-the-go trekking pole holders
The Kestrel 48 has Osprey’s stow-on-the-go trekking pole holders


The Osprey Kestrel 48 is loaded with features that make it really easy to use for thru-hiking, weekend backpacking and more technical hikes. Despite its small volume and light weight, it has a lot of organizational features normally found on larger and heavier backpacks. With an adjustable length frame and torso range of 16″ to 23″, it’s also available for smaller men and ones with much longer torsos, who can have problems finding a well-sized backpack.

Disclosure: The author purchased this backpack.

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  1. You’re right, Phillip – this is a really good pack. It has a bit more suspension than the Exos or Talon series but isn’t as much overkill as the Atmos. (Overkill is a relative term – I’m speaking of carrying loads of 15-25 pounds; 30 tops.) I’ve used this pack, then moved on the the Exos. I like the Exos really well for the 16 pound weekend loads I carry, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a pound lighter than the Kestrel.

    There is one show-stopper with the Kestrel: the sewn-on lid, which also has an elasticized band around it, does a great job of getting in the way when loading or unloading the pack. I find it far more annoying than the curvature of the frame that everyone talks about on the Exos as interfering with loading the pack. Because the Kestrel lid doesn’t float, it also effectively prevents overloading the pack (like you sometimes do when three days of food and gear fills it up, but you’re going to be out for four days.) It also means you can’t use the lid to cinch over a jacket or sleeping pad when you need to.

    I’ve heard the long vertical pocket on the outside criticized because, when you fill it, it bulges inward instead of outward. People erroneously claim this reduces the pack’s volume – it doesn’t: the volume just isn’t inside the main compartment. If I weren’t carrying my rain gear in the outer pocket, I’d be carrying it inside the pack – so the inward bulge it creates in the outside pocket adds as much volume as it takes away by bulging inward.

    If they’d float the lid, eliminate the zippered sleeping bag compartment (and its inside divider), and eliminate the zipper to allow you to get inside the pack, it would probably be my perfect pack, and would replace the Exos, just because of the sturdier suspension.

    • I’m not a slave to convention, but floating lids are overkill on sub 60 liter packs. Osprey used to make a Kestrel 58 and it had a floating lid, so that’s where they made the cutoff. I actually don’t mind the fixed lid on the Kestrel 48.

      • I learned to live with it, too; I can’t argue that it’s not overkill. Of course, the two zippers to access the interior of the pack, the divider in the main compartment, and the hipbelt pockets are (in my opinion) also overkill on sub-50 liter packs. In fact, the reason that I’m no longer carrying it is that my Exos 48, which doesn’t have any of those things, is a pound lighter than the Kestrel 48. The suspension isn’t quite as robust, but it comes close. (The Exos also has a goofy little flap that you can use instead of the lid; I rarely don’t need/want the lid, so a quick scissors job may someday be in order.

        Just to reiterate, I do agree that this is a really good pack that does a great job of bridging the gap between ultralight and traditional loads. My niece loves her Kestrel (fits her better than the Kyte) and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if, at some point, I switch back to it if I regularly carried loads over 20 pounds.

  2. you can use the bottom zippered space to store a wet tarp. I put mine in after I pack everything else. its under your trash bag that way

  3. As a short woman with a large waist size, I love this pack. Enough room for winter gear for a long AT section. Water bottle pockets only drawback, as you said.

  4. I’ve been using a Kestral 48 for nine years on week long section hikes 3 or 4 times a year and countless weekends. My only complaint is that the belt pockets are (for me) nigh impossible to close with the pack on and so have become storage spaces for seldom used things. I’m fine with that. My Kestral is filthy looking and has an odor problem but it goes to the woods with me while my bigger, lighter pack, which is clean and smells like factory, stays home in the gear closet.

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