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Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack Review

Backpack Review

The Osprey Stratos 36 is a ventilated and adjustable length backpack that is suitable for long day hikes, multi-sport adventures, and even lightweight backpacking trips. It has a suspended mesh back panel and seamless wrap-around hip belt that make it cool and comfortable to carry, with a lightweight frame that provides superb load transfer to your hips. While this combination makes it possible to carry heavy loads with ease, the Stratos 36 also has a thoughtful assortment of pockets and storage access methods that set it apart from similarly sized backpacks.

Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Versatile Multisport Backpack

The Osprey Stratos 36 has a comfortable ventilated and adjustable length frame and numerous pockets and organizational features. Well-fitting and comfortable, it can carry heavy loads with ease.

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Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Men’s (the corresponding women’s model is called the Osprey Sirrus 36)
  • Volume: 36L (also available in 50L, 34L, and 24L sizes)
  • Weight:  3 lbs 4.1 oz, actual (3 lbs 4.8 oz spec)
  • Pockets: 9, plus the main compartment
  • Frame: Aluminum, wire perimeter
  • Ventilated: Yes
  • Adjustable Torso Length: Yes
  • Hydration compatible: Yes
  • Sleeping Bag compartment: Yes
  • Rain cover included: Yes
  • Max recommended load: 35 lbs
  • Sizes: S/M 16-20″ torso, 26-45″ hipbelt; M/L 19-23″ torso, 28-50″ hipbelt

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The Stratos 36 is a ventilated and adjustable-length backpack with a seamless mesh back panel and hipbelt that provide a comfortable and back-hugging fit. Ventilated backpacks have a cavity located behind your torso that encourages airflow to keep you cooler and dry the perspiration that makes your shirt damp. They work pretty well and are a desirable feature on a day pack if you hike in hot or humid weather. On the Stratos 36, the mesh back panel is suspended over the backpack’s wire perimeter frame, creating a sort of trampoline that acts a shock absorber to cushion your back and hips as you hike.

Illustrated the backpack hipbelt
The Stratos 36 has a ventilated mesh back panel with a seamless hip belt

As you can see above, the mesh flows continuously from the back of the pack into the hipbelt, providing a body-hugging fit. Besides increased comfort and control, this helps eliminate any slippage of the hipbelt down your pants, so it stays on your hips for maximum efficiency and load transfer.

The Stratos 36 is also an adjustable length backpack, which means you can dial it to fit your exact torso length, even if you normally fit between sizes. You do this by raising or lowering the shoulder straps in relation to the hipbelt, so that the shoulder pads are lightly touching the tops of your shoulders when the backpack is fully loaded. The goal is to let your hips and legs carry the majority of the weight in your backpack because they’re the strongest muscles in your body, while your shoulders keep the pack positioned close to your back and center of gravity.

The Stratos 36 has a rip and stick (velcro) adjustable-length shoulder yoke

The shoulder pads are connected together in the back to something called a yoke. The yoke is connected to the mesh back panel and integrated hip belt with velcro, so you can pull them apart and raise or lower the shoulder pads. Raising the pads makes the distance between the hip belt and the shoulder pads longer while lowering them makes the distance shorter.

The Stratos’ shoulder straps have the same comfortable and moisture-wicking padding as the hip belt. They’re also S-shaped to make them more comfortable for men with well-developed and muscular chests. The pack has load lifters that are anchored to the frame as well as the shoulder pads. These are used to pull the pack forward and into better alignment with your hips if it’s pulling you backward. The shoulder straps also have two hydration loops sewn to the front to capture a hose, and sternum straps that can be moved up and down on a “rail”, for ease of adjustment.

Illustrates the trampoline frame
The mesh back panel is suspended over the shallow air cavity created by the wire frame.

Backpack Organization and Storage

The Stratos 36 is loaded with nine pockets to keep your stuff organized, in addition to the main compartment which can be accessed from the top or through a side zipper. Having all these pockets makes the Stratos 36 an exceptional backpack if you need a pack for multi-sports adventures because you can separate the gear you need for different activities. There are:

  • 2 pockets in the top lid
  • 2 side water bottle pockets
  • 2 hip belt pockets
  • 1 front stash pocket
  • 1 sleeping bag pocket
  • 1 rain cover pocket

The Stratos 36 has a fixed top lid with a wide top pocket and a second zippered mesh pocket underneath, that has a key fob inside. The fact that the lid is sewn to the frame is good because it doesn’t droop awkwardly or slump sideways the way that some floating lids do on larger volume packs. The top lid pocket is large enough to store hats, gloves, maps, and navigation gear, while the mesh pocket underneath is good for storing your keys, wallet, and sundries where you can still see them when you open the pack.

The Stratos top lid is sewn to the pack so it won’t droop when overloaded like floating lids often do

There are two side mesh water bottle pockets that are deep enough to hold 1L soda water or Smartwater bottles. Both pockets have a compression strap that can run inside the pocket or on the outside if you find that easier to use. The side pocket mesh is reasonably durable but is not the finely woven mesh that Osprey uses on their more expensive, higher capacity packs. That means that the Stratos 36’s mesh is likely to get ripped up if you catch it on a branch, but you can also easily  patch the hole with Tenacious Tape (see How to Repair Backpack Mesh Pockets with Tenacious Tape.)

The hipbelt has two large zippered pockets that are large enough to store a Smartphone and several snack bars. They both have solid fabric faces, which is my preference because they’re more durable than pockets with mesh fronts and provide better protection for electronics from the weather or impacts.

Illustrates the hip belt
Both hipbelt pockets have solid fabric faces and are large enough to hold a smartphone and several snack bars

There’s a separate sleeping bag compartment under the main pocket, which is accessed through an external zipper protected by a rain flap. The sleeping bag compartment is not a shelf, but an entirely separate pocket, that’s large enough to store a summer weight quilt or even a small trekking pole tent.

The Stratos 36 comes with a rain cover which is stored in another pocket at the bottom of the pack. This pocket has a drain hole and is large enough that you can store a small water filter and rolled-up soft bottle, like a CNOC inside. That’s where I keep mine since the pack does not have a front stretch mesh pocket to store wet items.

The Stratos 36 has a large front pocket with a center zip. It’s a good place to stash your rain gear and snack.

There’s also a large pocket with a vertical zipper on the front of the pack which is good for storing a jacket or other items you want easy access too. I had a little trouble adapting to it since I’m so used to having an open mesh pocket on the front of a backpack. But this long pocket can be used in a number of ways that an open mesh pocket can’t be. For example, you can store all of your extra layers for a long hike including a puffy jacket, rain gear, hats and gloves; crampons or microspikes or both; climbing gear; backcountry ski gear; and emergency shelter, splint, and first aid kit, and so on.

A long side zipper provides access to gear deep inside the main compartment

In addition to all of these external pockets, the main compartment has a full-length hydration sleeve with a central hydration port, so you can run the hose down either shoulder pad. The main compartment can be accessed from the top, through a drawstring opening, or from the side, through a long side zipper. That side zipper is particularly handy when you want to pull something out of the bottom of the pack, like a warm jacket or your toilet paper, when it’s packed near the bottom of the main compartment.

External Attachments and Compression

The Stratos 36 has two tiers of side compression straps, which are good for securing tall objects like fishing rods the side of the pack. The top strap closes with a quick-release buckle, which also makes it easier to attach snowshoes to the sides of the pack for winter hiking. The pack also has an ice ax loop with a shaft holder, the classic Osprey stow-and-go trekking pole holder, and a pair of sleeping pad straps below the sleeping bag pocket.

The sleeping pad straps at the base of the pack are removable, with some effort.

Comparable backpacks

Male / ModelVentilatedAdjustable-LengthPrice
Deuter Futura 30YN$150
Deuter Trail Pro 36NN$160
Gregory Zulu 30YY$150
Granite Gear Crown2 38NN$185
Mystery Ranch Scree 32NY$189
Osprey Kestrel 38NY$160
Osprey Stratos 36YY$170
REI Traverse 35YY$139

Recommendation

The Osprey Stratos 36 is an exceptional backpack that can be used for day hiking, winter hiking, hut-to-hut trips, multi-sport adventures, and even lightweight overnight trips. While the Stratos has a comfortable ventilated and adjustable length frame and numerous pockets and organizational features, the thing that really stands out for me about this pack is its ability to carry heavy loads with relative ease. You can load it up with camera equipment, climbing gear, or winter traction aids and carry them with ease. If you’re looking for a versatile mid-size backpack that can be used year-round for a wide range of activities, I’d definitely recommend the Osprey Stratos 36.

Disclosure: The author purchased this backpack.

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9 comments

  1. David K. (aka: David and Moose)

    I looked at more packs then I can count last winter as a replacement to my old North Face when I finally decided on the Stratos 36. I’ve use it on 16 of the 4000 footers and 29 of the 52WAV hikes this summer and love it more and more with each trip. I routinely carry 20 – 22 lbs. and it couldn’t be any more comfortable. In a few years this will be my go-to pack for hiking the Camino. I hope Osprey never plans to discontinue/redesign the Stratos 36, but just in case, I plan on buying a second one soon and putting it away for the future.

    • I’m franky blown away myself. I love the carry, even when it’s fully loaded up. It’s going to see of action this autumn and probably into the winter. That’s me on the Potash summit by the way. Great views.

  2. Great review. I use my Stratos 36 as my main camera bag. Added an insert and this bag carries a dslr, 4-5 lenses, filters and tripod with room for more gear. The best part is the comfort. I have never had a camera pack or bag more comfortable than this bag.

  3. Tom Kruczek (aka: Locomotive)

    I have the 36 and 24 Stratus packs and purchased a Sirrus 36 for a family member a couple years ago who also loves it. I use the 24 for travel and non-backpacking day trips with my wife, where the 36 is too large. For example, I used the 24 last year for a couple weeks in Italy, carrying whatever we needed for the day in it. The 36 seems like the perfect day pack and can be used for a lightweight overnight trip when you don’t need to pack a ton of stuff. My EE quilt, Tarptent Protrail, stove, food, water and some other basics are easily loaded and carried without and pain or stress on my body. The Stratus 36 has been my go-to pack for a couple years now. Thanks for another great review.

  4. This pack is just too heavy for its 36 liter capacity.

    I have an Osprey EXOS 58 that is lighter and I’m thinking of getting one for my 14 year old grandson.

    • For day hiking, pack weight is much less important because your overall load is so much less. But the carry on this pack puts the Exos to shame. I’m actually contemplating taking it my next backpacking trip for just that reason.

      • Tom Kruczek (aka: Locomotive)

        Hey Phil…completely agree with you. I’m not sure why the Stratus carries so well. I’ve had quite a few packs over the years and for a night or two (and with good gear of course), the Status works well for me. I totally understand Eric’s comment about weight, but I’ve found looking at weight specs only doesn’t tell the whole story. You really have to try them out and then make a decision. Your reviews have been invaluable for this. When purchasing gear I’ve also tried to ensure I had a good “balance” between weight, carry, durability, etc. I currently own three ULA packs that I also love – CDT, Circuit and Catalyst. Each has it’s purpose and was bought for specific reasons. The CDT is currently at 22oz +/- , so roughly 2 pounds lighter than the Stratus. It holds more (at least specification wise), than the Stratus 36, costs less, etc. Still, I prefer the Stratus. I’ve also owned several other packs over the years that I’ve given away to family and friends. All excellent packs, some of them Osprey, but none in the same league as the Stratus.

      • I think the Status carries so well because it’s tall and thin (not wide and not too deep). It feels a lot like an external frame pack in this respect, although it’s not one. Packs like the Exos feel short and wide, in contrast.

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