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Osprey Talon 33 Backpack: The Latest in Urban Design


Capacity: 1900 cubic inches (Small/Medium)

Weight: One pound, 12 ounces

MSRP: $129

I’d had my eye on a new mid-sized daypack for some time, so when I saw the Talon 33 first advertised, I took note. “The Talon 33 is the most versatile pack in its series, meeting the needs of everyone from the expert light and fast backpacker to hardcore do-it-in-a-day alpinists,” read the description on the website. The weight–one pound, 12 ounces–made it an instant contender for alpine climbs, and despite being so light, it sported numerous bells and whistles: hipbelt pockets, ax attachments, helmet pocket in back, sunglasses pocket in the top lid, hydration slot, haul loop, topo pocket inside the top lid, exotic buckles adorning most edges, and some loopy harness system that takes a university degree more advanced than mine to operate. And the design–all swoopy and sleek, with futuristic graphics showcased in colors such as Spicy Chili, Moonlight Blue, and Acid Green–was sexier than anything else on the market. Acid Green! My wife has an Osprey Switch 26 ski pack, and last winter she extolled the intelligence of its design: the top lid holds a ski helmet, an outer pocket houses shovel and skins, there’s place for probe pole and hydration bladder alike. Given her praise of the Switch, and the light weight, features and pure sex appeal of the Talon, I thought I had found my pack.

How disappointing, then, the reality. On an extended backcountry climbing tour, I brought the pack along, showing it off before my friends (not all of whom approved of the Acid Green color: “rather feminine,” sniffed one). We loaded most of the trip’s weight onto two pack horses, leaving me with an exceedingly reasonable twenty-five pounds for the five-mile approach. Within the first few miles I was underwhelmed to find that the fishnet-stocking-style mesh shoulder straps, which (partially) conceal the shoulder straps beneath, bit into me like piano wire. Such is the price of minimalism, I thought, as I dumped the pack in camp below the west face of our objective.

The next day, we began up our first route. The pack climbed fairly well, especially after we tucked the top lid as deeply into the main compartment as possible so one could look up while wearing a helmet. But a couple of routes later–within less than a week of use–holes began to appear in the pack’s bottom. The helmet compartment on back began stretching, then ripping, its seams. The pack’s top lid doesn’t float, so I couldn’t overstuff it, and the top lid’s zipper is smaller than I prefer, though this proved less of an issue than I originally feared. The “airscape” backing, a mesh overlay intended to keep air between your back and the pack so that you might not perspire as much on your backcountry jaunts, seemed to make no perceptible difference (I’m dreading trying it in winter, when dropping the pack incorrectly into the snow threatens to fill it with powder that then melts onto your back).

Overall, the performance of the pack was perhaps to be expected: it must be tough to make a pack this light that is comfortable and climbs well to boot. Or is it? I’ve used Cold Cold World packs for years; they’re just as light, and though they don’t look as sexy, I never notice them when they’re on my back, the true sign of a great pack. They also wear like iron, and the simplicity of their design is at least partly responsible for their longevity: there’s everything you need, nothing you don’t, and all of it is built to last. The attention to detail in the Talon’s construction is simply regrettable. Upon noting the speed with which the pack began to deteriorate, I had to ask: was it really made for climbing, as the description indicated? Or was it made for walking along Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado, sporting the latest in urban design?

Does the Talon 33 look hot? Yes. Do you actually want to use it climbing? I don’t. If you’re simply interested in a pack to walk around campus, look no farther. If you want a midsize climbing pack that will climb well, wear like iron and still check in under two pounds, better to peruse the competition.

Pros: Lightweight; sexy design; plenty of added features.

Cons: Construction deteriorates rapidly; less functional than good looking.