Gear Review: Osprey Xenith 88/Xena 85 Backpacks

Osprey Xenith 88-2
Osprey Xenith 88

Osprey Xenith 88/Xena 85
$349, 5 lbs. 7 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s Xenith M-XL, women’s Xena XS-M; all adjustable, with custom hipbelts and harnesses in four sizes

When loading the men’s Xenith 88 (the Xena 85 is the women’s model) with nearly 60 pounds of family gear and food for a six-day, 45-mile family hike in Sequoia National Park, I cringed, expecting my hipbones and hip flexors to protest loudly when I put it on. But the moment I shouldered the pack, I was surprised by how comfortable it felt. And it remained comfortable throughout several hours of hiking every day.

What’s the explanation? There have been impressive design innovations to make backpacks more comfortable, stable, and lightweight in recent years. But when you’re carrying a big load—50 pounds or more—comfort boils down to the pack’s foundation: the frame and hipbelt. The Xenith and Xena’s plastic framesheet and peripheral aluminum rods bend toward the base of the pack, transferring most of its weight to the hips (despite the lack of stabilizer straps, the straps normally found where the hipbelt connects to the packbag). Meanwhile, the hipbelt sports bodacious padding and molded-plastic reinforcement to maintain its shape under a monster load. The frame holds the pack close to the hips and shoulders while allowing air to pass through a gap between my spine and the back pad, keeping me much cooler. Plus, the packs come in three sizes, all adjustable for five inches of torso range, with four sizes of harness and custom-moldable hipbelt for both men and women. So you can really fine-tune the fit—also a big deal with a big load.

Osprey Xenith 88
Osprey Xenith 88

A big pack should have plenty of pockets and good access, and that’s another strong suit of the Xenith 88 (and Xena 85)—which I also carried on a 44-mile, five-day, family backpacking trip in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness, starting out with 50-plus pounds. My favorite feature: the deep, crescent-shaped zippers on each side accessing the main compartment, which I used several times a day to dig out food or a jacket, instead of opening the lid. The lid has two pockets and converts to a lumbar pack, which I carried on a 3.6-mile, 1,200-foot round-trip morning hike from Little Five Lakes to Black Rock Pass in Sequoia. As with any lumbar pack, it carries fine with just a few pounds in it, but gets a little uncomfortable with more than that. (Note to pack designers: I’d rather see a lid pocket that converts to a tiny daypack with thin nylon shoulders straps and belt, which I think would be much more functional.)

The Xenith 88’s two spacious, zippered, vertical front pockets held my water filter, trekking umbrella, and small clothing items, while the big, mesh front pocket overlapping them swallows a jacket or rainfly. Deep, mesh side pockets and hipbelt pockets that fit a couple of bars each bring the pocket total to nine—which you could argue is overkill in a small or medium-size pack, but not in a big pack. The wide mouth of this top loader makes loading and retrieving items easy and the interior highly visible. The Xenith has two compression straps on each side, plus a top compression strap, to help keep a partial load from shifting. Lastly, your water bladder slips inside an external sleeve in the back panel, making it refillable without unloading pack contents—another smart feature, especially in a big pack.

My only complaint: I’m not a fan of sleeping-bag compartments. I think it’s superfluous, adding unnecessary weight. But you can make the argument that it’s more justified in a large pack.

I’ll never look forward to carrying a monster load on my back. But when it becomes necessary, you can hardly do it more comfortably than with the Xenith 88/Xena 85.

See also my reviews of other backpacks I like, including big packs like the Gregory Contour 70L and women’s Cairn 68L.

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza


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5 thoughts on “Gear Review: Osprey Xenith 88/Xena 85 Backpacks”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Do you have any strong opinions on the Xenith 75 vs 88 as an all around backpack? We’ve tried on the Xenith/Xena’s vs the Aether/Ariel vs the Baltoro/Deva. We wanted to like the Aether/Ariel, since the overall feature set seems well thought out and usability is convenient (front panel zip + hipbelt folds in on itself, so it could lay like a duffel inside a tent), but found the Xenith/Xena much more comfortable even for a very modest 30lbs test load (odd digging into side with the Aether/Ariel AG mesh suspension). Weight penalty moving from the 75 to 88 is non-existent; the 88 is just cut slightly deeper.

    Any thoughts on two sizes for general all-around recreational leisure backpacking? No plans for any snow, mountaineering, or rock climbing trips, and I’m not in any shape to carry monster loads for a multi-week expedition, but I can’t help thinking it may be nice to size up capacity in the oft-chance I use it down the line, since I’d be paying the cost of the beefier suspension either way. On the flip side, I’m concerned about it carrying sub-optimally with a smaller (50-60L?) load that I’ll have 90% of the time.


    • Thanks for the question. You may want to read my “5 Expert Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack.” In it, I offer specific advice on choosing a backpacking pack’s volume and suggest that you get a pack for how you intend to use it most of the time. In fact, I would advise against buying any gear for unlikely use scenarios. That strategy would likely only guarantee that what you bought isn’t the best choice for how you will usually use it.

      Regarding the Xenith 75 or 88, since you have no intention of using it for hauling monster loads—precisely what it’s designed for—or for snow or climbing, I’m not sure why you would need a pack that large. The Xenith/Xena are also among the heaviest backpacks on the market today. Their empty weight is really only justifiable when you’re loading them with at least 50 pounds—and probably more. If you intend to typically carry anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds, there are better choices for you, and you probably don’t need more than 60 or 65 liters of capacity. Even when my kids were young and I was carrying much of my family’s gear and food, I got by with a 65-liter pack. When I’m carrying only my own stuff, even on a longer trip in colder temps, I carry a pack around 50-58 liters.

      You may find my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking” helpful.

      See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs.” Consider the normal weight you carry backpacking. Depending on what that is, there are at least a few packs on that list that may be better for you. See the chart, which includes max comfortable weight for each pack. Even the heaviest packs on that list are lighter than the Xenith/Xena and certainly comfortable enough for 45-50 pounds.

      I hope that’s helpful. Good luck and thanks again for writing.

      • Thanks for the good advice, I’ll peruse the 10 Best Backpacking Packs list some more. The tradeoff with the better comfort while not needing that raw hauling capability is a little hard to balance. Most of the packs we tried on were in the 60L-70L range, the lightest pack was a Deuter ACT Lite. We tried wearing each for 30-60 minutes packed with a 25lbs load while doing chores around the house, working at a standing desk for an hour, etc… Most of the packs exhibited some slippage transferring load to shoulders, had noticeable sway when moving, or simply dug uncomfortably at the waist.

        The Xenith/Xena ended up being the most comfortable, even when comparing the Xenith + an extra full 3L bladder versus the other packs without the bladder. The Aether 70 AG was a close second for me, though the Ariel 65 AG had a pretty pronounced pressure spot on one side of the rear hip-belt and was uncomfortable after a few minutes of wear for her (no issues we could find visually with the Ariel, though she mentioned some of the thinner hipbelts from other packs also exhibiting pressure in that same spot.. so it may be that the wider cushier Xena hipbelts are able to spread load better). The Atmos/Aura would be an obvious choice in Osprey’s lineup, but it looks like the harness is very similar to the Aether/Ariel’s. We haven’t tried any of Granite Gear’s offering, perhaps that is worthwhile to look into too.

        At any rate, if we do go the Xenith/Xena route we’ll be sure to go with the ‘smallest’ 75L/70L capacities, and leaving the lid at home when we want to drop it down to sub-5lbs. Thanks again!

        • You are very welcome, and you are clearly doing your homework, so I expect you will find the packs that are best for you. Fit is enormously important, but all of the packs you mention come in enough sizes that you both should theoretically be able to find a good fit in any of them. But go with how it feels.

          Thanks for the question and good luck.