A Year with the Women’s Osprey Aura 50L: Backpack review for long-term travel
Time for my first in-depth product review! After 26 months on the road in Latin America, plus a couple of months here and there in Asia and Europe, I guess I know a thing or two about backpacks. Since the beginning of 2019, the Osprey Aura 50L has been my snail-shell of choice, and I’m here to tell you allllll about it.
Now, this isn’t going to be a normal review where an influencer is sent a product, wears it round the house for a few days and then writes up their report; this review is written after a full year of daily use whilst travelling LatAm.
When travelling long-term, your backpack becomes very much a part of who you are; I still feel a weird sense of attachment to the backpacks I’ve had in my lifetime. Therefore, it’s important you get it right!
Minimalism really does work best when you’re travelling long-term. There’s a huge amount of satisfaction that comes from being able to fit everything you own into one bag, and honestly one of the biggest adjustments when returning home was being surrounded by so much STUFF.
However, minimalism does sometimes still require a fair bit of space, especially when like me you chose chilly, rainy Bogotá as a homebase. I was therefore never going to be one of those flyaway girls with their cutesy 40L backpacks holding just enough bikinis to get them through the week, but I didn’t want to be bogged down with a 65L full of wool-lined jackets, either. If you give me the space, Lord knows I’ll fill it, so getting something in the middle was perfect in keeping my packing under control to just what I needed, plus a few luxury clothes items for my extended ‘normal life’ time in Bogotá. Can’t turn up to a swanky brunch wearing a hoodie!
For women travelling extensively with changing climates but no need for anything too heavy like ski jackets, I highly recommend this 50-55L size range. I take everything I need without breaking my back; plus I feel the back support is better because the shape is ergonomic, rather than flat to try and fit in the metal handles and wheels like the 40L versions often do. It’s also a really smug feeling when your backpack can so easily fit into snug little spaces.
When you’re already lugging all your worldly possessions around on your back, the last thing you need is extra grammage coming from the bag itself. Luckily, the Osprey Aura 50L is a dainty 2.0kg, so you’d barely feel it if wearing it empty.
– Front slip
At first, one thing that I found disappointing with the Osprey Aura 50L was the lack of a zippable compartment on the front, just because I was used to it when using my old Berghaus. This was mega useful for storing things that get lost easily, but once needed are needed quickly, like a small flashlight or itinerary print-outs. However, over time I got used to my new normal, as the Osprey Aura 50L does have a few alternatives. At the front, there is indeed a large slip, but its only closure is a plastic clip and the material stretches due to being elasticated, so it’s more suited things that are flat but won’t slide around – for me it was my official flipflop pocket.
– Hip Zips
There are also small zip pockets on either hip strap, which are small but useful to grab stuff from when you’re running through a bus terminal and realise you need a hair tie. The zips don’t always stay shut during long journeys though, so don’t put anything too valuable in there.
– Bottom compartment
You can also access your things from both the top and the bottom of the backpack. Within the backpack’s main body, there is a divider that loosely separates a bottom section about 80% of the way down – it’s meant for a sleeping bag, but I tended to use that part to keep dirty laundry and shoes away from the rest of my stuff. It’s not completely sealed though, so don’t be putting anything wet down there!
– Lid pockets
The top lid of the Osprey Aura 50L has a well-sized compartment with a smaller flat zip pocket above it. Although this is meant to be where the raincover is stored, I could never fold it up that neatly, so it became a great little tampon drawer. Any thieves were about to get a surprise! The lid is detachable, so for journeys where I couldn’t get full access to my luggage (like when it was stored under deck during my sailboat trip through the San Blas Islands) I could take this lid as a whole new overnight bag. Snazzy.
– Side pockets
On either side of the Osprey Aura 50L, there are elasticated pockets that I’m sure have a really clever functional design for water bottles but I’m since I’m not an American college student I don’t own a Nasprene so never used it for that. The pockets have a large gap in one side as well as at the top, which means they aren’t that secure unless you use them to stuff a towel or something into. One ended up being my permanent raincover-holder.
– Inner slip
And – last one – in the very back of the main body is a flat pocket which is good for storing documents. Just don’t forget it’s there and almost pay for a new yellow fever certificate because you think you’ve lost your original one.
So that’s that – including the main body you have no less than 10 compartments at your disposal! Makes me sound a little bit spoilt for being disappointed at the beginning, hey?
Here’s one of the most important questions – how has this backpack fared after 1 year on the road? I had to throw my previous Berghaus backpack away (RIP Bob) because the strap snapped off – thankfully on the very last day of the trip – so this time I was after something super sturdy. For the most part, the Osprey Aura 50L has stepped up to the challenge. After one year, I see all the usual dust and dirt that you’d expect from dragging a backpack around Latin America in the cheapest modes of transport possible, but no major damage at all. There are no nicks or tears, no stitches coming undone, no fastenings snapped.
The only thing I can comment on here is that the padding on the straps seems to have shifted a little to one side which changes the angle of how the straps sit ever so slightly, but that’s only really noticeable when you swing it off your back to put down.
And let me tell you, this backpack has been through some shit, to the point that it probably rocks itself back and forth in the corner at night whilst murmuring prayers under its breath, so I’m impressed that physically it’s held up so damn well.
Comfort: Where the Osprey Aura 50L shines
This backpack is COMFY. The key difference between the Osprey Aura 50L and other backpacks in its price and size range is that is has the AntiGravity™ backsystem. Now that I’ve experienced this, I’ll never accept a backpack that doesn’t offer something of this ilk. In the AntiGravity™ system, there is a strong piece of suspended mesh that covers the back, meaning that the weight is lifted and the surface of the backpack never makes contact with your body. This has two advantages – firstly, it helps to distribute the weight in a healthier way, and secondly, it provides ventilation so you never come away with a sweaty back. When you’re lost trying to find your hostel in a new city in 35 degree heat, trust me when I say that this AntiGravity™ system is an utter godsend. Seeing all those people with padded backpacks stuck to their back as they sweat their way through their journey makes me feel all kinds of pity.
The Osprey Aura 50L doesn’t stop there, though. It also features a Fit-on-the-Fly™ hipbelt that does an excellent job of redistributing the weight so it feels like you’re barely carrying anything. The straps are reinforced in some way to make them stiff, so they take the burden. It’s important that you get the right backpack size for this – I’m 5”4 with a short torso and I got a women’s small, but feel like an XS could have done the job. One thing I’ll say about the hip straps though is that being so stiff it can be a difficult task just to pull them out from behind you to get them round your waist. Sometimes I didn’t feel strong enough and just gave up (I’m a petty wiener like that).
The straps themselves are very well padded, and also feature mesh to keep them ventilated. This Osprey Aura 50L really is equipped to take on hot weather travel! My only gripe is that this strap mesh could be rough and irritating to the skin on my shoulders, so I had to wear a t-shirt rather than a smaller top whenever I made a long journey, or else wrap the straps in something. I can see what they were trying to do, though.
Just a superficial point, but if you’re going to be wearing something on your back for a year, you should probably make sure you actually like looking at it. Personally, I think the Osprey Aura 50L is pretty darn good-looking. I went for the red just so I could spot it more easily at airports and bus terminals, but it’s more of a burgundy which is a lot more palatable than most red backpacks out there. Plus, the raincover is Kermit-the-frog-at-a-UV-rave green so there’s no way you’ll lose track of this backpack during a downpour. As a non-hiker, there are a lot of spare straps flapping around that I never found a real use for, but they can easily be tied up and put out of sight’s way. Shapewise, it’s not too wide, and not too long either. Just really nicely designed.
Now, call me stupid, but it took me AN AGE to work out how to open and close the drawstring fastener on the main compartment. An actual age. Instead of the usual pressing a button to pull out the fastener along the string, you have to pull the whole fastener out to release the string from within it. Once you’ve got the hang of it, I’d say it is pretty easy, and as long as your thieves are a stupid as I am you have a better chance of your stuff being protected from quick fingers. Other than that, most of the fastenings are plastic side release clips which are surprisingly durable, or zips with decent tags to pull on so you don’t have to rely on buying tacky keyrings (just kidding, you can still buy the tacky keyrings).
Do I recommend the Osprey Aura 50L?
At an RRP of £180 (~$220), and with deals to be found on Amazon, the Osprey Aura 50L feels like a steal. It’s clear this is a quality-made product that’s built to last, and despite the way I tend to travel I’d still expect to get at least 3 long-term trips of over a year out of it. I have no doubts that someone travelling with a better budget and a love for the finer things in life would be able to maintain it for much longer.
Yes, there are cheaper options out there from budget brands, but when it comes to protecting your back and generally not annoying the hell out of yourself as you travel, a high quality backpack is a necessary investment. Plus, it’s always good to know your backpack won’t be falling apart mid-trip – this has happened to me twice in the past and I’d give it a 2/10, wouldn’t recommend. The Osprey Aura 50L is a solid bet.
So, how do I feel about my Osprey Aura 50L after one year in its company? Well, I feel a whole lotta love. This backpack has been my handsome, trusty steed for a full 12 months, and I haven’t once regretted my choice. For long-term travellers, this is a fantastic keystone purchase for your travel gear. Fully recommend!
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