Osprey Talon 44

By BENJAMIN ROMAN

The perfect backpack is like a well-trained butler — it stays out of the way so well that you practically forget it’s there, but it anticipates and delivers what you need. The Osprey Talon 44 ($159,www.ospreypacks.com) achieves this blend with an ergonomic design and minimal weight.

Even better, the pack is versatile enough to do several distinctly different jobs but also serve as a specialty pack — for overnight camping, day hikes, climbing approaches, and skiing or snowboarding.

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Osprey Talon 44

This winter I tested the Talon 44 on trips ranging from the snowy cold of Vermont’s Green Mountains to Trinidad and the equatorial heat. The pack proved its versatility in different environments again and again.

At just over 2.5 pounds when empty, the Talon 44 is a comfortable, fast-and-light pack. The “Airscape” back panel gives decent ventilation with a mesh covered, ridged foam surface — great in warm weather, but beware of snow buildup in the mesh during winter use.

The 2,700-cubic-inch interior swallows a surprising amount of gear, and a sleeping bag zipper allows access to the bottom of the pack. A removable top pocket handles overflow items and keeps small bits like maps and a flashlight accessible.

The pack’s perforated foam hip belt doesn’t offer the weight support of beefier designs, but it still gives solid stability combined with the pack’s tapered profile, ample cinch straps, and aluminum frame — even when running or skiing. Just leave your heavy gear at home — Osprey rates the pack up to a 40 pound max load, but I found the suspension to struggle above 30 pounds.

The Talon 44 is the biggest pack in the race-bred Talon series, and it’s full of features culled from the world of adventure racing. A big, stretchy exterior pouch secures a jacket, and dual side pockets are great for bottles, wands or avalanche probes. The shoulder strap has energy gel pockets and the waist belt includes zippered pockets to keep small items always handy. Reflective tabs and a strobe clip keep you visible after dark.

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Ice axe loops and a rope-capable top compression strap cover the bases for climbing, and I found the hip belt compatible with a harness (though with a bit of overlap). Plus, although not an advertised feature, I discovered that with some creative strapping the pack could handle a snowboard or skis for backcountry use. Rounding out its versatility, the 44’s dimensions are close to airline carry-on size so it’s great for plane travel when not overstuffed.

You can’t expect bomber construction from such a lightweight pack, but the build quality is smart with rip-stop nylon throughout, and all the seams and gear-attachment points are well reinforced. Water resistance was impressive even after an afternoon of steady drizzle.

Alas, no pack is perfect. A versatile design makes some compromises, and I had a couple minor gripes with the pack. Putting a hydration bladder (not included) into the designated pouch creates an interior bulge that reduces capacity and turns packing into a Jenga puzzle. The ultralight buckles seem flimsy, although in fairness they didn’t fail.

Another gripe: In the woods, I found that passing branches loved to snag the hip belt adjustment loops and occasionally yank open the zippered hip pockets. Finally, a strangely small opening on the top pouch limits its usefulness. But overall, these are mostly design concessions, not really flaws.

Bottom line: The Talon 44 is a lightweight, feature-rich, and versatile pack that easily handles a variety of adventures, as well as the plane trip that gets you there.

—Contributor Benjamin Roman is a writer and design consultant from Venice, Calif.

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