User Review: Osprey Kestrel 38
Price Paid: $115
This is just about the perfect pack for me. As an archaeologist who does field survey walking and excavation in Asia, this pack has served my needs perfectly. Yes, it is slightly over the size regulations for acceptable carry-on luggage, but if it isn't bulging out of the seams, then you will be able to get on with most carriers (I still haven't had to have my Kestrel 38 checked in).
The pack is comfortable, fits everything I need and is generally well designed. I'm not fond of packs with the trampoline style back air circulation system. The places I go to are very windy, so I don't want my back exposed to too much cold air and I also find that type of system awkward for packing some of my large rectangular essentials: laptop, folders and sketchpad. The Kestrel 38's air cooling system is flatter and seems to keep me cool in warmer climates and won't expose my back too much when its cold.
I'm tempted to give this pack a 5/5 rating, but there are a couple of small gripes. I would make two adjustments to the design (at least for my use of the pack):
1) An internal zip to separate the main and bottom section. Because I also use this pack as a day pack and I carry a fair amount of books, I don't like having to reach right down to the bottom of my pack to organise the items within. Yes, it has a useful bottom zip, but that is only good for accessing the items at the bottom of the pack and not for organising the entire contents of the pack. Because I find that this missing feature hinders me on a daily basis, I will attempt to sew in my own canvas zip compartment (if anyone has had experience with this in the past, please reply to this post - any pointers would be useful!)
2) I rarely use water bladders, so the external water bladder compartment is not necessary. I would have preferred to have this on the INSIDE of the pack so that I could use it as a laptop holder instead. Because it is located on the outside of the pack, it would not provide the computer with enough weather protection and it is impossible to fit a 15" laptop in the 'sleeve'.
Despite my two suggestions to change the design of the pack, I am very happy with it and I have no regrets in purchasing it. It is extremely reliable and I find it suits my relatively small (male) frame of 5'9". I went for the S/M size and lengthened the harness - it's a perfect fit.