This New Osprey Pack Series Is a Technological Marvel

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Backpacking technology has come a very long way from the canvas tents and monstrous external-frame packs of yore. Most of that advancement has been incremental—a few grams shaved here, a harder-wearing fabric employed there. But every so often a new material, design philosophy, or technology comes along and completely changes the game, enabling hikers to go farther, faster, and, ultimately, spend more time in wild places.  

Osprey’s new UNLTD™ line of packs may be the latest example of one such game-changing advancement. “Think of it like this,” says Osprey Marketing Director Vince Mazzuca. “Combine the dream wishes of a seasoned backpacker with the knowledge and experience of someone who has been designing packs for 45 years. That’s UNLTD.” 

What’s so special about the innovation in Osprey UNLTD? Let’s dive in.

According to Mike Pfotenhauer, founder and chief designer at Osprey, the biggest innovation (and his personal favorite) in the new series is the 3D printed lumbar pad, the pseudo-pillow at the base of the pack that provides lower back support while carrying heavy loads. Developed in conjunction with digital manufacturing brand Carbon®, Osprey eschewed the typical fabric-covered lumbar pads in favor of a 3D lattice-printed pad that uses a chainmail-like pattern. Not only does this add ventilation to prevent sweaty hiker backs, but the lattice also zonally controls the cushioning and creates a grippy surface. “It doesn’t slide around on your hips,” says Pfotenhauer. “It creates a solid cushioned support that in turn helps secure and transfer the entire load more comfortably.” He notes that this feature isn’t lighter, but it is more effective.

Backpacker comfort largely depends on how well the backpack transitions the load. In a perfect world, roughly 80% of your pack weight should sit on your hips and lower body, but this sorcery is typically easier said than done. That’s why Pfotenhauer and his design team threw out the guardrails when designing Osprey UNLTD’s framesheet, the thin, semi-rigid plastic piece that stiffens the backpack and spreads the load to the harness and hip belt. Instead of the usual polyethylene plastic, Osprey opted for  polycarbonate, a stronger and stiffer type of thermoplastic. Then, they used vacuum forming—a process where the polycarbonate is heated, stretched over a mold, and cooled—instead of injection molding to create a thinner, lighter framesheet. For long-haul hikers, this matters because it allows the backpack to sustain heavier weight. “The pack’s back panel will resist barreling and deformation with big loads,” confirms Pfotenhauer.

Not all of the improvements are the result of fancy tech materials, though. For the new AutoLift system, Pfotenhauer called on a strategy used for thousands of years: pulleys. As any hiker can confirm, constantly tweaking the load lifters is the norm while on the trail, but that’s no longer needed. With the new system, the shoulder straps are linked to the lift straps through an internal pulley. When the shoulder straps are tightened or loosened, the tension adjustment is automatically distributed to the lifts too, keeping the pack load in proper weight at all times. No fiddling required.

The list of developments goes on. High-tenacity weaves and a new gridwork make the Osprey UNLTD fabrics the most durable Osprey has ever used. The pack frame combines aluminum alloys with stainless steel high carbon for an incredibly strong framework, able to support heavier loads than ever before. Even the small, abrasion-resistant details on high-use areas of the pack were created with TPU inks and casting, a type of molding used for detailed, intricate products. 

For spring, this bevy of innovations is available in two backpacks: UNLTD AntiGravity 64 and UNLTD Airscape 68. But Pfotenhauer hints that these technologies will be trickling into other Osprey products in the future, so this is just the beginning of the Osprey UNLTD wonder.

“Our customers appreciate our drive for innovation and they love it when we show them new ideas that improve performance,” says Pfotenhauer. “We rely on these tech savvy customers to help fuel and drive our ongoing curiosity for new and better.”

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