The thing about outdoor gear reviewsis that, up to a point, they are highly personal things. Certainly, there can be aspects of a product that are inherently good or bad - a waterproof jacket that isn't waterproof, or a pair of hiking boots with a slick slippery sole - but the details of a review often come down to personal preference. And I, for one, am very fussy about my rucksacks.
It's for this reason that my previous review of the Osprey Talon Earth 22 backpack wasn't entirely positive. There wasn't anything desperately wrong with it (you'll have to read the review to decide if my niggles match yours). It just didn't function in the way I'd want a pack to perform. I don't like to upset people, though, and I could imagine the sad faces of the Osprey team, their frowns deepening as they waded further into the nitty-gritty of the review. So when the opportunity arose to review an Osprey pack that, on paper at least, seemed to better suit my requirements, I thought it only fair to see if this new offering could redress the balance of opinion. That pack is the Osprey Sportlite 30 hiking rucksack.
Osprey Sportlite 30 - features and design: front
The Osprey Sportlite 30 is a simple pack. But this is not a bad thing - the Sportlite is faff free and streamlined. It does, however, offer all the essentials a hiking pack should have, plus one or two extras.
Starting with the lid, it's a typical flip-over closure fastened by a pair of buckles. Yes, zips are more reliable than they used to be, but for me a buckle closure is still preferable; if they break, it's usually still possible to keep the rucksack weatherproof. The lid has an external zip pocket with enough room for a hat, gloves, a packet of Haribo and other hiking essentials. The internal mesh pocket is the ideal place for your wallet and, thanks to the integral clip, your keys.
The main compartment is a single cavity which is cinched closed with a single drawcord. The base is protected by a reinforced fabric panel, providing extra robustness when slinging the pack down to access its contents.
On either side of the pack are stretch pockets. These are deep enough to hold a Sigg bottle or trekking poles without fear of them falling out. Superbly placed cinch straps help retain the pockets' contents. A stretchy dump pocket on the front of the pack is the ideal place for stashing any gear you either want quick access to or don't wish to mix up with your other kit. The volume of the pocket, adjusted with two more cinch straps, adds a good amount of storage. It also features an attachment point for a bike light if you use the pack for cycling (although hiking is its natural territory). There are two tuck-away loops for attaching trekking poles to the outside of the pack, using the upper cinch cords of the dump pocket to hold them in place.
Osprey Sportlite 30 - features and design: rear
On the reverse of the bag is the harness and back system. The back system is fairly low profile, with a mesh covering over ridged foam offering minimal ventilation. Between the back panel and the main compartment is a slot for a hydration reservoir. Although there are benefits to having this on the outside of the pack, it's rather snug and not all bladders will fit easily.
The shoulder straps are only lightly padded, but you're unlikely to be carrying huge weight in a 30-litre pack. They're also perforated and well ventilated, helping to prevent sweaty shoulders. The waist belt fins are also lightly padded and house two pockets. On the left is a zipped pocket that's just big enough to hold all but the largest of phones. On the right hip is an open stretch pocket, best used for light and low value items which are unlikely to fall out.
As is the case with most packs, all the buckles and toggles on the Sportlite 30 are plastic. Only regular use will determine the robustness and longevity of the materials used. For now, it's fair to say that they appear perfectly adequate, although probably no more than that.
Osprey Sportlite 30 - fit and comfort
Osprey describe the Sportlite 30 as a 'unisex' fit. Although there are no separate men's and women's versions, it is available in two different back-length: S/M and M/L. The light weight of the pack (800g) means that an absolutely perfect fit is less important; you're more likely to notice if the straps or belts aren't quite in the right place with a heavier load. However, because women's body shapes vary far more than men's, female hikers can have a harder time finding rucksacks to fit their form. This means there's less of a chance that the Sportlite 30 will fit them. As always, it's sensible to try before you buy.
Osprey Sportlite 30 - in use
As anyone who has tried multiple packs will know, rucksack volumes are not an exact science; this one feels to be at the upper end of the 30-litre volume. I find the the main compartment easy to load and easy to access, with plenty of room for rummaging. With some careful packing, this pack could serve as a lightweight single trip overnighter.
The close fitting of the Sportlite's back-system means that at the end of a walk my back is a little sweaty. However, truth be told, I've never found ventilated back systems particularly effective and usually end up damp anyway. But I do like a pack to fit fairly close to my back, making it feel nimbler and more stable. The Sportlite does just that.
In terms of pockets and storage, the Sportlite gets it just about perfect. There are enough compartments to organise my kit into logical places, but not so many that I forget where I've stashed something. The rear dump pocket, side stretch pockets, and hip-belt pockets are all super useful and functional.
If I have one complaint, it's a rather petty one regarding the tuck-away pole loops. With regular telescopic (as opposed to folding) poles, these work well. However, I can't help but feel Osprey have missed a trick here. If the loops were slightly larger they would also be useful for carrying an ice axe in winter. As it stands, they're simply too small.
Osprey Sportlite 30 - price and competition
At £110 the Sportlite is one of Osprey's best value packs. Compared alongside its more expensive options such as the Talons and Tempests, you start to notice the subtle differences in materials and see where savings have been made. However, some of this cost-cutting has also made the Sportlite lighter and more streamlined. For this reason it's one of my favourite rucksacks to have come out of the Osprey stable.
But lightweight streamlined packs aren't exactly rare. There's a lot of competition out there from both the big rucksack manufacturers and budget brands. For instance, if you like the look of the Sportlite 30, you may also approve of the Deuter Speed Lite 30 (£110), the Lowe Alpine AirZone Trail 30L (£105) or the Alpkit Ledge 35 (£87). However, the Sportlite 30 can hold its head high amongst such stiff competition. Not only that, it's near perfect combination of features and functions may make the Sportlite the prime candidate for your hiking adventures.
Osprey Sportlite 30 - verdict
Although it's a new pack from Osprey for 2022, there's nothing particularly new about the Sportlite 30 rucksack. The minimalist approach has been going strong for years. That said, describing the Sportlite as a minimalist pack does it a huge disservice. Rather than stripping everything away, by carefully and expertly pruning the features of the pack down to the essentials, Osprey have removed all the flab and faff and provided hikers with a solid, simple daysack. It's hard to see how they could have done better at this price point.
Yes, some people may be put off by the lack of an adjustable back length and minimal ventilation, and let's not forget that at least half the population may struggle to get this comfortably on their backs. But such additions and variations add cost and weight. If you're lucky enough to find the Sportlite 30 fits you, you'll appreciate the benefits those sacrifices provide.
Features 4/5 | Fit 3/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 5/5 | Value 5/5
Overall score: 84%
Pros: Lightweight, simple and functional, doing the basics well with no faff.
Cons: Only unisex fit and not the best ventilation
Weight 800g | Volume 30 litres | Sizes S/M (fits 15-19" torso), M/L (fits 18-22"