Osprey Stratos 34 vs 36 - which is better?
Despite sharing the same name, the Osprey Stratos 34 and the Stratos 36 are actually very different backpacks. Why Osprey didn’t give them different names is, quite frankly, a mystery.
How so? Well, before we get into the major differences - and they are major – keep in mind that these hiking backpacks fall into the daypack category. They’re best for day hikes and short trips, not lengthy stints on the trail.
And for that purpose the Stratos 34 wins hands-down. Its front loading design provides quick access to everything in your pack, not just what’s sitting pretty at the top - as is the case with the top loading Stratos 36.
Adding to this is the fact that the 34 is smaller, sleeker and just better designed and suited to day hiking, making it a more comfortable pack that’s fit-for-purpose. The 36, on the other hand, has some serious design flaws (see the hip-belt discussion below) and is actually just too big and cumbersome to be a good daypack.
This buying guide goes into all this in a lot more detail. And despite our preference for the Stratos 34, there are circumstances where you should still consider the larger pack (or a third option, more on that below).
Want more options? Check out our best hiking backpacks buying guide.
And you can see some of our other Osprey backpack reviews here.
One big difference between both of these bags is that the Osprey Stratos 34 has quite a few more small organization pockets than the Osprey Stratos 36. While the 36 does technically have more storage capacity, this capacity is not divided up between as many pockets as the 34. This means that the Osprey Stratos 34 is better for organizing smaller things and having quick access to those smaller things. The Osprey Stratos 34 is more organizationally friendly than the 36.
Another big difference between both bags is that the Osprey Stratos 36 features a top load access, whereas the Osprey Stratos 34 does not. The Osprey Stratos 34 does feature the normal front panel access, but it does not have the top and front load access capability which the 36 has.
This makes it a little easier to store things in the 36, especially larger things. It also makes it easier to get to certain parts of the 36. You don’t have to open the whole front panel of the Osprey Stratos 36 to get to certain things (see video below).
Perhaps the biggest difference between these two backpacks is that the Osprey Stratos 36 has a large removable top compartment, whereas the Osprey Stratos 34 does not.
This is a pretty big deal, because while the 36 is technically larger and has more volume, if you remove the top compartment, it ends up being smaller and lighter. In other words, the Osprey Stratos 36 is actually quite a bit more versatile than the 34.
You can use both compartments together, or you can take them apart and use them separately. This high level of versatility and customization is the biggest factor which sets the Osprey Stratos 36 apart from the Osprey Stratos 34.
Generally speaking, the Osprey Stratos 36 is quite a bit bigger than the 34. The Osprey Stratos 34 comes in at 24 x 13 x 13 inches, and the Osprey Stratos 36 comes in at 28 x 13 x 12 inches.
Funny enough, the 36 is 1 inch narrower than the 34, but also 4 inches taller. In other words, the 36 is better used by taller people, whereas the 34 is better for people who are not quite as tall. At the same time, the Osprey Stratos 36 has more internal capacity, with 36 liters of space, compared to the Osprey Stratos 34, which has an internal capacity of 34 liters. The Osprey Stratos 36 is the better option for larger people and longer trips.
The price difference is really not huge, but the Osprey Stratos 36 will cost you a few bucks more than the Osprey Stratos 34. The price difference is quite minimal, so this might not be all that important to you.
A similar size daypack is the top-loading Gregory Mountain Products Zulu 30 (link to Amazon)
The Zulu 30 is well-known amongst backpackers for its convenient features, such as the stretchy water bottle pockets and the front stuff-pocket, which handily provides quick access to a raincoat and other gear. And while it’s top-loading, the opening is actually a ‘hybrid’ with panel access to the main body of the bag.
We particularly like how this Zulu 30 backpack fits in overhead bins without any trouble, making it well suited to the frequent air traveler. It’s made from strong material, too, which gives it that reassuring feel of long-lasting durability.
Ergonomically, the Zulu 30 provides decent levels of comfort during a long day’s hiking. Extra features like the internal water bladder pocket and front hip pockets big enough for a smart phone make life easier when out on the trail.
On the downside, the mesh front pocket is prone to tearing, and the top zipper can be a bit tricky when the bag is fully loaded.
But overall, this is a top-quality pack and serious contender to either Stratos bags. It is, however, a bit more expensive.
Osprey Stratos 34 vs 36: Our verdict
Summing up, the Stratos 34 will be the better option for most day hikers. It’s a more suitable size and fit than the Stratos 36, it’s more comfortable, and its front loading access gives greater convenience for short trips.
You could argue the 36 makes up for its top-loading limitations by having handy pockets to access stuff on the go. But this just isn’t the case – because the pockets are rather cumbersome and too small to be as useful as they should be. Furthermore, we feel there’s a serious design flaw with the hip-pockets which are too small, and the hip belt is not easily adjustable.
Some will say the removable top-section answers that criticism and in fact makes the Stratos 36 more versatile. We disagree – for day hiking the bag then becomes too small.
One last thing to mention is despite the 34 and 36 sizes, both come with different size options of small, medium and large. The medium size is the one you want – ie. the Stratos 34 is the medium size, get a large and you’re actually getting a 36.
Again, what with giving same name to very different packs, this is a bit confusing from Osprey. But they do make great backpacks, so we’ll forgive them! =ZIP=