Osprey Flare 28 Review
The Osprey Flare offers good value as a campus backpack with its solid build quality, diverse set of pockets, and comfortable harness system.
- Excellent build quality and materials for the price
- Variety of pockets gives options for organizing gear
- Wears comfortably when the grab handle is out of the way
- Grab handle brushes against the neck
- Bottom-heavy shape impacts carrying comfort
- Tight access to the front compartment’s deep area
1.704 lb (0.8 kg)
18.9 in x 12.99 in x 9.45 in (48 x 33 x 24 cm)
Recycled Polyester, DWR Coating, YKK Zippers
Laptop Compartment Size
You can take a backpack to a lot of harsh and challenging places. Some are taken mountain climbing, some on the rough seas, and some to the hottest deserts on the planet. Yet, there’s something about the seemingly tame environment that is the college campus that is equally challenging for a backpack. Is it the daily rush to and from classes? The haphazard shoving of thick, unabridged research literature? Sharp twigs lurking among the blades of grass? All of these are valid concerns.
Enter Osprey’s Flare. They bill it as a campus backpack, and it looks like it has the chops to make it as one. It has the excellent build quality we’ve come to expect from the brand, and at a competitive price (at the time of writing). Durability-wise, it performs well. However, campus dwellers might not appreciate tight access to its front compartment and its grab handle which annoyed us to no end. How? Read on to find out.
To kick things off, let’s start by talking about what makes up the Flare. This 27-liter campus-oriented backpack features 600-denier recycled polyester with DWR (durable water repellent) coating. That applies to all three major parts: the main fabric, accents, and base of the bag. So despite the multi-paneled look of the Flare, you get a sense of uniformity when you handle it. You’ll also be happy to know that the zippers are from YKK, so they haven’t skimped in that department either.
There are two water bottle pockets, one on each side of the Flare. These are quite big, and, unfortunately, that also means they’re fairly loose. The stretchiness of the mesh material doesn’t do a particularly good job of holding onto an 18-ounce Hydro Flask bottle’s slick finish. The good news is that there are compression straps above where you can attach your bottle’s handle. This is more or less standard practice for us whenever we’re given the option to do so.
Speaking of those compression straps, their primary purpose is to cinch the Flare’s load further. This helps maintain a tighter center of gravity, and it keeps the pack looking more slim and clean. That said, the Flare isn’t the only Osprey backpack we’ve seen with side compression straps. The Nova, Tropos, and Daylite Carry-On Travel Pack 44 have these as well, and we’ve noticed one flaw: the straps get in the way of the main compartment’s zipper. Okay, to be fair, the compression straps in all these bags come with a side-release buckle that’s easy to undo, but it’s still an extra step you have to take. Either that or you maneuver your hand around the straps.
Up next is the large stretchy pocket at the front. This is one feature that we see on plenty of Osprey’s other backpacks that we like. The implementation is simple; it’s just a large pocket where you can stuff large gear. If there’s one thing you can count on when you’re on campus, it’s situations that go “gotta shove this somewhere fast, or I’m late for class,” and this gets the job done. Be careful when you’re stuffing the pocket, though. Packing the pocket full can cause it to bulge into the front and the main compartment, robbing them of space.
The Flare has some subtler features as well. Flanking the front quick-grab pocket are two small loops. These serve two purposes, the first one being pull tabs for zipping or unzipping that pocket. The secondary or alternate purpose is for hanging accessories like keychains.
If you have a bike light, though, you can save that for the blinky light attachment loop located just below the front “Flare” branding—and yes, they really do call it a “blinky light” attachment loop. Affectionate naming aside, this is also a recurring feature in most of Osprey’s bags, and we do appreciate the feature since some of us here at the Pack Hacker HQ love the occasional bike ride through town.
Now for the harness system, and we’ll start with the part that really sticks to us the most—literally. It’s the grab handle, which itself is actually fine. It’s thick, padded, and comfortable to hold whenever we have to move the Flare across the room or grab it from a car. However, it also flops around, and that makes it rub against the neck.
As for the rest of the harness system, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from Osprey. The shoulder straps are well-padded, and feature ventilated lower halves. It has a neat see-through design that lets you see the holes, and it makes for a striking look. There are also loops, one on each side, for additional accessories you may want to attach; maybe more blinky lights for good measure.
Adjustments are made through simple plastic sliders; no gimmicks here. Unfortunately, that also means no strap keepers to keep the slack from flailing around. We’ve more or less come to expect this of Osprey’s packs, as even the strappier ones like the Radial and the METRON don’t have strap keepers either.
Also notably absent from the Flare is a sternum strap. Those who like to use one on a daily basis will be disappointed by this omission. However, we honestly don’t feel it’s necessary for the Flare, even at 27 liters.
The back panel features Osprey’s AirScape design. The frame sheet is rigid enough to support the Flare’s structure and also flexible enough to contour well against a hunched back. Like the shoulder straps, it also has a striking see-through design that fully showcases how the ventilation works. Our standard disclaimer still applies here, though: No amount of mesh or marketing lingo can prevent a sweaty back if the weather is hot enough, so temper your expectations.
The Flare’s overall style and profile are more or less like the Osprey archetype. There are a lot of swooping lines, zippers, straps, and panels that make the aesthetic look busy. The Succulent Green Deep Teal sample we have looks as flashy as it sounds. However, if you want something more muted, there is the usual black option as well, among other colorway options available at the time of writing.
If you look at the Flare from the side, you begin to notice something apart from its color: its shape. The side profile is noticeably triangular, starting off slim at the top and widening toward the bottom. This bottom-heavy shape persists even when you release the side compression straps. More importantly, it affects impacts how well weight is distributed.
Now for the fit itself. We typically like to carry backpacks relatively high up on the back, with the shoulder straps adjusted tightly but comfortably. However, when we do this with the Flare, it causes the grab handle to brush the back of the neck. This is very noticeable at best and super annoying at worst. That said, a high-up carrying style may not to your preference, in which case a more relaxed fit by loosening the shoulder straps makes a lot more sense.
Mind you, loosening the harness system’s adjustment exacerbates the Flare’s bottom heaviness. In this stance, we can feel the Flare pull back noticeably, and this is such a shame since the harness system actually wears really comfortably despite the lack of a sternum strap; it’s the handle that holds it back. Still, a looser fit is a much better alternative to having the grab handle constantly remind us of its presence.
Inside The Backpack
To kick things off, let’s start by looking at the Flare’s quick-grab pocket at the front. We like to use this as the de facto tech pouch on this bag. However, it’s really just a dump pocket for any everyday carry items you need to access frequently and on the go. The inside is also lined with soft scratch-resistant fabric to prevent damaging fragile items like sunglasses. The space isn’t too big that small items just fall to unreachable depths, and it only goes as deep as the wrist.
For anything bulkier, like a hoodie or a folding umbrella, your best option is to utilize the large stretchy pocket right at the front. Alternatively, those bottle pockets we mentioned earlier are large enough to hold bulky items as well.
Okay, you can also use the front compartment for those bulky items. It’s spacious and enclosed by a zippered opening. However, that horseshoe-style opening is a bit too small for our liking. Getting items in and out of the deep end is rather. On the other hand, you do get more granular organization inside, courtesy of additional pockets.
Starting from the top, you have a zippered pocket, followed by two stretchy mesh pockets in front of it. These mesh pockets are just wide enough for the width of a passport. Something like a Field Notes notebook fits, but its height causes it to interfere with the zippered pocket’s opening just a tiny bit. Additionally, be careful not to put anything too big in these mesh pockets because they can get in the way of access to the rest of the compartment.
There’s also a built-in key leash on the left side of the compartment. It’s quite short and features the same plasticky clip we’ve seen on previous Osprey backpacks. We would’ve liked to see something more robust to fit the rest of the backpack’s build quality, but this gets the job done well enough.
Lastly, you also get two sets of loops on the right that act as pen holders. We like that each set has two loops, and we think this directly prevents pens from slipping loose. We’ve seen pens go missing in other backpacks and pouches that only have one loop; not the case for the Flare.
Moving on to the main compartment, this also opens up horseshoe-style. We mentioned earlier that the side compression straps get in the way of the zippers. While this is true, especially if you’re like us, who use the straps to secure a bottle, you can easily move them out of the way by undoing the buckles.
There’s ample space in the main compartment for bulky items like textbooks, pouches, and packing cubes. Keep in mind that the space can get squeezed in if you’ve packed adjacent pockets at the front. That said, space isn’t generally an issue, even when we have the other pockets packed relatively full.
As for organization, you have a laptop sleeve at the back that can fit a 16-inch MacBook. It’s quoted to support up to 17-inch laptops, but your mileage may vary depending on other factors like thickness. The sleeve is raised to create a false bottom, and this, combined with the Flare’s frame sheet, mitigates impact if you drop the Flare on the ground.
In front of the laptop sleeve are two additional sleeves. One has a fairly rigid rim that helps keep it structured, while the other is lined with soft material. These additional pockets are meant for documents and tablets—it’s safe to assume that the one with the soft lining is the one meant for tablets.
Overall, we think that the Flare offers good value for money despite its quirks. Admittedly, these quirks are something you’ll have to live with for a few years if you do indeed plan to use it for school. Still, it comes at a competitive price of around $100 at the time of writing, with a bill of materials that’s up to par. Its variety of pockets puts it above something like the Osprey Centauri in terms of day-to-day convenience, which is indispensable if you’re living that hectic campus life.
- Top handle tends to flip down and brush against the neck—other than that, the harness system is comfortable
- Nice quick access pocket in the front of the pack, though it’s a little deep
- Mesh pocket in front is super stretchy
- The bag carries really comfortably—it can pack bottom-heavy, though
- Top carry handle can stick into the back of the neck—it’s annoying
- Very breathable straps and back panel