Until they make a pack that walks behind you, get the Altra. The key to comfort: the best hipbelt we’ve ever tested. It’s wide and stiff, with memory-foam-like padding for all-day comfort and reinforcements that prevent even the hint of big-load sag. Add a lumbar pivot, which lets the belt rotate with your hips as you walk, high-step, and navigate tricky terrain, and you get a smooth ride with no rubbing.
“There’s none of the constant shifting and adjusting you get with so many other packs,” said one tester after an 18-mile day in the Alps. A rigid framesheet with aluminum stays aids load transfer and wide, padded shoulder straps boost comfort, as does the customlike fit from the ladder-lock adjustment. A floating top lid and a U-shaped wraparound zipper make the pack bag both easy to stuff and easy to live out of (though the panel access is hard to use with bulging loads).
And features are utilitarian: two pockets in the top lid, compression wings that enhance lashing options, stretch-mesh stash pockets, and a large, zippered kangaroo pocket. Our only gripe: That U zipper should be waterproof; it leaked when the fabric didn’t.
The Altra comes in three versions, with two sizes each: 75 (5,004 cubic inches extended); 65 (4,394 cubic inches); and 62 (women’s suspension, 4,211 cubic inches). $399 (75) and $375 (65/62); 5 lbs. (75, regular); arcteryx.com