How often does a popular pack get updated with new materials and features—and drop $20? Um, almost never. But the $299 model that our testers praised three years ago for its big-load comfort did just that. The XT 85 has gained about 5 ounces, but we found no other compromises during several months of testing this winter and spring. It still features a mammoth main compartment into which one editor stuffed 55 pounds for a week of Sierra mountaineering; deep external pockets, stretch shove-it pouch, huge floating lid, and extra-long side straps that he used to stow another 10 pounds of climbing hardware and crampons; and the canted, thickly padded, and seriously stiff hipbelt.
Updates include smoother (still waterproof) zippers, stouter fabrics that he dragged across granite with no damage, and a slightly more stable carry on steep talus (credit the X-frame construction). Two nitpicks: First, we wish the toplid converted to a summit pack. Second, airflow across the back could be better; the firm foam contact enhances stability, but our guy stayed sweaty all week. $279; 5 lbs. 5 oz.; 85 liters; 2 sizes; rei.com