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May 2006

Backpack Review: 4 Perfect Packs

Midsize internal-frame backpacks that do everything--and do it well

©Mitch Mandel

Granite Gear Nimbus Access FZ 3800
Get all-terrain stability with this pack’s best-in-class compression.

Imagine a baby koala hugging your back. Okay, too cute. But this pack is so snug and stable it’ll feel like a small marsupial on your shoulders, even when you’re scrambling uphill and off-trail. It starts with external, internal, and top compression straps that take the bounce out of any load. Then add a unique hipbelt/framesheet combo that enhances load control and comfort. The hipbelt is soft and conforming inside, but has a removable plastic exoskeleton for stiffness and support. The plastic framesheet uses variable rigidity to match the varying demands on your torso: it’s flexible in the lumbar area to absorb shock and improve mobility, and stiff behind your shoulders for load transfer. The result: The FZ manhandled 45 pounds in our trials.

Like the Gregory, this pack uses foam lined with a wicking fabric that’s soft enough for shirtless hiking. Its most distinctive feature, though, is a double-zipper front panel that lets you grab anything inside without undoing the internal compression; the panel’s stretchy fabric also forgives overpackers. Durability is excellent–bushwhacking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains inflicted no harm–yet weight is competitive. Two torso sizes and customizable men’s and women’s hipbelts and shoulder straps produced a comfortable fit on all five testers. Adjusting the shoulder straps requires a screwdriver, but once they’re set, they never need further modification. If this pack has a downside, it’s the smallish capacity.

Price:$270
Size:3,800 cu. in.
Weight:4 lbs. 12 oz.
Contact:(218) 834-6157; www.granitegear.com

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