Mountainsmith Apex 80
“I carried 75 pounds over cheese-grater volcanic rock in the Cascades and the Apex was tortoise-shell tough,” reports a tester of the pack’s 420-denier ripstop nylon and snag-resistant mesh pockets. The boomerang- shaped hipbelt pads earned comfort props. $210; 4 lbs. 13 oz.; mountainsmith.com [killer cushioning]
MHM Fifty-Two 80
“Luxurious padding made carrying 65 pounds easy,” raved one tester after a Mt. Hood trek. Triple-density foam in the shoulder, hipbelt, scapula, and lumbar pads has stiff top and middle layers (for structure and load transfer), while pillow-soft foam adds comfort. $280; 6 lbs.; mhmgear.com [climber’s choice]
Mammut Heron Light 70+15
Alpine-oriented testers loved this sleek pack’s back-hugging frame. “It handles monster loads in steep, off-trail terrain with great load transfer and stability via a pivoting hipbelt,” said one tester after a five-day climbing trip in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers. $269; 4 lbs. 15 oz.; mammut.ch [hero loads]
Kelty Red Cloud 110
With a remarkable capacity-to-weight ratio and svelte profile, the Red Cloud totes XXL loads with comfort and stability. The polyester/nylon pack cloth proved extremely durable, even when the pack was dragged up sharp granite ledges in Yosemite. $239; 5 lbs. 13 oz.; kelty.com
Know Your Torso Length All you need is a friend and soft tape measure. Learn how at backpacker.com/torso.
Maximize comfort Learn how to use all of your pack’s straps to improve the way it carries at backpacker.com/packstraps.