This pack rose to the top of a crowded—and very competitive—category due to its total load transfer, comfort, and conveniently laid-out packbag. The well-sculpted hipbelt, reinforced with polyethylene panels, perfectly wrapped our hips and lower back. That, combined with the soft, nonslip lumbar pad and the ridged and curved backpanel, creates the perfect combination of vertical stiffness, lateral twist, and forward flexibility. Result: awesome stability and big-load comfort.
With 45 pounds aboard, one tester scrambled rain-soaked terrain on Alaska’s Chitistone Goat Trail. Another tester, after trips around Abrams Falls and Mt. Le Conte in the Smokies, said, “I could throw this thing on and walk all day without any sore points.” And the versatile packbag, with-ice tool fittings, a helmet-capable front pocket, and twin hipbelt pockets that hold three Clif Bars apiece, can easily handle alpine duties as well as long trails. The Z55 is the men’s; the Jade 50 is for women. $200; 3,417 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 5 oz.