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Gear Review: More Tester Picks for Packs

Check out these additional tester picks.
BP0413PACK_Mammut_Spindrift30_445x260.jpgMammut Spindrift Light 30 (Photo by Ben Fullerton)

DAYPACKS

CamelBak Gambler 
Looking for a minimalist ski pack? For sidecountry trips, the Gambler offers the next best thing to no pack at all. Its stripped-down, low-profile design carries a 100-ounce hydration bladder (included), shovel, and probe—and little else. “It’s perfect for quick jaunts into avalanche-prone terrain,” reports our tester. Wide, lightly-padded, insulated shoulder straps help keep a hydration tube from freezing and boost comfort and stability. $90; 1 lb. 4 oz.; 3.3 liters; camelbak.com

 

Mammut Spindrift Light 30
Cutting ounces without sacrificing functionality can be a challenge, but the Spindrift Light exceeded even our most cynical tester’s expectations. The pack delivers luxe conveniences like a dedicated internal shovel pocket, loops for ice tools or ski poles, and two mesh side pockets for skins or a thermos. It shaves ounces in fabrics and suspension design: Both are sturdy enough to be functional, but not built for the worst abuse or densest loads. $170; 2 lbs. 1 oz.; 30 liters; mammut.ch 

 

JanSport Cienega 32
Our 2012 ladies’ choice still gets top marks for comfort and durability. Fixed shoulder straps are cut in an exaggerated S-curve that’s anatomically friendly: snug at the shoulders but contoured at a sharp angle to minimize pressure on breasts. The sternum strap has five inches of vertical adjustment, a feature our full-figured testers appreciated. Perforated foam shoulder straps, hipbelt, and backpanel keep the framesheet and suspension system light, but sufficient for 25- to 30-pound loads. $125; 2 lbs.; 32 liters;
jansport.com

 

Eastern Mountain Sports Trail 35
Gear loops, straps, and exterior pockets make this pack supremely versatile. The lightly padded shoulder straps and hipbelt on the Trail 35 minimize sweaty backs. Light overnights, big-load day trips, and medium-length ski tours all fall right into this pack’s wheelhouse. A flexible aluminum frame helps shift weight to your hips, but it’s best for loads under 20 pounds. $159; 3 lbs.; 35 liters; ems.com

 

The North Face Casimir 36
The lightweight Casimir won’t weigh you down on a short hike, but it has a spacious design that accommodates gear for the longest days. The pack maintains its alpine-friendly cred with uncluttered lines and a narrow packbag, but it still has enough pockets to keep organizers happy. Dual V-shaped compression straps hug both heavy, awkward loads and small, low-volume ones for a jiggle-free carry. $169; 2 lbs. 3 oz.; 36 liters; thenorthface.com

 

MULTIDAY

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Alchemist 40 
This two-for-one deal defies conventional wisdom. With a top-loading main compartment that expands from 40 to 55 liters, the Alchemist’s unusual design straddles the daypack and multiday categories. Just fold the lid down into the main bag and cinch a drawcorde; Velcro tabs hold the lid in place. And amazingly, there’s almost no weight penalty for the superior versatility. $199; 4 lbs.; 40 liters; eddiebauer.com

 

Marmot Eiger 40 XT
This perennial favorite continues to evolve and impress. The most notable change this season is a departure from a conventional lid to a U-shaped zippered flap. The new version opens up wide, which simplifies packing and retrieving gear. Easy-to-access, reinforced carabiner loops and rugged durability make the Eiger one of the best-value climbing-oriented packs we’ve seen. $129; 3 lbs. 1 oz.; 40 liters; marmot.com

 

Black Diamond Equipment Epic 45
Heavy gear, uneven terrain, and gusty winds can overwhelm a pack’s suspension. One tester, who lugged survival essentials up Alaska’s Mt. Hunter in dicey conditions and 20-mph winds, credits the dynamic suspension (floating shoulder straps and a ball-joint pivot system on the hipbelt) and uncluttered, streamlined profile for superior weight distribution and comfort. $190; 3 lbs. 11 oz.; 45 liters; blackdiamondequipment.com

 

REI Flash 45
With weekend-worthy volume and dayhike weight, the Flash 45 keeps your total load to a minimum. The top lid is adjustable (or completely removable) for varying loads. We’re big fans of the light-yet-effective framesheet. Although the shoulder straps are stitched directly to the pack, there remains plenty of adjustability. Our only gripe is that the suspension becomes insufficient with loads bigger than about 25 pounds. $129; 3 lbs.; 45 liters; rei.com 

 

Eureka! Rocky Peak 50+10
Get a lot of pack for a little money in this spacious hauler. Adventure-ready features include roomy rectangular side pockets, rugged water-bottle pockets, a reinforced crampon/shove-it pouch, and Z-shaped compression straps that crank down the load. But it’s a bit heavy for the size. $119; 4 lbs. 6 oz.; 50 liters; eureka.com

 

Mile High Mountaineering Divide 55
Our tester had one word—Cadillac. The superplush hipbelt and shoulder strap combo is the cushiest of any pack in this review. One tester stuffed the pack with 70 pounds and the load didn’t challenge the suspension—at all. The feature set is also deluxe. Each hipbelt has two pockets: one zip and an overlapping mesh mini stuff-it. And by unzipping both side-access zippers the pack opens up like a tarp—ideal for sorting gear. The sleeping bag compartment has a built-in dry bag, so you can leave your waterproof stuffsack at home. $339; 5 lbs. 8 oz.; 55 liters; mhmgear.com

 

Sierra Designs Ymir 55
The ski-friendly Ymir has enough capacity for a weekend ski tour or an extended hut trip. Backcountry-specific features include reinforced ski and snowboard straps and a dedicated pocket for avy tools. There’s even a fleecy goggle pocket and helmet sling. The main, top-loading compartment has a side zipper for easy access to the entire packbag. $189; 4 lbs. 6 oz.; 54 liters; sierradesigns.com

 

Boreas Lost Coast 60 and Buttermilks 55
Boreas created a near-perfect suspension system and a smart packbag—and refrained from adding unnecessary extras that increase weight or cost. A breathable backpanel consists of tough nylon mesh over corrugated foam that compresses as you hike, circulating air. The pack aces load transfer, thanks to rib-like, webbing-reinforced seams that are angled to fight pack sag. For utmost convenience, go with the Lost Coast, which has a detachable, three-pocket top lid. Or save six ounces with the Buttermilks; it has no lid, just a cinch collar. Lost Coast 60: $210; 3 lbs. 6 oz.; Buttermilks 55: $185; 3 lbs.; boreasgear.com

 

Mountain Hardwear Lani 60
Our female testers raved about this women’s pack. “I carried 45 pounds over rugged terrain on a four-day trip in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness and never missed a step or minded the weight,” says our tester. The dense foam of the hipbelt and lumbar pad felt hard at first, she says, but it molded to her shape, with sufficient rigidity to support heavy loads. Curved shoulder straps and hipbelt on the Lana accommodate the female frame (men’s version is the Shaka 70). She loved the single-handed hipbelt adjustment; it cinches both sides of the pack evenly. (For more women’s-specific gear, see page 142). $295; 4 lbs. 4 oz.; 60 liters; mountainhardwear.com

 

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400
“This simple yet high-tech pack is helium-light, yet as durable and waterproof as anything I’ve carried,” exclaims our tester, who brought this pack (formerly called the Expedition) to Africa. The pack swallowed her entire load for the trip, but rolled down via a dry-bag-style closure system into a smaller, more manageable size for single-day safaris. $310; 1 lb. 15 oz.; 72 liters; hyperlitemountaingear.com

 

Mountain Hardwear BMG 105
Need a monster pack for a monster load? One tester (a trail crew leader) humped 80 pounds with no back pain or hot spots—a testament to the rigid framesheet and additional horizontal framestay behind the BMG’s hipbelt. He also liked how well the pack shrinks down due to the extremely effective compressions straps, which can be unclipped and tucked away when not needed. $350; 5 lbs.  3 oz.; 105 liters; mountainhardwear.com

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