The top performer hits an elusive trifecta: It’s light, has weeklong-load comfort (up to 40 pounds), and a packbag that can shrink, expand, compress, and redistribute loads. “It works for everything from an AT thru-hike to an ambitious day trip,” says a tester who carried it through Escalante canyons and Zion slots in Utah, and up technical snow climbs in Colorado’s San Juans.
Designers nailed this sweet spot by stripping away nonessentials and putting materials where they count: the suspension, plus a few key features. A tapered plastic framesheet (bolstered by dual aluminum stays) provides rigid support, which is enhanced by shoulder straps and a hipbelt that are precisely contoured—delivering comfort without bulk.
The packbag is clean yet uncommonly versatile: Quick-release compression straps switch from side (for poles, rods, skis) to front wraparound (for shovels, snowboards, snowshoes). Bummer: The stretchy bottle pockets are hard to reach. Bonus: Like most new GoLite packs, the Quest is made with recycled nylon (Editors’ Choice Green Award, 4/10).