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Backpacker Editors’ Choice 2008

The year's best packs, boots, tents, jackets, and sleeping bags. Period. Plus, a never-die headlamp, a life-saving beacon, a back-saving ultralight chair, and more innovative, trail-tested gear.
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Mountainsmith Phoenix
Here’s high-performance proof that a big pack can have a small footprint.

Get this load hauler for two-week expeditions, family weekends with hero-dad payloads, and everything in between. Sure, it’s got more eco-cred than any big pack we’ve seen, but that’s not why testers consistently chose it over more expensive models. The Phoenix carries better than most, too. "It’s comfortable and stable up to 60 pounds," says our Rocky Mountain editor. "I got near-total load transfer and great knee lift for high step-ups, thanks to the padded, well-tailored hipbelt." The massive top-loader comes with expedition-grade fittings like ski slots, crampons straps, and quick-release compression straps long enough to take full-sized foam pads. The top lid and spindrift collar extend a foot above the packbag (extended capacity is a massive 5,675 inches). And you can access the entire packbag via oversized zips on the side and across the sleeping bag compartment.

The green ingredients are equally impressive: 100% recycled fabric and zippers divert some 107 plastic bottles from the landfill for each pack. (See "The Zero Impact Challenge," March 2008, for more details.) And we saw no drop-off in durability. One editor dragged the Phoenix through the Grand Canyon on a route that shredded lesser packs. All told, Mountainsmith says the pack reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% when compared to a same-size model made with standard materials and manufacturing processes. $289; 4,211 cu. in.; 5 lbs. 3 oz. (one size, fits 17-20" torsos); mountainsmith.com.

The GoLite Adrenaline bag, Westcomb Specter LT Hoody, Marmot DriClime Catalyst jacket, Marmot Ultralight Down bag, and both tent photos were taken by Sethhughes.com. The remaining photos were taken by Steve Howe.

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