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Weekend Packs: The Best

Backpacker_Magazine_Mountainsmith_Eclipse_55Mountainsmith Eclipse 55, Photos by Sethhughes.com

Best All-Around
Mountainsmith Eclipse 55

Light enough for thru-hikes and tough enough for bushwhacks, the Eclipse combines an ultra-simple packbag with a solid suspension and reinforced, cushy, memory-foam hipbelt. The result is a versatile pack that can be overstuffed to your heart’s content, thanks to superb load transfer, yet still feel at home on a light-load weekend. The streamlined packbag never snagged, not even when one tester had to thrash through a dense willow thicket by headlamp. Huge mesh holster pockets are easy to reach, and each one is large enough to swallow a hat, gloves, bars, and GPS unit all at once. The X-shaped frame stays require custom bending, but they’re easily accessed. Nitpick: The cordlocks on the holster pockets should be captured for one-handed adjustment. $199; 3,417 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 8 oz.

Mountaineer’s Favorite
ARC’TERYX Khamsin 50

This climber-friendly pack is dialed for alpine duty, yet it’s still comfortable for trail jaunts. The belt, lid, and backpanel all strip off to shave a pound, and the packbag is made with scrape-proof fabric. The giant clamshell-style “crampon” pocket is a standout–big enough to swallow a small sleeping bag or pad. There’s a full-length side zip for quick access in crappy weather, and both the lid and main compartments hold a ton (the capacity is underrated). As with most stripped-down alpine packs, the Khamsin lacks bottle pockets, hipbelt pockets, and wand slots. And though it’ll carry 45 pounds, the thin, soft hipbelt is tuned for mobility, not weight transfer. $275; 3,356 cu. in.; 4 lbs. 9 oz.

Skier’s Pick
Backcountry Access Stash Alp 55

A perfect ski pack needs great stability, versatile carrying options, and a hydration system that doesn’t freeze. The Stash Alp 55 has all that, and more. After a four-day yurt trip in Idaho’s Pioneer Mountains, one tester said, “Even filled to capacity, it handled 35 pounds comfortably despite a thin hipbelt. And the ski-carry attachments let you haul planks in several positions.” The shoulder straps have an internal hose routing tube for cold-weather hydration, and the Nalgene-compatible system lets you swap out drinks during the day (but requires more frequent refilling than with a large bladder). The hipbelt pockets hold wax kits, and a cavernous front pocket swallows shovel blades and wet clothes. There’s also a vertical pocket on one side for avalanche probes. $165; 3,356 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 5 oz.

Top Ultralight
REI Venturi 40

“Everything you need for big dayhikes and lightweight weekends, nothing you don’t,” said one tester, summing up our take on this versatile pack. Like others with a “trampoline-back”–a mesh panel that lets air pass between your back and the scooped pack frame–ventilation is great. Unlike many others, internal capacity is also good. Other details are dialed: A well-padded shoulder harness and reinforced hipbelt deliver carrying comfort; rubberized fabric protects high-abrasion areas; and the shoulder yoke attachment is reinforced for rock-solid stability. Bummer: While it’s made to hold 3-liter bladders in two places, only the inside pocket worked; bladders slide sideways out of the exterior space. $129; 2,441 cu. in.; 2 lbs. 12 oz.

Best Scrambler
Black Diamond Speed 40

When is a pack not a pack? When it disappears on your back like the Speed, yielding the best freedom of motion we’ve seen in a pack this size. “The harness is totally out-of-the-way,” reported our tester after hauling the Speed for a scrambly three-day trip through Utah’s Waterpocket Fold. “And the packbag’s so narrow you could run with this sack and not hit your elbows.” The molded foam backpanel and ultralight tubular aluminum V-frame can handle 35 pounds, and stability is decent if the load-lifter and stabilizer straps are cinched. Not surprisingly, features are spare: just a hydration pocket with a smart, nape-of-the-neck hose port, and a three-pocket top lid that floats via simple aluminum J-shaped hooks. Minor demerit: The soft backpanel turns convex when the pack is loaded with a full water bladder. $130; 2,500 cu. in.; 2 lbs. 8 oz.

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