Gear Guide 2012: Arc'teryx NoZone 55 Backpack

An extraordinary toughness-to-weight ratio makes this pack both durable and supportive.

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Wondering whether Arc’teryx packs are worth their premium price? Silly question, scoffs our editor-in-chief. “These guys consistently find superior materials and match them to smart features and impeccable tailoring,” he says. Take the NoZone, a midweight weekender-plus that offers the durability and load support of an expedition pack for half the weight. A super-streamlined design is part of the reason: just a lid pocket, four compression straps, and one stretchy side pocket (that is—arrghh—too small for a water bottle).

A bigger reason is the pack fabric, a ripstop nylon with an extraordinary toughness-to-weight ratio. “Three days of bashing through beetle-kill deadfall in Colorado’s Gore Range ripped my softshell pants to shreds,” he recalls, “but didn’t leave a scratch on the pack.” The NoZone’s padding also justifies the premium price. “Best foam ever,” he raved after a day spent caching 25 liters of water for a desert trek.

“The shoulder straps, hipbelt, and lumbar pad* feel like the bed you wish you could afford: a firm memory-foam slab that cushions, supports, and never sags in the middle.” Another tester concurred after an extended hike in Wyoming’s Big Horns, noting that the foam’s pressure dispersal is so good that Arc’teryx could make the shoulder straps narrower—and thus less cumbersome. Avoid it if you want pockets, an adjustable torso, or a system (other than the lid pocket) for carrying your hydration bladder. $275; 3 lbs.; 55 liters;arcteryx.com

*LUMBAR PAD A firm foam cushion that should sit snug against lower-back curves; a closer match means better load support