Gear Guide 2012: First Ascent Alchemist 40 Backpack

Take this pack on any trip as its design is made to handle big days, weekend trips and even ultralight expeditions.

[versatile bargain]

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 is both a large daypack and a multiday hauler that can handle big days, snowy summit bids, deluxe weekend trips, and even ultralight expeditions.

“The way the packbag shrinks down is truly unique,” raves one Colorado tester. You fold the lid down into the main bag and cinch a drawcord in the middle; Velcro tabs hold the lid in place. And amazingly, there’s almost no weight penalty for the superior versatility. “It’s a great choice for ultralight expeditions that begin with high food weight/volume and end with a 10-pound base load,” he says.

That’s pretty good for a $199 pack that also delivers the durability needed for miles of bushwhacking through Nevada scrub oak, the waterproofness to thwart early-season Sierra snowstorms, and smart storage options that won’t offend minimalists and will still please organizers. The removable foam frame doubles as a sleeping pad or camp chair; ditch it for an 11-ounce savings. Caveat: With the top lid retracted inside the pack, access to the bottom of the main compartment is inhibited. $199; 4 lbs.; 40-55 liters; eddiebauer.com/firstascent