Criteria: 1,800-2,500 cubic inches; 3 lbs or less; $150 or less; hydration compatible Test Numbers: 44,100 total vertical feet ascended; 735 total pounds carried; 44 hours of rain and snow endured Ratings Scale: 5=Perfect, 1=Save your money (Overall rating is not an average of other scores.)
This pack is made for people who like to hike up mountains so they can ski down. It's awesome light–a godsend for going up–yet comfortably carries boards and tools. A minimalist suspension (V-shaped metal stays support a foam backpanel) handled 15-pound loads. We had to pack carefully to keep sharp or hard items from jabbing our backs, but the result was a snug, stable fit. "Because it hugged my body, this pack never felt bulky or cumbersome," said a tester who wore it ski-touring in Colorado's Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.
Glove-friendly wire hoops eliminated fumbling when we attached skis and axes, and withstood abrasion from their sharp edges. Two pockets on the lid hold snacks and an inclinometer, and side pockets secure a thermos or bivy (overnight gear fit tidily if the shelter was stashed vertically along the side).
The hipbelt fastens on the side rather than the front, saving a touch of weight because the buckle is fixed on one side, requiring less webbing. But it loosened as testers hiked, requiring frequent tightening to keep the load from hanging off our shoulders.