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.)
If you rarely carry more than the 10 Essentials, get the Traverse. It's primo for small loads, plus it's an eco-friendly bargain made from 100-percent-recycled polyester. (Each pack keeps two dozen 16-ounce plastic bottles out of landfills.) This zippered top-loader is an organizer's dream: You get a huge hipbelt pocket, four zippered pockets on the packbag, and two side pouches. And the extra-long zipper extends down to the pack's midsection, allowing easy access to the main compartment.
A plastic framesheet and panels of egg-crate-style foam provide enough rigidity and back protection for loads up to 20 pounds. "The super-cush, padded shoulder straps kept it comfortable all day," said one tester. And as long as we didn't overload it, the Traverse proved balanced and stable, even during tricky log crossings and scrambles in Montana's Gallatin National Forest.
Downsides: That long zipper, opened all the way, can let gear spill out. And capacity is low for the weight; it's not a daypack that handles overnights easily.