Brand: ALPS Mountaineering
Model: Cascade 5200
This midsize pack proved superstable on a nine-mile loop on and off-trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our 5’5″ (16-inch torso) female tester had no problem dialing in the fit, and appreciated the easy-load access and organization provided by the adjustable top lid, side zips, expandable front pocket, and front bungee cords.
The mesh side pockets are tough to access while hiking, but deep enough to hold the largest water bottles, with a cordlock top that holds squirrely items securely. The suspended, trampoline-style mesh backpanel kept all testers from getting steamy. The hipbelt is fairly flexy–it transferred weight well, yet didn’t interfere with leg motion–and has large cutouts to save weight.
The pack handles 35 pounds easily–but the tapered packbag restricts you from carrying any more than that. After trail testing, we kicked this pack around as desert car-camp baggage: It’s tough as nails. Downsides: Extra durability means extra weight, and the hydration hose port on the strap is too tight for many bite valves. $190; 3,300 cu. in.; 3 lbs. 14 oz. Lowealpine.com