Why: You still have to be one strong mule to haul 60 to 70 pounds, but The North Face’s new Pivotal suspension makes the experience a whole lot more pleasant. Built around a super-sturdy frame, the system blends the stability and streamlined profile of an internal frame pack with the workhorse comfort and load transfer of an external. But the real innovation is the pivot itself, which allows the hipbelt to swivel with each step. We immediately noticed improved freedom of motion; we could squat, bend, or high-step without binding. Farther down the trail, we noticed the pack wasn’t sliding south on us, which kept pressure off our shoulders.
Torso adjustments are simple: Just flip a tab and slide the back panel. Nitpicks: Load control isn’t equal to the best big packs, though it’s more than adequate for basic scrambling. And the packbag could be a bit tougher and more user-friendly. But for the way it carries, and the money we’ll save in chiropractic bills, we’ll take it.
Who: Expedition trekkers, Sherpa dads, and luxury campers. Available in two men’s sizes (60 and 75), and two women’s sizes (60 only).
How much: $349
Weight: 6 lbs. 6 oz.
Size: 3,700 cubic inches (men’s medium)
How much: $379
Weight: 6 lbs. 12 oz.
Size: 4,600 cubic inches (men’s medium)
Contact: (800) 447-2333; www.thenorthface.com.