Mountainsmith Zerk 40
Its our favorite pared down, long-trail-ready hauler, and its one of our 2020 Editors' Choice Award winners.
Model: Zerk 40
The Zerk was designed in conjunction with The Hiking Viking, a Triple Crowner who clearly knows his stuff. He and Mountainsmith created a veritable backpacking control center. Let us explain.
Running-style vests on multiday packs are becoming more common, as they provide instant access to all the things a hiker might need on the go: snacks, lip balm, sunglasses, a phone. The harness on the Zerk is the best of the bunch. Its wide straps spread out loads up to 30 pounds without shoulder discomfort during long water hauls on the CDT, and they have a constellation of little stretchy and cinchable pockets that keep everything at hand. (Bonus: The pockets also give you an easy place to tuck microtrash you pick up.) Pair that with easy-access waterbottle pockets and a mesh shove-it pocket on the back and you have a medium-volume pack with a layout that will keep you moving whether you’re out dayhiking, camping overnight, or on a thru-hike bid. (One tester hiked 1,700 miles in the Zerk on the CDT.)
The packbag is large enough to fit a camping kit (a bear can sits on top with removable straps), and the rolltop secures everything down nice and clean. The Zerk’s nylon-and-Spectra material stood up to bushwhacking, but a few glissades opened holes in the mesh shove-it pocket. Stick mostly to trails and we expect the Zerk to give years of comfy, quick-access service on a wide variety of low-pack-weight trips. $220; 1 lb. 12 oz.; one size