Model: Steep Rock 38 + 8
This pack wins the price-to-performance contest by a long shot. “There are no function or feature sacrifices,” says a tester. “With a large front shove-it pocket, convenient hydration sleeve, removable rain cover dual zippered pouches on the hipbelt, and easily adjustable shoulder straps, this pack is a dayhiking machine,” he concluded after using the Brenta on a score of day trips in the mountains around Lake Tahoe. To surprise his girlfriend, he loaded up a blanket and a gourmet picnic replete with a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck (naturally), with room to spare.
The biggest surprise for the price? You can increase ventilation by pulling straps on either side of the hipbelt—raising the pack an additional half-inch off your back. (Bonus: The pack gains stability when the straps are engaged, as they pull the bottom of the pack tightly in the hipbelt.) The feature is literally a breath of fresh air—a welcome upgrade in hot, humid weather. An exterior, bone-shaped stay gives the packbag enough rigidity to comfortably support loads up to 25 pounds. Another tester stuffed the top-loader with bivy supplies for an overnighter to New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch and he praised the stability, giving it a B+ due to the pack’s excellent load transfer and effective side compression straps. Ding: After 23 days of hiking and climbing excursions, the stretch mesh used in the side water-bottle pockets and front shove-it pouch showed signs of abrasion. $130; 2 lbs. 10 oz.; 35 liters; multiple volumes available; vaude.com