Comfy, breathable, and sturdier than it has any right to be, the Focal/Facet is our top pick for first-time pack buyers looking to venture into diverse terrain. The first thing you’ll notice is the suspension—and not just because the back panel comes in absurdly flashy colors. We were pleasantly surprised by the plushness of the seamless, wraparound hipbelt and shoulder harness. Both are lined with EVA foam (the soft, bouncy stuff used to pad bike seats and running-shoe midsoles). Even more astonishing: The pack stayed comfy even past its stated 35-pound load limit. One tester crammed the Focal 58 (the men’s version) with 45 pounds of gear during a four-day trip through Washington state’s Pasayten Wilderness and reported zero shoulder soreness.
“It was supple enough to carry a decent load,” reported one Seattle-based tester. “40 to 45 pounds felt pretty good. 50 pounds was starting to feel a bit more strained, but nothing outside the pack’s capabilities.” Credit goes to the internal support system: a rectangular perimeter frame made of tubular aluminum, supported by a fiberglass cross-stay to prevent barreling under full loads. The combo both helps the pack keep its shape despite strong outward forces from the compression straps, and helps transfer weight to the hipbelt. We also appreciated the rounded, low-profile silhouette, which hugs the back and helped prevent pack sway on Panama’s perilous wire bridges. The only downside to the narrow layout is that it can be tough to pack; we were hard-pressed to fit a bear canister in the Facet 55.
The Focal/Facet’s backpanel is made of a bouncy mesh stretched across the perimeter frame. The setup allowed air to flow freely between our backs and the main body of the pack.
“The constant airflow was definitely noticeable on hot days in Panama,” said one tester, who carried the Facet 55 over a five-day trek across the continental divide. “The jungle was hot and humid, but my back never got sweatier than normal. In fact, standing around during snack breaks, I often forgot to take it off.”
The main pack material is a mix of 100-denier and 210-denier high-density nylon (the materials are 40-percent and 45-percent recycled, respectively). We battered it against vegetation in Hawaii, rocks and trees in Panama, and charred branches in Washington’s North Cascades, but never managed to put a hole in it.
As for organization: The Focal/Facet gave us all the pockets we needed and nothing we didn’t. The dual hipbelt pouches each fit a couple of granola bars and a headlamp. There’s a roomy top lid pocket and an internal hydration pouch. The stretchy shove-it pocket on the back of the pack was perfectly sized for rain layers, and we were pleased to find we could grab our Nalgenes from the side bottle pockets without taking the pack off.