Editors' Choice 2011: Granite Gear Blaze AC 60

Want a lightweight pack with the guts for big-load trips? This best-in-class suspension delivers.

If the human body came with a pack, it would fit and feel a lot like this back-hugging model. The Blaze offers Granite Gear’s fine-tuned ultralight technology—a supportive, superbly ventilated framesheet and category-leading hipbelt, combined with judicious use of light and tough fabrics—in a superlight and surprisingly affordable package. This sub-three-pounder’s soft foam shoulder straps and slightly stiffer hipbelt conform to anatomical curves for well-distributed support and monkey-hug stability, even with loads up to 45 pounds.

“I just love this hipbelt,” says our gear editor. “It’s simple, yet amazingly effective because of the just-right cushion and precision wrap.” The torso length adjusts four inches (without Velcro) for a custom fit on every tester who tried it. The three-dimensional, molded-plastic framesheet kept the load locked down even when a tester was climbing hand-and-foot up snow-covered sandstone, and air channels in the framesheet line up with holes in the back padding to keep air moving. The Blaze’s minimalist packbag doesn’t offer much by way of organization—and the lidless design will be too minimalist for some (the lid sells separately for $40)—but it swallows gear like a black hole.

“It’s a 60-liter bag that packs like a 70 or 75,” says one editor. “It’s just as suitable for a weekend as for a week.” On the outside, deep stretch-nylon pockets accepted a fuel canister, water filter, raingear, gloves, knit hat, and foldable waterbucket—with plenty of room for more. After months of testing, the pack remained pristine—save for a friction hole in the side pocket after a pull up a rough rock face. The gram-saving compression cords are a little more futzy than webbing (they can stick in the cordlocks), and the packbag’s dark, 100-denier nylon makes it tough to see inside without reaching in, but these are minor gripes for such big-load, lightweight comfort. (Women’s version is the Blaze AC 60 KI.) $200; 2 lbs. 14 oz. (reg.); short, reg.; granitegear.com