Editors' Choice 2012: Boreas Buttermilks 55 & Lost Coast 60

Get everything you need and nothing you don't in one of these ultralight, ultracomfortable packs.

“We believe the best gear is neither complicated nor expensive.” That’s not the kind of statement one expects to hear from companies on the forefront of innovation, but that’s the philosophy that guides product development at Boreas, the company’s designers say. And judging by the Buttermilks (left) and Lost Coast (right), they’re serious. They created a near-perfect suspension system and a smart packbag—and refrained from adding any unnecessary extras that increase weight or cost. “It’s one of the most breathable backpanels I’ve ever used,” says one tester after summer hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. “I can feel cool wind across my back and never soaked my shirt, all without any loss in pack volume.” The secret? Tough nylon mesh covers a variably corrugated foam backpanel that compresses as you hike to help move air.

Grooves are deeper across the upper back to enhance airflow and shallower across the lumbar area to improve load transfer (inspiration: the zigzagged midsole of Reebok’s Zig line of running shoes). Load transfer is similarly top-class, thanks to webbing-reinforced seams that wrap the packbag like a rib cage; they’re angled to pull the load in, countering the sag that plagues many packs. Lightweight, silicon-impregnated ripstop nylon reinforces the main packbag of each model, while heavier 420-denier nylon protects the bottoms. The foam-and-mesh hipbelt distributes weight evenly, and two massive hipbelt pockets swallow a camera, GPS, or snacks. Following the clean design ethos, daisy chains and ice axe loops on both packs tuck away, literally out of sight. For utmost convenience, go with the Lost Coast, which has a detachable, three-pocket top lid. Or save six ounces with the Buttermilks; it has no lid, just a cinch collar. “Either one can handle 45 pounds,” says a tester who packed a week’s supplies in Chile. Lost Coast 60: $200; 3 lbs. 3 oz.; Buttermilks 55: $175; 2 lbs. 13 oz.; boreasgear.com